Friday, September 30, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Atlantic Division

5. New York Islanders-The Islanders are still a ways away from being a contender again. They have some good young forwards (John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, and former Gopher Kyle Okposo), but their lack of solid defense really brings this team down. Also, goaltending has been a concern for the team in the past years, and probably will be going forward with the injury prone Rick DiPietro locked under contract through 2021. Look for the Islanders to put up lots of goals, but give up a lot in return as well.

4. New Jersey Devils-Last season, the Devils ranked last in the NHL in goals scored. Not a surprise for a Jacques Lemaire coached team. Now with new coach Pete DeBoer, the Devils hope to get out of the basement among goal scoring teams. But, with the team returning the same top two lines as last year, its pretty hard to believe the Devils will finish near or in the basement in scoring again. You also have to wonder if this is the final season for netminder Martin Brodeur, who turns 40 next May and is in the final season of his contract. Look for the Devils to flutter around the 10-12 seed in the East this year.

3. Philadelphia Flyers-This summer, the Flyers traded their two best players: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. For this season, I believe we will see the Flyers take a small step back, but in the long run we will see them take bigger steps forward from these deals. The Flyers will have young F's Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds on their roster this season, all coming over in the deals involving Richards and Carter. The Flyers also traded for G Ilya Bryzgalov, and inked him to a 9 year deal. The team also inked the ageless Jaromir Jagr to a one year deal, and by how he has looked so far this preseason, The Flyers have a very solid team. But with the young forwards, I believe 2011-12 will not be their year. They are still a playoff team, but a first round exit is more like it this year.

2. New York Rangers-The Rangers made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing C Brad Richards to an 9 year/$60 million deal, in the hopes of finally having an elite center for F Marian Gaborik. This move should help bolster a offense that was only good enough to finish 16th in the NHL last year. The Rangers now have two solid scoring lines to compliment their good defensive core. Factor in G Hendrik Lundqvist, and you have a very solid team for 2011-12. Look for the Rangers to finally make some noise in the playoffs this season.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins-Last year, the Penguins lost both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for their postseason run. They were taken out in the first round by Tampa Bay in 7 games. Now as we move to 2011-12, the Pens have gotten Malkin back and are expecting a Crosby return sometime before Thanksgiving. Once he returns, the Pens will be back as one of the East's elite. Offense, Defense, and Goaltending are all solid. Somehow, their defensive core is still one of the best in the league despite losing many key D-Men since winning the Cup in '09. The Penguins will win the Atlantic Division, and should be making a deep postseason run once again. But how far will they go?

Tomorrow's post takes a look at the Northeast Division.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Southeast Division

For those who have been following my Twins blog, you will remember that prior to each season, I will give my division predictions and then my world series and award winner predictions. So I would like to carry that over to hockey as well. So today, I kick off my first of eight (6 divisions, playoff/awards, and a Wild prediction post) posts on how this hockey season will go down. Today I am starting with the Southeast Division.

5. Winnipeg Jets-
It will be really nice having hockey back in Winnipeg. But, remember, they inherited the Atlanta Thrashers. The team has some nice young talent featuring F Evander Kane, D Dustin Byfuglien, F Andrew Ladd, and G Ondrej Pavelec. But, the team lacks scoring and their defense is one of the worst in the NHL (They ranked 29th in defense in 2010-11). So don't look for the Jets to make any noise in their one year stint in the Southeast Division. Because all they will find is a last place finish.

4. Florida Panthers-Hard to believe I picked Florida ahead of somebody. But they made some solid additions this summer (D Brian Campbell, F Kris Versteeg, F Scottie Upshall, and F Tomas Fleischman), to help bolster a lineup that finished 28th in the NHL in scoring last season. The team brought in G Jose Theodore to man the net, after he had a decent season as Nik Backstrom's backup in Minnesota. The Panthers still won't be an easy team to watch in 2011-12, but they will be vastly better than their 2010-11 team.

