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LARSMONT… In early April Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, feeling the possibility of a playoff berth made a deal with the Buffalo Sabres for Forward Jason Pominville. Pominville was the teams Captain, was in the Buffalo system for 11 seasons and a fan favorite. Buffalo though was in the midst of a roster purge and Fletcher believed that if the club had one or two more pieces to the puzzle that the club could not only get into the playoffs but make a run as well. So he rolled the dice.
Sometimes when you gamble the price can be steep, and this was one of those times. Fletch gave up an outstanding prospect in F Johan Larson, G Matt Hackett, a 1st round draft choice for this year and a 2nd rounder for next year. I have heard more then one scout state that Larson has the skill to be in the NHL for a long time as a possible 1-6 forward. Hackett is a solid net minder who could backup on most clubs and perhaps become a number one on a handful of teams. And the forfeiture of 2 upper level draft choices gives away building blocks for organizational depth. To top it off, Poms is 30, and in what I would call six full 70 plus game NHL seasons has averaged 26 goals, has a $5.5mil contract with a season left and I don’t see the overall value.
Yes, he can play. But after next year he could bolt for UFA status and the four pieces of the puzzle Fletch traded will be gone forever. Additionally, the club barely made the playoffs and got rolled by a team that IS in their Cup window. So, if I see but three real 1-6 forwards on the roster, I only see four 6-12 forwards on the roster, with one of them, Heatley, having big question marks around him. If my count is right the club is also showing 11 centers on it’s 37 player major league roster. In my opinion 6 or 7 of them should not or will not be on a major league roster.
For the Defense, obviously it was a major coup for Fletcher to obtain Parise and then a big time defensemen in Ryan Suter. It is no coincidence that he is a strong candidate to win the Norris Trophy this year as the best defender in the league. For defenders, he was 3rd in total points, 1st in time-on-ice, and 1st in shifts-per-game. And all of this after what most would call a very tentative start. In the number two D spot is rookie sensation Jonas Brodin. Many have said that he should be included in the Calder Trophy Rookie of the Year consideration, but he is not. His points totals were not amongst the leaders, but in what I would call a pretty important stat for a rookie D man, time-on-ice, he was the rookie league leader. That is a result of trust from the coaching staff and that is huge.
After the one and two spots it thins out considerably. Jared Spurgeon is established at the number three spot. He has great hands and lateral movement for a D man, but is substantially undersized for the position. At 5’ 9” and a buck 85, he is giving up a lot of size to many of the leagues forwards on a nightly basis. But he is quick and can handle the puck. If he was a half foot taller and had another 40 l-b’s on him I could say he was going to be the next Moose Vasko, but he isn’t.
In the 3-6 spots, or 3 to 8 if you wish, you have a collection of players of varying talent and skill levels, most of which, with all due respect, probably wouldn’t find 1-6 spots on a Cup contender. Tom Gilbert, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Brett Clark, and Justin Falk or Nate Prosser round out the D man corps. Gilbert takes chances and gets burned frequently, ending up a -10 in the regular season, and none of them offers much offensively other then Gilbert and Stoner. So, the club might be set for 3 spots out of an 8 man rotation.
Between the pipes, Niklas Backstrom had a nice season, tying for 2nd in the league in wins. He was 19th though and 23rd, respectively in regard to GAA and saves percentage. I think that to be more of a reflection of the teams disposition of “winning ugly” as opposed to Backs abilities. And his backup Josh Harding struggled through the season after a diagnosis of MS and a tough time in getting medication levels adjusted for maximum effect. Harding acquitted himself well though after Backs went out after warm-up’s before the 1st playoff game versus the Blackhawk’s even began. Backs was diagnosed with a sports hernia and has already had corrective surgery for it.
Backup Matt Hackett was traded and Darcy Kuemper started 3 games going 1-2. But in regard to Kuemper, I heard another prominent NHL scout state that he is one of the young goalies with the most upside career-wise. And that might get tested sooner rather then later. Harding’s status health-wise going forward is an unknown. Backs has played out his contract and I know of no extension or new contract talks as of yet.
As far as Coach Mike Yeo goes I have indifferent feelings about having two rookie Head Coaches foisted upon us in a row. I think he knows his stuff but I am unconvinced that he would be the guy behind the bench when the team does get into it’s Cup window. I realize Yeo has a Cup ring and hope he will prove me wrong. Mr. Fletcher? Well, like all GM’s he has made some mistakes. The teams D corps would look a lot better with Nick Leddy as a member, and I don’t personally like the Pominville trade but on the good side he did engineer the biggest free agent coup of the summer and has to get props for that. I think he needs to be a bit more calculating when it comes to making major moves.
I’m not one of those half full, half empty types, because the reality is that the glass with water in it is actually both of those things at once. I do see in the Wild’s current roster a team that has maybe 2/3rd’s of the pieces in place. And though I didn’t bring up the teams prospects or farmhands, half of that third could be in those ranks as I write. I hope that will be the case, should be an interesting summer… PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.