Eulogy: Remembering the 2015-16 Minnesota Wild

(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we’re bound to lose some friends along the journey. We’ve asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers and fans who hated them the most. Here is Steve Dangle of The Steve Dangle Podcast, who wanted to eulogize someone and the wheel stopped on the 2015-16 Minnesota Wild.)

(Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don’t take it so seriously.)

BY STEVE DANGLE

Dear Southern Winnipeggers, we are gathered here today to remember the Minnesota Wild. Nothing actually happened to them, I just often need to be reminded that they exist.

Nonetheless, their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup this season are dead. Unfortunately, we’ll have to forego a burial. Getting torched for 21 goals in six games was enough of a cremation on its own.

But there is something to celebrate: Congratulations to the Minnesota Wild on becoming the first thing Jamie Benn has ever eaten …

Furthermore, congratulations to the Minnesota Wild on being the second-best green team in the NHL out of two. Whether it’s their Canadian goose poop-colored jerseys or their bloody morning booger-colored jerseys, they still wear their colors with pride.

Their fierce, and dare I say wild, logo reminds me of their famous state slogan: “Minnesota: We have… trees?”

Minnesota has been through a lot over the past quarter century or so. The North Stars left in 1993, and they’ve been searching for an NHL team ever since.

You might be thinking, “Hey at least the Wild actually make the playoffs.” True, but as is often the case, Minnesota’s playoff success relied on Patrick Roy failing to get the job done.

The Wild had coaching struggles of their own. After a rancid skid in which Minnesota lost 13 out of 14 games, and after Chuck Fletcher was informed that Connor McDavid had actually already been drafted last year, the Wild decided to fire Mike Yeo and replace him with Patrick Warburton.

The star of The Tick and those National Car Rental commercials managed to coach the Wild all the way to round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During Game 6 of their series with the Dallas Stars, they found themselves down 4-0 after 40 minutes. For two periods they made Kari Lehtonen look like J.S. Giguere.

But then… something amazing happened.

The Minnesota Wild went WILD. They fought and they clawed their way through the third period and almost won the game. Oh, they still totally lost 5-4, but it truly was one of the greatest almost comebacks of all-time, just behind Team USA’s inspirational almost comeback against Canada in the 2010 Gold Medal Game. It was the kind of almost comeback Hollywood almost makes movies about it. What an honor it must be for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to be a part of both almost comeback teams.

This was just one of the Wild’s almost good moments of these playoffs. Remember when Devan Dubnyk almost stopped Antoine Roussel’s almost kick from behind the net? Dubnyk sure was mad about the goal, which weirdly didn’t stop it from being a legal hockey play and counting. This is a little late but you have to admire Dubnyk for being the first Masterton-winner to win the award just for not being bad anymore.

Minnesota’s epic Game 6 almost win sure was a thrill but we’re forgetting another Wild season highlight.

Did you know that the Wild played an outdoor game this season? You didn’t? Oh. Well they did. They beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 in it, too! Granted, they probably only won because of the Blackhawks’ complete lack of experience playing in outdoor games but it was an important two points anyway.

“Why is a Leafs fan talking about the Minnesota Wild like this?” I’m glad you asked.

You see, Wild fans, we are the same in many ways. I too am used to cheering for a team that spends unfathomable amounts of money on free agents and spends draft picks like the world is going to end in two weeks.

Am I saying your team is screwed? No, no. Quite the opposite.

You see, you and I both know that any team who treats the draft like a free weekend off with a man named “C. Fletcher” at the helm is in good hands. We both know that crushing playoff defeats in a series where Tyler Seguin didn’t really do anything is definitely a one-off. We both know that almost wins are just as good as wins themselves.

None of my feelings for the Wild have anything to do with Craig Leipold crying poor then signing Parise and Suter to $196 million in contracts right before an NHL lockout that forced me to do highlights for the KHL for a year. None at all! I can’t hold it against the guy for trying to get a competitive edge. I know there’s two things in this world Craig Leipold wants: The Stanley Cup and his stapler back.

Blues never do things the easy way, but still can close out the Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (top) scores the game-winning goal on a wrap-around shot past St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott in the second overtime during Game 5 of a Western Conference quarterfinal playoff game between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks early on Friday, April 22, 2016, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The game began the previous evening on Thursday, April 21, 2016. The Blackhawks won 4-3. Chris Lee AP

Let’s be honest, Blues fans.

You didn’t really think the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were going to fade quietly away and drop out of the opening round of the playoffs after only five games.

Surely you didn’t believe this proud bunch of Blackhawks and a dressing room filled with talent like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford was ready for the post-series handshake line.

Sure the 3-1 series lead for the Blues was nice, but let me take an informal poll from fans on either side of the rink who believed the Blues would win both games in Chicago to take control of the series.

That’s right. Only the most gushing of the “Bleed Blue” crowd would have dropped some of their hard-earned money on that happening.

As I told someone earlier during the series, the Blackhawks are the Zombie-Vampires of the NHL.

With three Stanley Cup titles in six seasons and as strong of a postseason pedigree as any team in the league, Joel Quenneville’s ‘Hawks are not out of a series until their opponent drives a wooden stake through their heart, fires a silver bullet into their brains and then sets fire to their rotting corpse before it jumps up again to strike for another overtime goal.

It may take a couple passes with a lawnmower as well. And a flamethrower.

Don’t forget Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong’s memorable quote from 2014 following a first-round playoff loss to the ‘Hawks. That year, the Blues won the first two games only to lose four in a row on their way out of the playoffs.

“We need that killer instinct, we need to be able to — when you have a team down 2-0 — you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them.”

The Blues are obviously capable of finishing the ‘Hawks off as early as Game 6 on Saturday at the United Center. That’s the raucously loud arena where anthem singer Jim Cornelison flashes those Stanley Cup rings on his microphone hand while belting out one of the best national anthems you’ll ever hear.

“We are still up 3-2,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s going to be fun here to win in Chicago and that’s the plan now.”

The Blues have outplayed the ‘Hawks for stretches of each game and came from behind to win both Games 3 and 4 in Chicago. Are they capable of winning a third time on enemy ice to close out the series?

I think it’s possible.

As most fans will readily admit, this team isn’t just facing the Blackhawks on the ice this season. While players, coach Ken Hitchcock and team management talk about each series being a fresh start, the cold fact remains that the Blues haven’t exactly been a playoff juggernaut in the past couple decades.

There have been huge, emotional wins to be sure and the Blues did reach the Western Conference finals in 2001. But three straight first-round playoff exits the past three years and only one second-round playoff appearance since 2002 may have even Blues fans wearing Kelly Chase and Tony Twist jerseys a little concerned at the spark of potential momentum created by Kane’s double-overtime goal early Friday morning that won Game 5.

The stage was set for a Blues celebration at Scottrade Center, a chance to vanquish a bitter arch-rival and defending league champs before a revved-up sellout crowd. Instead, Kane scored his first goal of the series and breathed new life into his teammates in the process.

The Blues must continue to hammer away at every turn, force more pucks and traffic toward Crawford and also need to tighten down their defensive coverage. Chicago’s three-goal second period in Game 5 was Exhibit A for that.

The Blues are deeper up front and on defense while the Hawks’ are riding their experienced stars of playoff victories past. Cashing in on power-play chances is another obvious plus.

Look at the way Blues rookie Robby Fabbri stepped up in Game 5, scoring a goal and setting up another to help force overtime. If a rookie can make that kind of impact, Blues veterans need to follow his lead.

The Blues have two chances to close out the Blackhawks, but would much rather do it Saturday night in the Windy City than venture back home for the winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday at Scottrade Center.

A Blues team that has battled adversity and injuries all season now has another hurdle to clear. That hurdle wears red sweaters with an Indian-head logo and dances to the tune of “Chelsea Dagger” each time a goal is scored.

“The Hockey Gods are testing us right now,” Pietrangelo said after the double-OT loss in Game 5. “I still thought we deserved to win the game. The puck ends up right back on (Kane’s) stick somehow, and he finds an open net.

“I thought we played one of our better games. We deserved to win and we will get ready for the next one. It’s still 3-2.”

Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/sports/nhl/st-louis-blues/article73351167.html#storylink=cpy

Red Wings player called chicken for not fighting, but obscure NHL rule held him back

Justin Abdelkader wanted to stand up for himself, but the NHL, his coach and changing times stood in the way.

It had to sting when the Detroit Red Wings forward was mocked by his pursuer, Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle, who flapped his arms up and down like a bird.

Chicken.

There was a reason for Abdelkader’s resistance: He had pummeled the face of Lightning forward Mike Blunden in Game 2 of the NHL first-round playoff series, leaving Blunden bloodied. Abdelkader had also cut his right hand, which Detroit’s athletic trainers taped prior to Game 3. NHL rules prohibit players from fighting with taped hands, though; had Abdelkader landed a single punch that injured or cut Boyle, he would have been subject to a one-game suspension.

Hockey’s code is clear: Abdelkader threw punches at a defenseless player – Blunden had fallen during the scrum – and thus Abdelkader knew he would be challenged in Game 3 as a result. Although Abdelkader isn’t a goon, he knows the game has unwritten rules surrounding the throwing of fists. But by not engaging in the Game 3 fight, Abdelkader made a declarative statement about the new age of hockey: Skill over grit.

