14 July 2009

Wild Prospect Camp, Schedule, Lemaire moves on...

1) Prospect Camp

I had a great time at Wild Prospect Camp this summer. I've been in the building for select-a-seat when prospect camp was going on, but I've never gone to the open to the public scrimmage event before, so I didn't really know what to expect.

It was a great time. I won't pretend I have any scouting insights. Russo wrote a decent summary of the game events. Also, there were interviews (including Fletcher and Russo, also honorary coaches Burns and Clutterbuck).

But I would estimate about 3,000 fans showed up on a nice Sunday in July to get a little taste of winter. It was fun.

2) Schedule Tomorrow

The NHL will release their schedule probably tomorrow, in conjunction with an announcment at Fenway park, where all will expect confirmation of the worst kept secret in the NHL that the Bruins will be hosting the Winter Classic this season on New Years day at Fenway. Also keep in mind that this is an Olympic year, so there will be a break in the schedule so players can represent their countries at the Vancouver Games.

3) Lemaire to the Devils

This has been speculated on for a while, but former Wild and Devils head Coach Jacques Lemaire is again the head coach of the Devils. I didn't really think Lemaire would stay retired. I think he'll be around the game until he dies, and I can't help but wish him well in New Jersey. I'm glad he quit to avoid being fired by Riseborough, but I don't think Lamarillo is the easiest GM to work for either. Still I think he did a good job here, given he didn't have a great boss to work for.

06 July 2009

Free Agency, the week after

So 48 hours of Saku-watch proved fruitless as it appears he's going to take his time before deciding on a suitor. Most of the blogosphere seemed to have this deal as imminent but apparantly the sides are a year apart on term. Saku is 36, but has apparantly been offered a 4 year deal whereas the Wild are reportedly unwilling to go beyond 3.

Saku Koivu (Mikko's elder brother by 8 years) is the best UFA Center remaining, and once it became clear it was possible for him to sign elsewhere he undoubtedly has many suitors.

So here's what I think. On the surface, Saku Koivu is easily worth $4M for the next two seasons if Owen Nolan is worth that. They both strike me as veteran guys looking who are/were looking for better situations and still have a lot left in the tank. Also this is Koivu's last contract so I understand that he would pass on us to go somewhere offering a longer deal.

The problem is the Wild are within $7M of the cap and haven't signed any RFA's yet. The Wild have plenty of D, but I think signing Saku would be easier if we didn't have to pay Johnsson $5M a year. And Saku would clearly contribute more to victory than Johnsson.

Overall I'm pleased with Fletcher, but the one bone I have to pick is his stating that we don't want to go for anyone else at Center. If we go with who we have again from an offensive standpoint, we aren't that much better than the start of last year. I don't think Bouchard is the answer at center, if he were, they wouldn'tve traded for Fritche last year. So it's Shep at #2 again (even though he probably belongs as a #3 or #4 center). Good Center's are hard to get, which is why the 36yo vet Saku Koivu is getting so much interest, but I would like Fletcher to consider Mike Comrie. He may not have great numbers, but they're better than Shep's and he has enough experience for the #2 center role. Not to mention he's certainly not due a raise from his $4M last year and about 8 years younger than Saku. This really seems like a good cheaper and younger alternative to Koivu that Fletcher was too quick to dismiss.

The big reason I'm pleased with Fletcher is how he's going about upgrading the defense. Greg Zanon was great to watch in Milwaukee and he's the guy bringing the toughness that Fletcher spoke about. With the bringing in of Zanon, and tough guy Shane Hindy he has 7 D under contract.

It remains to be seen what will become of Skoula, Bergeron and Foster. I think at most one these will be coming back, and I don't think it'll be Skoula. They might try to squeeze Foster in for about $1M, but that would make 8D, two of which will be scratched every night. Don't be surprised if all three of these players are gone.

02 July 2009

Wild Free Agency So Far...

All right I'm typing this with one eye on the Puck Daddy 2009 Free Agent Frency Chatter Box because I'm expecting news any minute on Saku Koivu....

Aside from that I'd say I'm especially pleased with where the Wild are at now.

