“Movin’ on up, we finally got a piece of the pie, fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill, took a whole lot of tryin’, just to get up that hill, now we’re up in the big leagues, gettin’ our turn at bat, as long as we live its you and me baby, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, well we’re not movin’ on up!” is the lyrics to the 1970’s sitcom theme the Jefferson‘s. Its an appropriate song (minus the obvious baseball references) for Minnesota’s improbable rise to the top of the Western Conference standings, let alone to the best record in the NHL.
But why isn’t the league talking about it? A quick run down of the top headlines on NHL.com this Sunday mid-afternoon and here is what you see.
~ Canucks are refusing to lean on Cup hangover
~ Hall, RNH combine for 8 points in 9-2 win
~ B’s blank Isles 6-0 for 8th straight win
~ Watch BizNasty get goal with mom at game
~ Rangers’ streak ends with 4-0 loss to Habs
~ Lupul notches 4 points as Leafs roll 7-1
~ Bryz apologizes, gives stick to fan
~ Datsyuk’s pair ends Kings’ winning streak, 4-1
I think we could cue a clip of infamous comedian Rodney Dangerfield talking about getting no respect and not be far off the mark. Last night, on NHL on the Fly, the league’s highlight’s du jour program didn’t cover the Wild game until 11:16PM CST time, almost a full two hours after the game concluded even though they had been recycling the results of the Flyers / Jets game for over 4 hours. Even once they covered the game, the story was all about the Blues’ inability to hold a 2-1 lead than about Minnesota’s persistence or the strong play of Mikko Koivu to will his team to overtime and ultimately a shootout victory. Why are the Wild being disrespected like this?
Click on “Read More” for the rest of the article…
It almost makes a Wild fan want to punch someone in the league offices in the face. Well, maybe not, but it certainly is a slap to the face. So why would they choose to do this?
1. Minnesota is a small market – While passion for the game is high in the State of Hockey it is still a small media market compared to Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York or Los Angeles and any of the Canadian teams. So the league feels no real sense of urgency to pander to such a limited market and thus any accomplishment we achieve will be put on the back burner. Its also a major reason why I think the Wild will not be hosting a Winter Classic anytime soon; we simply won’t be enough of a draw for the league to consider it.
2. Not a ‘sexy’ roster – The Wild do not have a true NHL superstar on their roster; and that’s no disrespect to Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, Dany Heatley or Devin Setoguchi but none of them right now at this point in their career a big marquee talent. Heatley was once a marquee talent, but he’s faded and being in the limited limelight Minnesota draws has relegated him to being just another player on a team with names that many NHL fans outside the State of Hockey would struggle to recognize.
3. A lack of belief of Minnesota’s ability to sustain its success – Prior to this season, most NHL ‘experts’ picked the Wild to finish out of the playoffs. These ‘experts’ will not fall over themselves to admit they may have been wrong. So despite the Wild’s improbable success they will force Minnesota to sustain that trend before we see any sort of retraction or acknowledgement. The late-game comebacks, the milquetoast offense with no real marquee talent make it easy for them to be dismissed. Its doubtful the Wild (apart from perhaps its goaltenders) are real popular fantasy hockey commodities.
4. The Wild are not high-powered offensive team – With the league’s 28th best offense, the Wild don’t make for an electrifying highlight package. While I would say Minnesota just doesn’t sit back and play defense, the team doesn’t provide a lot of eye candy with lots of gorgeous goals that turn into viral videos for the hockey fan’s universe. Even a bad team that scores a lot is more likely to generate conversation, if for no other reason than to provide speculation for fantasy teams.
What are they (the experts) missing?
The experts are missing a team that has continued to win despite not having a true go-to scorer emerge yet. Sure, that’s a euphemistic way of saying the Wild score by committee but it ignores the fact its managed to chip in enough goals to be competitive in all but one of their games this season and as the record proves they’ve come out on top more often than not. The experts are missing that Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has kept this team winning despite a significant amount of injuries to its blueline. Honestly, the team was dressing 5 defenseman with just over a 150 NHL games of experience combined and the team still was able to be the most stingy defense in the league, who would’ve expected that?
In many ways the Wild are very similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have had their share of injuries, but their current roster minus Evgeni Malkin does not inspire a ton of fear in most teams but they still find ways to win games with solid team play. The Wild are much the same type of team. If you also take away James Neal, the Wild look very similar to the Penguins in terms of how the goals and assists are distributed throughout its lineup. Minnesota is not awaiting the return of a Sidney Crosby, but they do have one of their Top 6 forwards on the shelf in Guillaume Latendresse and so far under performing numbers from Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi this team could find itself with a lot more offensive firepower internally. In essence they could even better than they have been.
Minnesota as an organization has lot of great things going for it beyond what its accomplished on NHL ice this season. The team has a strong farm team in the Houston Aeros which have been a big reason Minnesota has been able to play well despite the injuries; and they again look as though they could be one of the better teams in the American Hockey League making it a great place for player development. Prospect Casey Wellman is finally exhibiting the scoring prowess (11 goals, 17 points in 17 games) the Wild felt he possessed when they signed him as a free agent out of the University of Massachusetts. The organization has a plethora of promising prospects that turned what was once a laughingstock to one of the deepest in the NHL. Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Wild beat writer Michael Russo covered this angle last week in this blog post here.
Flying under the radar is not always such a bad thing. It means opposing clubs can overlook you; or feel overconfident when you arrive to their building. I am sure Mike Yeo, ever the tactician will likely use this lack or respect to keep his team focused. If the Wild continue their winning ways, the respect and recognition will eventually materialize and that accomplishment will be that much sweeter.