Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards shouldn’t take the blame for another disappointing season

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It might seem a bit absurd to call a team that nearly hits the salary cap ceiling “scrappy,” but that could be the best way to describe the 2010-11 Minnesota Wild. The description may have been apt when they were fighting hard without heart-and-soul player Mikko Koivu, at least.

Yet whatever moral victories you would like to attach to the Wild, the bottom line is that they fell apart down the home stretch of the regular season. For that reason, many – including Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal – wonder if head coach Todd Richards will be the fall guy in Minnesota.

After all, there’s that cliche that you can’t fire a team, so you fire the coach, right?

Simply put, though, if the Wild want to look for a source of blame, they should set their gaze higher up the food chain. There are two ways to look at a roster whose output doesn’t match their cost: either the coach isn’t getting the most out of those players or the general manager did a shabby job putting a team together.

After looking at the Wild’s ugly, expensive roster, I doubt I’m the only one who would lean toward the second option. The biggest problem, though, is that GM Chuck Fletcher isn’t responsible for all the blunders; he gained the title on May 2009 after original GM Doug Risebrough saddled the team with pricey, low-value deals.

In many ways, the Wild are a slightly less dire and depressing version of the Florida Panthers. Both teams play a bland style of hockey and frequently find themselves in hockey purgatory, not being good enough to make an impact in the playoffs but also being just successful enough not to get a valuable high-end draft pick or two. In the long run, both teams find themselves without many blue chip prospects, so the future looks to be full of more shoulder shrugs.

Ultimately, the easiest way to throw some meat to the wolves (aka the many miffed Minnesota fans) would be to fire Richards. The team doesn’t have a ton of money for free agents this summer, especially with Koivu’s far more expensive contract extension kicking in. It’s too early to really blame Fletcher, too.

The problem is that Richards had this team fighting hard before they inevitably fell apart due to the fact that, frankly, they aren’t very good. I could see firing him if he played a dual role of coach and GM, but he isn’t the person ultimately responsible for assembling this tepid collection of half-talent.

Then again, perhaps the only hope the Wild have of persevering beyond their middling existence is to hire some “miracle worker” behind the bench. It might be their only course of action, even if it’s likely that such a move would be an example of change happening for the sake of change.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.