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Minnesota Wild preview

Overview: The Wild has been a team that has struggled for the past few seasons, and the fans aren’t happy.

That was shown during the preseason, when a game wasn’t a sellout for the first time in 10 years.

Of course, it’s only the preseason, but it’s a sign to management that things to get better.

And it should be. The Wild have a lot of good young players, the best backup goalie in the NHL and just enough experience t teach the young guys how to act.

It’ll all add up to a playoff spot for this season.

Best offseason move: Signing Jose Theodore. Theodore is a cheap backup ($1.1 million), but more importantly, he’s a top goalie. If Niklas Backstrom falters like he did last season, the Wild now have a goalie that can steal games. I can see Theodore getting about 35 starts, at least.

Worst offseason move: Paying Mikko Koivu as much as they did. Look, I like Koivu. He’s talented, strong defensively, and is undoubtably the leader of the Wild. But there’s no way he should be making $7 million a season. That’s way too much for a guy who doesn’t get a point per game, nor score more than once every four and a half games.

Dark horse trophy candidate: Pierre-Marc Bouchard for the Masterton

Pool pick: Guillaume Latendresse. Last year, Lats had 37 points in 55 games, which is good for 55 points over the course of 82 games. I think he’ll pass that this season, and finish with about 60 points. Who to stay away from: Martin Havlat. Injury woes aside, Havlat doesn’t fit in well with the Wild. He had only 54 points last season, so you would think he was injured for part of it. But no, he played in 73 games. Havlat hasn’t had a season-ending injury for the past two seasons, so he’s about due.

Sporcle quiz: Can you name all the players that have played at least one game for the Wild?

Best hall of fame choice: It should be Mikko Koivu for the money he makes. It could have been Martin Havlat if he had been able to stay healthy most of his career. But instead, the Wild is one of those teams where they don’t have anyone who could make the hall of fame.

Blog to follow: Hockey Wilderness

My Prediction: Second in the Northwest, eighth in the West

Famous celebrity from that city: Rachel Leigh Cook

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Latendresse will blossom elsewhere

Yesterday, Montreal said good-bye that only a couple of years ago was going to be a building block of the team for many years to come.

Guillaume Latendresse was traded to the Wild yesterday.

Guillaume Latendresse was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Benoit Pouliot.

Latendresse was a guy with so much potential. Some of his career highlights:

• Drafted second overall in the QMJHL draft in 2003 (some kid named Sidney Crosby went first overall).

• The only player in NHL history to wear #84.

• Scored 16 goals as a rookie, then repeated that feat as a sophomore. Followed that up with 14 goals (for a total of 46 in his first three years).

This year hasn’t been too great for Latendresse, as he only has two goals so far.

Fans have been down on him, but I think there was too much pressure on him.

And you know whose career echoes Latendresse so far? John LeClair.

Habs fans may remember LeClair. He was a young power-forward who scored only 46 goals in his first three seasons with the Canadiens. He had only one goal in his fourth season before he was traded.

LeClair went on to have three 50-goal seasons, and finished with more than 400 career goals.

There were two problems with Latendresse’s career so far. One, is that he was rushed into the NHL. Once again, Habs youngsters start playing in the big leagues before they are ready to do so. It’s ruining more of them than helping.

The second is the fans. Just because a young guy (22 years old) doesn’t have 50 goals yet, we get frustrated with them. We boo the players, which puts pressure on management to get rid of them and see them blossom elsewhere.

Latendresse will probably finish the season with 20 goals, and score about 30 or so next year. Then Habs fans will be wondering why he couldn’t do that here, and put even more pressure on other young guys to be more like Latendresse.

And the cycle will repeat itself.

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2009 preview: Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild is a team looking for a new identity.

For years, they were the dull, boring, defensive hockey team. Now they’re looking to revamp with a strong new offensive flair.

It may make for more exciting games, but it will also make for some more losses.

Story of the season:How will this team do with a run and gun offence? After Jacques Lemaire left last season, it was announced the Wild wanted to play a more offensive game. But they’ve been a purely defensive team for years now, and it’s not easy to change that mentality. My money is on them struggling with it for part of the season, especially against teams like Detroit, Chicago, San Jose and Los Angeles.

Former Habs: None

Blog to follow: Wild Puck

TV commercial break

Pool Picks: Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He had an off-year last year, but should be good enough for 60 points this season. Stay away from: Owen Nolan. Yes, he had a high points-per-game last season (45 points in 59 games). But he hasn’t cracked 50 points since 2001-02. With the Wild expected to play a more up-tempo game, look for Nolan’s point production to suffer, and he finishes with about 35 points.

Award nominees:Niklas Backstrom for the Vezina

Expected Finish: Fifth in the Northwest, 13th in the West

Cheerleader: Rachel Leigh Cook is from Minnesota.

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Top 100 Habs: #39

#39: Doug Risebrough

Doug Risebrough had an almost-impossible task when he was first called up to the Montreal Canadiens: replace Henri Richard.

