Category Archives: Hockey In Minnesota

Minnesota Wild Roster at the Beginning of Free Agent Frenzy

 

Cap Space for the Minnesota Wild from GeneralFanager.com

Cap Space for the Minnesota Wild from GeneralFanager.com

The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 season ended with a sweep from the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. A lot of people reacted saying the Wild had a long way to go to become contenders in the NHL and need to make big changes to get there.

The 2014-15 Minnesota Wild was the best in the NHL in the 2nd half of the season, a team that was 18-19-5, written off by fans, critics and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Then on January 14th, 2014, the Wild was reborn when GM Chuck Fletcher made a little trade for a goalie named Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2015 3rd-round draft pick.

Of course, pretty much nobody thought this would change much for the Wild. Devan Dubnyk wasn’t a big name goalie by any stretch of the imagination. He had never been a part of a winning team in his 6 seasons in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers (5 seasons, 171 games played(GP)), the Nashville Predators* (1 season, 2 GP) and the Arizona Coyotes (1 season, 19 GP).

*The 2013-14 Nashville Predators did end the seasons with a winning record but Dubnyk was only there for 50 days before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. The day he was traded to NSH, they were 20-21-7 and they were 26-26-10 when he was traded away.

Interesting that the day Devan Dubnyk arrived with the Wild, they were not a winning team either at 1 game under .500. Then the Minnesota Wild A.D. (After Dubnyk) began. Devan Dubnyk would start 38 consecutive games, not getting a day off until after the Wild had clinched a playoff spot. The Wild would go 28-9-3 AD and make the playoffs, upset the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round but be eliminated by Chicago in the 2nd round.

So, do they really need to make big changes to their roster or should they keep the core group and tweak the roster and give this team a chance to see what they can do in a full season with Devan Dubnyk in the cage?

Could they even make big changes to the roster? They don’t have a lot of room under the salary cap so the only way they could make changes is via trade. That would be difficult as well with a lot of players having No Move or No Trade clauses and a lot of money left on their contracts.

Yes, there’s some young guys that could be traded like a Jared Spurgeon and maybe some prospects but that probably wouldn’t be enough to make “big” changes. I’m sure Chuck Fletcher isn’t interested in going that route anyways. He’s been pretty adamant about keeping his young prospects in the fold.

The Minnesota Wild have just under $8 million to spend on free agents according to GeneralFanager.com and that’s without the eventual signings of Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Christian Folin. The Brown Fox always leaves some under the cap for injuries and trades too so don’t get too excited about the 1st day of the Frenzy.

Here’s a look at the Minnesota Wild’s Depth Chart, who might battle for spots and who might be options in free agency.

Depth Chart for 2015-16
Left Wing – Center – Right Wing
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Thomas Vanek
Nino Niederreiter – Charlie Coyle – Justin Fontaine
Jordan Schroeder? – Erik Haula – Brent Sutter?

In the battle: Tyler Graovac, Michael Keranen, Brett Bulmer, Raphael Bussieres, Grayson Downing, Jared Knight, Kurtis Gabriel, Zack Mitchell, Brady Brassart, Pavel Jenys, Christoph Bertschy

Free Agency Options: Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak, Chris Stewart, Curtis Glencross, Devin Setoguchi, Blair Jones, Eric Fehr

Defense
Ryan Suter – Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella – Jared Spurgeon
Christian Folin? – Matt Dumba

In the battle: Mike Reilly, Jon Blum, Gustav Olofsson, Guillaume Gelinas, Dylan Labbe, Zach Palmquist, Alex Gudbranson, Hunter Warner

Free Agent Options: Jordan Leopold, Nate Prosser, Tim Gleason, Matt Irwin…

Goalie
Dubnyk
Kuemper
Backstrom

In the battle: Brady Hoffman, Stephen Michalek

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Minnesota Wild Game 3 Recap – Wild lose 1-0! Is it over?

Minnesota Wild lose Game 3, 1-0!

On the power play, a deflected puck ends up being the difference in Game 3. Wild lose 1-0!

Minnesota Wild can’t get on the board against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3. Patrick Kane’s 1st period power play goal holds up as Chicago takes a 3 games to none lead in the 2nd round series.

The Wild came out flying in the 1st period getting a couple good scoring chances but Chicago withstood the opening surge and only helped build their confident play. The Wild would get the 1st power play of the game but Chicago’s renewed confidence on defense has rubbed off on their penalty kill too. The Wild, who had their power play going, now have trouble getting in the zone and when they do, they can’t even get a shot on goal.

