Scott Taylor

The Wild: Your Legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders

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By Scott Taylor


There is little doubt that the Minnesota Wild possesses the best team in the West. Certainly there are teams in the East that will dispute the Wild’s legitimate claim to being the best team in the NHL (the Washington Capitals for example), but it’s pretty hard to argue that Minnesota is the best club of the 14 in the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones.

After all, this is a team that is 39-13-6 (7-2-1 in its last 10) and is on a two-game winning streak heading into a game with its arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday night.

This should be an exciting matchup on Tuesday. The Hawks are 36-18-5 and are not only second to Minnesota in the Central Division, but tied for second in the West with San Jose, a great team with a nasty habit of folding up like the back seats of a Honda Minivan come playoff time.

The only team in the NHL with a better record than the Wild, Barry Trotz’s Capitals, are 39-12-7 (85 points), but are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Rangers. The Wild are plus-62 this season, the Caps are plus-69. Like Minnesota, the Capitals are 7-2-1 in their last 10.

So, ladies and gentlemen, your Stanley Cup finalists: Minnesota Wild vs. Washington Capitals. Think I’m crazy? Well, here’s why I’m making that call in February:

  1. Great goaltending: The two men from Saskatchewan, Braden Holtby of the Caps and Devan Dubnyk of the Wild have been terrific all season. In 45 games, Dubnyk leads the NHL with a save percentage of .934. Dubnyk’s league-leading goals against average in 1.97. Holtby is second at 2.01. These teams have the best goaltenders and therefore are the two best teams in the NHL. And remember, the Conn Smythe Trophy for NHL playoff MVP has been handed out since 1965 and goaltenders have won the award 16 times.
  2. Leaders: The Caps are led by veteran forward and captain Alex Ovechkin, who has become one of the game’s best 200-foot players. He didn’t always play that way, but he does now. The Wild are led by captain Mikko Koivu and 30-minute a game defenseman Ryan Suter. Koivu is playing the best hockey of his career right now. It seems that Suter is never off the ice. Both teams have the leadership required to go a long way in the post-season.
  3. Great coaching: Bruce Boudreau of the Wild is in his first year with Minnesota and it’s obvious how much better this team has been in 2016-17. It has certainly been more consistent and more successful than in years past. Washington’s Barry Trotz was NHL coach of the year last year and he’s picked up right where he left off. However, as good as they are at their jobs, neither coach has won a Stanley Cup. This will be another emotional spring for both of them.
  4. A great No. 1 line: The Wild currently have the line of Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker firing on all cylinders. On Saturday night, during a 5-2 win against Nashville, that line scored four goals, had seven points and finished as a combined plus-nine. They’ve been together for three months and in 39 games have 43 goals, 110 points and are a combined plus-84. The Wild are 29-6-4 since Boudreau put  the line together (credit: NHL Statistics). Meanwhile, the Caps top line is Ovechkin on the left side with Nicklas Backstrom in the middle and Warroad’s T.J. Oshie on the right side. The three top-line stars are among the Caps Top 4 scorers. Backstrom has 17 goals and 61 points, Ovechkin has 27 goals and 52 points and Oshie has 23 goals and 41 points. Oshie is plus-24, Ovechkin is plus-six and Backstrom is plus-15. They have combined for 22 power play goals and 13 game winners (credit: NHL Statistics).
  5. Solid special teams: The Caps power play is kicking along at a 21.8 per cent clip (fifth in the NHL) and its penalty kill is at 84.3 per cent (sixth). The Wild has a 21.9 per cent power play (fourth) and an 82.9 per cent penalty killing unit (10th). In terms of overall NHL rankings. The Caps are No. 3 in the NHL while the Wild are No. 5. Both teams are among the league’s best.

Both teams have sound second and third lines, good energy lines and responsible defensive units. They have both veteran presence and young legs. But most importantly, they are the best teams in the NHL in the combination that results from the five most important categories.

Frankly, as long as the goaltending (on either one of these teams) does not falter in the post-season, it will be Washington and Minnesota in the Stanley Cup final.

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Scott Taylor

Wild Can Win the Cup

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By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder


It has become more than a pipe dream. With Christmas approaching, the Minnesota Wild are showing the National Hockey League that they have sufficient quality personnel to win the Stanley Cup.

OK, will they win the Cup? Well, that’s up to them and some very good opponents. But can they? Oh, there is no doubt about it.

Friday night, the Wild beat an improving and quite capable Edmonton Oilers team 3-2 in a shootout. Veteran Eric Staal, who was acquired in the off-season and has been as good as Wild fans could have hoped, scored the winning goal on Friday as the Wild improved to 5-1-2 in their last eight.

What’s truly amazing is that 18 of the Wild’s 26 games this season have been one-goal affairs — including the last six. Three of those went to a shootout, and one was decided in overtime.

And the Wild have proven that they can win close games. In fact, the Wild are now 14-8-4 on the season and have won three straight games. They are 5-2-3 in their last 10 and have moved into third place in the Central Division, just four points out of second with two games in hand on 16-8-4 St. Louis.

Winnipeg's Alexander Burmistrov and Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon battle for possession...

Corner Battle!

The Wild have now finished the first period – that mythical time in every NHL season in which they’ve completed the first one-third of the 82-game grind. And after 26 games, the Wild appear to have all the tools required to make this a very, very long season.

And, of course, the most important thing they have going is a goaltender.

While most NHL experts wouldn’t dare compare Devan Dubnyk to Carey Price, Pekka Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist, they probably should. On Friday night, Dubnyk made 25 saves to get the win (he’s now beaten the Oilers, his old team, eight of the 10 times he’s faced them since he left Edmonton in 2013), but what’s more impressive is that he entered the game with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average. That, hockey enthusiasts, is as good as it gets.

“The fun part about it is that it doesn’t feel like anything crazy; it doesn’t feel like I’m hanging on for dear life until something collapses,” Dubnyk said, when he was asked what it felt like to lead the legendary Carey Price in save percentage.

“The most important thing is that it just feels like we’re playing well together as a team. I’ve got a great feeling standing back there. They’re letting me make great reads and be patient. I’m just really comfortable in net.”

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk fends off a rolling puck in Winnipeg

Devan Dubnyk (40) fends off a rolling puck in Winnipeg

Dubnyk, of course, is one of hockey’s greatest reclamation projects. This is a guy who was in the minors in 2014 and is now one of the Top 5 goalies in the world. Since coming to Minnesota in 2015 at a desperate time for both the team and the player, he’s hardly been perfect, but he’s been pretty damn good. He’s in the second full year of a six-year, $26 million deal with the Wild, and this year, he’s been one of the best players — not just best goalies, but best players — in the NHL.

“Minnie is such a great place to raise a family, we enjoy it so much there,” Dubnyk said. “My wife and I have two young boys – three and one – and I mean, life is great in Minnesota. Gosh, it was so close to being a whole lot different.”

When you throw in the fact that Staal and Charlie Coyle lead the team in scoring with 18 points, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter are next with 16, Jason Zucker has 15 and captain Mikko Koivu has 14, the Wild have demonstrated that they have a balanced attack that no longer has to rely on the team’s heart-and-soul, the oft-injured veteran star Zach Parise.

And in the spring, with a healthy Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matthew Dumba, Christian Folin and Marco Scandella on the back end, the Wild should have the young legs and experienced heart that’s required to go deep into the playoffs.

Oh yeah, and make no mistake, the addition of head coach Bruce Boudreau has made the Wild a sound, responsible unit that has, somehow, developed the confidence in itself that’s always been a key to the success of great teams.

Now, let’s be frank. Hockey old-timers agree that the best NHL teams don’t even start playing for keeps until January and, sure, the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators will all have a say in the Cup run that starts in five months. Still, the Minnesota Wild are as good as any of those teams and if they start gearing up in January, the rest of the league might want to look out.

The Wild certainly have a chance to take a Cup run. Especially if Devan Dubnyk plays as well to the finish as he’s playing now.


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Scott Taylor

Right now, Wild Are as Good as Any Team in the NHL

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By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder

The Minnesota Wild have a good hockey team. Period. That’s all you need to know.

Go up and down the team’s roster and it looks like a playoff-worthy club – Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin etc. etc. This is a team that should make the playoffs and from that point forward, we all know that it’s anybody’s game.

Granted, this team doesn’t play perfect hockey every night. Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Buffalo wasn’t a Rembrandt. However, man-for-man, shift-for-shift, the Minnesota Wild are an elite hockey team.

Currently, they’re tied for first in the Central Division – arguably the toughest division in the NHL – at 6-3-1. No they aren’t undefeated, nor will they ever be, but they’re still a very decent hockey team.

Now, do they have issues? Certainly they do. 1) They are right up against the salary cap (only $1.476 million in space, which is NOT much) so on some days, Bruce Boudreau has had an issue with his practice lineup. 2) Injuries don’t help the cap issue and they certainly don’t help on Game Day. Getting Erik Haula back in about a week will make them better. Chris Stewart still isn’t 100 per cent. Marco Scandella is 8-10 games away. And 3) teams don’t play the type of hockey a coach – even a great coach – wants to see them play every night. And that’s not just a Wild problem, that’s an every-team-in-the-league problem.

Minnesota Wild center Eric Haula battles for the loose puck in the Winnipeg Jets goal crease

Minnesota Wild center, Eric Haula, crowds the Winnipeg goal crease

As Detroit’s Darren Helm once said to me, “You guys watching forget that hockey, at the NHL level, is a really hard game. One bad few seconds in a 45-second shift, can kill a team. It’s not like you’re out there playing by yourself. The other teams in this league are all good and they’re all well-coached. It’s hard, man.”

The NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world for a reason. Fans might think that their team is better than the opposition and, on paper, that might be so. However, there is no sport that makes “paper” more meaningless than professional ice hockey. No matter how good you think you are, one bad pass and it’s in your net, one turnover in the neutral zone and it’s in your net, one goaltender out of position and it’s in your net. In the NHL, even perceived bad teams become Stanley Cup champs when you do something dumb.

The Winnipeg Jets score a goal against the Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild Goalie, Darcy Kuemper, looks for the puck…

And over the span of an 82-game schedule, you WILL do a lot of dumb things.

Now, let’s give credit where it’s due. The Wild, after all, do have a lot of good things going for it. The head coach, Bruce Boudreau, is experienced and smart and he tends to get the best out of his players on most nights. There is certainly enough speed and skill in this Wild lineup to allow Boudreau to do the things he wants to do offensively. And there is now enough experience in the lineup that the inevitable bumps in an 82-game schedule can be overcome a little more quickly than they were, say, two seasons ago.

We’ve already seen it. This is a team that lost two straight to the Devils and Islanders and then bounced back with shut outs of Boston, Buffalo and Dallas. That shutout stretch from Oct. 25-29 might be the best three-game stretch any NHL team has had this season.

Now, I’m not here to tell you things you don’t already know. The Wild have a good team, but it’s a team that historically fades at playoff time. Then again, most NHL teams fade at playoff time. Only one team wins the final game and like a lottery ticket, it’s usually not your team.

Make no mistake, the Wild didn’t look good against Buffalo on Tuesday. They were sluggish, they didn’t move the puck well, they didn’t provide enough puck support, they made some dumb neutral ice turnovers and on Buffalo’s two goals, the Wild’s sticks weren’t strong enough.

But it’s the first week of November. The Wild have six wins and an OT point in the first 10 games and that’s pretty good. In fact, pick up 15 points in every 10-game stretch this season and you’ll win the West in a walk. If they come back with a couple, three wins on this road trip, the Wild just might be the team to beat in the West.

If they don’t, we’ll talk about the consequences in the middle of the month. Enjoy.


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Scott Taylor

Jets name Minnesotan Blake Wheeler captain

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By Scott Taylor


Calling Blake Wheeler a “tremendous family man and a true professional,” Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff announced on Wednesday that Wheeler was now the new captain of the Jets.

Certainly no one was surprised by the announcement. Nor was anyone surprised that Roseau’s Dustin Byfuglien was named an assistant captain.

“Today, on his 30th birthday, it’s my great privilege to congratulate Blake on becoming the captain of the Winnipeg Jets,” said Cheveldayoff. “Over the past five years I’ve had the pleasure of watching and getting to know Blake off the ice. It’s there that you can begin to appreciate what a tremendous family man and a true professional that he is. This is a proud moment for both the Winnipeg Jets and True North Sports & Entertainment.”


Wheeler, 30, has been with the organization for the past seven seasons. The last three years, he was the assistant captain to Andrew Ladd.

He is one of the top forwards in the National Hockey League. Last year, he finished tied for sixth in scoring with 26 goals and 78 points. He is clearly one of the best players in the National Hockey League.

Born in Plymouth, he’s been in the NHL for nine seasons, playing for the Jets, Thrashers and Boston Bruins. During his career, he has 173 goals and 440 points in 615 career NHL games. He is fourth all-time in franchise scoring with 330 points (including 123 goals) in 394 games. He signed a six-year contract extension with the Jets in 2013.


