You can tell the trade deadline is approaching as teams are pulling the trigger as they hope to get a head start on the competition. I remember back in the day when you could play Electronic Arts' NHL '94 where if you were patient enough it was rather easily to start a sequence of trades where you'd start with a role player like Shawn Chambers only to eventually land top rated talent like Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Mario Lemieux or Doug Gilmour. Obviously it did not replicate real life at all.
Anyone could be a GM if it was that easy, where you'd start with a team full of role players and end up with a 'Dream Team' of Hall of Famers. Out of touch with reality? Maybe, but if you look at some of those teams from the 1990's and early 2000's there were some teams out there that had a ridiculous amount of talent. The Red Wings at one time had Dominik Hasek, Niklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and Brett Hull all on one team meanwhile the Penguins had a lineup that was full Hall of Famers in Mario Lemieux, Jaormir Jagr, Ron Francis, Mark Recchi, Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey, and Larry Murphy. There were wide chasms between the haves and the have nots in the NHL in those days as no salary cap was in place. Nowadays trading playersis not that easy, especially in today's NHL where players have such long contracts that it makes them difficult to move. Electronic Arts has made great strides in making its trade portion of its games more realistic, in fact almost too realistic. Now one has to give away lots and lots just for a marginal player in return; this is especially true on NHL '11. That almost makes trading unrealistic in itself in the fact it makes nearly impossible to pull off. But all of the quirkiness of trades only happens in video games right? Then again maybe not. Consider the Wild's Northwest Division rival the Colorado Avalanche. What the heck has happened to them? After surprising many last year when its young, fast and dynamic roster made the post season the team struggled through injuries and suspect goaltending to be near the bottom of the Western Conference. Heck, franchise-hero Peter Forsberg threw in the towel on his career after another failed comeback attempt. Even though the team has weathered a considerable amount of disappointment it still had lots to like, a young and dynamic core with loads of potential. Avalanche management clearly saw it very differently and began shipping off components of the team including last year's hero between the pipes Craig Anderson for a goaltender who struggled mightily to find consistency in Ottawa in Brian Elliot. A poor trade with Ottawa placed clearly as the winner of the deal would've been bad enough had Avalanche General Manager Greg Sherman hadn't made another head-scratcher of a trade when he sent promising power forward Chris Stewart and dynamic defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the St. Louis Blues for 3rd line penalty killer Jay McClement and underwhelming 1st Overall pick Erik Johnson. No offense, but a young dynamic goal scorer like Stewart is probably worth McClement and Johnson by himself. Goals are something every team in the NHL is looking for and Stewart appeared to be a franchise cornerstone for the Avs, but apparently they decided to go in a different direction which is baffling at this point in the season where team's chances for the post season are slim to none. Stewart was off to a torrid pace scoring-wise this season until he broke his hand in a fight with the Wild's Kyle Brodziak, and Shattenkirk is also a young defenseman who has great mobility and can bring a lot of nice things offensively as well. To see him thrown into the deal makes the trade that much more lopsided. If the Avs are that desperate to rid themselves of their young talent I'd offer them Cam Barker for Matt Duchene. They were both taken 3rd Overall!?!? Good trade right?
Minnesota hosts the upstart Edmonton Oilers who have embraced the role of spoiler as of late. Young phenom Taylor Hall is starting to heat up and demonstrate why he was worthy of the 1st Overall pick. The Wild better prepared to take on a loose opponent who is playing some of its best hockey right now. So will the Wild be able to bring their "A" game against the Oilers who have nothing to lose or will they overlook Edmonton and pay the price of over confidence?
