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.

Marleau says he wants to return to Sharks, but it might not be so easy

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It seemed strangely fitting that Patrick Marleau scored the final goal of the San Jose Sharks’ season as the Edmonton Oilers eliminated them in Game 6.

Monday presented questions about what that goal means.

For one thing, it definitely doesn’t sound like Marleau expects that to be his final goal in the NHL, as he believes he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more,” according to NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz.

“I still think I can contribute and play,” Marleau said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The 37-year-old made a strong argument that he can still light up the lamp in 2016-17. He scored 27 goals and 46 points during the regular season and ended his playoff run with three goals and an assist (all in the final three contests vs. Edmonton).

Marleau was especially effective once the new year rolled around, collecting 29 points in his last 41 games.

Before we get to the more unpleasant stuff, let’s watch that last goal:

So … yeah, that’s a pretty convincing case that he can at least still play now.

The bigger question is: if Marleau really wants term, are the Sharks willing to give him what he’s looking for?

Marleau admitted that discussions on an extension haven’t even happened yet. When you consider the upcoming challenges for San Jose, you wonder if this is it for a player who’s suited up for a whopping 1,493 regular season games with the franchise (even after there were significant trade rumors over the years).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s outstanding value $4.25 million cap hit evaporates after 2017-18, and the same can be said for Martin Jones‘ $3 million mark. One could imagine the Sharks approaching Marleau with a very appealing one-year offer, but it would be a big leap to imagine the franchise going for a guy who’s approaching 40 instead of a solid starting goalie and one of the best pure defensemen in the NHL.

So, really, the question isn’t “Will Marleau really play for five more years?” Instead, it might be “Does Marleau value playing for the Sharks enough to take a shorter deal or does he want that term right now?”

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.