3. Carolina Hurricanes-Last season the 'Canes finished just two points out of the final playoff spot. With their young players now breaking into the NHL, the Canes have higher expectations than 9th place this season. But, the team lost one of their best players, F Erik Cole this summer, and left to fill the spot from within their organization. They still have NHL stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward, and their Calder Trophy winner from last year Jeff Skinner. But a reasonable expectation for the 'Canes would be to be in the 8-9-10 seed range this year. Especially with the teams at the top being so good.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning-The Lightning boast one of the best offenses in the NHL. But, their defense is what holds them back from truly being one of the NHL's elite teams. The team is essentially bringing back the same defensive core, and resigned the "ageless" Dwayne Roloson to be the team's starting netminder for 2011-12. True, this was a team that was able to get within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals. But, their moves this offseason were minimal. Not exactly the best thing to do from a team that almost was the best in the East. The Lightning to have a bit of cap room, so they could add a solid D-Man at somepoint this year. But until they do, they will still be second best.

1. Washington Capitals-It hurts me to pick Washington first. Lets face it, they are a great regular season team. They have a good offense and a solid defensive core. But they have been lacking a solid presence in goal. And their answer for that problem this year is Tomas Vokoun. Not exactly the best solution. So once again, you will see this team will have a great regular season. But when it comes time to play when it matters most, who knows what will happen. I will say its possible they can win the east, but they have this thing about not making it out of the second round. So for now, I say its another second round playoff exit following a Southeast Division Title.

Tomorrow's post predicts the season in the Atlantic Division.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Behind The Net: Roster Trimming, Scandella, Goaltending, and the Winter Classic

  • Yesterday, the Wild trimmed their roster from 46 to 28 yesterday. Notable players that made the cut were Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Casey Wellman, and Brett Bulmer. The Wild need to have their roster trimmed to 23 players by opening night, so it will be interesting to see who can step up and make their case to stay on the team when the Wild open their season on October 8th.
  • One of the players who made the cut yesterday was Marco Scandella. And honestly, if you have watched the Wild at any point this preseason, he should be on the opening night lineup card. He has been very solid so far. Not one bad play with the puck. And somehow, he managed to play all three consecutive games this past week between the Blues, Blue Jackets, and Penguins (On consecutive nights). The only blemish for him this preseason was the instigating penalty he took against Pittsburgh, that set him back 19 minutes in the box. Scandella projects to be a very good defenseman for the Wild, so look for him to get solid time with the big club this year.
  • Up until Friday's game with Pittsburgh, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding had been having very solid preseasons. But then Harding had a shaky start against Columbus, and Backstrom did not look good against Pittsburgh (Then again, no one would, when Pittsburgh has 300 Power Plays). Both goaltenders were playing their first full games of the season then as well. So look for some bounceback games from the two this week as they tune up for the October 6th opener.
  • This afternoon, the NHL announced that they will be playing the 2012 NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Park (Home of the Phillies). The Flyers are making their second appearance (2010-Boston) in the league's showcase game, and the Rangers are making their first. The Flyers join the Penguins as the teams to be in this twice. This is one of my favorite sporting events of the year. And hopefully, this event can come to the Twin Cities in the not so distant future.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Training Camp Scrimmage

This past weekend, the Wild held team scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday that were open to the public. I made it to the Saturday session, and I was able to watch most of Sunday's session on the Wild website. In the two scrimmages, just one goal was scored, and it was a Dany Heatley penalty shot goal. So here are my thoughts and observations from the scrimmages:

  • The Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi line looked good for the most part. Their chemistry look good, and hopefully after a few games it can get even better. I noticed Heatley had more of a hesitation to shoot in the scrimmages, but I also think that should go away as the start playing actual games. I did take some video's of the top line when they were on the ice, but the shifts I got on tape, weren't anything special. So here is one of them.
video
  • Guillaume Latendresse looked very sharp in these two sessions. For one, he has slimmed down and has come into camp in very good shape. He showed good speed, and had a lot of jump in his strides. I can't remember a shift where he didn't make something happen for the positive. He will be a huge key for the Wild's success this season, so having him play like that is very big.
  • I payed a lot of attention to our young defenseman (Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, and Jared Spurgeon) during this session. They all seemed to do okay, but none stuck out as having a great scrimmage. I will give Scandella credit for a laser shot he fired on Saturday that hit the crossbar. Probably the best shot I saw all weekend.
  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard looked outstanding in yesterday's session. He missed Saturday with a hamstring injury, but was back on the ice Sunday. And on top of that he was on the line with Latendresse and Matt Cullen, and that line looked as good as line 1 yesterday. As Michael Russo pointed out, having Gui and Butch back gives this team a different element.
  • I also payed particular attention to C Zack Phillips (Acquired in Setoguchi trade) this weekend. He didn't do anything that stuck out, but he had some solid shifts. It will be interesting to see how he handles being in camp with these guys at the age of 18.
  • Lastly, the teams only scored one goal in the two sessions. I didn't think it was a bad thing, but it is certainly not a good thing. My guess is that the players are still getting used to the new system, so as always, it will take some time to get used to. I think the goals will come in due time, but hopefully they can get that sorted out in the preseason.
  • The Wild open their preseason schedule Tuesday at Edmonton. No one on the top line will be traveling, but the Latendresse-Cullen-Bouchard line will be. I look forward to see them in a actual game. The Wild's first home preseason game is Friday vs Columbus.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wild Player Salaries 2011-12

