Todd Richards

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.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.

Boedker to make Team Europe debut in World Cup final

DENVER, CO - MARCH 09:  Mikkel Boedker #89 of the Colorado Avalanche controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on March 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Ducks 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Mikkel Boedker‘s first game for Team Europe will be a big one.

Boedker, a healthy scratch throughout the World Cup, will make his European debut on Tuesday, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik (foot) in the first of the best-of-three final.

Head coach Ralph Kreuger opted for Boedker rather than dressing Luca Sbisa as a seventh defenseman, and lamented losing Gaborik’s presence in the lineup.

“We’re losing some leadership and smarts on the puck that were exemplary,” Krueger said, per the L.A. Times.

What the Europeans will gain, however, is speed. Boedker’s one of the fastest skaters in the league and is coming off a good offensive campaign, tying a career-high with 51 points.

The 26-year-old appeared in two of Europe’s exhibition games, both against Team North America. He received a ton of ice time in the first — 19:46 — but had that cut in half for the rematch, when he had 13 shifts for just 9:22 TOI.

Related: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks

 

Under Bednar, Avs won’t ‘slow the game down’ like they did with Roy

Nathan MacKinnon
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Though it’s hard to pinpoint just one standout from the high-flying North American team at the World Cup, speedy Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon was certainly in the conversation.

Now, MacKinnon wants that tournament success to translate over to the regular season — and he’s confident Colorado’s coaching change will make it happen.

From the Denver Post:

Is [Jared] Bednar’s system different from what the Avalanche did under Patrick Roy?

“Yeah, it is,” MacKinnon said. “Now every puck we get, we want to move it up quickly and use our speed and not wait and go D-to-D, back to D and slow the game down.

“We have very good skaters on our team, and we want to use that.”

One of the blueliners responsible for moving the puck quickly, Tyson Barrie, echoed those sentiments.

“There’s going to be no messing around with the puck, no playing around with it in our end, in the neutral zone,” Barrie said of Bednar’s system, per NHL.com. “We’re going to be pushing the pace, getting it into the forwards’ hands. We’re going to play fast and our defensemen are going to be jumping.

“I’m super impressed.”

Not utilizing Colorado’s speed was considered one of Roy’s major failings as head coach. With the likes of MacKinnon and Matt Duchene in the mix, it seemed like playing an uptempo game was the obvious choice — yet, as stated above, the Colorado blueliners were instructed to play more east-west than north-south.

That figures to change under Bednar.

In his previous stop, Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, Bednar led a high-octane group that had no problem finding the back of the net. The Monsters led the American League in playoff scoring en route to the Calder Cup, and did it with a talented, versatile blueline that delivered pucks to the forwards.

(Bednar also had a glut of good, young talent at his disposal. Zach Werenski, the eight overall pick in 2015, anchored the blueline will the likes of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano were up front.)

Needless to say, Colorado should be a fascinating team to watch this year.

Related: Keep an eye on the goaltending situation in Colorado

Pouliot’s goal is to become ‘full-time player’ for Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 27: Derrick Pouliout #51 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on December 27, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, it’s fair to say that Derrick Pouliot has yet to reach his full potential. He’s only played 56 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, stretched over two seasons. And compared to the rest of his draft class, that’s not very many NHL games.

Granted, it’s also fair to say that Pouliot’s still only 22, and defenseman are known to take longer to develop. This year, he says he’s come to camp in better shape, with the goal of staying with the Pens all season.

“That’s the goal. I know things can change pretty quick, but I’m confident with the shape I’m in and in my ability to play,” he said, per the Times Leader. “Hopefully I can make myself a full-time player here.”

Pouliot is still waivers-exempt, so he’ll need to earn his spot. The Penguins re-signed Justin Schultz for another year, and that could be his competition.

“We have high expectations for Derrick,” said head coach Mike Sullivan, per the Post-Gazette. “We’ve kept close tabs on him all summer long, and we knew he was coming into camp in the type of shape that he’s in. … He’s a very talented kid, and when he put those two things together, we think he’s going to improve another level.”