Is Tim Connolly the answer? Your guess is as good as any.
With Russo reporting that Mikko Koivu's index finger is, in fact, broken, it is time now to turn our attention to what they do next. Clearly, they cannot simply replace him. In a very poor comparison of importance, I lost Sidney Crosby in a fantasy hockey league. Trying to replace him made my head hurt, and it's not even real.
I have read so many hockey fans say they could be an NHL General Manager. While I would welcome the challenge, I can almost certainly guarantee complete failure. I would make rash trades, draft guys because I like their names, and sign players I really liked to huge contracts that would ruin the team for generations. I know this to be a near certainty, and I thank the stars every day that someone else in in charge of the teams I like to watch.
That said, this is a site that is dedicated to asking the "what if" and "what know" questions. Fans love to ask these types of questions, and as fans, we do too. So make the jump and we will explore a few names that have been mentioned, and offer our own suggestions.
We will hopefully find out today what the official prognosis is for Koivu. The number sits at three to four weeks right now, and that meshes well with players suffering the same injury in the past. Figure worst case scenario, because that is what the smart manager plans for. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Four weeks puts us at the end of March, with just three weeks, and nine games, left to play in the regular season. If the Wild are out of contention at that point, it would be rather difficult to make a come back in nine games. Why the jolt of negativity? To emphasize just how important it is for the Wild to do something sooner rather than later.
The immediate action was to call up Cody Almond, a big center who plays on the top line in Houston. He is not, at least right now, a replacement for Mikko Koivu. Of course, Mikko Koivu wasn't a replacement for Mikko Koivu when he got his first chance in the NHL, either. That said, Almond is not the answer. As much as Wild fans want to see Almond get a chance, this is not the right time to give it to him. The heat of a playoff run is not the time for a rooie to jump in and try to be a savior.
The options in Houston are not there. Casey Wellman is hurt, and this is his development year. No need to disrupt that due to panic. Colton Gillies is not ready either, for mostly the same reasons. Both of these players are important to the future of the team. To bring them up and put this pressure on them could be crushing. We've seen enough of that in the past.
That leaves a trade, or a roster shuffle.
Looking at trades, Russo made us a fine list to work with:
I mentioned Rob Niedermayer the other day. More I talk to people, more I don't think it'll be him. People pretty much tell me he doesn't play center anymore and isn't the same skater he once was.
Not a lot of great names, but some ones that catch the eye: New Jersey's Jason Arnott, Buffalo's Tim Connolly, Montreal's Jeff Halpern (college teammate of Brent Flahr), Washington's Brian Sutherby and Boyd Gordon, Chicago's Ryan Johnson.
In no way is Russo's list here exhaustive. Please do not take the rest of this post as a challenge to his infinite hockey wisdom, either. He has sources that would make your head spin. I am not out to prove I am smarter than anyone, especially Russo.
Niedermayer is eliminated immediately, which is good because I would not have known how to eliminate him as an option, and I have never been a fan of the Niedermayers. Good guys, great hockey players, just not a fan. So, we'll take Russo's word for it and move on to the rest of his list.
|2010 - Jason Arnott||59||13||11||24||-9||30||2||0||0||135|
He has a huge contract at $4.5 million per year, but remember, all contracts are prorated right now, so the Wild should be able to find a way to fit him under the cap. His point totals are not stellar, but the Wild are not out to replace a scorer, they are out to add some depth to the roster for a run.
The only stumbling block I can see here is what Lou would want in exchange for him. Arnott is a UFA after this season, so taking the contract is not doing New Jersey any favors. A guess, based on the current market, is that the Wild would have to give up a pick to get Arnott. The Wild do not own a second round pick, so the question becomes is Arnott available for a third, or does it cost the Wild their 2nd in 2012? At that point, are the playoffs worth giving up a pick, and is Arnott the piece that will get them in?
|2010 - Tim Connolly||44||8||18||26||-13||18||3||0||1||98|
The Sabres are not having the greatest year in team history. To the point that some fans have wondered if they should not off load Ryan Miller. Yes, really. Get rid of one of the best goalies in the league... talk about panic mode. Connolly has the exact same contract status as Arnott, and Buffalo may be willing to deal him and get something for him rather than simply letting him walk.
Again, what would it take to get him? If the Sabres do not want to re-sign him, they want a pick or a prospect. Maybe these guys only cost a third rounder? I'm not sure what the value of a player is right now, with the inflated market. However, Connolly is currently skating on the Sabres' second line. Would you trade your second line center for a third round pick?
Keep in mind the Sabres are also in a playoff race. Could be a match if the Sabres get something helpful in return, though.
Jeff Halpern is a cheap option. His total contract is only $600K, so he is very cheap at this point. Russo says he is a viable option, and I don't care to argue with him. Seems if Halpern is the answer, that it would be easier to just call up Jed Ortmeyer from Houston, rather than giving up an asset to get Halpern. Of course, maybe it is a package deal, and Fletcher pulls off something spectacular.
Brian Sutherby... just please no. Unless he is coming over for a sixth round pick or so, I don't like this idea. Looks to me to be a bouncer between AHL and NHL, a fill in guy. The Wild have those already. Same argument for Gordon. Again, not saying Russo is wrong. He is likely very much right. I just don't like the idea of giving something up to get someone who is exactly the same as what they already have in the organization.
So, Smart Guy... What do You Do?
If it is me, and one of those first two guys is really available for a reasonable price, I jump. Veteran leadership, solid points, amazing two way guys. I have made it clear I don't like the idea of giving up any pick in the third round or higher. The fourth through seventh rounds are crap shoots. Trade them at will. If Arnott or Connolly are available for a third rounder, I still jump at that. If they cost the second rounder in 2012, I would get queezy giving that up.
The Wild need the picks more than they need a rental. Of course, that is my opinion. Chuck Fletcher wants to make the playoffs, and his entire motivation is to do so. He is likely fine with trading a pick to get the rental that keeps them in the race.
The question is not what do I do, it is what do I do if I am Chuck Fletcher. If I am Chuck Fletcher, I aim for a guy like Arnott or Connolly. If the price goes up to a second round pick, I balk at it and move on. Looking at the list of pending UFA forwards, most of them are not going to be available, and the guys you really want are either in playoff races or would cost far too much.
If I am Chuck Fletcher, I honestly stand pat. I send Almond back and call up Robbie Earl. Then, if I am Todd Richards, I move Nystrom to the fourth line center and call up Robbie Earl. It is not a mtter of replacing Koivu, it is a matter of replacing a third or fourth line center. Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen will have to figure out which center is going to be with Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen. John Madden and Eric Nystorm need to decide who is the third line center, and who is the fourth. Checking line centers, both, so to me they are interchangable.
I put Brodziak back with Havlat and Clutterbuck, as that line was producing, and put Cullen with Bruno and Mittens. I send Cam Barker to the press box, play six defensemen and put Staubitz back in the lineup. Having two solid checking lines is going to be critical down the stretch. Playing seven D doesn't seem productive when all it does is increase the minutes of already over taxed forwards.
The Moral of the Story
The most likely move seems to be a trade. Russo already has said sources tell him Fletcher is looking. My guess is if he wants to trade bad enough, he'll find a move to make. Arnott or Connolly would be the "big" move, and would cause a bit of a stir here in Minnesota. They help the most, but they also cost the most.
Once again, it comes down to balance of now versus future. I lean toward the future, Fletcher wants the playoffs now. Guess who has more clout here? Yeah... not me.
Expect a trade, and probably one we didn't even see coming. When it comes to small time deals like this, it could be anyone, from any team, with any return. Just stay away from Eklund and you'll be just fine.
What do you do Wilderness? Trade for one of the guys listed above? Find another trade? Call up a forward and shift someone to center? Let us know in the comment section.