Minnesota fires coach Todd Richards; Would a roster overhaul help the next coach?

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You can add Minnesota to the list of teams that will be looking for a new coach. The Wild relieved Todd Richards of his duties today after going 77-71-16 in his two years at the helm of the team. Yes, he finished those two years above .500 but in the NHL being slightly above average doesn’t always mean you’re going to make the playoffs and in both seasons the Wild missed the postseason. That doesn’t cut it in the NHL and Richards pays for it with his job.

Is it his fault that he couldn’t get a team weighed down by bad contracts and mostly average talent into the postseason though? We’re not buying it. When you look at what the Wild have on their roster and then compare it to what it costs to ice a team like that, it’s staggering to think that you can expect any coach to make a playoff team out of that quagmire.

Things aren’t going to be much easier for GM Chuck Fletcher next season either as the Wild are committed to over $52 million next season already. Even with the salary cap reportedly headed up to $62.2 million next year, with all the issues and holes the Wild have on their roster, that extra $10 million or so in space doesn’t leave them much room for improvement. The Wild aren’t a team that needs to patch a couple of holes, they need a complete overhaul of the roster. The problem there, what do you do with some of the bad money?

Cam Barker has been a bust since being acquired from Chicago last season and at over $3 million with a year left on his deal, maybe he can be moved for a draft pick. The Wild might look back on dealing Nick Leddy, who’s now starting for Chicago on defense, as a mistake. Winger Eric Nystrom is making $1.4 million and has two years left on his deal. Guillaume Latendresse has been good but often injured for the Wild and he’s making $2.5 million next season before hitting restricted free agency.

Then there’s some of the deals Fletcher’s signed on his own. Martin Havlat has been producing solidly when in the lineup. Whether you want to say that’s worth $5 million over the next four seasons makes for a potentially fiery debate. Same goes for Matt Cullen at $3.5 million,  Marek Zidlicky at $4 million, and a former Wild GM Doug Risebrough-signed Pierre-Marc Bouchard at $4.08 million all for the next two years. Those deals in a vacuum perhaps work out great, but when all paired up together it makes for quite the financial mess to work around.

As for the next guy to come in and try to fix up the Wild and get them back to the postseason, Fletcher will have an interesting decision to make. Jacques Lemaire went out of Minnesota because the Wild wanted to liven things up a bit but now a couple of familiar names are popping up on the radar in Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien. Therrien in particular is interesting because he’s been working as a scout for the Wild this year. If Fletcher wants to keep in house, Therrien could be their guy. If they go for Hitchcock, the Wild’s dedication to wanting to liven things up will go by the wayside as Hitchcock is a defensive-minded taskmaster behind the bench.

Important times are ahead for the Wild and they have to be especially smart about the direction they go in as the fan base is losing their patience. It’s time to start winning in the State of Hockey.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.