Tag Archives: minnesota wild

Jersday Blog February 28, 2019

The Round-Up

Nick Foles Philadelphia Eagle Jersey
Submitted by Joey Hasson

Well the Nick Foles era is officially over in Philly… for now. Big Dick Nick and the Eagles are like football’s Ross and Rachel. They’re just on a break.

If this really is curtains for Foles in Philly, you really have to pour one out for one of the most unlikely Super Bowl MVPs of all-time. I’ll still contend that Foles got a bad rap because he had a couple of lousy seasons in St. Louis under JEFF FISHER. Jeff Fisher stinks.

I think Foles is a solid QB and someone will scoop him up to a decent deal. We’ll always have the Philly Special. Fly Eagles Fly.

Zach Parise Minnesota Wild Jersey

I think if you’re going to get a Wild jersey, Minnesota-born Parise is one of the better ones you can rock. Here’s where the 34 year old Parise stacks up with Minnesota-born NHLers:

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While I’m on the subject Matt Cullen would be a cool Wild jersey too.

Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators Jersey

The second overall pick in 2001 is still kicking it in the NHL. That’s 18 seasons ago. Come on!

Image result for jason spezza draft

What a draft class! Spezza, Kovalchuk AND Alexandr Svitov. 

As a Leafs fan you can’t talk too much about the Senators organization without breaking into hives. They have had some absolute horses when you look back at some of those early-to-mid 2000 teams. Spezza, Alfredsson, Dany “50 in ’07” Heatley, Chara, Redden, Martin Havalat, Marion Hossa, Mike Fisher-Underwood. Not too shabby.

Jersey of the Week

Brian Lewerke Michigan State Jersey

This was a toss-up. The Zach Parise is literally the nicest jersey submitted this week. The pre-2004 lockout era Spezza is an awesome throwback. But in this case the tie goes to the college football jersey with not-quite NFL calibre QB on the back. I just can’t in good conscious award a Spezza Senators jersey the Jersey of the week.

One would argue that Michigan State doesn’t even have the best college football jerseys in their own state, but I think the Spartan green and white hold up against the Jordan brand Wolverines. The Spartans have a very sharp look. These are just sick:

Image result for michigan state spartans football jersey

Now Lewerke isn’t someone to get to wild about. A 106.1 Quarterback Rating is nothing to get too jazzed for. He did have that big rushing touchdown to edge out the Wolverines last year:

I dunno, college jerseys just do it for me.

Jersey of the Week Scoreboard:

1. @Acooksy19: 3
T2. @beamerr9: 2
T2. @wilsondrew17: 2
T3. @jefftrahan13: 1
T3. @phillydip4: 1

Suddenly Adam has some extra pressure on his heels in the standings. Hungry dogs run faster.
 

The Weekly Jersey Dump

That ’79 look laps the competition.

Hopefully this means these jerseys aren’t going away. The Nets Biggie jerseys are one of the best alternates in the game and easily the best the Nets have had in years.

Yeah these are nice and all, but where’s the Atlanta Thrashers throwback?

This Stadium Series look was pretty divisive. I wouldn’t like that jersey/helmet combo if it were a regular jersey, but for special event I like the change of pace. The set-up almost looked like two AFL teams with the way the helmets looked. I thought it was cool.

A Russel/ Booker back-court would look real nice. Make it happen Suns/Nets.

I’d scoop up one of these Manny Machado Padres jerseys:
Men's San Diego Padres Manny Machado Majestic Brown Patch Flex Base Player Jersey

NHL Week In Review – Joel Quenneville, The Resilient Red Wings, And The Senators Wild Ride

Hello, beautiful Bench-Lifers. I am back again for another look at the biggest NHL storylines from the past week. There was a ton to talk about during the past seven days so let’s jump right in.

Blackhawk Down

A new day has dawned for the Chicago Blackhawks. On Tuesday morning, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the team fired long-time head coach Joel Quenneville. The mustachioed bench boss was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL at the time of his firing and had won three Stanley Cup championships over his 10 seasons with the team. Jeremy Colliton, who was coaching the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, was named his successor and became the youngest coach in the league at 38-years-old.

Quenneville is the second-winningest coach in NHL history (890 wins), trailing only the legendary Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins). Ironically enough, the Bowman regime has a massive part to play in this whole scenario. Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks general manager (and Scotty’s son), butted-heads with Quenneville over organizational matters throughout the entirety of their working relationship. Mark Lazerus has a fantastic piece about the whole situation on The Athletic, but basically, there were three main points of contention that the article covered.

  1. In the 2011-12 season, Bowman forced Barry Smith upon Quenneville as an assistant coach. Scotty Bowman was a senior advisor in the organization at the time and Smith was an old friend who had coached with him for over 15 seasons. The decision infuriated Quenneville and started a theme of resentment between him and the Bowman clan. Interestingly enough, Smith was immediately brought back this past week as an assistant coach once Quenneville was canned.
  2. At the end of the 2016-17 season, Quenneville’s best friend/assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired by Bowman. The two started coaching together in 1998 with the St. Louis Blues and had spent over 12 seasons alongside one another behind the bench.
  3. Bowman had made some trades that Quenneville vehemently disagreed with over the past few years, most notably, the Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin deals.

The way I see it is that Bowman saved his own ass by firing Quenneville. Apparently, that is how former Blackhawks’ tough guy Daniel Carcillo sees it too.

Now, the head coach was not perfect by any means. He was not some infallible deity that could do no wrong with the hockey gods. Quenneville routinely frustrated fans by showing blind loyalty to veteran players while youthful talent waited for their chance. The Blackhawks had first-round exits in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before completely bottoming-out last year. Due to this, changes definitely had to be made. With that being said, Bowman is more responsible for an under-performing roster than Quenneville was.

The head coach did not trade Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes nor did he make the Panarin for Brandon Saad swap. He did not trade Teuvo Teravainen, Philip Danault, or Vinnie Hinistroza in the past two years. The general manager is responsible for those moves. Furthermore, Bowman inherited his Cup-winning core from Dale Tallon when he was hired in 2009. He did not draft Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, or Corey Crawford. Likewise, Bowman responded to the Blackhawks’ worst season in a decade by signing Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning, and Cam Ward this past offseason. Talk about some real game changers.

Negativity aside, I fully believe Bowman deserves credit for the moves he made during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 Cup wins. Players like Johnny Oduya, Michal Handzus, and Antoine Vermette were integral playoff pieces and shrewd acquisitions.

All of this adds up to the Blackhawks losing the first two games of Colliton’s NHL coaching career. Their losing streak now sits at seven games. After a 6-2-2 start, their record sits at 6-8-3. Quenneville was caught up in a power struggle, and he ultimately deserved a better fate. Regardless, he will be able to coach again any time he wants to as certain teams are likely drooling at the thought of bringing him in. Quenneville will be fine. I am not sure the same can be said about the Blackhawks.

Comebacks And Curly Fries In The Motor City

Before saying anything else, the Detroit Red Wings are not a good team. I am a diehard fan myself, and while they have been incredibly fun lately, I am not mistaking them for a team with realistic playoff aspirations.

With that being said, OH MY GOD THE RED WINGS REBUILD IS IN FULL SWING! WE’LL BE BACK IN NO TIME! IN LARKIN WE TRUST!

*ahem*

Yes, the Red Wings have won six of their last seven games after a dismal 1-7-2 start to the year. They have won three straight games despite trailing by multiple goals in each contest. It is the first time in franchise history that the team has accomplished such a feat. Up front, there have been fantastic performances from some of their young leaders. In particular, Dylan Larkin is playing like an absolute stud. He has seven goals and 10 assists through 17 games this season including the overtime winner against the New York Rangers on Friday.

Similarly, Andreas Athanasiou has been dangerous on a nightly basis. He has four points in his past two games and 10 points through 13 games this season. On Saturday, Anthony Mantha single-handedly spearheaded the comeback against the Carolina Hurricanes with two goals in the third period. Tyler Bertuzzi has shown he belongs at the NHL level and 2017 first-round pick Michael Rasmussen has delivered tantalizing flashes of his power-forward potential.

With that in mind, perhaps the best part about the whole start to the season has been 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski on the back end. On draft night, many fans (including myself) were skeptical when the team traded down, jettisoning Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes, but passing on Jakob Chychrun in the process. Cholowski was a moderately unknown commodity at the time as he played in the BCHL during his draft year. On the other hand, Chychrun had been considered a top-10 pick early on in 2016 while playing for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. Cholowski surprised many people out of training camp this season and ultimately wound up on the team for opening night. Since then, all he has done is impress with two goals, six assists, and a poise that far exceeded expectations.

Again, the Red Wings are not good. This is a team that was so bad early on in the season, that Arby’s changed a decade-old curly fries promotion. In years past, fans would get a free order of curly fries whenever a Red Wings player scored a hat trick. All they had to do was bring in a box score of the game. Now, Arby’s is giving away a free order of curly fries whenever the Red Wings score three goals in a game. There is lowering the bar, and then there is that. But hey, since the changeover the Red Wings have scored at least three goals in seven of eight games. All praise the power of the curly fry.

The Uber Ride Heard ‘Round The World

At this point, I hope we all know what happened. If not, here is the video. During a road trip to Arizona in late October, several Ottawa Senators players were unknowingly recorded by their Uber driver as they mocked their coaching staff in a five-minute rant. Matt Duchene was the most vocal of the bunch and continuously mentioned how clueless assistant coach Martin Raymond was while Chris Wideman and Thomas Chabot laughed at the team’s inefficient penalty killing.

Now, this is not a great situation, especially for a franchise that has had such a tumultuous year. It is embarrassing for the players and provided an unnecessary headache in an already challenging season. With that being said, I thought this whole ordeal was blown way out of proportion. I mean, who hasn’t badmouthed a co-worker, customer or boss before? The difference is, if you knew you were being recorded, you probably would have kept your opinions to yourself. Gerard Gallant, head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, had a great take on the situation when asked by a Toronto Sun reporter.

“All the players talk about coaches all the time, believe me, and vice versa.” He paused to laugh. “We talk about them too.”

Obviously! It is cliche, but you cannot please everyone. A hockey team consists of a ton of individuals having to try and work together to achieve a common goal. Not everybody is going agree with the methods, and in return, they will vent about it in privacy. This video never should have surfaced because all it is are athletes voicing their frustrations.

Thankfully, the Senators won two of their four games this week, including a wild comeback against the powerful Tampa Bay Lightning. Things would have been brutal if they went on a massive losing streak after this media firestorm.

I will say, one positive from the whole situation is that this tweet was made (sorry Sens fans).

Fabulous Firsts

These players scored the first NHL goal of their careers this week: Denis Gurianov (DAL), Brett Seney (NJD), Jeremy Lauzon (BOS).

Quick Hits

The Boston Bruins top line of Brad Marchand (2G,3A), Patrice Bergeron (2G,4A), and David Pastrnak (5G,2A) absolutely dominated during four games this week. The trio has accounted for 58% of the Bruins goals this season (31/53). They are simply terrific.

Continuing on with the Bruins, shoutout to Jaroslav Halak who has been downright magnificent with Beantown this season. Halak has posted a 6-1-2 record with a 1.77 goals-against average, .945 save percentage, and two shutouts to start 2018-19. Aside from a five-goal clunker against the Canucks on Thursday, he has been practically unbeatable. Tuukka Rask remains on personal leave which means Halak is manning the crease for the near future.

The Minnesota Wild have been quietly formidable through their first portion of the season. They are riding an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games and sit at 11-4-2 on the year. Zach Parise’s resurgence has been a big part of their success. He has delivered seven goals and nine assists through his first 17 games after posting back-to-back seasons with less than 50 points. Here’s hoping he stays healthy!

William Nylander continues to play the waiting game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The slick Swedish forward has until 5PM on December 1st to sign a contract or else he will be ineligible to play this season. Both parties are apparently still quite far apart with the financials. I understand the hesitation from Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. 1). This is his first big contract dispute as an NHL general manager. If he caves and gives Nylander a big contract, agents will prey on him for years to come. 2). He has to try his best to get Nylander signed to a reasonable contract that will not handcuff the team’s financial abilities in the future. Apparently, the Leafs have reached out to possible trade partners in recent days. Dubas has continuously stated that he will not trade Nylander, but with the clock ticking, desperation may set in during the coming weeks. Not having Nylander playing and/or not having assets in return would severely hurt the Leafs chances of getting past Tampa Bay and Boston in the playoffs this season.

A couple of streaks were extended for Florida Panthers players on Sunday evening. Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov both picked up an assist during a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. This extended their point streaks to 12 and 11 games, respectively. The two have formed a daunting unit with Aleksander Barkov on the top line.

The Nashville Predators have become the third team in NHL history to win their first eight road games of the season. Last year’s President Trophy winners are well on their way to another magnificent campaign. They sit atop the NHL standings with a 13-3-0 record and are currently rolling on a five-game win streak.

About three weeks ago, New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle announced that his leukemia was in remission. Boyle was diagnosed with the disease back in 2017. On Tuesday, which was coincidentally Hockey Fights Cancer night in Pittsburgh, Boyle scored the first hat trick of his 705-game NHL career. Sometimes sports can be pure poetry. What a touching moment for Boyle and his family. Good luck to him the rest of the season.

Milestone Makers

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton played in his 1500th career game on Thursday night during a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise scored the 700th point of his career on Thursday night during a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Patrick Marleau picked up the 600th assist of his career on Friday night during a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Western Conference Playoff Preview: First Round Breakdown and Predictions

Strap yourself in, fill up that beer fridge, and welcome to the most wonderful time of the year.

Yes, my fellow hockey nutjobs, the NHL playoffs have finally arrived and this season has been the normal, totally predictable NHL. We have a first-year expansion team as the top seed in their division, a team that finished dead last a season ago in a wildcard spot, and a team that I affectionately refer to as “Taylor Hall and a bunch of other guys” back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. The Penguins are looking for the threepeat, the Predators are looking for sweet revenge, the Maple Leafs are looking to exorcise some demons, and the (new) Jets are looking for their first playoff victory.

I’ll be breaking down every series, matchups to watch, who I think will advance to round two, and other interesting storylines/tidbits for the Western Conference in the first round. Fellow Bench-Lifer Cameron Burgess is covering the East so be sure to watch out for his article as well. Let’s go!

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(C1) Nashville Predators [53-18-11] v. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche [43-30-9]

Season series: NSH 4-0-0; COL 0-3-1.

Breakdown: Last season the Predators found themselves in a position quite similar to where Colorado is right now. They were a heavy underdog against Chicago, yet promptly swept them and made a run all the way to the Cup Final. While I’m not suggesting the same events will transpire here, I will say that seeding is somewhat meaningless once the playoff puck drops. Regardless, the Preds are unquestionably one of the favourites to win it all and for good reason. Their roster is almost identical to a season ago plus Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Ryan Hartman, and perhaps Eeli Tolvanen. They are deep up front (13 players with 10 or more goals), loaded on the blueline, fully healthy aside from Calle Jarnkrok, and Pekka Rinne is in the midst of the best season of his NHL career. Oh, and they have arguably the biggest home-ice advantage in the NHL. Have fun beating that team.

The Avalanche even being in this position is truly remarkable. Just last year they had the worst season by any team since 1999-00 as they posted a miserable 22-56-4 record. Now, they find themselves as heavy underdogs in the first round but in the playoffs nonetheless. A large portion of this success can be attributed to Hart Trophy candidate Nathan Mackinnon. He was sensational this season with 39 goals and 58 assists and finally harnessed the game-breaking ability that made him the first overall pick in 2013. Super sophomore Mikko Rantanen (29G/55A) and team captain Gabriel Landeskog (25G/37A) round out a potent top line that carried the Avs’ offense on most nights. Unfortunately for Colorado’s upset hopes, starting goalie Semyon Varlamov and top defenseman Erik Johnson were both injured just before the playoffs and neither will play in the first round. Jonathan Bernier will have to be huge in the crease for the Avs to keep up with the Preds.

X-factors:

Predators – While Ryan Johansen’s injury in the Western Conference Final was the biggest blow to the Preds cup run last season, they also lost a guy in the first round who looked like he was enjoying a playoff breakout. Kevin Fiala recovered from the fractured femur and carried his momentum into the regular season. Playing primarily in a top-six role, he set career highs with 23 goals and 25 assists. While Forsberg, Johansen, Subban, and Josi could be considered stars, the Preds are still a team that gets it done by committee. Fiala, who’s slated to play alongside Turris and Craig Smith, will be a massive part of the Preds’ secondary scoring. His playoff run was stolen from him last season but now he has another opportunity to impress.

Avalanche – Nathan Mackinnon will be the biggest reason why the Avs win any games but I am going to go a different route. The injury to Erik Johnson leaves a gaping hole on the blueline and Samuel Girard is the guy to fill it. The rookie was acquired from the Predators in the Turris/Duchene three-way deal and he has impressed Avs fans with his poise and smooth skating. He will have extra motivation playing against his former team and is in line to play upwards of 23+ minutes a night. He already stepped up in a big way in Colorado’s must win game against St. Louis to end the season as he was the best player on the ice. Again, the Avs are the biggest underdog in the first round but the playoffs are a different beast. Girard’s play will go a long way for the Avs if they want to make this a close series.

