It's time to warm up the wagon.
The prospects from the reign of boredom are in Traverse City, camp opens up for real this week and damn it all, it's time to get this new regime in order. Beware, however, as things are likely going to get a little rough this year but with a big helping of hopefulness - hopefulness that arrives in the form of video game pictures taken from EA Sports' NHL 09... Since NHL 10 won't be out for another week and we don't get freebies here.
But Joe, this new future scares and frightens me - what's it going to be like on the other side?
It's likely going to be a bit painful this year but we'll call it "Growing Pains" and just leave Kirk Cameron on the outside looking in, although Alan Thicke might get a phone call since he's Canadian and actually does play hockey and might provide a little better depth on the wing at a cheap price.
What's it going to look like though? There's no Mary-Anne to pick on for being injured and I won't know who to take out with my vocal abuse.
Don't worry, that's all taken care of because the burden of the offensive workload moves to another set of shoulders. Let's just hope he keeps his head up to celebrate like this a lot this season:
You better believe there's more where that came from after the jump including a look at how the Wild could be viewed with the rosiest of Iron Range Rust lenses.
Yes, the Martin Havlat era begins in earnest and while the exhilarating frustration of Marian Gaborik goes off to New York City, a lot of the same issues may dog the Wild this year. Thankfully, this is where new head coach Todd Richards comes into play. It's somewhat difficult to guess what the Richards reign will bring about, but there's one thing that's been guaranteed from those who have watched his teams in the AHL:
Jacques Hockey will be no more.
Now don't go expecting Firewagon Hockey and lots of 8-6 games, the Wild have it burned into their souls how to backcheck and play defense and a couple of the defense signings this off-season prove that at least the blueline will have better defensive preparedness and presence. Just ask Greg Zanon.
Zanon will be able to do things that characters like Martin Skoula and Marc-Andre Bergeron could not and that's playing the body, blocking shots and not playing like an abject airhead in his own zone. What the Minnesota defensive corps may lack in depth this season it won't be lacking in blue collar guts. The aforementioned Zanon along with 6'8" Michigan Tech man-beast John Scott and newly acquired Shane "The Sheriff" Hnidy, at the very least the Wild will give color commentators lots of fun nonsense fodder and at best will perform admirably while punching some lights out.
As for the forwards... Well, hey, at least the potential first line of Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Martin Havlat will be fun to watch. There are a ton of question marks left to be answered here, some of which may or may not have been left unable to be answered thanks to the strict leadership of Jacques Lemaire. The Wild will get a trial by fire to see if they've got some really useful talent here or if the cupboard was, indeed, left bare thanks to Doug Risebrough's disinterested executive leadership and Lemaire's hard-line ways.
Piere-Marc Bouchard and James Sheppard in particular are going to be under the gun as they've long been touted as guys who could flourish under a different brand of coach. The same applies for Benoit Pouliot who has spent the better part of his career in Houston of the AHL waiting for the day he would be be unleashed on the ice sans defensive responsibility and allowed to just score goals. If these three players can adapt immediately and show that, yes, they can play things turn upward for the Wild quickly.
Guys like Owen Nolan, Eric Belanger and former Oiler Kyle Brodziak understand what their roles are with this team but filling out the ranks the right way with the troika of Bouchard, Sheppard and Pouliot could make the Wild a very fast and dangerous team. There's still talk of guys like Petr Sykora and Maxim Afinogenov potentially being added to the team to help with depth (Source: Russo) and see if maybe they can get a diamond in the rough but that remains to be seen. If one or both of those guys gets brought in and succeeds, well there's a fun way to spin this: Think of the 2009-2010 Minnesota Wild in the way the Boston Bruins were set up last year.
There's a handful of eye-grabbing names, there's some untested but possibly effective youth up front, solid mostly no-name defense and there's oodles of stability in goal (just go with it, Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas won the Jennings for crying out loud). Things won't be that easy for the Wild, face it, the Western Conference is loaded but this season is the building block year for this franchise. Wild owner Craig Leopold had to go all Tyler Durden after last year's team struggled to do anything offensively and managed to infuriate the fans to the nth degree so he blew it up to "erase the debt" and essentially start over with a clean slate. New GM, new coach, new highly talented yet fragile forward.
This kingdom won't be built in a day and Todd Richards and Chuck Fletcher have to figure out what the hell they've actually got first and foremost and then make adjustments from there. I know having patience sucks something fierce, but look at it this way, the Wild will be very competitive and they won't be nearly as bad as the Colorado Avalanche.
There's always an upside.