Thursday, September 24, 2009

Faceoffs a Key to Wild Success

Tonight on my long drive home from work I listened to the Wild PONDcast (yeah, “PONDcast” is cheezy…but I dig it) and it was Todd Richards’ addressing the media after this morning’s skate. One of the things he spoke about was faceoffs…and it was compelling. If you like, you can listen here.

The Wild have never been a good faceoff team. There have been many games where I’ve summed it up with, “It’d be nice if we could win a faceoff…” Winning faceoffs can be so key. In the offensive zone, it gives you an opportunity to score. In the defensive zone, it keeps the other team from getting high-quality scoring chances and sets up an opportunity to get the puck out of the zone and go on the offensive. A winning team wins more of draws than they lose.

Let’s look at some historical stats for the Wild skaters who took the most faceoffs last season:

Mikko Koivu: 1625 faceoffs taken - 857 faceoffs won - 52.7%
Eric Belanger: 1205 faceoffs taken – 626 faceoffs won – 52.0%
James Sheppard: 870 faceoffs taken – 361 faceoffs won – 41.5%

Compare that with the top centers for the Western Conference champ Red Wings last season:

Henrik Zetterberg: 1189 faceoffs taken – 644 faceoffs won – 53.3%
Pavel Datsyuk: 1135 faceoffs taken – 636 faceoffs won – 56.0%
Kris Draper: 1000 faceoffs taken – 603 faceoffs won – 60.3% <—that’s right, 60 percent!
Valtteri Fippula: 784 faceoffs taken – 409 faceoffs won – 52.1%

The Wings top centers averaged  55.8%. Wild top centers averaged 49.8%. Do the math…that’s a difference of 6%. The Wings scored 289 goals last season, the Wild scored 214. I admit some of that can be attributed to goal-scoring talent, but winning faceoffs gives a grinding team a chance to set up the cycle and run offensive plays. The Wild will need to get better at faceoffs in order to compete for a playoff spot.

Back to Todd Richards in the PONDcast today, he mentioned that while in San Jose he worked with Mike Ricci, who was a career faceoff stud. He got them thinking about faceoffs as the first battle of the game or the first battle of the shift. It’s one of the first philisophical elements of Coach Richards that I’ve taken a liking to, and I hope it helps this season.

Look for faceoff stats and their correlation to goals scored to be a theme here on Wild View from Section 216 throughout the season.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Captaincy in the New Era of Wild Hockey

The Strib’s Wild beat writer Mike Russo wrote an article about the Wild captaincy today. So this post may feel like I’m piggybacking…but the planning for this post started a couple weeks ago. One of the first things that popped into my scattered brain when Todd Richards was named coach was the captaincy. Finally, it seemed we may abolish Jacques Lemaire’s rotating captaincy. So, I set out to take the pulse of the Wild fans in my life. Here are the questions I asked and the results:

Should the Wild go with 1 captain all season?
The answer to this question was a unanimous “Yes.” The rotating captaincy has run it’s course.

Who Should Start the Season as Captain?
Almost unanimously, Mikko Koivu is the fan’s choice captain the Wild in this year of transition. Nick Schultz got one vote. Pavol Demitra also received a vote, but that was after a few beers and it was later determined that this voter meant Mikko Koivu.

Outcry for Koivu to be named permanent captain started last season, so this is no surprise. Wild fans have handed the “face of the franchise” tag over to Koivu. Women want him. Men want to be him. He’s on the brink of superstardom in Minny.

Who should be the Alternates?
There was a little more variety on the alternates. A very little. By the numbers, it’s Brent Burns and Nick Schultz with Andrew Brunette on standby for injury purposes.

The Official Word
Here are the Wild 2009-2010 captains based on the fan vote:

C: Mikko Koivu

A: Brent Burns

A: Nick Schultz

Do you agree with this captaincy group? How would you change it up? Do you think Todd Richards will go this route? Post your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mediocre to...Something Else Step 4: Finally Release an Alternate Jersey

The Wild have been one of only a few teams without a third jersey for two seasons now. A variant of the current home red jersey was the alternate a few years ago, when the now-retired original green jersey was their home sweater. When news first broke that the Wild would be unveiling a new third jersey at the MN State Fair, it seemed most Wild fans hoped they would simply bring that original green sweater back into the mix. It holds a certain nostolgia; as much as a 9 year old franchise can have. There were rumors from blog writers and beat columnists and even Wild Twitter accounts that the jersey would be a new design, with the word "Minnesota" in script or block letters across the front.