 

Prediction: Predators in 5.

Nashville just simply outmatches Colorado in every single aspect of the game. The forward core is deeper and more experienced, the blueline is an embarrassment of riches, and Pekka Rinne is a wall in net. If Varlamov and Johnson were healthy I could maybe stretch it to 6 games but I cannot envision a scenario where the Preds bow out this early. I do think Nathan Mackinnon is going to single-handedly will the Avs to a victory on home ice but that is about it. Preds roll.

(C2) Winnipeg Jets [52-20-10] v. (C3) Minnesota Wild [45-26-11]

Season series: WPG 3-1-0; MIN 1-3-0.

Breakdown: Both of these teams have been great since the calendar flipped to 2018. The Jets have ridden a balanced roster to one of the better records in the league. They have one of the strongest forward cores in the playoffs with stalwarts Schiefele (23G/37A), Wheeler (23G/68A), Laine (44G/26A), and Ehlers (29G/31A) leading the way. The trade deadline acquisition of Paul Stastny also worked out admirably as he recorded 13 points in his 19 games with the Jets. They have a stout defense which is evidenced by Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers all being on separate pairings. If that isn’t enough, perhaps the biggest key to the Jets success was in net. Connor Hellebuyck, who was projected to be Steve Mason’s backup at the start of the season, has turned in a Vezina-caliber campaign with a sparkling 44-11-9 record, a .924 SV%, and a 2.36 GAA.

The Wild were their typical consistent self as they made the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Eric Staal, who has enjoyed a career renaissance in the Twin Cities, was a force centering the top line as his 42 goals and 76 points paced the team. Jason Zucker benefitted greatly from Staal’s presence as he chipped in a surprising 33 goals. Mikael Granlund also enjoyed a solid year with 46 assists and 67 points. Defensively, Ryan Suter was the stamina superstar again averaging 26:46 TOI per game but he fractured his ankle right before the start of the playoffs leaving a massive hole on the blueline. Luckily for the Wild, Matt Dumba broke out in a big way this season averaging 23:46 TOI per game while chipping in 50 points. Between the pipes, Devan Dubnyk’s underlying numbers were not as good as years past but he still managed an impressive 35-16-7 record.

X-factors:

Jets – I purposely left rookie Kyle Connor out of the initial blurb because I think his performance is critical for the Jets in this series. He had 31 goals and 26 assists in his first full season of NHL action. He benefits from the opposition zeroing in on his linemates Schiefele and Wheeler when the unit is out on the ice. He is a battler and finds ways to get to open areas while the all-star duo commands all the attention. In what should be a tight-checking series, his opportunistic style of play will be massive for Winnipeg. Connor also has a knack for scoring big goals as he tallied 7 game winners (3 in OT) this season.

 

Wild – Although he battled injury for a quarter of the season Nino Niederreiter will need to improve on the disappointing year he has had thus far. 18 goals and 14 assists are simply not enough from a top-six winger for a team that can struggle to score at times. Luckily, the playoffs are a clean slate and El Nino will be playing on the top line with Zucker and Staal. That trio is key for the Wild in this series as their solid puck possession numbers will wear down the Winnipeg D and lead to offensive opportunities. The big Swiss winger has a necessary net-front presence and a heavy shot. He was the best 5-on-5 Corsi player (52.94%) for the Wild by a wide margin which suggests he is playing good hockey, just not converting his chances.

Prediction: Jets in 6.

If Ryan Suter was healthy this series would be a complete toss-up in my book but losing a guy that plays almost half the game each night is too big of a hole. I love Matt Dumba but I am not very confident in a Nick Seeler/Nate Prosser pairing against one of the best offensive teams in the league. Winnipeg was second in goals for league-wide while also being fifth stingiest in goals against. The Jets power play is also one of the biggest advantages in the series as they scored on 23.4% of their opportunities (5th in the league) while the Wild scored on just 20.4% (18th in the league). Not only will the new Winnipeg Jets get their first ever playoff win, they’ll also be getting their first ever series win.

(P1) Las Vegas Golden Knights [51-24-7] v. (WC1) Los Angeles Kings [45-29-8]

Season series: VGK 2-1-1; LAK 2-1-1.