The Blackhawks would also get a power play in the 1st period and would get a fortuitous bounce to help them score their 1st goal of the game. Johnathan Toews makes a backhand pass from just inside his own zone to Patrick Sharp coming up the right boards in the neutral zone. Sharp tries to make a pass to Andrew Shaw coming up the middle of the ice but the puck is on edge so it’s a slow, wobbly pass and Matt Cooke gets a piece of it but it deflects up the middle. Matt Dumba, playing the right defense position, moves toward the puck and Shaw, leaving Patrick Kane alone coming up the left side. Shaw hears Kane yelling for the puck so he chops at it to get it over to Kane. Patrick Kane gets the pass and beats Devan Dubnyk through the five-hole to score the 1st goal of the game.

Matt Dumba has to know that’s Patrick Kane coming up the left side and can’t leave an opening for the puck to get over there. He either has to make a better play on the deflected puck. Something different than the sweeping poke check that is a one and done If it doesn’t work, like it didn’t. He also should know he has Marco Scandella on his left, who can make a play on that puck. I don’t necessarily blame Dumba for going after that puck. I just think he could’ve played it better and not given so much of a chance for the puck to get to the most dangerous player on the rink in this series.

The Minnesota Wild would get plenty of chances to tie the game, but Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks would stop every one of them and put the Wild on the brink of elimination with a 3 games to none lead in the series.

This series has turned into a tale of two teams that changed after the 2nd period of Game 1. That’s the last time the Minnesota Wild looked like a hungry team that refused to be stopped and the last time the Chicago Blackhawks team looked like a team with some defensive holes.

Since that Game 1 2nd period, the Minnesota Wild has played a passive game, waiting for something to happen, while the Blackhawks have played an active game, aggressively making something happen. This change has gotten in the heads of both teams. The Blackhawks confidence is growing. The Wild’s confidence is dwindling.

What happens to a player’s and/or a team’s game when confidence goes up or down? A player struggling with confidence waits for that perfect goal, the easy tap-in, the tic-tac-toe beautiful play that rarely happens. They don’t shoot the puck quickly. They hold the puck or try to make a move to get a closer look and the majority of the time, a shot never occurs. The play is broken up or the goalie is given plenty of time to cut the angle down and make the save.

A player playing with confidence shoots the puck quickly knowing that’s the best way to score. A quick shot means the goalie doesn’t have time to square up and get ready for the shot and even if the goalie makes the save, there’s a high probability a rebound will happen as a result of that quick shot and the confident team has a player ready to pounce on that rebound when it happens.

One of the reasons I picked the Wild to win in six games was their poise and confidence. It was questioned in Game 4 of the 1st round against St. Louis. After that game, the Wild played games 5 and 6 with the belief they would win the game. Obviously, if you’ve watched Game 2 and Game 3  against Chicago, that belief and that confidence is barely there. It’s been replaced by frustration and doubt. They are playing like a team that doesn’t know how to play anymore or how to figure out what to do against the Blackhawks.

The reason I picked the Blackhawks to lose the series is because they didn’t seem to be a good defensive team in their series against the Nashville Predators. They were allowing comebacks and a lot of goals and they had to use both goalies out of necessity, not by choice. A team not playing great defensively and having issues between the pipes usually has a difficult time winning in the playoffs.

I described the goal as being a fortuitous bounce for the Blackhawks. Am I saying they are getting more bounces than the Wild? Yes and no. As a team, you can’t blame or credit good or bad bounces as the reason why you are winning or losing. The Wild are all too familiar with bad bounces against the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Last season came to an end on a bounce off a stanchion behind the net that went right to Patrick Kane. Bang! Season Over! Ouch!

We’ll see what the Minnesota Wild can do in Game 4 on Thursday night at 8:30pm. Will a bounce end the series again? Will the Wild get back to their game and actually get a lead in a game for the first time in the 2nd round and extend the series to a 5th game?

Don’t give up on the Minnesota Wild! They aren’t giving up so neither should you!

THANKS for reading!!!

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A Preview of Round 2 – Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks – So we meet again

Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs

So we meet again…The Minnesota Wild play the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs for the 3rd straight season.

The Minnesota Wild meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 3rd straight season and the 2nd straight season in the 2nd round when the puck (or the ClutterPuck) drops tonight around 8:30pm. The last two seasons when these teams met, it was a foregone conclusion that the Blackhawks would defeat the Wild. It was just a matter of how many games it would take for Chicago to win the series.

In 2013, the Minnesota Wild were, basically, just happy to be in the postseason dance. They were that weird kid standing alone in the corner wondering why they were there and then they saw her. The Stanley Cup. They got the courage to go up and ask her to dance* but here came Mr. Popular, the Chicago Blackhawks, to steal their thunder and ruin their night. So they went home losing the series 4 games to 1 with that 1 win coming in overtime fashion. (Thank you, Mr. Zucker!) Not the results the Wild wanted but it was a step, the first step to becoming a champion. They saw up close how a championship team got it done in the playoffs. They learned how intense the playoffs are and how every possession and play is magnified!

*How do you dance with the Stanley Cup? Trust me, if the Minnesota Wild win Lord Stanley’s Cup, it will just happen. Everyone will be like, “Here, I’ll show you!” Everybody Loves Stan!!!

In 2014, we saw a team that figured out what it takes to win a series. They beat the Colorado Avalanche in a series that began looking like the Colorado would win the series pretty quickly. They figured out every game in a series is a different entity, something with distinct and independent existence and they could come back if they played the right way. They needed 7 games and overtime in Game 7 to do it. That Game 7 was almost a microcosm of the series, too. The Wild never led in the game until that final shot in OT. They came back from a 1-goal deficit 4 times. The only lead they had in the game and in the series was after the final shot! (PING! Thank you, Nino!)

Facing the Blackhawks in the 2nd round felt like they were ruining the dance again! They’d win game 1 & 2 by scores of 5-2 and 4-1, sending the Wild home, down 2 games. That 1st round experience showed them they could come back in a series and we saw a Wild team get that Home Ice Advantage, starting to play with confidence and really frustrate teams when they played at The X.* It was especially amazing to see how much they frustrated the reigning Stanley Cup Champions with their play on home ice. They would end up losing game 6 in overtime on a crazy bounce that went right to Patrick Kane and just like that, the Wild’s season came to an end.

*CRAWWWFORRRRRRD!!!

The 2014-15 version of the Minnesota Wild had such a crazy regular season. They’d have a sickness or two go through the locker room, deaths of the fathers of their assistant captains and, of course, the problems in the net that seemed to make this team lose confidence in their whole game. Leave it to the Brown Fox to fix the problem with a 3rd round pick in his pocket that he’d offer to the Arizona Coyotes for Devan Dubnyk. Devan Dubnyk! How many people saw Devan Dubnyk being the savior of the season?

Everyone thought he was the backup for the Coyotes and, for the most part, he was. But, in December, he started more games for Arizona than starter Mike Smith did and to that point, DUUUBS had played very well, going 5-1-1 in the 8 games he started in with a 2.48 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers for a team that only had 16 wins in 42 games. The Coyotes only had 8 wins in the 40 games after they traded Devan Dubnyk.

We all know how Devan Dubnyk has changed this team! Before Dubnyk (BD), the Wild were in a tailspin. They didn’t seem to have a clue what to do to win battles, win shifts or win periods let win a game. Once Dubnyk showed up, it was a different team. He’d start 38 consecutive games, only getting a game off after the Wild clinched a playoff spot. The Wild finished the last 40 games with a record of 28-9-3.

The 1st round started with Devan Dubnyk getting his first experience in the postseason. Save for a bad Game 4, where the Wild must have forgotten there was a game and lost 6-1, he would play his consistent great game and he may have gotten better after those bad 2 periods in Game 4.

The Wild A.D. (After Dubnyk) went 2-0 versus the Blackhawks, winning 3-0 at home in February and 2-1 in Chicago in April in the game that clinched a spot in the playoffs. The Wild B.D. (Before Dubnyk) lost all 3 of their games against Chicago before that, 5-3, 4-2 and 4-1. 13 goals against in 3 games to 1 goal against in 2 games is a pretty big difference.

The Wild had some struggles against the Blues but they seemed to “wake up” after getting blown out on their home ice in Game 4. They played better defensively since that game, playing with less panic and more poise. The confidence in their game came back and this team may have learned how to play a consistent game in the playoffs. No panic in their overall game will serve them well in the 2nd round.

What are the main factors when it comes to winning a series in the playoffs? There’s the obvious – the play of the goalie and special teams. The Wild have Dubnyk who’s been great. Their power play came alive in round 1 scoring 4 goals in 12 power plays. They had the best penalty kill in the NHL in the regular season and shut down the Blues, only allowing 2 goals in 11 power plays. The Blackhawks went back and forth in the 1st round with their goalies, they had the worst penalty kill of any team in the playoffs and their power play was only 3 for 19.

