Next season’s Minnesota Wild team will be a significantly different one compared to the 2010-11 version, but it remains to be seen if they’ll actually see much improvement. (This point is especially true if you’re among those who believe that Dany Heatley’s career is heading toward a steep decline.)
Perhaps the biggest area of worry used to be Minnesota’s primary strength: defense. While their offense could be improved – again, that’s a matter of debate – and they employ an expensive but above average goalie in Niklas Backstrom, their defensive corps is a question mark at best. The Wild allowed 32 shots per game last season (tied for sixth worst with the New York Islanders) and they traded away their All-Star defenseman and ice time leader Brent Burns during the off-season. If anything, their summer swaps to acquire Heatley and Devin Setoguchi mark a step or two backward defensively.
Of course, there are a few mitigating factors. The biggest change will probably be in their overall scheme, as GM Chuck Fletcher fired Todd Richards in favor of new head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild are also making baby steps in the right direction with some of their most recent moves: signing solid puck mover Mike Lundin and giving Jordan Hendry a training camp tryout today.
Neither one of those moves will make a dramatic difference – Lundin will likely slide into either the second or third defensive pairing while Hendry might not even make the team – but both players provide Minnesota with simple defensive options in case things start to get ugly. With Burns’ 25 minutes per game out of the picture, Marek Zidlicky (21:46 minutes per game) and Greg Zanon (21:33) might be asked to pick up the slack. The two very different defensemen bring some positives to the table, but they’re not exactly an ideal top pairing either. The Wild might give Nick Schultz the nod over Zanon, but that doesn’t really change the picture in a significant way.
Again, Hendry isn’t likely to do much more than provide the Wild with depth, but adding him to the mix seems like a nice low-risk move going into training camp. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about Hendry, who had a rough final season with the Chicago Blackhawks that ended with a torn ACL, but he probably deserves another shot at being a everyday NHL blueliner.
This is a case of two sides needing each other: the Wild need help on defense while Hendry needs a chance to get his career back on track. In a best case scenario, you might not even notice Hendry very often if he makes the team – that’s basically his ideal job as an economical, bottom pairing defenseman.
(H/T to Rotoworld.)
Perseverance paid off for the San Jose Sharks.
Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, pushing home a loose puck on Brian Elliott after Joe Thornton was unable to convert on the breakaway seconds before.
For Pavelski, that’s his league-leading 13th goal of these playoffs.
The Sharks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight.
San Jose increased its lead to two goals, as Joel Ward capitalized early in the second period.
The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have made a trade — and it’s a big one.
As per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the two main components are forward Jared McCann, who just completed his rookie season with the Canucks, and 24-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has played five seasons with the Florida Panthers.
Here are the details:
McCann is the second draft selection of the Jim Benning-Trevor Linden era, taken 24th overall in 2014. As a 19-year-old rookie armed with a big-league wrist shot, he scored nine goals and 18 points while averaging 12:31 of ice time per game in 69 games.
The Canucks had the option of sending McCann back to junior last season and not burning a year of his entry-level deal, but they chose to keep him in Vancouver for the entire year.
One particular aspect of his development, particularly this off-season, was a need to get physically stronger, which was something that could be exposed at times in the defensive end against bigger forwards.
Gudbranson, selected third overall in 2010 and signed to a one-year, $3.5 million extension earlier this month, certainly gives the Canucks size on the back end at six-foot-five-inches tall, a physical presence and a right shot on the blue line, but he has managed only 13 points as a single-season career best and that was in 2014-15.
The Canucks also gave up two picks in this year’s draft.
It has been an Eastern Conference Final full of twists and turns in the plot.
Exhibit A: The goaltending situation for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.
That began right away, in the first period of Game 1 when Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with a lower-body injury. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been The Guy for the Lightning, which will face the Penguins in a Game 7, winner-take-all contest, in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Of the many storylines heading into this contest, one that stands out is it’s expected to be a goaltending duel between the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy and the Matt Murray, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.
(Remember when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan went with Marc-Andre Fleury to start over Murray in Game 5, only to switch back to Murray for a must-win Game 6? Another plot twist.)
Bolts head coach Jon Cooper had previously left the door open to the possibility that Bishop could return in this series. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters he’ll meet with his staff but does not anticipate Bishop being in for Game 7.
“I think Andrei is the big reason we’re in Game 7,” said Cooper.
“He’s made big save after big save for us. The one thing that I do like that’s happened to him finally in this series is, you know, he finally started a playoff game and won, whereas his other playoff wins were always in relief, and he’s won in Pittsburgh. So you’ve got to like the kid feels pretty comfortable playing there, and we like that.”
The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.
You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:
Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch
On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott
The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko
Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday