2010-11 Minnesota Wild Team Report Card

2010-11 Minnesota Wild Team Report Card

Wild

2010-11 Minnesota Wild Team Report Card

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Wild 2011 Calendar

Check out the front of this 2011 team calendar and ask yourself how much longer you will see these guys as members of the Minnesota Wild. Obviously, some of them will be back, but certainly one of them (I’ll let you take a guess as to whom I’m referring to) has a pretty fair chance of either being retired or in another sweater next season.  (Oops, did I give you too good of a clue?  It’s okay, I wasn’t intending to be too tricky.) 

 In the NHL, it has become a tradition to give each member of a team a mid-term and end-of-season report card, and as a teacher, I’m used to assigning grades.  But there will be no teacher conferences here. I won’t be sitting at a table with “parents” Chuck Fletcher or Brent Flahr (Wild GM and Assistant GM, respectively)  talking about how well young Brad Staubitz plays with others. No gold stars, no apples for the teacher and no raised hands signaling an anxious run the bathroom. This is all about my perspective on how the players demonstrated their abilities over the course of the 2010-11 season. 

I do my best to stay objective, but I am a fan and obviously there is some level of opinion and subjectivity involved.  And yet, that’s also true of grading in school. But here there are no rubrics, no outline of criteria for what constitutes an A, B, C, D or F.  For each player I’ve provided their final 2010-11 stats including: games played, goals, assists, penalty minutes, plus/minus and time-on-ice average per game, with a body of commentary on the highlights (or lowlights) of each player’s season. Lastly,  as a member of The State of Hockey News, I provide “MY GRADE” as an overall season evaluation of the player.  You may agree or disagree with the assessments, and that’s perfectly fine, so please feel free to comment on them.  Without further adieu, let the grading begin!

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Forwards:

#7 Matt Cullen78GP  12G  27A = 39pts,  34 PIM’s,  -14,  TOI/G: 18:01

It was a tale of two halves for the Moorhead, Minnesota native.  The first half was one of success were Cullen was able to provide some quality two way play and play the role of quarterback on the power play.  After quickly rising to being one of the Wild’s top scorers his contributions to the scoresheet flat lined in the 2nd half of the season and the overall result was rather underwhelming.  At at cap hit of $3.5 million it was hoped Cullen could provide closer to 45-50 points than the 39 he chipped in; and the 12 goals was not nearly enough to consider him to be a reliable secondary scoring threat.  Cullen certainly gave the Wild more speed to its lineup and even in the latter half had good energy most nights but he struggled in his opportunities to finish his chances.  The -14 was one of the worst +/- of all Wild forwards.  It may not seem fair, but the expectations for Cullen were simply higher than what he provided. MY GRADEC-

#9 Mikko Koivu71GP  17G  45A = 62pts  50 PIM’s  +4  TOI/G: 19:29

In many ways it was a fairly typical season for the Wild captain, as he led all forwards in ice time and in +/-,  as well as being tied for the lead in points.  However, the 62 points represented a nine point reduction from the previous season.  Yes, he did play nine fewer games so perhaps it works itself out.  Seventeen goals may be a fair amount for the Wild, but it was a disappointment as the team needs Koivu to register at least 20-23 goals; especially after signing the Turku native to a 7-year contract that will kick in next season when his pay jumps to $6.75 million per season from a ‘scant’ $3.25 million this season.  Koivu’s contributions came in small clusters and that meant all too often he wasn’t being enough of a factor on the score sheet on a nightly basis.  During the Wild’s death spiral late in the season he made remarks that he felt the Minnesota media was being unfair to the team and that he felt the criticism was affecting their morale; which in relative terms is very mild compared to the media in markets like Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, New York and Vancouver.  Koivu gave fans what was more or less expected, but he needs to do more; especially with the raise he’s received.  You must give him some respect since it was his broken finger that sent the team spiraling out of playoff contention.  MY GRADE: B

#11 John Madden76GP  12G  13A = 25pts  10 PIM’s  -9  TOI/G: 15:20

John Madden was a late off-season addition to the Wild roster where General Manager Chuck Fletcher spoke about character and bringing the attitude of a proven winner.  This was the first season in Madden’s career that a team he played for failed to qualify for the playoffs.  Madden provided veteran leadership, and his effort on the ice was usually amongst the best each game; and the goals he scored were often just feats of pure determination.  He was a fixture on the penalty kill and oozed the experience one would expect from having played on teams that were perennial contenders.  The 25 points he provided as third line center were practically a bonus for all of the other things he gave Minnesota for a very affordable $1.25 million cap hit.  Luckily for the Wild, the Twin Cities enchanted Madden, and his family he has chose to stay here whether Minnesota decides to pass on his services or not.  I would think the Wild would like to re-sign the veteran center who was arguably one of the team’s best off-season acquisitions.  MY GRADEA

#12 Chuck Kobasew63GP  9G  7A = 16pts  19 PIM’s  -6  TOI/G: 11:50

It was another forgettable season for Chuck Kobasew.  Ever since the Wild traded for Kobasew early last season, the Vancouver, British Columbia native struggled to get much going offensively.  Kobasew always had the speed but just could not figure out how to create much offense while being parcelled out to the 3rd and 4th lines.  You could try to blame Kobasew’s lack of success on his linemates and lack of ice time but he never really seemed to fit all that well.  At $2.5 million per season he failed to deliver the bang for the buck.  I would not expect to see Kobasew in a Wild sweater next fall no matter who the team hires as head coach, since the team could easily hire a cheaper player to play the minutes and have the same kind of production Kobasew did.  MY GRADE:  D-

#15 Andrew Brunette82GP  18G  28A = 46pts  16 PIM’s  -7  TOI/G: 16:47

It may be sad to say, but 2010-11 might have been Andrew Brunette’s swan song.  The aging winger still demonstrated he can create some havoc in his ‘office’ behind the opposing net but he has increasingly become a niche player with the Wild where he’s most useful on the power play.  Speed has never been a hallmark of his game, but Brunette’s lack of wheels are a significant reason the team was never able to really go to the ‘up-tempo’ style that the team’s management promised fans.  Despite that significant negative, Brunette continues to be doggedly consistent, playing all 82 games and scoring his usual 45-55 points with around 17-22 goals at a fairly affordable price of just $2 million this season.  Very well respected across the league for his humor and ability to endure, in a league that really emphasizes speed, many fans like myself wonder if its the end of the line for the Sudbury, Ontario native.  Brunette is an unrestricted free agent and, while his asking price will likely be pretty affordable, it will be interesting if Minnesota decides to pass and go in a different direction.  I know I am not the only one that hopes, at the very least,  the organization keeps ‘Bruno’ around in some capacity, whether it be in scouting or the broadcast booth as he’s a complete class act.  MY GRADE: B+

#16 Brad Staubitz71GP  4G  5A = 9pts  173 PIM’s  -5  TOI/G: 6:30

It has been a somewhat interesting season for Derek Boogaard‘s heir apparent in the role of the team’s enforcer.  After a fairly quiet first half of the season, Staubitz dropped the gloves a lot more during the 2nd half as injuries ravaged the team and it began its free fall out of the playoff race.  As a fighter, Staubitz was reasonably effective and won more than he lost but he certainly does not carry the intimidation factor of his predecessor.  The obvious advantage, and certainly a big part of the decision to add Staubitz, was his ability to skate a regular shift–something that could not often be said of the Boogeyman.  In the final few games, Staubitz even showed he could get involved a bit on the score sheet as opposed to just the listing of penalty minutes.  Also, as an added bonus, Staubitz played for a far more affordable $550,000 price tag, which was about half of what Boogaard was demanding.  MY GRADE: B

#20 Antti Miettinen73GP  16G  19A = 35pts  38 PIM’s  -3  TOI/G: 17:01

It has been a 3-year experiment for Antti Miettinen to see if he can provide the speed and scoring for fellow Finn, and set up man, Mikko Koivu.  While 51 goals over 3 seasons may not sound too bad, considering the fact he’s spent all of those seasons on the top line where most clubs expect to get at least half that amount of goals from just one player of their top 3, that kind of goal production in any given season says it all.  Miettinen simply wasn’t able to provide enough finish (no pun intended) for the line that needed to be the workhorse for the Wild.  Perhaps better suited to a supporting role as a 3rd line checker, Miettinen more or less kept his position by default as he was entirely ineffective in anything less than the top line.  This season, Miettinen’s effort was maddeningly inconsistent and while he had an okay final stretch of games, 35 points from a guy who was amongst the Wild’s top forwards in ice time simply wasn’t good enough.  MY GRADEC-

#21 Kyle Brodziak80GP  16G  21A = 37pts  56 PIM’s  -4  TOI/G: 15:46

It was definitely a disappointing season for the team, but one player who easily had his best season as a member of the Wild was Kyle Brodziak, who deserves strong consideration as the team’s most improved player.  Brodziak looked far more comfortable this season, and his hard work and strong two-way play earned him a spot on the team’s 2nd line.  His production may not appear to show that he was anything more than a glorified mucker playing on a scoring line, but I would argue that in numerous games Brodziak was the 2nd line’s (playing with wingers Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard) most dangerous player.  Brodziak also had a huge impact (perhaps) on the future of the Colorado Avalanche as his fight with Chris Stewart derailed what was a hot start to their season, and eventually caused the Avs to go into free fall and then trade Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the St. Louis Blues for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement in a very one-sided trade.  Not too shabby for a 2nd line center, who is not known as a fighter, to possibly have had the most important fight of the year (even though it did not work out that way for the Wild).  Brodziak showed the dogged tenacity that made him a thorn in the side of the Wild during his days with the Edmonton Oilers. The comfort level he had in the system was obvious, and the result was a much greater impact on the scoresheet.  MY GRADE:  A-

#22 Cal Clutterbuck76GP  19G  15A = 34pts  79 PIM’s  -5  TOI/G: 15:50

To say Cal Clutterbuck is a fan favorite in Minnesota is a huge understatement.  Clutterbuck is clearly the team’s most popular player and whether it’s sporting an impressive mustache for ‘Movember’ to raise prostate cancer awareness,  scoring a clutch goal or just erasing an opponent along the boards with a devastating check, it’s all just another day at the office for the Welland, Ontario native.  Clutterbuck’s clutch scoring was crucial through the early part of the season to keep Minnesota from falling too far behind  while the team suffered from another slow start.  His 19 goals was a career high and largely unexpected despite being a pretty decent scorer during his junior days in Oshawa when he was playing on a line with John Tavares.  Clutterbuck broke his own record by doling out 336 hits to be the top checker in the NHL for a 3rd straight season–out-hitting Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu by 27 hits.  Whenever Clutterbuck was out of the lineup, his presence was sorely missed due to his speed and overall willingness to shoot ( 2nd on the team in shots with 191) being intangibles the team simply could not replace.  Clutterbuck is a crucial element for the Wild, and at a very affordable $1 million price tag, one of the team’s best bargains as well.  MY GRADE:  A

#23 Eric Nystrom82GP  4G  8A = 12pts  30 PIM’s  -16  TOI/G: 13:18

This is a tough one for me.  In many ways it reminds me of the kid who, by most accounts, probably deserves an “F” but it wasn’t for a lack of effort or doing his work. He simply wasn’t rewarded as he should have been.  Nystrom was added last year to give the Wild a bit more grit and another physical presence on the forecheck.  Though not as fast as Clutterbuck, Nystrom dealt plenty of hits of his own, and tied with Greg Zanon for 2nd most hits on the team with 169.   Offensivley snake-bitten during the course of the season  will be how many fans view Nystrom’s performance, showing that no one can say he sat on the bench and just pouted.  Most shifts he was battling and working to get underneath the opponent’s skin and he was reasonably effective in that role.  His -16 was the worst amongst Wild forwards and without question his lack of scoring played a role in that.  The Syosset, New York native kept Wild fans wanting more, but with the chances he had it is not totally unreasonable to expect 10-12 goals and 23-26 points next season if more of those bounces go his way.  If he has another season like this, then there is reason to feel the Wild got a lemon when they signed Nystrom to a 3-year deal that will pay him $1.4 million per season. MY GRADE:  D+

#24 Martin Havlat78GP  22G  40A = 62pts  52 PIM’s  -10  TOI/G: 18:21

 It has been another enigmatic season for Martin Havlat.  At times in the early portion of the season, Havlat was not finding his way onto the score sheet and this resulted in the team being chronically short on offense.  Then Pierre-Marc Bouchard arrived and everything began to click for the slick Czech forward.  He began to be more assertive,  putting the team on his shoulders by being the team’s most dangerous forward.  The Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic native led the Wild in shots on goal with 229, and while he seemed willing to pull the trigger 5-on-5, he seemed reluctant to shoot on the man advantage.  He was always at his best when he was involved offensively and creating plays using his speed and elusiveness to create time and space and shooting opportunities.  His inclusion to the 2011 All Star Game was a bit of an afterthought but still a credit to the season he had.  Havlat’s totals improved this season, but still are not quite the return you want from a player making $5 million a season.  Throughout his tenure with the Wild he has been rather dependent upon other players to get his game going, which isn’t always the best thing from a reliability standpoint.  MY GRADE: B+

#48 Guillaume Latendresse11GP  3G  3A = 6pts  8 PIM’s  +2  TOI/G: 12:42

This season has been forgettable for Wild fans but hopefully it’s a season that Latendresse will not forget.  A lack of a commitment to off-season conditioning had disastrous consequences, which made him vulnerable to groin injury; necessitating a medical procedure as well as forcing him to undergo sports hernia surgery.  Those surgeries caused Latendresse to lose the better part of a season.  He would return briefly late in the season but his body wouldn’t last long before he was shelved by his condition.  Latendresse’s absence left a large void for a Wild offense that was already going to be hard-pressed to score enough goals.  For a player hoping to prove he is worth a substantially bigger contract, there is no way to view this season as anything other than a failure.  Hopefully next season, for the benefit of both the Wild and himself, he learns his lesson and reports to training camp with his mind, and especially his body, ready to perform. MY GRADE F  

#96 Pierre-Marc Bouchard59GP  12G  26A = 38pts  14 PIM’s  -3  TOI/G: 15:42

After missing more than a full season due to the effects of a concussion, it was really a complete unknown just what Bouchard would be able to provide.  Initially, he was a bit skittish to go into the corners for loose pucks, but as the season wore on he was one of the team’s more consistent performers.  Bouchard showed more strength on the puck than ever before–using his quickness effectively to create time and space as well as open up scoring opportunities for teammates.  I was very impressed with Bouchard’s improved strength,  and he steadily gained confidence as the season went on.  He really began to establish some quality chemistry with linemates Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak. Throughout his concussion ordeal and subsequent return to the ice,  Bouchard has shown that he has plenty of perserverence and is a worthy candidate for the Masterton Trophy.  MY GRADEA

Defenseman:

#3 Marek Zidlicky46GP  7G  17A = 24pts  30 PIM’s  -6  TOI/G: 21:46

The Wild surprised some its fans by offering the high-risk, high-reward blueliner with a 3-year contract extension worth a hefty $4 million per season.  The first season on Zidlicky’s deal didn’t quite turn out as expected with the Czech Republic native battling injuries.  The team had to shuffle a number of players into its lineup to fill the void, but the ironic thing was that once Zidlicky returned the Wild’s defense got significantly worse as his recklessness hurt the team more often than not.  Zidlicky is a great skater who has some good offensive ability, but he still has struggled to find balance between being responsible defensively and picking his spots to join the attack.  For his pricetag, he must find ways to better round-out his game, but this was not a season that justified the contract.  MY GRADE: D

#4 Clayton Stoner57GP  2G  7A = 9pts  96 PIM’s  +5  TOI/G: 16:51

It was a slow start for the longtime farmhand, but once he got his shot around mid-season he made the most of it with solid physical play in the Minnesota zone.  Stoner likes to use his 6’4″ 220+lbs frame to punish opposing forwards and was not adverse to dropping the gloves.  While he may never wish to tangle against Theo Peckham, where he not only got mauled but managed to get tossed from the game just 7 seconds into the 1st period, his demolition of the Blues’ David Backes will be remembered by most Wild fans.  Stoner will never be confused for an offensive blueliner but he has enough mobility to move the puck up the ice effectively.  He led the team in +/- and was one of the Wild’s best defenseman in the 2nd half of the season.  As long as he can avoid foolish penalties, I think he’ll have a place on the blueline.  MY GRADEB

#5 Greg Zanon82GP  0G  7A = 7pts  48 PIM’s  -5  TOI/G: 21:32

 I felt this was a season where Greg Zanon’s game slipped a bit.  That may seem harsh for a guy who continues to unselfishly stand in front of more than two hundred shots over the course of a season, but the reliable defender was caught making some uncharacteristically poor decisions with the puck in the Minnesota zone.  Zanon’s lack of footspeed seemed to be exposed more often this season by opposing forwards,  and while it’s impressive he was just a -5  for all the ice time he logged each night, part of the reason I’m a bit critical of Zanon’s play was because he set the bar so high last season.  Stil, he was 2nd in the NHL in blocked shots with 212 to his credit, behind only Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers.  MY GRADE:  B+

#8 Brent Burns80GP  17G  29A = 46pts  98 PIM’s  -10  TOI/G: 25:02

The long awaited moment finally happened for Brent Burns, he rediscovered his game from 2008 where many felt he was showing the promise of a future contender for the Norris Trophy.  Two seasons of erratic and injury-plagued performance behind him, Burns was one of the most dynamic defenseman in the league culminating in a selection to the 2011 All Star Game.  Burns had a tremendous first half of the season, quickly rising to being one of the top offensive defensemen in the league by using his skating ability as well as ability to dangle to create offense.  The Ajax, Ontario native was first in ice time among skaters and tied for first in power play goals with eight, but his offensive contributions tailed off sharply during the 2nd half of the season.  The lesser discussed part of this plateauing of his offensive numbers was that his defensive play also became a bit more inconsistent during this point in the season.  The Wild have a very tough decision to make since Burns will become an unrestricted free agent next summer and may be looking for a hefty raise from the $4 million he’s set to make for next season.  Can the Wild really afford to spend that much more of its cap space on the blueline or can a trade of Burns bring the assets the team desperately needs?  Only time will tell.  MY GRADEA-

#25 Cam Barker52GP  1G  4A = 5pts  34 PIM’s  -10  TOI/G: 16:24

News that the Chicago Blackhawks were considering keeping Nick Leddy with the big club after training camp this season may have been a hint that the trade that brought Barker to Minnesota for Leddy was not the best move. Afterall, it really was the first sign that the organization made a mistake in dealing away its former 1st round pick, Leddy, along with Kim Johnsson, to the Blackhawks for Barker.  Barker had an erratic beginning and it was hoped he’d show his true value this season.  If that is true, then his value can be characterized by the look of great disappointment on the faces of the Pawn Stars guys when they find out they just bought a fake.  Barker never could seem to stay healthy for long and when he did play it was shakey and indecisive, not the way you’d expect a guy who’s played a few years in the NHL to perform.  By the end of the season, Barker was the fans’ favorite whipping boy and they continue to hope the team will find a way to deal him to another team or bury him in the minors for the final year of his contract where he’s set to be paid $3.25 million.  Ouch!  MY GRADE:  F

