Do you remember the days that when a Wild season was over, there was next to no news until the Entry Draft? I remember those days. I know that especially when the Wild are out of the playoffs (for example, this season), the off-season just seems to drag on into eternity. This year however, things seem to be a little different.
First off, I don’t know about you, but this year’s playoffs have been extremely exciting. We’ve had several series go to seven games. In my opinion, I am thoroughly enjoying the fact that both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are out of the playoffs now. I’m sure the league is scrambling wondering what they’re going to do with a playoffs without star players like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin. I suppose I should mention that I’m not overly impressed by star players, because let’s face it, they should perform better than everyone else, considering what they’re paid. I’m more impressed by the underrated players that are out there, especially the grinders and role players out there. Trust me, it’s far more exciting when a player of a lesser calibre scores a hat-trick.
Now as I already mentioned, Wild fans are often used to quiet off-seasons. Thankfully, that has not been the case this off-season. I suppose it helps matters when you have a second year owner in Craig Leipold and a first-year General Manager in Chuck Fletcher. The deals that were made during the season seem to hearken that things are going to be different with a new regime in control. That new regime thankfully performed some housecleaning recently. The first bit of exciting news that Wild fans received was notice that Tommy Thompson would not be back next season. As the head scout, he was responsible for a couple of draft selections that left fans scratching their heads. Examples would be A.J. Thelen, Beniot Pouliot (who admittedly has found some success in Montreal), and more recently Nick Leddy. The final bit of housecleaning came with the announcement earlier this week that Director of Hockey Operations, Chris Snow was also being released. Some fans question how he went from a mere beat writer for the Wild to a front office position. I remember never being truly impressed with his write-ups. I’ll admit, I’m no pro myself, but it makes me wonder what sort of job I could get with a professional sports team. But then, with the way the job market is, it’s more about who you know than what you know. As someone who is looking for a job, I know this for a fact. Sadly, the Wild organization also released Houston Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine. I for one think this will be a step backwards for the entire organization. While many said his coaching style was too similar to Jacques Lemaire, it was clear that they never really watched him coach. Constantine was one of those natural “teaching” coaches. I don’t know about you, but one would think you’d want a teacher of the game coaching your farm team. Having seen him in action when they were in Milwaukee to take on the Admirals, you could see he was adjusting to the new system. Of course his success was like ours, because his bench was continually decimated by all the call-ups to St. Paul.
Now that we’ve seen addition by subtraction so far, I suppose we should talk about the actual additions. The end of the regular season, many Wild fans were pleasantly surprised by the hard work and minor production of undrafted college free-agents Casey Wellman and Elk River, MN-native Nate Prosser. Wellman came in right away and definitely contributed. No one however, including Prosser himself, thought he’d see the ice. However with a banged up blueline Wild coaches had no choice but to press the former Colorado College player into action. Rounding out the trifecta of college free-agents was another Minnesota-native, former Miami (OH) University forward, Jarod Palmer from Fridley. The only concern I have regarding these college signings is that two of them are from Minnesota. I only hope that the front office is not caving in to the ridiculous requests of “fans” who are more concerned of where a player is from (meaning from Minnesota) than how they play. They could be from Zimbabwe for all I care, I just want to know they can go out there and do their job. While Wellman and Prosser have shown a bit of what they’re made of when it comes to being a player in the National Hockey League, Palmer has yet to do so. I guess time will only tell. Looks like we’re going younger my friends. At the very least the Wild are going to start looking more at college players, something Doug Risebrough never would have done.
With the draft soon around the corner, scouts, pundits and fans alike will be running their mock drafts, analyzing film, draft reports, and the list goes on and on. Central Scouting has already released their final rankings. Soon, the draft guide from International Scouting Services will be released. If you’ve never seen the ISS draft guide, I highly suggest you purchase it at least once in your life (either print or online version). Not only are their in-depth analyses of the top players, but there’s even decent scouting reports on players lower in the draft. Even better it gives projected rankings for the next draft. It’s interesting to see how those numbers change from now until when they finally draft next summer. Of course those “we need Minnesota players” fans are drooling over the thought of drafting Blaine, MN-native Nick Bjugstad. His final ranking by Central Scouting has him at #13, which is quite possible that Minnesota could draft him as they have the ninth overall pick. However, the front office may shy away from the hometown pick since they traded away Nick Leddy, last year’s first round pick to get Cam Barker from Chicago.
Speaking of the draft, the excitement surrounding the NHL Entry Draft will be coming to the home of Wild hockey. It was announced that the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will be held in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. To me, this is a great honor. The Wild have already hosted the All-Star Game, but I doubt many people figured we’d get the draft so soon as well. I suppose part of it is in honor of the fact that next season is the Wild’s tenth season. Now, if the front office can only work on assembling a roster that makes the Wild a constant Stanley Cup threat, they just might eventually land the coveted Winter Classic. We all know we generally have the weather for such an event on New Year’s Day, and we now have two outdoor venues (Target Field, home of MLB’s Minnesota Twins and TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota football). The Wild just need the talent to make it possible as well as attractive to NBC.
So if you thought you were going to be able to enjoy the off-season in relative peace after such a gut-wrenching, disappointing season you would be mistaken. With the way things have been going since even before the last game of the season, I would expect there to be some sort of mildly interesting Wild news at least once a week. Rumor has it that the organization is actually considering addressing the abysmal television crew the Wild have. I suppose the announcement of getting rid of Channel 45 for the 2011-2012 season has forced the hand of the front office. Keep your fingers crossed my friends, and perhaps we’ll soon be rid of Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay as well. That would be the perfect way to end this year’s off-season housecleaning.