Scott Taylor

The Wild: Down the stretch

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By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder

GAMEDAY GOLD

Dubnyk Stumbles at Bad Time

WINNIPEG, Man. – Devan Dubnyk needs a rest.

After watching the Minnesota Wild goaltender flail around in a 5-4 loss to the non-post-season Winnipeg Jets on Sunday afternoon, it has become painfully obvious that the man who got the Minnesota Wild to where they are today, needs to sit and just watch his team for a few games.

The slumping Minnesota Wild have now lost five straight and have won just two of 10 in March.

When we last visited the Wild, Dubnyk was unbeatable. He was the odds-on pick to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding goaltender and his numbers were off the hook. In fact, during his first 27 starts, a run that took him to Dec. 31, Dubnyk was an eye-popping 18-6-3. He was first in the NHL with a 1.58 goals-against average and also first in the league with a .947 save percentage.

It certainly hasn’t been as good since then, and it’s been downright awful in the month of March – a time when the Wild needed their No. 1 goaltender to be at his best in order to catch the Chicago Blackhawks in the race for first in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.

In 29 starts since the end of December, Dubnyk is 18-12 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. That’s not very good. In fact, during that span, the NHL’s statistical gurus place Dubnyk 22nd in goals-against average and 26th in save percentage (among those goalies who have played at least 16 games in that period of time). Worse yet, as he did on Sunday, Dubnyk has allowed four or more goals in a game nine times.

This month he is 2-7 in 10 games with a 2.92 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. That’s horrible. He has gone seven starts without a victory and has been looking for his career-high 37th win for the last five games.

Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin and Devyn Dubnyk (G) defend the Minnesota Wild Net

The Wild’s Devan Dubnyk is trying to see his way through…

Now, to be fair, Dubnyk is still tied for second in the NHL with 36 wins, second with a .927 save percentage and fourth with a 2.18 goals against average (among goaltenders with at least 30 games played), but his numbers have dropped dramatically since Dec. 29.

There have been some suggestions that he needs more practice time or that he’s developed some bad habits and the coaches need to work on getting Dubnyk back to the pre-New Year’s Dubnyk.

However, after watching him on Sunday, the guy looks worn out and unable to focus. Especially early in the game. The Jets led 3-0 after the first period, even though the Wild had outshot them 14-7. Overall, the Wild outshot the Jets 48-21 and yet they lost 5-4. Dubnyk never seemed comfortable at any stage of this one and maybe, just maybe he should take his family to Disney World for a week. He’s not going to get any better – his confidence certainly isn’t going to get any better – by letting in five or six more against San Jose on Tuesday night.

It’s a coach’s job to make sure every team member feels horribly about a loss like the one the Wild suffered on Sunday. He can’t just leave it at the foot of goaltender. But let’s not sugarcoat this thing. With decent goaltending, the Wild don’t lose in Winnipeg and don’t go 2-8 this month.

As for head coach Bruce Boudreau, he’s as frustrated as the team and the fans – fans who are having trouble imagining a club that was so good for so long suddenly hitting the skids right before the post-season.

“Hey, listen, we stunk in the first,” Boudreau said during a postgame scrum in the bowels of MTS Centre that barely lasted 30 seconds. “We’d better come back in the second. Holy crap, it’s not resiliency. You’re making us sound like we’re good. That’s … I’m done.”

If he can’t get his goaltender back on track, his entire team might be.

 

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Wild have shot at Stanley Cup

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By Larry Fitzgerald
March1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

When I walk into Xcel Center and sometimes after finishing a sports update, I get calls, questions, emails and text messages asking why I talk about hockey. Perception is not reality. Many assume that Black people don’t like hockey or don’t know the game. Wrong.

I grew up in Chicago where the Blackhawks were the dominant sports team in a great sports town. They played at the old Chicago Stadium on the Westside and had Hall of Fame stars like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull and Glen Hall. I saw the Blackhawks lose the Stanley Cup game seven in 1970 to Montreal 3-2. It broke my young heart, but I was hooked on hockey.

Here we come down the stretch the last two months of the regular season of the greatest season ever for the Minnesota Wild. Not only are they good, they are real good, best in the Western Conference and leaders of the Central with 84 points. Chicago is number two with 83 points.

The Wild have two games in hand. Six Wild players this season have scored 40 points or more. This is an explosive team that attacks. Minnesota fans have been having a blast this season.

Unlike the Vikings who started fast with 5-0 and got everyone in the state excited, then fell on their face not even making the playoffs, the Wild have been consistent. They play hard every night for first-year Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. He was fired by Anaheim last year after several really good seasons. General Manager Chuck Fletcher has built a strong, confident, exciting team. They have been in the playoffs five years in a row.

(Courtesy of Larry-Fitzgerald.com)
Wild driving for the playoffs

Minnesota is 39-14-6, the second-best record in the NHL. Washington has the league’s best record, 41-13-6 for 89 points. It’s no secret the Wild are tied with Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, with 84 points and are one of the top teams. Washington, for example, is number one in the league with the most wins (41), fewest losses (13), and best point differential in the league, +70.

The Wild are tied for third in wins with 39 (after Chicago and Columbus), second with fewest losses (14) in the league, and second in point differential, +60. To win the Stanley Cup you have to get hot at the right time in the playoffs.

It’s not rocket science. It’s the same thing in any sport — whoever plays the best under pressure usually wins. The Wild are tough at the blue line. Their defense men have been solid all year, led by All-Star Ryan Suter, who has a great plus/minus of 35.

Devan Dubnyk is an All-Star goalie. They traded for him two years ago with Phoenix, and now he’s the best in the league. He has the best save percentage average (.943) and goal against average in the NHL at 1.97. You have to be able to stop people, and the Wild have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, 138.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. This team is among the top scoring teams. They are dominant at home (21-8-7) and outstanding on the road (18-6-5). They can win anywhere; they have won at Pittsburgh and Chicago this season.

Their fans have to be super excited about the big trade acquiring two veteran forwards, six-foot-six Martin Hanzal (16-10-26 points) and 28-year-old Ryan White from Phoenix for 2017 first-round pick and a second pick and a conditional pick.

The Wild average nearly 19,000 fans per game at Xcel Center. This is the deepest team they have ever had, and I have seen all their teams. This is the fifth-straight season they will clinch a playoff spot. Picking up two solid veteran forwards for the stretch drive tells fans this team is serious about winning the Stanley Cup.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Scott Taylor

The Wild: Your Legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders

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By Scott Taylor
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

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
GAMEDAY GOLD

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
GAMEDAY GOLD

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
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

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
GAMEDAY GOLD

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
GAMEDAY GOLD

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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