Then, someone apparently flipped a switch too soon over at and the official jersey was leaked all over the interwebs. The redesigned website was only up for a short time before the mistake was rectified, but hockey jersey blog Icethetics let us all know what the new jersey looks like.

Naturally the Wild went ahead with their big unveiling event at the State Fair, with Derek Boogaard and Brent Burns modeling the jersey. From what I can tell, fan reaction is mixed. Alot of people really want that original green, and I would've been ok with that too since my jersey is the original green and it would have been relevant again.

I really like the new sweater though. Green base with the "harvest wheat" lettering and numbering Minnesota spelled out in script accross the chest with Wild in red in the underlining tail. The striking element to me is the star dotting the i and crossing the t in Minnesota is the same star that is present in the main animal head logo. It makes the uni very dramatic. When I first heard script, I was worried it may look like some of the U of M Gopher jerseys they've rolled out in recent history, and we'll just say I would not have been happy with that.

The squad now sports three completly different jersey desings: White roadies with the main logo, pretty much the standard when you think Wild hockey. Red homes with a smaller main logo encircled, and the new alternate, which will be worn a handful of times at home. I will withhold my ranking until I see the new sweater in person. The Wild will first wear their new jersey October 21st v. Colorado.

What do YOU think about the new sweater?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mediocre to…Something Else Step 3 – Replace the Checked Out Prima Dona

Marian Gaborik checked the rest of the way out of Minnesota on the first day of free agency, ultimately signing not with Vancouver as rumors persisted, but with the New York Rangers – the team he had his 5-goal game against. Yeah, good luck with that. MSG is where overpaid individual stars go to get injured and underachieve.

But this left Chuck Fletcher with a big hole. With all of his injury and attitude issues, obviously Gabby was the biggest talent. What would Doug Reisbrough have done? Likely nothing. But the new guy looking to make a name found someone interested in playing in Minnesota. Someone who needed a place to play after his team signed Marian Hossa. A guy who is a frequent Twitterer (@martinhavlat). Marty Havlat was probably the Hawk’s most talented player until the new kids arrived in the last couple years. He scores in pretty ways. He now has needed playoff experience, reaching the West Finals last season with the Hawks and scoring 5 goals during their run. And the biggest thing that makes him better than Gaborik in my eyes…he wants to be in “Minny.”

He may not have the same speed or talent, but I believe a team attitude will be so much more valuable to the Wild in this season and even more in the next few seasons. On a line with Mikko Koivu – there’s a lot of potential. I gotta believe he’s a 30-goal scorer if he stays healthy (yes, there’s injury baggage here too).

The Wild also went hard at Mikko Koivu’s older brother Saku. He did not sign with them, instead signing with the Anaheim Ducks. Sounds like the biggest reason he didn’t sign was he didn’t want to interfere with what Mikko has going on here. Mikko has turned into the #1 leader on this team and Saku apparently wanted to stay out of the limelight – allow Mikko to run the team. Pretty noble thing, but unfortunately it leaves the Wild a little short at center (pun intended, if Pierre-Marc Bouchard sees alot of time at the position). We will need to watch how that plays out.

Overall the team is improved personnel-wise over last season. It’ll take some time for them to gel, and possibly one more signing next summer, but I like the direction so far.

Coming next: Step 4 – Finally Roll Out an Alternate Jersey

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mediocre to…Something Else Step 2 – Hire a Coach and Answer Questions about the Checked out Prima Dona

Actually Chuck Fletcher’s first task as new Wild GM turned out to be the 2009 Entry Draft, but during this time he was also inundated with questions about Marian Gaborik. People seemed to think that with Reisbrough gone and the possibility of a more offensive style, Gabby would be more interested in re-signing with the Wild. Fletcher answered each time that he would be in touch with Gaborik, that he is a very talented player that anyone would want on their team. But it never felt like there was anymore possibility now than there was last season during #10’s long injury break.

At the same time Fletcher was also looking for his coach. This search turned out to be very similar to the GM process…there were a few big names interested in the job (Pat Quinn again, Peter Laviolette), others from within the Wild organization (Mike Ramsay, Kevin Constantine), and a few others, including a current assistant in San Jose with ties to Minnesota and to Chuck Fletcher (Todd Richards). I was interested in Laviolette. He won the Stanley Cup with Carolina a few years ago and has an offensive mind. Seemed to be a good fit. Again, there was media speculation that it would likely be Todd Richards, and that is ultimately who Fletcher hired.