As the Wild open up training camp this week, I thought I should do a post on the player salaries and where they are in relation to the $64.3 million salary cap set by the NHL this season. The list will also include some buyouts to players from previous seasons.

FORWARDS-$34,397,167

Dany Heatley-$7,500,000
Mikko Koivu-$6,750,000
Pierre-Marc Bouchard-$4,080,000
Matt Cullen-$3,500,000
Devin Setoguchi-$3,000,000
Guillaume Latendresse-$2,500,000
Eric Nystrom-$1,400,000
Cal Clutterbuck-$1,400,000
Kyle Brodziak-$1,150,000
Darroll Powe-$1,066,667
Casey Wellman-$850,500
Colton Gillies-$625,000
Brad Staubitz-$575,000

DEFENSEMAN-$12,355,833

Marek Zidlicky-$4,000,000
Nick Schultz-$3,500,000
Greg Zanon-$1,933,333
Mike Lundin-$1,000,000
Marco Scandella-$845,833
Clayton Stoner-$550,000
Jared Spurgeon-$526,667

GOALTENDERS-$6,750,000

Niklas Backstrom-$6,000,000
Josh Harding-$750,000

BUYOUTS-$1,302,778

Mark Parrish-$927,778 (Bought out in July '08)
Cam Barker-$375,000 (Bought out last season)

NHL SALARY CAP FOR 2011-12:$64,300,000
WILD'S TOTAL CAP HIT FOR 2011-12: $54,805,778
WILD'S CAP SPACE: $9,494,222


Its pretty great that the Wild have managed to get this $9+ million in cap space. They seemingly were a team that always toed the line when it came to the cap, in the previous regime. And with the moves the team made this offseason, hats off to Chuck Fletcher for giving his squad ample space to make a trade or two during the season if they so desire. Or he could just simply save that cap space for the next offseason and sign a marquee free agent for the 2012-13 season. We will just have to wait and find out...

(The salary numbers are courtesy of CapGeek.com)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pavol Demitra: 1974-2011

This morning, a plane carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv KHL team crashed in a river bank in western Russia. Among those on the plane, was former Wild F Pavol Demitra. Demitra had been playing for Lokomotiv for a year, since he was last seen in the NHL in 09-10 with Vancouver.

You may remember the Wild acquiring Demitra in a draft day trade back in 2006.


And in his two seasons here, the Wild made the playoffs both seasons, including the division championship of 2007-08.

But Demitra was brought here to center RW Marian Gaborik. The pair had lined up for Slovakia in the 06 Olympics, and they put on an impressive show. And while he was here, Demitra compiled a line of 40-78-118 in two seasons.


It was fun watching Pavol and Marian play. And it was fun watching them help the Wild into the postseason twice. But its so sad that another hockey player has left us this offseason. Farewell, Mr. Demitra. And thanks for the memories.


(Demitra's highlight is just in the first minute and change)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A New Face In The State of Hockey: Mike Yeo

Last summer, Chuck Fletcher was able to convince Mike Yeo to leave the Pittsburgh Penguins and become the head coach of the Houston Aeros. Then nearly a year later, the tables were turned and Yeo was able to convince Fletcher he was the right man to coach the Minnesota Wild. And on June 17, Mike Yeo was introduced as the third coach in the history of the Minnesota Wild.