Winnipeg Jets-captains Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien

Minnesotans and Winnipeg Jets captains Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien
photo: Jeff Miller




He was originally selected by the Phoenix Coyotes (fifth overall) in the first round of the 2004 NHL entry draft out of Breck High School in Golden Valley. He also attended the University of Minnesota helping the Golden Gophers to a WCHA title in 2007, scoring the game winning goal in overtime.

“It is truly an important day in our franchise’s history and for the fans of the Winnipeg Jets,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “We started this process back back in March of last year, not only identifying the men who were capable of handling the captaincy in a market like Winnipeg, but also the things we would ask of that person. Blake has already done so much for this community.

“There is something just as important from the coaches’ point of view, from the on-ice point of view. Something that is paramount. Leading by example is not a strong enough statement. It’s not a strong enough to understand what Blake has developed into, how he’s pushed himself to develop into the type of player he is today.

“I have been fortunate to coach a lot of players who have worked hard and who have competed hard, so that people can say. ‘He’s a leader.’ I don’t ever think I’ve coached a man standing on the ice or standing behind the bench, if I thought a young player was looking for direction, that I could so easily say, ‘Just watch him.’”


Internationally, Wheeler will represent the United States at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey two weeks. He also played for the U.S. at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. He has also played in a World Championship and World Junior Championship.

“My wife Sam, son Louie and daughter Lenny, I know they’re watching so I wish you guys could be here,” said Wheeler, whose son was a little under the weather. “For me, this is a huge honor. I’ve had a really distinct privilege playing for two captains in my career. I’ve played alongside Andrew Ladd in Winnipeg for the last five years and with Zdeno Chara in Boston. To see what it’s like to be the leader of the time, especially in a market like Winnipeg, is a special honor. I look forward to carrying the torch for him. I’ve had two really good captains to look up to in my NHL career.

“I’m really looking forward to being the leader of this team.”


Blake, along with his family, have been very charitable to community endeavors in Manitoba. He commits his time to organizations such as: The Children’s Hospital of Manitoba, Special Olympics Manitoba, the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, the Future Goals program and visiting local schools.


Meanwhile, the other Minnesotan who will wear a letter on his Jets jersey this season is Dustin Byfuglien, thought by many to be one of the most exciting players in the NHL.

Entering his seventh season with the franchise this gifted 30-year-old will actually be an assistant captain for the second time. Byfuglien was an assistant from 2010-14 for the organization, before he fell out of favor with former coach Claude Noel.

Byfuglien hails from Roseau and is sixth all-time in franchise scoring with 97 goals and 288 points in 418 games with the Thrashers and Jets. He is a Stanley Cup Champion, a four-time NHL All-Star and he signed a five-year extension with Winnipeg last February. Byfuglien will suit up alongside Blake Wheeler for the United States at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.


“We’re proud of these young men and very happy for them,” said Cheveldayoff. “They have earned the respect of their teammates and the entire organization and have become the leaders on this hockey team.”

Not bad for a couple of kids from the State of Hockey.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Minnesota sports fans will get plenty of kicks from MLS

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Bsuperbowlweey Eric Nelson
August 23, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State…

•Kick start: Kudos to Minnesota United’s Bill McGuire and his ownership group for bringing Major League Soccer to the Twin Cities. Getting a soccer specific stadium in the St. Paul midway is a coup and has the potential to be a huge success…

•Trendy venues: Boutique soccer facilities have popped up all across the US and are fueling the growth of MLS. These stadiums – with a capacity between 18,000-23,000 – are part of the MLS template and have become cool places that are attractive to fans because of a close proximity to the pitch, and affordable ticket prices…

•MLS expansion: The addition of Minn U and Atlanta in 2017 will give MLS 22 teams. The league is split into two conferences (east and west) and has been steadily gaining fans. Minn U will play in the west, joining Colorado, FC Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, Real Salt Lake, San Jose, Seattle, Sporting KC and Vancouver…

•Sports options: St. Paul is definitely carving its own sports niche. When soccer arrives, the Capital City will have MLS, the NHL (Wild) and minor league baseball (Saints). The Wild and Saints already sellout their games and Minn U could do the same…

•Royal crush: The Minnesota Twins got barbecued in a weekend series at Kansas City, losing all four games to the Royals. The Twins are 0-7 at Kauffman Stadium this season and have a 49-75 record – worst in the American League. Minnesota hosts Detroit in a three-game series beginning Tuesday night at Target Field…

•Playoff push: The Tigers, unlike the Twins, have plenty to play for. Detroit (65-59) is three games behind Toronto and Boston for the two AL wild card spots. The Tigers trail Cleveland by 7 1/2 games in the AL Central…

•Baseball dreams: According to USA Today, ex-NFL QB Tim Tebow will have a private work out for MLB teams next week in Los Angeles. Tebow is 29-years old and realistically the best he can hope for is to sign a minor league contract…

•Resting Rivers: Much has been made of Mike Zimmer’s decision to not play Teddy Bridgewater in last week’s Minnesota-Seattle game. But, the Vikings aren’t the only team who did not use their starting quarterback in week 2 of the pre-season. San Diego’s Philip Rivers did not play one snap for the Chargers against Arizona. The Chargers and Vikings play this Sunday in the first-ever NFL game at US Bank Stadium…

•Nothing for Joey: San Diego DE Joey Bosa – who was chosen third overall in the first round of NFL draft – has not yet signed with the Chargers. Bosa had an outstanding career at Ohio State…

•Roof goof: The state of Minnesota, city of Minneapolis and the Vikings are singing the praises of US Bank Stadium, the $1.2 billion purple playpen. I am not buying it. Yes, USB has all the bells and whistles as far as video boards, wide concourses, posh clubs, suites and good sightlines. But, USB is still a dome. Not building an open air or retractable roof stadium was penny-wise and dollar-foolish. Indoor football does not compare to the outdoor version. Give me Arrowhead, CenturyLink, Gillette, Heinz, Lambeau, Mile High, The Linc or any other outdoor venue over a dome…

•Limited tailgating: The other downer about USB is the lack of tailgating. Because it is located in downtown Minneapolis, tailgating will be a rumor. That is too bad, because without tailgating, fans usually arrive just before kickoff and leave once the game is finished. That is a much different scenario from places like Green Bay or Kansas City where fans get to the parking lot 3-4 hours early to eat, drink and party. They also stay after the game…

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SPORTS NUGGETS: Kudos to the Minnesota Lynx for taking a stance

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By Eric Nelson
July 12, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State…

•Courageous stance: If you don’t take a stand, you take a fall. The Minnesota Lynx took a stand before Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Wings when they sported black warmup jerseys that said, “Change starts with us. Justice & Accountability.” On the back of the shirts were the names of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling – two African-Americans shot by police in Falcon Heights, MN and Baton Rouge, LA – a Dallas police symbol and the phrase “Black Lives Matter. The Lynx have taken some heat for this, but that is to be expected. I applaud the Lynx for standing up and making a statement. They had every right to voice their opinions on an explosive topic. Their message will hopefully get the ball rolling on positive change that is long overdue between police and African-Americans in the United States…

•Learning lessons: In the department of global affairs, sports is the toy department. But, these games that we passionately follow, also offer us valuable insight into teamwork and how to get along. In these incredibly polarized times, the USA can learn something from sports. Athletes of all races and backgrounds find a way to come together in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS and other sports. They rely on each other for success or failure. Color, religion or sexuality rarely comes into play. They are links in a chain with one common objective – winning games. Let’s hope the real world can take a cue from the toy department…

•Model of success: Sports is definitely not perfect when it comes to race relations and there are things that need to get better to foster more harmony and fairness. But, sports is far ahead of other things in the US when it comes to equality and learning to co-exist…

•New hire: The Timberwolves and Lynx have hired Ethan Casson as the franchise’s new CEO. Casson begins his duties with the organization on August 8. Casson comes from the San Francisco 49ers where he was their COO. Before that Casson was with the Wolves and Lynx for 11 years…

•Trending up: It’s been mostly gloom and doom for the Minnesota Twins this season. However, there have been some bright spots recently. The Twins just took three of four in Texas, and have won 7 of their last 10 games going into the All-Star break. Minnesota (32-56) is still a last place team in the AL Central, but the Twins are 5-2 against the Rangers (54-36), who lead the AL West…

•Power ball: Two guys who have fueled the Twins recent run are Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas. Both Kepler and Vargas began the season at Triple A Rochester, but since getting called up have made an impact. In 46 games, Kepler has eight home runs, 11 doubles and 33 RBI . In six games, Vargas is batting .471 with 3 taters and 4 RBI…