Looking at stats can only tell you so much as each team played a different opponent so it’s difficult to say the results would be the same against everyone in the league or everyone in the playoffs.

We can look at the talent on each team. The majority of people will say the Blackhawks have more talent than the Wild. They have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc… It’s hard to argue with their talent. The Wild do have Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jason Zucker and more so they’re no slouch in talent.. All the talent in the world doesn’t mean anything against a team playing their system the right way, playing with confidence and working their asses off all over the ice.

How about depth at forward and defense and the whole lineup? The Wild got ahead and stayed ahead, came back to win once, every win was more than one goal and they won two games on the road. The Blackhawks had to continually come from behind and couldn’t hold leads throughout the 1st round. They allowed the Predators to respond quickly time after time.

My bottom line is the Minnesota Wild seem to have the team with more depth, are playing better in all areas of the game. They could be the Blackhawks from 2010 or 2013. Everything seems to be clicking at the right time. This is a team on a mission and they are ready to get over the hump of beating the Chicago Blackhawks now. They are not in awe of them like 2013. They are playing confident in every area of their game.

It will be a great series regardless of who wins, that’s for sure.

My prediction is Wild in 6!!!

Here’s the Series Schedule:

Game 1: @Chicago Friday 5/1 8:30 PM NBCSN

Game 2: @Chicago Sunday 5/3 7:30 PM NBCSN

Game 3: @Minnesota Tuesday 5/5 7:00 PM NBCSN

Game 4: @Minnesota Thursday 5/7 8:30 PM NBCSN

Game 5: @Chicago Saturday 5/9 TBD*

Game 6: @Minnesota Monday 5/11 TBD*

Game 7: @Chicago Wednesday 5/13 TBD*

What are your thoughts on this 2nd round match-up? Who do you got winning and why?

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Gopher Hockey – START Being More Defensive

Gopher Hockey needs more defense if they hope to start winning as of 2014-15 regular season nears the end

Gopher Hockey needs more defense if they hope to start winning as the 2014-15 regular season nears the end

Gopher Hockey had a good weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers. They won 7-5 on Friday night & tied 4-4 on Saturday night with a late goal by Seth Ambroz with 2 seconds left but ended up losing in a shootout. They gave up 9 goals to a team that has averaged 2 goals a game this season. Yes, they scored 11 goals but offense has very rarely been a problem for the Gophers.

*2 seconds left? I bet Justin Holl was wondering why they left so much time on the clock.

The biggest problem in this disappointing 2014-15 Minnesota Gopher Hockey season appears to be on the defensive end of the ice. They are allowing way too many goals and it’s killing their chances to win games. It’s team defense too, not just the defensemen and the goalie. It’s the defensive zone that has to get fixed for this team to turnaround the season and make it into the NCAA tourney.

Last season the Minnesota Gophers allowed 2.07 goals per game, took about 3.39 penalties a game, had a penalty kill percentage of 84 percent and Adam Wilcox had a save percentage of .929. This season they’re allowing 2.67 goals per game, taking 3.88 penalties per game, have a penalty kill percentage of 80 percent and Adam Wilcox has a save percentage of .901.

Adam Wilcox has been scored on 63 times this season through 24 games. He was scored on only 75 times last season in 38 games. He hasn’t been as good as he was last season for sure but he’s still the same great goalie and he’ll make the game-saving save when he needs to but he needs the team in front of him to play better in front of him.

There’s too much “puck-watching” in the D-zone while the opponents roam freely getting open for scoring chance after scoring chance. Guard a man! That means actually guarding him, not just being close to him. Know where they puck is, yes, but keep track of your man.

Is it the young guys new to the team or players moving into new roles? They lost a lot of leadership from last season’s team but the returning players should get them on the same page on what needs to be done in the defensive part of the game. You can’t win if you don’t play defense!

Defense isn’t exciting and doesn’t show up on the stat sheet or in the highlights but most players do not continue playing competitive hockey if they don’t know how to play defense or give the same effort defensively as they do offensively. Preventing a goal is just as important as scoring a goal. There’s a reason the saying goes…

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!!!

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The State of Gopher Hockey – Will the Gophers Miss the NCAA Tournament?

Will Gopher Hockey miss the NCAA tournament

Two losses in the North Star College Cup has the Gophers in danger of missing the NCAA Tourney

Gopher Hockey is in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament after losing both games in the North Star College Cup. Since sweeping Notre Dame in the beginning of November, the Gophers are 4-9-2 with 44 goals for & 44 goals against in that 15 game stretch. They are also 2-2-2 and 4th in the Big Ten conference with 23 goals for & 18 goals against. This is the team that began the season as the #1 ranked team in the nation, or is it?
 