Breakdown: Well, I have to say I definitely did not imagine we would see the Golden Knights playoff debut in their inaugural season but here we are. The Knights rode a fairytale roster to the top seed in the Pacific and looked like one of the best squads in the league for most of the year. Vegas was led by Columbus castoff William Karlsson (43G/35A), Panther pariah’s Marchessault (27G/48A) and Smith (22G/38A), and parted Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury (29-13-4/.927SV%/2.24GAA). Even when there were injuries to three of their starting goalies the Knights did not slow down. They seemed to get contributions from a different part of their lineup every single game as they had six players with 20+ goals. Head coach Gerard Gallant deserves a boatload of credit for what he has done with this team. They can skate, they can score, and they can come at you in waves.

The Kings style of play is contrarian to that of the Knights. While Vegas has a speed and offense approach, the Kings are playing that old-fashioned barricading defense. They were the stingiest team in the league only allowing 2.46 goals per game and they also had the best penalty kill at 85% effectiveness. Jonathan Quick has been here before and knows what it takes to win in the postseason. He did not have a great year which is evident by his 33-28-3 record but that can quickly be forgotten during a sublime playoff run. Offensively, Anze Kopitar had a herculean season setting career highs in goals (35), assists (57), and points (92). The Slovenian will be in the running for league MVP as well the Selke for best defensive forward. Furthermore, Dustin Brown (28G/33A/61P) enjoyed a bounce-back year with his highest totals since 2010-11 and Jeff Carter, who only managed 27 games this season, is back and healthy for the playoffs.

X-factors:

Golden Knights – Tomas Tatar was George McPhee’s big splash at the trade deadline and the review is not good so far. The Knights paid a hefty price for the Slovakian winger who has only managed 6 points in 20 games wearing the gold, black and white. Tatar is deft and creative with the puck which should fit in perfectly with the high-octane offense but he cannot seem to find his footing. The Kings do not make it easy on opposing teams and goals will be hard to come by. The Knights need the veteran Tatar to show up and help lead the attack.

Kings – Adrian Kempe (16G/21A/37P) was one of the hottest Kings at the start of the season but has bottomed out as the year dragged on. Perhaps the grueling grind of an NHL season has taken a toll on the young Swede as he has not scored a goal in 28 games. With Carter back in the fold, Kempe has moved down to the third line which should offer more favourable matchups. If the Kings are going to keep up with the scoring prowess of the Knights they need Kempe to find the offensive fire that saw him snag 9 points in his first 10 games of the year.

Prediction: Kings in 7.

It is the classic battle of offense meets defense and although I think T-Mobile Arena will be a formidable place to play I have to take the defense in what looks to be a very close series. I think that over the course of seven games L.A head coach John Stevens will be able to effectively deploy his defense in a way that mitigates the Vegas attack. Kopitar and Drew Doughty are big game players and although the Knights have enjoyed productivity all season long the playoffs are a different beast. The series may just come down to the battle between Fleury and Quick. Strap yourselves in for a mean, hardfought war.

(P2) Anaheim Ducks [44-25-13] v. (P3) San Jose Sharks [45-27-10]

Season series: ANA 1-1-2; SJS 3-0-1.

Breakdown: California cities and Pacific Division rivals collide in this evenly matched tilt. The Ducks are scorching hot right now ending the season on a 10-1-1 run. They lost 317 man games due to injury throughout the year including extended stints on the shelf for key contributors Kesler, Getzlaf, Perry, and Lindholm. They are relatively healthy now aside from Cam Fowler (who is expected to miss the first round) but the top two D pairings of Lindholm-Manson, and Beauchemin-Montour are set. The biggest advantage for Anaheim in this series is John Gibson, who vaulted into the best goalie in the league discussion with his phenomenal play this season. Gibson made 37 of 39 saves in a 3-2 win against the Blues in November with THIS TEAM playing in front of him:

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If that isn’t enough to convince you about Gibson, nothing is. Regardless, since the all-star break Gibson leads the league in SV% (.937) and GAA (1.95). Offensively the Ducks should be fine with Getzlaf (11G/50A/56GP) and Kesler now back and healthy. Adam Henrique was acquired earlier in the season from the Devils and scored 20 of his 24 goals with the Ducks.

Moving onto NorCal, the Sharks are on the hunt for another playoff run after last year’s early exit against Edmonton. The usual suspects were the top producers for San Jose as Burns (12G/55A), Pavelski (22G/44A), and Couture (34G/27A) were 1-2-3 in team scoring. The Sharks are also dealing with an injury issue themselves as Joe Thornton is likely to miss Game 1 of the series due to the knee ailment that has cost him 35 games this season. Evander Kane was a big addition for the Sharks at the deadline and he has been solid so far with 9 goals and 14 points in 17 games. The team depth was exposed last season but they’ve received important contributions from players like Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi, Kevin Labanc, and Tomas Hertl this year. The top two pairings of Burns-Martin, Braun-Vlasic are dependable and log heavy minutes. Martin Jones won 30 games for the third straight season but he struggled for stretches this campaign.

