With a little time off for the All-Star game, we figured maybe the blogging community surrounding the Minnesota Wild could get together, drink some virtual beers, and discuss a handful of questions about the team. It has been quite awhile since we did a round table here at Hockey Wilderness, and since then, a few of the faces have changed. We are always sorry to see a site go down, but we are glad to see new sites coming into place. Please add the sites below into your RSS feeds, and frequent them. They wouldn't be here if they weren't the best.
With the length of the break, and so you are not stuck sifting through so many questions in one sitting, we will split this into several parts, and give you one part each day, with some fun at the end. Let's meet those participating:
Heather Galindo from her own Ms. Conduct blog, Pro Hockey News, and The Third Intermission. If you don't know who she is by now, I fear for your safety in the big bad, world. She is the foremost expert on all things Aeros and hot goalies.
From First Round Bust:
Nathan Wells (GopherState in the comments here at HW)
I write over at First Round Bust, a Wild blog which focuses on all aspects of the team (past, present and mostly future) mixed with some humor. I'm a lifelong hockey fan who enjoys playing the game as much as possible, watching the Wild and Gophers hockey team and just talking puck with anyone and everyone.
I write for First Round Bust, but I used to be the deviant behind Deuce By Definition, which I did for a couple of years- so a lot of what I did then I do now for FRB. I've also been a season ticket holder for years, for better or for worse, and despite being a passionate yet skeptical Minnesota fan, I think "Wild" is a terrible team name. Go figure.
Ryan Porth - Having a full house of Wild bloggers, I also felt we needed an outside perspective. Someone who was not a Wild fan, someone with a truly objective look at the team. I searched all over, asked some of the best, and when they were all too cool to reply, I asked Ryan, who runs Red Light District Hockey. Kidding, of course. Ryan is one of the best in the business. Make sure you check out his site for a wide range of hockey subjects.
You don't find Brent Burns impressive, he will jab you in the eye.
1. What has most impressed you about the Wild up until this point in the season?
Nathan: That the supporting cast has essentially been interchangeable without a massive decrease in production or effort. Sure, we've been able to have a healthy (for the most part) core, but when you look at the number of call-ups from Houston and man-games lost to injury, this team could very easily be looking at fighting for 14th instead of 8th. Matt Kassian, Jared Spurgeon, Cody Almond, Anton Khudobin, Jose Theodore, Patrick O'Sullivan, Justin Falk, Marco Scandella, Casey Wellman, Warren Peters, Robbie Earl, Colton Gillies, all guys who were not really factored into things this season have put in minutes on this team and they're still fighting for the playoffs. That says a lot about the depth of this team, and the ability of the top-end to keep things going.
Monica: The fact that they have not totally given up. They lost a goaltender in the preseason, they dropped both games in Finland, yet with the bad start, they have slowly pushed their way back into the play off bubble. The Western Conference is so tight for points that as long as they don't hit too many bumps in the road (and that the All-Star break doesn't hurt momentum) , they should have a chance.
Heather: On the whole, when I think about the Wild, it's like thinking about a friend who you're kinda "meh" about spending time with because, while sometimes it ends up being pretty fun, most of the time you go home after and just feel drained and sad. Individually, however, I'm head over heels for Burnzie. Not only because he's been great for the Wild and is fun to watch, but because he's so money for my fantasy hockey team. And of course, I still think Clutter is awesome. And Zanon... I tell ya, as a goalie myself, that kind of shot blocking prowess blows my skirt up big time.
Elise: I'm going to ignore that this is a 'what' question and change it into a 'who' question so I can say Brent Burns. He has a bad game every once and awhile but the way he's playing this season is not only All-Star-worthy but just so much fun to watch. I'm just glad the switching between forward/defense and concussion issues stopped and he's become a complete blue line stud.
Nathan W.: Right now it is their ability to win on the road and against top competition. After a season where the Wild struggled to win away from the Xcel Energy Center, it's refreshing to see Minnesota top last year's road win total in January. In addition, Minnesota has shown that they are able to hold their own against the top teams in the league by beating Vancouver (twice), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington and Nashville and holding their own (with few exceptions) every night.
Dan S.: That this team gets it now; there were times last year where it were so many WTF moments. Now you watch this team, and its like everyone is on the same page, knowing where to be, what to do, where to go- especially the defensemen. I cannot emphasize how big an impact Rick Wilson has had coaching up the blueline. Hell I'd donate some of my hard earned duckets to cover some of the cost of poaching him from Tampa Bay.
JS: I'll have to say the goaltending. Save for a few games in which it was pretty wonky, we've had some great goaltending from Backstrom, Theodore and even Khudobin! This was one of our weaknesses last year (of course the defense didn't help at all), and it was one of the big issues that needed to change if we were going to make the playoffs this year. We're not quite in the playoffs yet, but if we do make them, it'll be in large part thanks to the goaltending. I'm also impressed at the big steps up Havlat, Burns and Clutterbuck took this season.
Ryan: What has impressed me the most with this Wild team is the way they've stayed in the race with an inconsistent Niklas Backstrom. Before the season I tagged Minnesota as the team that could be ‘this year's Phoenix', but only if Backstrom had an All-Star caliber season. Despite his up and down play, the Wild are right there in the thick of things.
Jeremy: The most impressive thing about the Wild this season is that no matter how many times they are written off they always seem to find a way to bounce back. In October/November there was talk of firing Coach Richards or a big shake up trade. Neither happened, but the team started winning anyway. Niklas Backstrom who had been great to start the season hits a rough patch, but manages to bounce back. Then when he gets injured Jose Theodore steps in and takes the team to its longest winning streak of the season.
Bryan: The fact that they are in playoff competition. At one point, they were one point from last place in the conference, and now they are one point out of the playoffs. If you had asked me in mid-December if this team had a chance at the playoffs, I would have laughed in your face. I still don't think they are playing at their potential, but they seem to be holding it together just well enough. Impressive that despite the second period nap, they still have a chance at the playoffs.
More bad news Shep...
2. What (or who) has been the biggest disappointment? Why?
Nathan: Cam Barker. I know it's easy, but last year we gave him a bit of a pass because he was jumping onto a sinking ship at a most-inopportune time. The season was lost, he didn't have time to gel with his defensive partner and the team was in limbo, still fighting to adhere to the system. Now he's just a waste of minutes. He makes Martin Skoula look productive and secure in the back line. I don't know if it's a mental thing with Barker right now, or if his production was dramatically over-inflated by being on a team with elite talent, but Barker looks just like the other Wild top picks the last five years of the Risebrough regime. It's disappointing.
Monica: The trip to Finland was a bust. Big homecoming for Niklas Backstrom being from Helsinki and Koivu is a superstar over there much like his brother Saku. Maybe taking teams back home is not the best idea. Good for ticket sales but both the Red Wings and the Wild flopped when they went back to Sweden and Finland.
Heather: I dunno. It's hard to pick one. Even Mikko was disappointing for a while. And I really hate the way Havlat plays. I know he's "really good" and whatnot, but I can't stand to watch him unless it's literally the moment he's putting the puck in the net. I can't explain why he irritates me so.
Elise: The inconsistency and fluctuation of the team's play drives me crazy. Yes, a lot of teams can be streaky, but whenever I think the players are really coming together, they play uninspired hockey and blow it. Even within games, the second period slump has become infamous in the Wild world and can completely change the outcome of the game. I'm not expecting the team to win every game, but as a fan you hope for some semblance of consistency.
Nathan W: James Sheppard. I mean, 0 points from a former ninth overall pick? It's like he was hit by an ATV or something.
Seriously though, the biggest disappointment in my eyes has been the end of the sellout streak. It's not surprising after two seasons of missing the playoffs but at the same time the streak was something of which Wild fans everywhere could be proud. It showed the other twenty-nine teams that we were some of the best fans in hockey. However with that gone, the Rypien fiasco and a few ill-timed boos towards the home team, it's been an interesting season on the fan front and one which is disappointing.
Runner-up has to be going nearly a year without a shootout victory. That's just pitiful.
Dan S: I guess the easy answer is Cam Barker, but the whole premise of bringing him in was that he was disappointing in the first place, and he had the chance to find his game here. But to me its not really parent club related; its the rash of injuries, notably concussions, to our prospects. Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, Josh Caron, etc. I mean we're getting to point where we're starting to get a respectable prospect cupboards, and our upper crust guys are getting head injuries. Its disappointing really, since these guys are the future.
JS: Obviously, I'm disappointed in the loss of Guillaume Latendresse for the season. He was our big hope, showing last year that he had 30+ goal potential, and we were all excited to have maybe our first true scorer since Gaborik. Now, after only 8 games in which he managed 6 points, we have to wait until next year to find out if he's the real deal again, and next year's a contract year for him, so it'll be a big preoccupation for Fletch. I have to include Nate Prosser in my list of disappointments. Not at all developping like I thought he would.
Ryan: I have to be honest here... I was disappointed to see James Sheppard and Josh Harding go down before the season even started. Both have a lot of talent, but have suffered injuries in the past couple years. I never like to see players with a lot of potential have their careers derailed via injury.
Jeremy: Guillaume Latendresse. This guy was expected to step up big this season and instead he showed up big. He was out of shape and it showed early on. How many penalties did he commit because he couldn't skate? The Wild could really use his scoring touch too.
Bryan: The lack of 60 minutes of play on so many occasions. These are professional hockey players, and should not need extra motivation. They look so strong, and so good when they are going 100%, it is frustrating to have to write about 35 or 40 minute efforts. When they work hard (Sorry Tom), they cannot be beat. The acknowledge the problem, the long lulls in focus, and yet they continue. It likely almost cost the coach his job. The players are to blame, have accepted the blame, and yet still they do nothing about it.