1) Confimred Signings

D Greg Zanon (3yr/avg $1.9M)

I'm really psyched about this signing. I remember seeing him when I was still a fan of the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals (I don't want to claim to be a current fan because I no longer have family ties to Wisconsin and haven't been to an Admirals game in 3 years) seeing Greg Zanon. He's was a beast. I don't think he's made too much noise since getting to the NHL with the Preds, but he's a big physical guy willing to throw his weight around. It now seems to me when Fletcher was talking about brining toughness to this team, this is the kind of guy he had in mind. I think a need that has been underrated for the Wild is the need to have players willing to stand up for Backstrom (or Harding for that matter) after whistles. Too many liberties were taken and Burnsie and Schultz (when healthy) seemed to be the only guys willing to do anything about out (except of course for Boogaard, but it's hard to count that when he appears for 6 minutes a night, albiet those tend to be key minutes).

W Martin Havlat (6yrs/$5M per)

This one seems good on the surface, he had a career year last year with the hawks (77pts in 81 games), but beware, he's missed more games than Gaborik in the same length of a career. That said in terms of what have you done for me latley Havlat at $5M coming of a year where he missed on game v. $7.5M for Gaborik who played in 20, this seems like the better deal. I don't really have a problem with the money, but I think the term is kind of risky. But a lot of potential upside if he stays healthy (Imagine Havlat-Koivu-Bouchard?, more on lines later)

2) Who the Wild Aren't pursuing

W Marian Gaborik

Gaborik of course signed with the New York Rangers as all of you should know. I was shocked when the rumor was that Gaborik's agent was seeking a 10 year for $75M. Gaborik got the money, but not the term. Still Gaborik should be thrilled anyone gave him over 3 years at that kind of money. But if you though the Twin Cities media was rough on the former franchise player, wait until the big apple gets a hold of him.

Still I want to wish Gaborik the best, I think his leaving the State of Hockey is ultimatly best overall for both sides, but I am glad for the time he was here. I was glad to attend the game where he scored 5 goals against the Rangers (also in that game and just about as thrilling is when Burns laid out two guys that were going to hit him after a whistle).

As for the Rangers I think they definatly overpaid, but as is true with Havlat, if Gabs finally stays healthy, the upside is potnetially huge.

D Bergeron, D Skoula
I think chances are these guys are hitting the open market with Zanon being signed. I'm not going to cry too much over Skoula, Bergeron I'll miss a little more, although he only stayed the one year, and I think fell slightly short of the offensive expectaions. Foster's probably not going to be signed if the Wild manage to sign the Penguins Scuderi. Scud would make D number 8, so the Wild would probably be scratching two nightly (usually Foster and Scott) in that scenario.

C Velliux
It looks to me like he's going to be the odd man out unless all pursuits of UFA Centers fall through for the Wild.

3) Who we're still chasing

C Saku Koivu

Eight Years Mikko's elder, this Koivu brother could be the answer to the Wild's depth problems at center. Yes granted he's at the age when his game will be in decline. But his experience would be great. And as my freind Jen puts it, "We could have a grumpy old man line," meaning Nolan-Koivu, S-Brunette, that thought gets me exicted.

If we don't get Saku (he either retires or just heads elsewhere, apparantly Anaheim is still in the mix), there are other FA centers the Wild will need to look at. (I've been typing for 20 minutes, no news on Koivu).

The Wild have been rumored to be close since last night, apparantly they're still trying to come to an agreement on the length, according to the Strib's Russo.

D Rob Scuderi ("Scuds")

He was barely above a minimum wage player last year on the Stanley Cup Champs. His performace definatly warrants him a raise from his $713K. Apparantly a few teams are interested including the Pens wanting him for a return, but this would be another great addition to the blue line.

4) The ugly news (we're getting close to the cap).

Accoring to NHLnumbers.com the Wild are at about $50.7M with the cap expected to be around $56.8M. That includes 6 D (3 of which will be RFAs after next season), and 12F. This does not include any RFAs (Harding, Brodzinak, and Pouliot among those being tendered qualifying offers on June 30). So the space it tight, and probably too tight for both Scuds and Koivu (unless they both come in at under $3M each somehow). Boy how much easier this would've been if Johnsson's $4.875M contract were one year shorter?

Well this took about 20 minutes to type and nothing further on Koivu, I imagine he'll be signed once I click publish, but again follow the Y! Sports Puck Daddy Free Agent Chatter Box for the latest (The Strib's Michael Russo has been included :) ).