X-factors:

Ducks – While some of the Ducks biggest point producers were mentioned in the opening paragraph it is the unheralded 22-year-old out of the Czech Republic who will be key in this opening series. Ondrej Kase recorded the first 20 goal season of his young career and will be a key source of secondary scoring on the third line for Anaheim. He has disgusting hands and quick feet which makes him more than capable of scoring a highlight reel goal at a crucial juncture of the game.

Sharks – The most criminally underrated defensive defenseman in the league is my x-factor for the Sharks. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a rock in his own zone and will be key to stymying the Anaheim offense. He logs heavy minutes on the penalty kill and against the top performers of the opposition. Both of these teams have talented forwards and are capable of scoring in bunches so defensive capability will be everything.

Prediction: Ducks in 6.

It is all John Gibson for me. I think he is one of the most talented goalies in the world and he looks on track to play in Game 1. Cam Fowler is a third pairing d-man on the Ducks and although they would like to have him on the power play I do not think his absence is as big of a loss as some people are saying. I like the Ducks offensive options a little bit more than San Jose. Realistically though, this is a very even series and one of the biggest differences could be what penalty kill performs best. The Sharks had the second most effective unit in the league (84.8%) while Anaheim had the fifth (83.2%). Special teams play a huge role in a playoff series and that could be a determing factor.

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: #5. Minnesota Wild

Part 26 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 49-25-8 (106 points) 2nd in Central Division (5th Overall)

GFPG: 3.24 (2nd)

GAPG: 2.54 (7th)

PP%: 20.98 (9th)

PK%: 82.95 (8th)

The story of the Minnesota Wild’s 2016-17 season is definitely centred upon the team’s incredible 12 game win streak that broke a franchise record. As expected, a 12-0-1 stretch does well to contribute to a team’s standing come playoff time. The Wild finished with 106 points and the second best record in the Western Conference. This positive jump sort of came out of nowhere, as the Wild finished with just 87 points the season prior, but things just finally began to click for this team. Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker each blew their previous career-high point production out of the water, while Eric Staal returned to the 65 point plateau for the first time since 2011-12. The Wild received consistent goaltending from Devan Dubnyk and were an exciting team to watch in the regular season. But come playoff time, the Wild were unable to generate the energy they  had shown prior, and dropped an opening round series to the St. Louis Blues in 5 games, something Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has become all too familiar with.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik

List of Subtractions: Eric Haula, Martin Hanzal, Alex Tuch, Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Darcy Kuemper

The Wild’s outlook on 2017-18 involves some questions – like if last year was just a flash in the pan or not – but there’s no denying the depth that this team possesses up front. It’s also clear that Devan Dubnyk has put the shaky Edmonton Oiler days far behind him, and he’s going to provide them with consistency in the net, which is huge. While this team lost some pieces in the offseason, the additions they brought in should be able to provide what may have left and will help maintain their balance throughout. What the Wild seem to lack is that elite high end talent. When they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a few years ago to mega-contracts, that was the expectation of them. While they’re still good NHL players, they can’t be considered studs. It’ll be interesting to see the progression of this group so we can get an answer on if last year’s “wild” regular season was the real deal, or maybe just a bit of luck.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk has certainly found a home in Minnesota. Ever since being traded for a 3rd round pick from Arizona during the 2014-15 season, Devan Dubnyk has looked like a brand new goalie. In Dubnyk’s 171 games with the Wild, he has the second most wins (99), third best save percentage (.924), fourth best goals against average (2.17), and second most shutouts (15) among NHL starters. And after completing another 60+ start year last season, Dubnyk has solidified himself as a consistent, reliable starter in this league. The Wild rely on the towering goaltender for elite play more than anyone on their team, and with the loss of solid backup, Darcy Kuemper, to the Kings in free agency, expect Dubnyk to be the man pushing the Wild towards a playoff spot once again.