#46 Jared Spurgeon – 53GP  4G  8A = 12pts  2 PIM’s  -1  TOI/G: 15:04

The old children’s book The Little Engine That Could is an apt analogy for the diminutive defenseman who surprised just about everyone by being able to stick with the Wild this season.  A junior league offensive defenseman who put up great numbers for the Spokane Chiefs, Spurgeon was plucked out of free agency by the Wild after the New York Islanders decided to pass on signing him to a professional contract after drafting him in the 6th round (158th Overall) in 2008.  In the first few games, the boyish looking Spurgeon almost looked like a deer caught in headlights as he was extremely quick to get rid of the puck even when there was no pressure on him to get rid of it. But like the ‘Little Engine that Could,’ he began to believe in himself more and more, and pretty soon he was impressing everyone with his coolness under fire.  He did have his struggles, especially against bigger forwards like David Backes and Chris Stewart. He was exposed for his lack of strength but he also made many simple plays and showed good defensive awareness that won the confidence of the Wild coaching staff.  Down the stretch, his confidence continued to grow as he began to show some of the flashes of offensive instincts that were such a big part of his game in juniors.  The Wild are hoping he can build on a nice start.  MY GRADE: B+

#55 Nick Schultz – 74GP  3G  14A =  17pts  38 PIM’s  -4  TOI/G: 20:13

The longest tenured Wild player, Nick Schultz has really been through it all.  He was there for the team’s first playoff run as well as for its most recent bid 3 seasons ago.  For the most part, Schultz’s game is much the same as it always has been–fairly responsible defensively with an element of decent mobility to help move the puck up the ice quickly.  He’s not a big defenseman, but solid enough to tie up opposing forwards on the boards, who plays an unflashy game that, for the most part, goes unnoticed.  Late in the season Schultz suffered a concussion that kept him from skating and there is fear he may still be suffering from the effects going into the start of training camp this coming fall.  At $3.6 million he doesn’t give you a whole lot statistically to make his contract seem worth it.  MY GRADE: C+

Goaltenders:

#32 Niklas Backstrom51GP  (22-23-5)  2.66GAA  .916%SP  3SO

Last season was set up to be one of adjustment for Backstrom since a change in team style was going to have them on attack more frequently. Unfortunately,  the adjustment was hard and his numbers suffered.  This season, the team committed itself to playing a more conservative style, similar to what was being employed under coach Jacques Lemaire, but at the end of the season his statistics do not look much better.  What gives?  Inconsistent play–something that dogged him last year and haunted him over the final stretch of games that was a part of the team’s free fall out of playoff contention this season.  Backstrom spent a lot less time arguing with officials than he did the season before; but after a great first half his fortunes along, with the rest of the team, tanked with the finger injury to Mikko Koivu.  I am not going to hang the team’s inability to make the playoffs all on Backstrom, but he wasn’t quite the game-stealing goalie he used to be.  When, or if, that sort of form returns is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime he’s an awfully expensive sub .500 goaltender at the hefty sum of $6 million per season. MY GRADE: B-

#60 Jose Theodore29GP  (15-11-3)  2.71GAA  .916%SP  1SO

It’s amazing how fast a person’s life can change.  Barely into the first period of a pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues, Wild back-up goaltender Josh Harding blew out his knee and would require season-ending surgery, sending Chuck Fletcher into crisis mode.  Fletcher’s answer was to sign former Vezina trophy winner Jose Theodore, who was biding his time in free agency, for a fairly affordable sum of $1.1 million.  Theodore was the consummate professional as well as an unselfish partner who certainly deserved more starts than the twenty-nine he got.  Despite relatively long streaks of riding the pine, Theodore more often than not provided excellent play between the pipes and gave Minnesota a chance to win.  It may be naive to think Theodore would come back for $1.1 million, but at this point I would love to see him back in a Wild uniform.  MYGRADE: A-

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