•Mid-season vacay: Except for Twins All-Star Eduardo Nunez, the rest of the team has a few days off. Minnesota’s next game is Friday against Cleveland at Target Field. The Indians (52-36) are on top of the AL Central…

•Homecoming: NY Jets CB Marcus Williams conducted his youth football camps last week in the Twin Cities. Williams, who played for Hopkins HS, had six interceptions for the Jets in 2015. Williams also was a star at North Dakota State…

•Mr. Dependable: Of all the qualities Tim Duncan had in his remarkable NBA career, the most impressive was durability. Duncan, who retired on Monday, played 19 seasons and was as much of a fixture in San Antonio as The Alamo. Duncan did not have a lot of flash and dash, but he could play. Game in and game out, Duncan showed up and performed at a high level. He is a two-time MVP and three-time NBA Finals MVP, who was a pillar on the Spurs’ 5 title teams…

•Low-key star: Duncan was the polar opposite of Kobe Bryant. Duncan played off the grid in central Texas, while Bryant achieved his greatness in Los Angeles – the entertainment capital of the USA. Duncan goes into retirement without any fanfare, while Bryant had going away parties in every city the Lakers played in last season. Duncan stayed out of the spotlight, while Bryant was always in it. They were two superduperstars who played at the same time, spent their entire career with the same team and won the same amount of championships. Both guys will be missed a lot…

•HOF-bound: Next stop for Duncan is the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. Duncan is one of the NBA’s all-time greats and deserves every accolade he gets…

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Wild Get Their Centre

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Eric Staal Photo by Trenton Butler


By Scott Taylor

Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher got the centre he was after.


Now he just has to hope that Eric Staal is the Eric Staal from 10 years ago, not the Eric Staal of 2016.


Shortly after the annual NHL free agent frenzy began on Friday, Staal, and the Wild agreed on a three-year, $10.5 million contract. Fletcher calls Staal, “a Top 6 forward,” and he certainly was in Carolina in 2007-08 when he scored 38 goals and in 2008-09 when he scored 40. Or how about the 45 goals and 100 points he tallied when he led the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup way back in 2005-06.


But he’s not the same player today. He’s a little slower and not as quick and scoring has become a chore. Last year, in 63 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he had 10 goals and 33 points. After being traded to the New York Rangers, he had three goals and six points in 20 games. So in 83 games in 2015-16, Staal had the lowest output since his rookie season – 13 goals and 39 points.


He wasn’t expensive and yet the Rangers didn’t want him enough to make him an offer. The Wild made him the offer and it just makes you wonder why they hated Thomas Vanek so much. Vanek had 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games and the Wild wanted no part of him. Vanek signed a one-year deal with Detroit for $2.6 million. Both players are 32 and it will be interesting to see which team got the better hockey player by the end of next season.


“I feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left,” Staal told reporters on a conference call on Friday. “I’m super excited. I have this opportunity to play with a good group, one that expects to win.”


Staal spent 12 seasons with the Hurricanes, until he was traded to the Rangers the day before the deadline this past February. The second overall pick in the 2003 draft, Staal has 325 goals and 781 points in 929 career games. Since he entered the league, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau and Daniel Sedin are the only other players who have played in 900-plus games and totaled at least 300 goals and 400 assists.


But most of that was then. This is now. Staal hasn’t scored more than 23 goals since the 2010-11 season.


“I was kind of scouring over team rosters and looking for spots where I could be put in position to play my best hockey,” Staal said. “Minnesota was right up there.”


Staal wants to play on a winner – as most good players do – and the Wild have made it to the post-season every year for the past four years. Still, they’ve won only two series. Of course, after winning the Cup in 2006, the Hurricanes have reached the post-season only one time since.


The deal he signed with Minnesota is a far-cry from the seven-year $55.75 million contract that just expired, but it’s work, on a good team, with a successful coach. New Wild coach Bruce Boudreau intends to give Staal every opportunity he needs to succeed.


“Bruce had some different opportunities when he was hired in Minnesota, and his message was they want to win and I want to win, and that’s why he wanted to go there,” Staal said. “For me, it’s the same. I wanted to go to an organization and a team that will do whatever it takes.”


After Fletcher signed Staal, he signed journeyman leftwinger Chris Stewart and backup goalie Alex Stalock. Stewart, who got $2.3 million over two years, played for the Wild at the end of the 2014-15 season and had three goals and 11 points in 20 games. Last year, he had eight goals and 20 points in 56 games for the Anaheim Ducks (he missed 19 games after breaking his jaw).


“We’re trying to acquire as many good players as we can,” said Fletcher.  “Today was a very good day for the Minnesota Wild.”
Sure. But before we arrange the parade route, we might want to wait and see if a big, aging centerman – a centerman who isn’t as good as he once was — is really the answer.

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SPORTS NUGGETS: Kris Dunn is not a one and done, which is good

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By Eric Nelson
June 28, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State…

•Dunn deal: There was no doubt the Minnesota Timberwolves were going to select Kris Dunn if he slipped to the fifth spot in the first round of the NBA draft. When he did, the Wolves pounced on Dunn and now they have an athletic point guard from Providence who plays lock-down defense…

•KG and KD: In 1995 Minnesota selected some guy named Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick in round one. If Dunn comes anywhere close to having Garnett-type success then this will go down as one of the better draft choices in Minnesota history. Of course, that is a big if…

•Experience factor: Another appealing thing about Dunn is that he is not a one and done player. Dunn played three years for the Friars and at 22 is already older than some of his Timber pup teammates…

•DC-bound: The WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx met with President Obama Monday in Washington DC. The Lynx have now been to the White House three times thanks to their three titles. Maya Moore is certainly getting used to White House. Counting her career at U-Conn, Moore has made six trips to DC…

•Kick start: The first-ever soccer match at Target Field was a success. Club Leon won over Minnesota United 4-2 before 18,505 fans. There was plenty of action on the pitch as the teams combined to score five goals in the second half…

•Rock on: According to the Indianapolis Star, Colts owner Jim Irsay recently bought Prince’s Yellow Cloud electric guitar for $137,500. Irsay has also bought guitars used by Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia, paying over $950,000 for each of those…

•Oswaldo update: For those of you keeping score at home, Oswaldo Arcia is off to a fast with Tampa Bay. In four games Arcia is batting .500 (6 for 12) with 1 home run and 4 RBI. Minnesota dealt Arcia to the Rays last week…

•Rosey salute: Cincinnati retired Pete Rose’s number 14 last weekend at Great American Ballpark. There were plenty of tributes to the MLB hit king who grew up in Cincy and was part of the legendary Big Red Machine teams in the 1970’s…

•Puck picks: There were a record 12 players from the US chosen in the first round of last week’s NHL draft. Five of them are from the St. Louis metro area, including Minnesota’s top pick, Luke Kunin

•Top dog: Btw, Toronto took Auston Matthews with the first pick in the draft. Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, AZ – which is more proof that hockey’s footprint now includes the south and west…

•Wildcat upgrades: According to the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern University is building a $260 million football practice facility and is ponying up $100 million to renovate Welsh-Ryan Arena, home of the Wildcat’s men’s and women’s basketball teams…

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SPORTS NUGGETS: No Cal is where champions are crowned

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By Eric Nelson
June 21, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the land of sky blue waters…

•Titletown: Northern California has become a championship hub as three teams have won titles there this year. Denver defeated Carolina in Santa Clara, CA to win Super Bowl 50. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last week in San Jose. Then on Sunday, Cleveland captured the NBA Finals by winning Game 7 in Oakland against Golden State. The bad news for Bay Area sports fans is that none of the teams celebrating were from their market…

•Giant chances: That could change if the Giants keep up their solid play. San Francisco is 44-27 and leads the LA Dodgers by 5 1/2 games in the NL West – which means the World Series could be played at AT&T Park this October. If that happens and the WS is won or lost on the Giants turf, that would be four major pro sports champs crowned in the Bay Area in one calendar year…

•Numbers game: Eight is Enough is an old ABC television show that was successful from 1977 to 1981. But, in the NBA, 88 is not enough to have championship success. Golden State won a combined 88 games in the regular season and playoffs, but all the Warriors got for their remarkable run is a consolation prize…

•Broken records: Golden State is more proof that record-setting regular seasons don’t always translate into championship runs. In 2007, New England became the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season, but lost to the NY Giants in Super Bowl 42 and finished 18-1. The 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners have the best regular season records in MLB history (116-46), but neither won the World Series. Meanwhile, in 1995-96, Detroit won an NHL-record 62 games, but did not win the Stanley Cup…

•Block party: My favorite snapshot from Game 7 of the NBA Finals was LeBron James’ incredible block of an Andre Iguodala shot attempt with 1:50 to go in the fourth quarter. LeBron’s crunch-time rejection was huge, because Cleveland and Golden State were tied at 89-89. The Cavs wound up wining 93-89. The block was the capper on a spectacular night for LeBron who had a triple double (27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists)…

•Bling bling: Critics can rail on Kevin Love all they want. But the reality is this: Love is getting a ring, which is one more than Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing have…

•C-town hero: LeBron’s legendary status continues to rise in NE Ohio. Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought is finally over and all that talk about curses, hexes and voodoo can be put to rest for good…

•Next up: Now that Cleveland’s title-starved fans have their crown, the spotlight shines on the Chicago Cubs – who have not won a WS in 108 years. The Cubs are the top team in MLB with a 47-21 record…

•Meet and greet: According to the Orange County Register, LA Rams fans paid $550 each to attend an NFL All-Access event at the Coliseum last week. Current and former Rams mingled with fans, including Jared Goff, Jim Everett, Vince Ferragamo, Lawrence McCutcheon and Wendell Tyler

•New digs: According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, the Dallas Cowboys are leaving Valley Ranch in Irving and moving team headquarters to “The Star” in Frisco, TX. Valley Ranch opened in 1983 and the Cowboys went to five Super Bowls while practicing at the facility…

•Eagan-bound: The Minnesota Vikings will soon be on the move too. It is all but guaranteed that the Purple will move their team offices from Eden Prairie to Eagan, MN and settle on the old Northwest Airlines site…

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SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Lynx look like a team ready to repeat

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By Eric Nelson
June 15, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of the Pillsbury Doughboy…

•Off and running: The Minnesota Lynx are out of the blocks faster than Usain Bolt.The Lynx are 11-0 – the best start in WNBA history. The Lynx have shown no signs of championship fatigue as they look like a team ready to repeat as champs. The Lynx defeated Indiana 87-63 on Tuesday night as Maya Moore scored 16 points and had eight rebounds…

•Clash of titans: Los Angeles is also off to a hot start. The Sparks are 10-0 and, just a half game behind Minnesota in the WNBA’s Western Conference. The Lynx and Sparks play next Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles…

•Season’s Greetings: Just a hunch, but I don’t think that the Cleveland’s LeBron James and the Golden State’s Draymond Green will be exchanging Christmas cards this year…

•Profiling: I still can’t figure out why Green received a one-game suspension after his dustup with LeBron in Game 4. Green never made any contact with LeBron after the Cavs star stepped over him. Green’s suspension has more to do with his chippy reputation then that singular play. Green is now being profiled because of previous incidents this season…

•Bruin bucks: According to the LA Times, UCLA has signed a 15-year, $280-million deal with Under Armour. It is the largest shoe and apparel sponsorship in NCAA history and more proof that college sports is a cash cow…

•Mediocrity rules: Minnesota’s sputtering start this season has most Twins fans already counting the days until 2017. Making things even worse for the Minnesota fandom, is that if the Twins were playing .500 baseball they would be smack dab in the AL Central race. Cleveland is on top with a 35-27 record, followed by Kansas City (34-30 and one game out of first), Detroit (33-31, two games back), and the Chicago White Sox (32-33, 3 1/2 games behind). The only team not in the chase is Minnesota (20-44), which is 15 games behind the Indians…

•Saluting Papi: Not sure why Minnesota saluted Boston’s David Ortiz before Friday night’s game at Target Field. Yes it was a classy move by the Twins, but it also called attention to one of the most glaring goofs in club history – which was letting Ortiz go…

•Red Sox invasion: There were plenty of Boston fans in the Twin Cities for last weekend’s three-game series. The Red Sox Nation could be spotted in bars, restaurants and at Target Field cheering loudly for their team…

•NFL-ready: Former Minnesota Vikings wideout Greg Jennings had his ninth annual golf tournament Monday at Rush Creek in Maple Grove, MN. The tournament raised money for kid’s charities in Michigan and Minnesota. Jennings – who played 10 seasons in the NFL with Green Bay, Minnesota and Miami – is currently a man without a team. Jennings is working out two hours a day, six days a week and says he would like a chance to play again, especially with the Vikings…

•Star power: Other celebrities who played in Jennings tournament were Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald Jr. and former Minnesota DT John Randle, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…

•Jackpot: If reports are true that the NHL is going to Las Vegas, then that team should have a catchy nickname. Aces, Casinos, Gamblers, Jackpots and Slot Shots are just a few of the possibilities for a franchise that will be hoping for plenty of puck luck…

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