As you see in the above video, Yeo states what his goals are as the bench boss in Minnesota. Firstly, he wants a team that gives 100% every night. He wants a team that has an identity. A team that will pay attention to detail (Essentially, does the little things right). He wants to have a team that will be agressive, physical, and structured (Things the Wild were lacking under the previous coach). And secondly, he wants to establish higher standards here. Something he is carrying over from Pittsburgh. Meaning, he wants the team to set higher goals, and push themselves harder on the ice. Again, this is something the previous coach had been lacking to do here.

Mike Yeo plainly states he wants to establish a team identity, and he wants to set winning standards here. And this offseason he began setting a team identity by reaching out to all his players. He went so far in reaching out to his players, that he took a trip to Finland to visit his star players Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom. This was a smart move by Yeo. He reached out to his captain, first and formost, to help establish those winning standards he is bringing here. And he also is trying to have positive relationships with his players (Another thing I've heard the previous coach did not do well). So clearly, Yeo has gotten off to a positive start as Wild head coach.

Yeo began his coaching career with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and helped lead them to two Calder Cup final appearances in his 5 seasons as an assistant coach. Then, he was hired as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh when Michel Therrien was named the head coach in 2005. Yeo remained an assistant, when Therrien was fired and Dan Bylsma took over in 2008. While behind the bench in Pittsburgh, Yeo helped the Pens reach two Stanley Cup finals (2008, 2009) and winning one, in 2009.

Mike Yeo is a gamble by Chuck Fletcher. But as other GMs think, Mike Yeo will be a solid NHL head coach. And I truly believe the same. And after watching "Becoming Wild" this summer, it has furthered my belief that Yeo is the right man for the job. And I believe that Yeo will be behind the Wild bench for quite some time, giving us some great playoff runs in there as well...

This was the final post in A New Face In The State Of Hockey series for this summer. My previous posts included Darroll Powe, Mike Lundin, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A New Face In The State Of Hockey: Dany Heatley

Since the departure of Marian Gaborik, the Wild have lacked a premier goal scorer on their squad. But on July 3rd, they solved that issue when they acquired F Dany Heatley from San Jose in exchange for F Martin Havlat. This coming just 10 days after the Wild acquired Heatley's teammate, Devin Setoguchi, from San Jose as well.

We all remember Heatley from his two seasons (1999-2001) in Madison, playing for the Badgers. There, he put up 52 goals in 77 games, before departing for the NHL (Atlanta Thrashers). And since his arrival in the NHL, he has been one of the best in the business, scoring 325 goals while adding 364 assists in his 669 career games. He possesses outstanding speed and a magnificent shot when he hits the ice. For proof of these skills, watch the following videos.





Heatley has also rarely been seen on the injured list, while just missing a handful of games in his 9 NHL seasons. The only exception to that was the tragic car accident he was in in September of 2003. He suffered a broken jaw, bruised lung, and torn knee ligaments. But Heatley returned to the lineup in January of the same season.

When Heatley was traded from Atlanta to Ottawa, the winger's career took off. His first two seasons with the Sens, Dany notched back to back 50 goals and 100 point seasons, while helping the Sens become a dominant force in the NHL (Ottawa made it to the Cup Finals in 06-07). And even when he was traded to San Jose, Heatley continued to average just under 40 goals per season.

Heatley also carries a 15-42-57 scoring line in his 68 career playoff games. His past playoff experience will be another valuable asset to the Wild going forward.

But last season, we saw Heatley have a down season. His numbers (26-38-64), were the lowest since his rookie season of 01-02. So that played a huge role in the fact the Wild traded for him and only gave up Havlat in return. But, as we found out, Heatley played most of last year while battling some nagging injuries. So, if he can be at 100% going forward, the Wild were the winners in this deal with San Jose.

The Wild finally got their goal scorer. And maybe now with a fresh start, Dany Heatley can go back and start terrorizing the rest of the league like he once did. He makes the Wild a great force to be reckoned with, when he steps on the ice. And I look forward to watching him for the next three seasons.



My final post in the New Face in the State of Hockey series, for this summer, will be on new head coach Mike Yeo. My previous posts had included: Darroll Powe, Mike Lundin, and Devin Setoguchi.