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.

A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

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PITTSBURGH — “It was a weird game,” said Pekka Rinne, pretty much nailing it.

The Nashville Predators had just lost, 5-3, after keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins without a shot for almost two full periods of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Rinne, the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite heading into the series, only saw 11 shots the whole night. Four of them beat him, including one that bounced off his own defenseman to put the Preds down, 3-0, in the first period.

Nashville eventually battled back to tie it at three, thanks to a couple of power-play snipes and an even-strength tally by Frederick Gaudreau. But Jake Guentzel‘s goal at 16:43 of the third, on a shot that broke the Penguins’ unfathomably long stretch without one, proved to be the winner. Minutes later, an empty-netter sealed it for the defending champs. 

“At the end of the day, my job is to make the save,” said Rinne, “and at the end of the game I’m disappointed I couldn’t help my team. We showed a lot of character. I thought that we played a great game. I think we have a lot of things that we can take away from this game, a lot of positives.”

Captain Mike Fisher had no idea that his Preds had held the Penguins shotless for 37 minutes, a stretch that went from 19:43 of the first when Nick Bonino‘s one-handed pass bounced off Mattias Ekholm‘s pads into the net, all the way to Guentzel’s winner.

“I knew they weren’t getting too many chances and we were playing pretty strong,” said Fisher. “We found a way to get back in it, but it wasn’t our night.”

Defenseman P.K. Subban, who had a goal called back in the first period after video review determined that Filip Forsberg was a hair offside, was characteristically positive afterwards.

“That’s hockey,” said Subban. “That’s just what it is. And if we just play the way we did, minus some of the mistakes that we made, I like our chances. We’ll be better next game, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’re going to be better. … This is going to be a long series.”

Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So, uh, where to even begin with this?

Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissions and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissions and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

But it wasn’t to be.

Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.

Video: Guentzel, Penguins regain lead after 37-minute shot drought

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Luck keeps going the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Nashville Predators kept firing away at Matt Murray, holding the Penguins without a shot on goal for a whopping 37 minutes and managing to tie the contest 3-3 after falling behind 3-0.

It was a ridiculous display … and then Pittsburgh got its next shot.

Jake Guentzel scored on that attempt, roofing it past a struggling Pekka Rinne. It’s the sort of thing you can’t even dream up.

Pittsburgh also added an empty-net goal, so Nashville needs an epic final 30 seconds if they hope to avoid a crushing Game 1 loss.

Predators hold Penguins without a shot in second, now down 3-1 in Game 1

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There’s little sense denying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ luck through 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

Through the first period, some favorable calls and a lucky bounce or two helped Pittsburgh generate a stunning 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ended the opening frame with a burst of activity after a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final by Nashville.

The Predators regained their composure and confidence in the second, resulting in a dominant display on the ice (if not on the scoreboard).

The Penguins only managed couldn’t even manage a single, measly shot on goal against Pekka Rinne during the middle frame, but unfortunately for Nashville, some dominant puck possession only resulted in a goal by Ryan Ellis.

A 3-1 deficit is digestible, if frustrating, for Nashville. We’ll see if they can get back into Game 1 in the third period.

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