Wild re-sign James Sheppard, Wild fans lose their minds over it

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j.sheppard.jpgI know that the Minnesota Wild aren’t a team people really clamor for information about in a huge way, at least not in the way that say the Penguins or Capitals turn internet browsers into ravenous fiends, but they make news on occasion. Like today for instance, they re-signed forward James Sheppard to a one-year deal worth $805,000. Michael Russo at the Star-Tribune got to ask general manager Chuck Fletcher about this move, which, to say the least, is curious.

Basically, the Wild wants internal competition in camp. Cody Almond had an injury-plagued year, and who knows if Casey Wellman will be ready? So for a team short on centers, Fletcher didn’t think it would be wise to throw away a 22-year-old first-round pick. Also, what if Sheppard is an asset that can be moved for something or thrown into a deal that could sway it over the top? To have just thrown him out didn’t seem to make sense to Fletcher.

Mind you, the Wild aren’t spending a ton of money on Sheppard and yes, he is still quite young and could be productive. Wild fans, however, are not amused in the least. Take a look at what Brian Reynolds at Hockey Wilderness are saying about this.

I would like to remind you all that if you work very hard, keep your nose to the grind stone, out perform everyone of your peers for the remainder of your working career, you are unlikely to make much more than James Sheppard will next year for sucking at what he does for a living.

Hockey Wilderness head man Nathan Eide also had a more colorful sentiment for James Sheppard:

**** James Sheppard.

Who knew that a lack-luster young forward could cause such a stir. Then again, perhaps this is residue from the Marian Gaborik separation, or the Jacques Lemaire departure or even the Benoit Pouliot hangover (which was likely cured by Guillaume Latendresse). One way or another, perhaps we should hope for some good fortune for the folks in St. Paul lest they become the NHL version of the grumpy old man chasing those darn neighbor kids off their lawn.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”