Team’s Strength: Scoring Depth

The 2017-18 season was an offensive explosion for this Wild team, and with that it was also a coming out party for a number of players. Mikael Granlund is most notable as he pushed up against the 70-point mark last season, after a career high of just 44 previously. But the entire theme of this Wild team is a balanced, “score-by-committee” culture. Mikko Koivu seems like he’s been around forever, and the Captain can always be relied upon to produce respectable offensive numbers. Eric Staal is another vet that’s shown he’s found his offensive stride after a successful debut season with the Wild, leading the team with 28 goals. Other veterans like Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis and Zach Parise have proven they have what it takes to contribute in this league. Plus, there’s the presence of a younger core of players like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker that have an impressive offensive spark as well. This team will run four solid forward lines at teams and they can beat you with skill and speed, or use their size and grind. The forward group is a clear strength for them.

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Team’s Weakness: Health

The Wild are fortunate that they have the depth that they do, because their team is having challenges with keeping their players on the ice. Zach Parise is the headliner for their health issues, as he’s been forced to miss 48 games over the course of his past four seasons with the team. But it’s not just Parise, in the early goings of this season, the Wild have seen Marcus Foligno, Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund, in addition to Parise, all placed on the IR. Injuries are an issue for all teams to deal with, but the Wild have been in pretty deep with them as of late.

Rookies/Farm:

The Wild have a couple of notable rookie forwards they have added to their team for this season. The first being Joel Eriksson Ek, who had made an appearance after a call up last year, but this will be his first full season. Eriksson Ek is a 20 year-old Swedish centreman who was selected 20th overall by the Wild in the 2015 draft. He did manage to put up 7 points in his 15-game trial last season, but he’ll be seeing bottom six minutes for now.

The second rookie is 20 year-old American forward, Luke Kunin. Kunin is getting his first taste of NHL hockey this season after splitting last year with the University of Wisconsin and the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Kunin was the 15th overall selection of the Wild in 2016 and was captain of the U.S. World Junior Championship team that won gold this past winter.

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Key Player: Mikael Granlund

Last season, the 25 year-old Granlund finally appeared to grow into the expectations that were placed on him after being made the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Remember when he did this? 

Granlund is known for his playmaking talent, but finally started putting the puck in the net last year as well with 26 goals, second on the team behind Eric Staal. The Wild had a hell of an offensive season last year and a large portion of that was because of Granlund’s emergence as a legit, consistent threat. Granlund needs to come back just as good or better than last year to prove that production was no fluke, and the Wild as a whole need to do the same.

Our Rankings:

  1. Ballantyne: 11th
  2. Burgess: 2nd
  3. Waind: 4th

While I’m not necessarily drinking the Minnesota Wild “Kool-Aid” as much as Burgess and Waind are this season, I am a fan of their depth. I just don’t want to write this team off as a Cup contender after what was a seemingly out of nowhere amazing regular season. The playoffs were a failure for them last year, and I doubt we’ll see another 12-game win streak from them once again. They have the pieces up front, a solid enough defense corps, and a high-end goaltender; so they’re a playoff team in my mind. But anything more than that? I’ll need to see it before I believe it.

Bench Talk (05/12/2017)

“It’s like the bottom of the ninth and I’m never gonna win. This life hasn’t turned out, quite the way I want it to be.” — Chad Kroeger

Losing can be tough. Losing while riding the pine is downright insufferable. Reach into the styrofoam cooler, crack a cold one and let’s talk some sports.

In the News

Big Baller Brand ZO2

Thomas Waind (TW): The best article I could find about these stupidly expensive shoes was by Dan McQuade on Deadspin (http://deadspin.com/why-the-hell-are-lonzo-ball-s-sneakers-495-1794953264).

The ZO2’s are essentially an on-court shoe that looks like it could be a knock-off Kobe (typically $215 to $295 at Foot Locker), but are priced as though they’re luxury Jordans. Except instead of paying for the Jump Man you’re getting…

Read more

Welcome to the Bench: Devin Setoguchi

Born: 1/1/1987 (28 years old) Taber, Alberta, Canada
Drafted: 1st round (8th overall) in 2005 by San Jose Sharks
Teams: San Jose Sharks (2007-2011), Minnesota Wild (2011-2013), Winnipeg Jets (2013-14), Calgary Flames (2014-15)
Position: Right Wing
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 205 lbs
Shoots: Right
Full Hockey Reference Bio

2015 Stats
GP    G    A    P    +/-    PIM
12     0     0    0     -7      4
Hockey DB Profile for Full Career Stats

The Signing
On August 24 the Leafs signed Setoguchi to a Professional Try Out contract. Read more