Richards shares Fletcher’s vision of “up tempo” hockey, giving the talented D-men the green light to join the rush regularly. He comes in with a player’s coach reputation, so we will see how it translates to on-the-ice performance. The Minnesota Boy Comes Home bit is a nice story, so you want to root for the guy. It will likely take a couple years, but I have hopes for entertaining hockey. The big question…do the Wild have the players to win with the new style? It seems our old coach new New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire does not think so.

The Wild also have a new assistant coach in Dave Barr, who joins Mike Ramsey behind the bench. Mario Tremblay will not be back with the team as he and the new regime “mutually” decided to part ways. Assistant GM Tom Lynn also was let go. This is truly a new beginning for Wild hockey.

Coming next: Step 3 – Replace the Checked-Out Prima Dona

Single Game Thievery

We interrupt this belated recap of the Wild offseason for a bit of a rant on the single game ticket pricing strategy being employed by the Wizzy. Single game tickets go on sale this Saturday, andiIn case you haven't seen the plan, two things have me all worked up: select games that are more expensive than the rest (codename: premium games), and forcing those interested in seeing Gaborik's return or the Cup champs to purchase another game (codename: companion games).

These are both strategies that the Vikings have been ripped for, at least by me, and I couldn't be more disappointed the Wild are using it. They are not fan-friendly options at a time when not many have extra money in their pockets and I just don't get it. To me it wreaks of arrogance on the organization's part. They expect us to pay whatever crazy amount they ask. Premium games are $5-$20 more expensive depending on the section. In the case of the companion games, we can not even choose the game - they are predetermined middle-of-the-week games that aren't exactly sexy matchups. And if the team is losing...expect even more fan angst.

The sellout streak will die this season.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mediocre to…Something Else Step 1 – Get a New General Manager

Back in April after Wild owner Craig Leipold fired Doug Reisbrough, he now had a team without a GM, without a head coach, and possibly a team without an identity. So the first order of business was to find a new GM. Leipold had a host of names to choose from. A few of the names I remember floating around were Pat Quinn, Pierre McGuire, and this Chuck Fletcher guy, who honestly I had never heard of before (sorry I didn't know the Asst GM for Pitt). I liked the possibility of Quinn and McGuire, mostly because I know who they are – they're big names in the hockey world. I still believe Quinn is a great hockey mind and it would have been excellent to have him here. As for McGuire, he talks a lot on NHL broadcasts. Some people I know living north in Canada absolutely ripped the guy, so I guess it's good it didn't wind up being him. But the sentiment in the media was always that it would be Fletcher, and that made sense to me. He is extremely well respected in the hockey world and regarded the "next big thing" in the GM role, also because this is still a Minnesota team, and we don't go big.

Chuck Fletcher was hired in May, and he came in talking about a change – about up-tempo hockey. We didn't know how he was going to do it, but it was the first we heard of a change in philosophy to an offensive style from the defensive clog-fest we've come to love when it gets us into the playoffs but hate when we miss the playoffs by 3 points. He said all the right things, he didn't insult DR (although no one would have been too upset if he did) and he breathed a little bit of life back into the Wild fan base.

Stay tuned for Step 2 – Hire a Coach and Answer Questions about the Checked out Prima Dona.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

So Much on My Mind

Remember? I have a blog!!!

Let’s see, since my last post in April, the Wild have a new General Manager, Head Coach, Assistant Coach, marquee player, third jersey, website…what else am I missing? While all this was going on I was extremely busy with work and family, but we’re now less than two weeks out from training camp, and I’m getting the fever. I’m really looking forward to watching the team this year. I will be writing short posts over the next two weeks covering each of the big offseason changes. New blood – new beginning – new hope.

But what really got me revved up and back into Wild coverage mode was my family’s trip to the MN State Fair. Last summer I blogged shortly after the Wild’s announcement of a new mascot, Nordy. You can read that post here. I didn’t see much of Nordy last season because we didn’t make it to any Wild games, so I never really got a chance to really formulate my opinion. So, as we walked in to the Wild booth at the fair, Nordy was sitting there, signing autographs, kids gathered around. Next thing I know, I’m standing next to him, Adriana in tow, mom taking the picture with a camera phone. Adriana LOVED him! And thus, my opinion is official. Nordy is awesome!


Welcome back to hockey!