Chuck Fletcher, Mike Yeo

Minnesota’s offseason transformation necessary for Wild culture change

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When the Minnesota Wild take the ice for their first game of the season on October 8 at home against Columbus, it’s going to be a night that will demand the fans buy a program to know just who they’re watching on the ice. Thanks to three separate deals with the Sharks as well as some free agency mixing, matching, and cutting the Wild are going to have a distinctly different look next season.

Gone is coach Todd Richards (fired) and players like Cam Barker (buyout), Jose Theodore (signed in Florida), and Antti Miettinen (KHL) while James Sheppard, Brent Burns, and Martin Havlat were all traded to San Jose. When you file away all those players and bring in the likes of Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe, and Mike Lundin you’ve got the makings of what will be a virtually brand new team in St. Paul… And the Wild needed that change desperately.

Gone are the “tweener” players like Miettinen and Sheppard. They were guys who you weren’t sure if they were defensive forwards trapped in a skilled players body or vice versa. The same applies for Barker as a defenseman. Barker was brought in in what may turn out to be one of GM Chuck Fletcher’s more infamous trades which saw him send former first round pick Nick Leddy and Kim Johnsson to Chicago for the once promising Barker.

At the time the deal was done, it seemed it would be a winner for the Wild as Barker showed tremendous upside in Chicago, but his Wild career was a series of mistakes and poor plays that saw him turn into a guy that former coach Todd Richards couldn’t trust on the ice. Barker’s time in Minnesota went so poor the team bought him out.

Sheppard’s departure was like the gift to those who were excited to see former GM Doug Risebrough get the boot two years ago. Sheppard represented one of many failed draft picks under Risebrough’s leadership and for the guys at Hockey Wilderness, Sheppard’s departure is a major relief as Bryan Reynolds expresses quite clearly.

As for the Wild, the poster boy of the old regime is gone. The days of poor drafting and piss poor development look to be behind the franchise, and Sheppard’s departure is the perfect symbolic end to that era. There were bigger busts in the draft, to be sure, but none were as long and as painful to watch unfold as James Sheppard. The fault for that is shared, the end result now squarely on his shoulders.

All-in-all, a great trade for the Wild, one I never would have predicted in a million years. Chuck Fletcher deserves a nomination for fleecing of the year, if only because he got something, anything, in exchange for one of the biggest flops in team history.What it means for the Sharks is up to their team and their fans to debate. I don’t get it, but I’m not an NHL GM for a reason.

With those guys out and the new blood in, roles are more clearly defined on the team. Heatley and Setoguchi are there to generate offense and score tons of goals for the Wild. They’re there the sort of players they haven’t had since Marian Gaborik left town as a free agent.

Powe is there to be a checking line force with Cal Clutterbuck and hit everyone in sight. Powe’s eventual work on the penalty kill will have him earning praise all over Minnesota. Lundin is getting a shot to get more minutes on the blue line and show how well he can fit in as a two-way blue liner. The high hopes that Barker failed to bring will be balanced out by Lundin’s steadier presence.

Making the team roles more defined was a necessary move in Minnesota. When you look at the Wild roster the last couple of years, you see what they’ve had and wonder how they were able to throw it all together to win any games. Throwing essentially four lines of the same sorts of players at opponents works fine when your system is clearly defined (see: Jacques Lemaire) but under Richards it just didn’t work right and the team faltered.

If new coach Mike Yeo can get the team focused and turn them into a better attacking squad with a tough team defense, the Wild have the opportunity to do something they haven’t done since 2007-2008: Make the playoffs.

‘He was great, full of life’: Sharks’ Braun mourns the passing of father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the third period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a heavy heart.

According to CSN Bay Area, Braun’s father-in-law and NHL veteran Tom Lysiak passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with leukemia.

The news was confirmed Monday.

“He was great, full of life,” said Braun, as per CSN Bay Area. “Loved to hang out with the boys. Loved to talk about his hockey days. Great father, great husband. Great to me, welcomed me into the family.

“Just a tough day.”

Lysiak was a three-time NHL all-star, playing 13 seasons in the league with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 292 goals and 843 points in 919 games over the course of his career.

Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As per CSN Bay Area, he is expected to be in the Sharks lineup for Game 2.

“It’s a tough situation. To Justin’s credit, he was business as usual. He’s made some arrangements for after Game 2 to pay his respects and do what he has to do on that end,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

“There’s not much you can do. You feel for him. He went out there, he battled for us under tough circumstances. I think we all appreciate it.”

Video: Crosby has an ‘insatiable appetite’ to get better

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Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?

Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.

(On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)

“He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.

On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.

“He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.

“That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.

That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.

Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.

(In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)

The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.

“I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.

“As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

 

 

With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

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Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

(The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

“If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

“He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”

‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

“They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

But the Sharks kept him in check.

His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded: