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.

Russian ice hockey player has 2-year doping ban cut

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ZURICH (AP) The International Ice Hockey Federation has slashed a doping ban given to Russian forward Danis Zaripov from two years to six months.

He’s eligible to play again from Thursday.

Zaripov, a Russian Olympian in 2010, was suspended in July for taking the banned substance pseudoephedrine.

However, the IIHF says it has reached a settlement with Zaripov, who filed an appeal. The IIHF agreed to cut the suspension. Since it’s dated from May 23, that means Zaripov will be eligible again on Thursday.

The IIHF says its decision is “based on extensive documentary and expert evidence that was unavailable” this year.

Zaripov has previously told Russian media he was in contact with the St. Louis Blues about a move to the NHL, where his ban isn’t valid.

Scary thought: The Blues are starting to get healthy

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As one bad headache begins to relieve itself for St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo, a new, good one is starting to begin.

By most estimations, Yeo’s St. Louis Blues simply weren’t supposed to be doing this well this early. Or even at all.

Decimated by injuries before one puck had been dropped in the NHL’s 2017-18 regular season, the Blues were forced to rely on depth players to carry some of the load.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch summed it up like this in late September:

In Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Robby Fabbri (knee), Petteri Lindbohm (shoulder), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Alexander Steen (hand) the Blues currently have 310 games, 53 goals and 81 assists from the 2016-17 regular season on the sidelines.

That’s a lot to replace and expect to still rattle off the wins.

Berglund’s offseason injury to his shoulder required surgery and a four-to-six-month timeline to heal – a tough pill to swallow on a team hoping for swift recoveries from Fabbri and Lindbohm, who also went under the knife.

And then training camp came and things got much, much worse.

Fabbri’s season was over as it was just beginning after he tore his ACL in his left knee on Sept. 24, the same ACL that was surgically repaired just months before in February. Seven days earlier, 15-year veteran defenseman Bouwmeester fractured his ankle and two days before Bouwmeester’s injury, winger Sanford dislocated his left shoulder, rendering him out for five-to-six months.

Yet, instead of crumbling, the Blues somehow managed to excel.

The Blues went 10-3-1 in October and two-thirds of the way through November, St. Louis is the top dog in the Central Division, the Western Conference, and the second place team in the whole of the NHL.

Not too shabby from the Band-Aid brigade. The depth general manager Doug Armstrong has managed to put together is impressive.

His offseason acquisition in Brayden Schenn has thrived in his new threads, with eight goals and 26 points and a current seven-game point streak. Schenn, the fourth-best point producer in the NHL thus far this season, is tied for the team lead in points with Jaden Schwartz, whose early season trends have him on pace for a career year, already having amassed 10 goals and 16 helpers.

The type of headache that doesn’t require an Advil begins for Yeo on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, a game that will be live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET.

Bouwmeester will play his first game of the season on Tuesday as he’s been deemed fit to return to the lineup.

The 34-year-old is expected to resume commanding big minutes, as he has done throughout his 15-year career. Blues fans will be hoping he can help out their 23rd-ranked penalty kill. He’s been pretty good in that area.

His return leaves the Blues with eight healthy defensemen, leaving Yeo with what he called a “good problem to have” on Monday.

Yeo has played rookie Vince Dunn in all 21 games this season and the 2015 second-round pick has done more than just earn his keep in the Blues rearguard, averaging 16:38 per night. Yeo said Monday that Dunn needs to be playing. It’s expected that Carl Gunnarsson makes way for Bouwmeester.

Meanwhile, Lou Korac of NHL.com reported that Berglund could be ready come early December, if not earlier.

Berglund practiced in Monday’s full-contact skate and has been working with the team on-ice for a while now.

It appears more good problems are in Yeo’s future.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL on NBCSN: Blues expect to get Bouwmeester back for clash with Oilers

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The NHL on NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Edmonton Oilers at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The St. Louis Blues have been hit hard by injuries so far this season, but that hasn’t stopped them from having some success in 2017-18.

Finally, they’ll be getting some good news, as Jay Bouwmeester is expected to play for the first time this season. Bouwmeester hasn’t suited up for the Blues since suffering a fractured ankle early on in training camp.

“It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp,” Bouwmeester told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.”

The 34-year-old’s return gives the Blues’ top four defense some balance. He skated on a pairing with Colton Parayko, while Alex Pietrangelo was with Joel Edmundson during Monday’s practice.

“He’s a veteran guy, his skating ability, defensive game, I don’t expect him to step in and his game to be exactly where it’s going to be five, 10 games from now,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “We have to understand he’s missed a lot of time but his experience will make the transition. It will come along quickly.”

The Blues have been just fine without Bouwmeester, so they should be even better now that he’s back. They’ll head into tonight’s game with the best record in the Central Division at 15-5-1.

Things haven’t been going as well for the Oilers, who are alarming close to the basement of the Western Conference through 20 games.

Surprisingly, only two teams (Buffalo and San Jose) have scored less goals than Edmonton’s 50 this season. When you look at the individual numbers on the team, you understand why they’re struggling so much.

Only two players (Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) have scored eight goals or more this season. Nobody else on the team has more than five.

Another big issue has been the play of Cam Talbot, who went from one of the top goalies in the NHL to being pretty average this season. Talbot owns a 7-10-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage this season.

“He’s part of the team … the goalies have to be better, the defense, the forwards, the coaches have to be better,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal. “None of us have lived up to where we need to be and that’s why we’re where we are in the standings.

“I’m not going to single out the goaltender. It’s team-wide.”

PHT Morning Skate: Top 5 moments from Auston Matthews’ first 100 NHL games

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–The Dallas Stars have been hit hard by injuries lately. On Monday, they announced that Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal would both miss some time. Also, Kari Lehtonen is away from the team after he and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world. (Wrongsideoftheredline.com)

Jay Bouwmeester, who has been out since the third day of training camp, is expected to return to St. Louis’ lineup tonight. “It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp. I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

–Sabres coach Phil Housley is trying to find solutions to help his team get back on track. Right now that includes mixing up the lines. Jack Eichel finds himself with Zegmus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, which seems like a bit of a demotion. (Buffalohockeybeat)

–Anton Rodin’s time with the Vancouver Canucks has officially come to an end, as he’s been placed on waivers with the purpose of terminating his contract. “Anton asked to be released from his contract,” said Jim Benning. “We value the skill and depth he adds to our team but ultimately it was important to respect Anton’s request to move on.” (Vancourier.com)

–Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are struggling this season. Some people want to blame Connor McDavid for that, but according to NHLNumbers.com, GM Peter Chiarelli should be the one taking the heat. (NHLNumbers.com)

–The swap Mike Cammalleri-for-Jussi Jokinen swap between the Kings and Oilers was nothing more than a weak attempt for both teams to try to get back on track. Don’t expect the move to help either side. (Fanragsports.com)

–Hall-of-famers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were honored prior to the game between the Ducks and Panthers on Sunday night. “It was just a perfect way to end a great week and a half,” Kariya said. “Just the most memorable time, certainly in my life and both of our lives. To spend it with Teemu and his family, it was icing on the cake. I’ll always remember the ovation.” (OC Register)

–Like all of us, Jets winger Patrik Laine is impressed by Selanne’s 76-goal rookie record he set in 1993. Laine can’t imagine anyone will ever touch that one. “Thirty-six, that was hard,” Laine said of his own rookie total. “So imagine if I had to score 40 more on top of the 36 I scored. I would say it’s pretty hard.” (NHL.com)

–Jets prospect Jack Roslovic is ripping it up in the AHL, but Winnipeg shouldn’t recall him yet. He needs more time to grow in the minors. (Jetsnation.ca)

–Preds forward Craig Smith had been doing all the right things on paper last season, he just couldn’t buy a goal for long stretches. Now, Smith’s hard work has paid off, as he’s finally starting to produce with a little more regularity. (Ontheforecheck.com)

–The pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy has worked out well for Boston because there’s a terrific teacher and a willing student. What does Chara like best about his defense partner? “That he’s quickly able to adapt to our system and our game. We saw it in the playoffs [last season]. He stepped in and gave us a contribution right away. He didn’t seem to be nervous, or caught in a situation where he’d be distracted.” (ESPN.com)

–Filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason believes Willie O’Ree (first black player to play in the NHL) and Herb Carnegie (Jean Beliveau said that he was one of the best players to never play in the NHL) should both be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Colorofhockey.com)

–Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the top prospect available for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. How we he help every one of the struggling teams in the NHL? The Hockey News breaks it down for you. (The Hockey News)

–Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi is already on his third team this season. Since he’s been on the move a lot, he’s decided to go with the plain white goalie mask. He should embrace the simple mask. (Puckjunk.com)

–How can the NHL spice up some of the stale rivalries in the league? Scottywazz.com believes that handing out a trophy could help. (Scottywazz.com)

Auston Matthews suited up in his 100th NHL game, so The Score breaks down the top 5 moments from his young career. To no ones surprise, the top moment came in his first game. (The Score)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.