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1st Period Thoughts: Not the kind of period you want to have against a cellar-dwelling team. The Wild were trying to be too cute with the puck and were not hustling nearly enough and were caught too many times reaching and poking around the ice. It was quite frustrating watching the Wild attempt one extra pass or give the puck away needlessly instead of taking opportunities to put a bad team on its heels early. The lack of scoring chances kept the home crowd out of the game; and that was after earning two quick power plays at the start. Neither power play did much to put any real pressure on Nikolai Khabibulin. The inability of the Wild to establish much in the way of offense invited the Oilers to go on the attack and Taylor Hall was really flying around the ice, taking every opportunity to blast shots on Niklas Backstrom who was focused and poised between the pipes. The only Wild skater who appeared to have a sense of urgency was Matt Cullen, but the rest of the team was simply waiting for their teammates to create something. Minnesota would get into some penalty trouble midway through the period as the team's lack of energy nearly came back to bite them. Luckily for the Wild, they were able to kill off the two penalties with good puck pressure against the worst power play in the NHL. I don't care if the tripping penalty on Clayton Stoner was bogus; the team was getting tagged with penalties because it wasn't hustling enough. Speaking of Stoner I felt he had a reasonably good period. He was stepping up to support the play in the offensive zone as well as using his body to seal off opposing forwards. I think the team even started to feel a level of frustration and towards the end of the period they began to take it out on Edmonton with some pretty solid body checks by Greg Zanon, Eric Nystrom and Cal Clutterbuck but overall it was a major disappointment and the kind of do-nothing periods that bad teams playing on the road thrive on. The Wild can feel a little fortunate that Edmonton was failing to execute on some of its opportunities or this could've gone from a disappointing period to a disaster.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota did not start out much better in the 2nd period, the Wild were still just sort of going through the motions. The Wild would finally get a spark after the Oilers' Theo Peckham gave a shove to Cal Clutterbuck who played it up a bit as he kicked his legs out and fell back to the ice. The hit got Minnesota a little stirred up but not quite all the way as that would finally happen when Andrew Brunette was tagged with a slashing penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers were again rock solid, forcing the Oilers to the perimeter and clearing the zone with relative ease. The Wild would finish up the Oilers' power play on the attack as Matt Cullen drove a shot on goal that was steered wide by Khabibulin. The ice would start to tilt into the Oilers' zone, and Minnesota was also starting to ratchet up its physical play as Clutterbuck began to rock Edmonton blueliners on the forecheck. Brent Burns would get in on the action as he crushed Taylor Chorney with a wicked hip check. The Wild would finally get on the scoreboard off a pretty two-line pass by Greg Zanon that hit Martin Havlat in stride and he raced in and beat Khabibulin with a quick wrist shot that snuck through 5-hole to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The game would open up a bit after Havlat's goal, but this allowed for scoring chances for both teams. The Oilers' fourth line nearly answered back as Ryan Jones was nearly able to capitalize on the rebound only to be robbed by a great save by Backstrom. The Wild had some more chances too as Pierre-Marc Bouchard was set up a few times by Havlat but his wrist shots were absorbed by Khabibulin. Minnesota had one of its best chances later in the period as Andrew Brunette took the puck to the crease where he fired a shot that was stopped by Khabibulin and his rebound would be kicked over to Antti Miettinen who was shut down by the skate save of Kurtis Foster. The puck would be outletted to Linus Omark who raced into the Wild zone where he drew the puck back to Foster who had joined the rush and he rifled a shot that hit the post and in to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota had good hustle throughout most of the period, and Martin Havlat was taking his chances to be assertive and when he does that good things happen for the Wild. Credit must be given to Minnesota's penalty killers like Eric Nystrom and John Madden who gave Edmonton nothing to build some momentum on. Foster's goal hurts, but Minnesota had finally found its legs offensively and hopefully it can retake the lead somewhere in the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would have a much better start, as the Wild would cause a turnover in the neutral zone where Nick Schultz fed a pass to Kyle Brodziak who beat Khabibulin with a backhander to give the State of Hockey a 2-1 lead. The goal deflated the Oilers and Minnesota continued to attack, and they would draw a holding penalty on Theo Peckham. Minnesota's power play would get set up without much difficulty but I have to say at times it was looking a little too passive as Bouchard waited and waited before dishing the puck to Marek Zidlicky who fed it over to Jared Spurgeon who thought about it before flinging a shot on goal that went through the legs of Brodziak and by a surprised Khabibulin to put the Wild up 3-1. Minnesota nearly threw away its lead with a little laziness that caused them to take two penalties giving the Oilers a fairly long 5-on-3 power play. Again, Minnesota's penalty killers stepped up to shut down the Oilers. Backstrom was great as well, absorbing the puck and earning the PK unit an invaluable whistle during the first 30 seconds of the 1:30 long 5-on-3. The successful penalty kill would raise the chippiness of the game as Eric Nystrom drew a penalty after a Ryan Jones tried to get his stick into the grill of the Wild winger who then was ran into the boards immediately after Jones' hit by Jean-Francois Jacques. Jacques would go to the penalty box for roughing, but Minnesota's power play tried to set up Spurgeon for another goal on a back door play but he would be denied by the Oilers netminder. Minnesota would add the coup-de-grace on turnover in the neutral zone that saw one Oilers' defender lose an edge giving Pierre-Marc Bouchard an uncontested approach and just as he did in a shootout a few years ago, Bouchard moved in and beat Khabibulin with a spin-a-rama to put the Wild up 4-1. It was a pretty goal, one that no doubt had to stick in the craw of Khabibulin who would glare towards the Wild celebrating after the game. In the closing minutes, Brad Staubitz attempted to instigate a bit as he took a run at Jacques who wanted to fight but NHL referee Stephen Walkom stepped in and broke it up before they could go at it. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards was very unhappy as it was Staubitz who got the extra penalties, showering Walkom with a rain of expletives. The Wild stepped up and took the game away from the Oilers and they have to feel lucky having really only played a half of game of quality hockey to have been able to come away with a win.
Niklas Backstrom was very solid making 20 saves in the victory. Backstrom was seeing the puck well and keeping the Oilers at bey when they were swarming around the Wild zone early in the game. Minnesota was also very solid defensively as the Wild blueline was physical when it needed to be and I really felt with the lone exception of Cam Barker they had a very solid game. The Wild's penalty kill continues to be red hot (knock on wood) as they shut down Edmonton on the power play, including an extended 5-on-3. Stoner continues to impress me a great deal and seems to be the big, mobile physical stay-at-home defenseman this team hasn't had since it lost Willie Mitchell.
Offensively the Wild got some contributions from the guys that need to step up in the absence of Mikko Koivu. Martin Havlat got things rolling with another breakaway and he has found a way to become a threat in transition that can only help stretch opposing defenses. Its good to see Spurgeon rewarded for his safe and steady play by getting his first goal tonight and perhaps that will make him feel a little more confident in pulling the trigger which was something he never hesitated to do when he was in junior with the Spokane Chiefs. The Wild should beat a team like the Oilers, but it took nearly a period and a half before the team really started to skate and look to put shots on goal and it can't afford to do that against the better teams in the Western Conference and expect to just pull away in the 3rd period like they did this evening.
It was half-game effort which was enough to beat Edmonton, which had the Wild showing a little swagger late in the game but this team needs to keep its perspective. It needs to stay focused and be better at the start because most other teams in the Western Conference would've had Minnesota down by a few goals after the terrible first period they had. Minnesota travels out to California where they will play the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. The Kings are one of those teams trailing the Wild in the standings with 68 points and its a terrific opportunity to put some more distance between them. Minnesota is currently in 5th place in the Western Conference which is nice but almost everyone seems to have 70 points so it sounds alot more secure than it actually is. The Wild will then play Anaheim on Friday so those are a huge two games back-to-back and I hope they can come away with points in each of them.
~ Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, Cody Almond, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Eric Nystrom, Greg Zanon, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Chuck Kobasew was the lone healthy scratch. Mikko Koivu (hand), Josh Harding (knee), James Sheppard (knee) and Guillaume Latendresse (groin and sports hernia) are on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let's Play Hockey were as follows: 1st Star Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 2nd Star Martin Havlat, 3rd Star Jared Spurgeon
~ Attendance tonight was 17, 321 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News wishes to congratulate Martin Havlat on scoring his 500th point in the NHL and Jared Spurgeon on his first ever NHL goal.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW - Kris Foucault ~ Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 54GP 20G 21A = 41pts 52 PIM's -5
On Sunday the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens battled it out at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, but this afternoon was the Hitmen's turn as they went toe to toe against the Regina Pats on the same ice. The result was not what the host Hitmen wanted as they fell 3-2, but the day was good to Wild prospect Kris Foucault who had a goal and 2 penalty minutes in the loss. Foucault continues his enigmatic pattern of being a flashy scorer who oozes skill and then disappears in the next moment. The Calgary-native has managed to maintain a respectable pace of points as well as +/- considering how poor the team has performed this season.
LW - Brett Bulmer ~ Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 54GP 18G 29A = 47pts 103 PIM's -11
Bulmer has been showing his mean side lately, racking up the penalty minutes at a prodigious rate but while he logs more time in the penalty box he has been seeing less and less ice time and thus his scoring totals have also flat lined. While the Wild would like to see Bulmer have a bit of nastiness to his game, I doubt they want it to be a major detriment to his offensive game. Afterall that is the line that is crossed that separates goon from being a power forward. The Wild hoped they drafted a power forward with the 39th Overall pick in the 2010 draft. Its important that Bulmer remember that.
High School Boys Hockey Report:
Class 1A rankings (according to Hockey's Hub):
#1 St. Thomas Academy Cadets (19-6-1)
#2 Hermantown Hawks (20-3-2)
#3 Rochester Lourdes Eagles (21-3-1)
#4 Breck Mustangs (17-8-0)
#5 The Blake School Bears (20-3-2)
#6 Totino-Grace Eagles (19-5-1)
#7 Warroad Warriors (17-8-0)
#8 Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl Blue Devils (18-7-0)
#9 Little Falls Flyers (20-3-2)
#10 Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers (14-10-1)
Class 2A rankings (according to Hockey's Hub):
#1 Hill-Murray Pioneers (21-3-1)
#2 Eden Prarie Eagles (18-5-2)
#3 Wayzata Trojans (18-5-2)
#4 Maple Grove Crimson (20-3-2)
#5 Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights (21-4-0)
#6 Edina Hornets (15-7-2)
#7 Duluth East Greyhounds (19-5-0)
#8 Minnetonka Skippers (16-7-2)
#9 Burnsville Blaze (17-4-4)
#10 Eagan Wildcats (17-6-2)