Doug Risebrough

Doug Risebrough

Richard suffered a career-ended ankle injury, and the Habs needed a new centre to fill in. Risebrough was that player.

He spent eight seasons with the Canadiens, winning four Stanley Cups.

An agitator on the ice, Risebrough was also a leader (becoming a co-captain when playing with the Calgary Flames).

He scored a career-high 60 points with the Habs in 1976-77.

Risebrough would go on to become a general manager with the Flames and the Minnesota Wild.

For more on Doug Risebrough:

Hockey Hall of Fame

Wikipedia

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Gaborik to the Habs?

So Marian Gaborik wants out of Minnesota. Whether it happens in a trade or next summer as a free agent, he’s pretty much gone.

Many people think he will go to Montreal, but I’m not sure if that will happen. See, Montreal doesn’t have the cap space as they only have about $200,00 left to spend. Gaborik makes more than $6 million. Plus, Montreal has only 10 players signed past this season. And since the Wild probably want players that are already signed, it severely limits what trades can happen.

The other problem is that Gaborik wants to sign a contract extension for about $8 million a year. This is for a player who is often-injured, and has only had more than 67 points in his career once in seven years.

But he has a huge upside, and I’m optimistic (okay, not really). I figured I’d try to see what I could do to trade for Gaborik if I were a Habs GM.

Chris Higgins has to be part of the deal. He’s a young guy who can score. I’m not the biggest Higgins fan, because I think he’s more one-dimensional than Michael Ryder was, but people seem to love him and could be an enticing player. Salary of $1.7 million.

Montreal can also add Roman Hamrlik. He makes $5.5 million, and would be really the only player that could be traded to help the cap space situation. He’s a big defenceman who can chip in with the odd goal.

The Habs should also throw in Kyle Chipchura. He makes just under $1 million. He’s a good player, but he doesn’t have much hope of cracking this lineup, especially with other young players making a good impact. Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak could also be thrown in instead of Chipchura, since most people think he could be a starter elsewhere.

So this would make it a three for one trade (although Minny might need to throw in a minimum-salary player to make the trade work money-wise). The Wild would get a goal-scorer, a good to great defender and a potential number one goalie (or a top prospect).

The Habs would benefit from getting a top player, and getting their young defencemen some quality ice time once Hamrlik leaves. The lines could look something like this:

Tanguay-Koivu-Gaborik

Kovalev-Plekanec-A. Kostitsyn

S. Kostitsyn-Lang-Latendresse

Begin-Lapierre-Laraque

Of course, I don’t believe a Gaborik for Higgins, Hamrlik and Chipchura/Halak trade could ever happen. Knowing my luck, Minnesota will probably end up trading him to Ottawa for Antoine Vermette, Luke Richardson and Jesse Winchester.

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Minnesota Wild preview

 The Minnesota Wild system of play will never be confused with firewagon hockey.

They play a defence-first system, and at times, lull teams to sleep. But at the same time, they can also play a tough, physical game if the need arises.

However, they don’t score very much, and after losing a couple of their top offensive players, they will struggle this season.

Forwards: In another city, Marian Gaborik would be a superstar. But in Minnesota with their defensive system, he doesn’t get a chance to truly open up. And he’s still scored a point-per-game for the past three seasons. He’ll be going all out this season, because he’s an unrestricted free agent next season.

To try and make up for the loss of scoring, Minnesota signed Andrew Brunette during the offseason for his second go-around with the team. They got him for cheap, so they won’t be expecting much, but the team is hopeful he can take some of the pressure off the top line with some timely scoring. 

Pierre-Marc Bouchard is turning into a great setup man. While he only scored 13 goals last season, he did get 50 assists. Those aren’t Adam Oates numbers, but they’re impressive in this system of play.

Defence: All the defencemen play a defensive system first, so don’t count on them to be scoring a lot of goals or getting a bunch of assists. But they will not be giving up many odd-man rushes. Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Kim Johnsson are the most well-known of the defencemen. They’re steady, but teams won’t be scraed of them.

Goaltending: Niklas Backstrom is a quality number one goaltender for this team. He has stolen a few games for the Wild the past couple of seasons, and should be about a 2.30 GAA, .920 save percentage and get about four or five shutouts this year.

Pool picks: Mikko Koivu has been improving every single season. While he missed some time last year because of injuries, he should be able to get a career year this year, with at least 60 points. Stay away from: Any of their defencemen. They don’t jump in the play a lot, and won’t be getting a lot of points.

Miscellaneous: Derek Boogaard belongs in a category all by himself. The guy is six-foot-seven, 260 pounds, and likes to punish people. Whether it be by hitting, fighting, or just being a presence on the ice, Boogaard makes sure opposing players don’t take a run at the Wild’s skill players, the few of them they do have.

Expected finish: Fifth in the Northwest division, 11th in the Western conference.

Overall: Minnesota will have a hard time scoring goals this season. They lost two of their top four scorers last year in Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, and will have trouble catching up if they fall behind in games. They still play a sound defensive system, so that should keep them in the playoff hunt, but won’t will lose too many games just because they couldn’t score.

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