Is this the Same Team from Last Season?
This is, for the most part, the same team that went to the National Championship game last season. They lost Nate Condon, Justin Holl, Jake Parenteau and Tom Serratore. In terms of stats, that’s 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) and a plus/minus of +45. That doesn’t seem like much to replace among 4 players. That’s 12-13 points, 3-4 goals, 9-10 assists and a plus/minus of +11 or so.
 
New recruits come in and/or older players progress and should fill those roles, right? One top-end player to replace Condon, a depth player that will do whatever is asked of him with the versatility to play either forward and/or defense and play well, a bottom pair defenseman that will give you good minutes and make good decisions in all zones and a checking line forward with some grit that will forecheck and throw the body around. Wow, those roles don’t seem that easy to fill now, do they?
 
The big difference is the guys filling those roles last season were seniors. They knew the system and what the coaches wanted like the back of their glove. They played without thinking and didn’t worry about making mistakes. They just played the game. That only comes from playing in games, or experience. Obviously, practice helps but it’s not the same as games. That’s where you learn what to do but not necessarily how to do it. There’s never as much pressure in practice.
 
Conner Reilly has filled the role Nate Condon provided, at least on the scoring side of it. He is on pace (11G, 4A through 22GP) to score more points than Condon did last season.  Leon Bristedt has the ability to score or he wouldn’t have been put on the top line to begin the season. You can see the energy and compete level he brings.
On the back end, they’re still searching for someone to grab that 6th defense spot. Ryan Collins seemed to have a grasp on it but he didn’t play either game in the North Star College Cup last weekend with Steve Johnson playing on Friday, getting his first career point with an assist on the first goal, and Jack Glover playing Saturday. Do the coaches find these three players to be basically interchangeable at this point of the season? They are still changing up the defensive pairings which isn’t a good sign at this point of the season.
 
Last, but certainly not least, they don’t appear to have a gritty pest of a forechecking forward that will connect on a big hit every now and then. The guys I see that could fill that role are A.J. Michaelson and Christian Isackson. A dark horse to fill that role could be Robin Hoglund, the big Swede, who’s only played in 4 games this season. Could someone like Bristedt, Vinni Lettieri or Ryan Reilly fill that role? They are smaller players so they might not be able to bring that kind of physicality.
Is it “Must Win” Territory Now?
The Gophers have 14 games (8 at home, 6 on the road) left in the regular season before the Big Ten Tourney and are currently ranked 20th in the Pairwise rankings, 17th in the USCHO.com Poll and are not ranked at all in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll although they would be 16th according to the votes collected.
I’ve never been a big fan of the “Must Win” game or theory. First of all, if you’ve gotten to a point in a season where you “Must Win” one game to keep your season alive, obviously things haven’t gone well up to that point. The Gophers need to be in a Must Win/Playoff mode if they hope to make anything out of this season because their backs are against the boards.
They just look like a beaten down team right now, beaten down by losing. It’s amazing how much the mental side plays with good teams and good hockey players. The lizard brain makes teams and players doubt their skills and their ability to win battles for the puck or make simple plays and they start to feel that “here we go again” mentality and their heads hang after a goal or a missed opportunity. The sticks start being gripped tighter and they don’t shoot the puck when they should because they’ve been in a slump.
 
Is there enough Leadership?
The leaders on the team, players and coaches, need to figure out what the problem is with this team. It’s not talent. They have plenty of talent. So what does that leave? Is it hard work? Motivation? The system? Do guys know their roles and how to play them? Is each and every player bought in to what the team is trying to accomplish? Are they playing for each other? Have they become a team or are they just a group of hockey players playing at the same time with the same jerseys on?
 
We’ve seen it way too much lately in the “State of Hockey” this season. The Wild have had problems with working hard consistently and that makes you question their motivation. I put doubt in the problem being in the system put in by the coaches because we’ve seen it work before so it’s either guys knowing the system and/or knowing how to play the system on the ice. It could also be nerves and being afraid to make a mistake on the ice?
 
It’s easy to put blame on the coaching staff because they are supposed to have the team ready to play every night but as a hockey player playing at the highest level of college hockey, motivation should never be a problem. Plus, this is a team that had to work very hard to get to the National Championship game last season and then were outworked by a Union hockey team that took it to them for 60 minutes! You’d think that would be stuck in their mind how bad it hurt to lose like they did in the Championship game last season.
More Gopher Hockey articles/news:
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