“This time of year, when you’ve got injuries and you’re banged up, you’ve got to be smart too,” Abdelkader said after the game. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

The possibility of one of his top players being suspended wasn’t okay with Detroit Coach Jeff Blashill, especially when a chance at the Stanley Cup is on the line. Blashill, whose team entered the game down 2-0 in the series, told Abdelkader before the game not to fight.

“First of all, through 60 minutes, he’s too valuable of a player for us,” Blashill said following the Red Wings’ 2-0 victory on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. “We want to make sure he’s on the ice playing for us as much as possible.”

When the horn blew at the end of the third period, multiple fights broke out on the ice. That’s when Boyle, who stands 6-foot-8, challenged the 6-foot-1 Abdelkader. The two weren’t split early because the referees were entangled with three different brawls near the bench. Boyle and Abdelkader ended up on the other side of the rink. They gripped each other’s jerseys for several seconds. Eventually, Abdelkader shook the glove from his right hand free while saying, ‘My hand,’ to a referee.

Abdelkader looked down at the tape on his hand and then showed it to the referee. Boyle started to drag Abdelkader across the ice away from the official, but the official intervened.

Abdelkader was clearly thinking about long-term gains over short-term glory.

He fought just four times during the regular season. He was voted the winner in two of his regular season fights, lost another and battled to a draw in the other, according to HockeyFights.com.

But fights are becoming more rare throughout the league. Decades of data recently released by HockeyFights.com showed that there were 0.28 fights per game this regular season, the lowest total since the 1967-68 season (0.21). That rate also makes it the first fights-per-game average under 0.30 in 48 years in the NHL. (Fights are defined by the NHL’s rulebook as “when at least one player punches or attempts to punch an opponent repeatedly or when two players wrestle in such a manner as to make it difficult for the Linesman to intervene.”) In the 2015-16 season, there were 344 NHL fights, the lowest total in the NHL since the 267 fights during the 1973-1974 season.

The decline in fights could have something to do with the raised awareness of concussions and the constant scrutiny the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman are faced with due to negligence toward mild-traumatic brain injuries.

Before hockey fans freak out about the NBA’s experiment with jersey ads…

Gary Bettman was right — the NHL “won’t be the first” of the Big Four professional sports league to have advertising on their jerseys.

That’s because the NBA will be the first. The basketball league announced it today.

From the NBA’s press release:

The NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of jersey sponsorships, beginning with the 2017-18 season, as part of a three-year pilot program. The sponsorship patch will appear on the front left of the game jerseys opposite the Nike logo. Patches will measure approximately 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches and be adjusted to fit the dimensions of each sponsor’s logo.

Now, let’s face it, the NHL may go down a similar path in the future, because….money.

But for now, just keep in mind what the commissioner said in September when the league announced its deal with Adidas.

“There have been some suggesting this deal means it is inevitable there’ll be advertising on uniforms – and that’s just not true,” said Bettman, per the Globe and Mail.

“Our sweaters, among all the other sports, are I think iconic, which is why I’ve previously been quoted as saying, ‘we certainly won’t be the first’ and you’d probably have to drag me, kicking and screaming [to do it], which would take a lot – a lot, a lot – of money.”

McDavid jerseys already flying off the shelves

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It didn’t take long for one local sports apparel store to stock their shelves with the latest Connor McDavid gear.

Just moments after the Edmonton Oilers selected the 18-year-old hockey phenom as their first overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Fla., Sport Chek sent out an email to subscribers informing them that staff had been working around the clock with overnight cresting shifts to get hundreds of #97 McDavid jerseys available in-store at their West Edmonton Mall outlet and at stores across Edmonton.

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By the time McDavid had walked on stage in Flordia, his jersey was already on the racks in West Edmonton Mall – though it took some time for Oilers fans to pry themselves away from the screen and get to the store.

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“I think some people were still watching the draft, to be honest, but we probably had our first sale about an hour after he was announced,” said West Edmonton Mall Sport Chek store manager, Samantha McLaughlin. “The excitement for the hockey fans is great, and its been great for retailers too, and we wanted to be able to jump on the buzz from McDavid coming aboard.”

The excitement really began on Saturday morning, said McLaughlin, as Oilers fans began to pour into the store to snag themselves a McDavid jersey. As of Saturday afternoon, McLaughlin says her store still has at least 100 McDavid jerseys availabe in both home and away colours.

“With all the work that we put in I know it’s going to pay off, and I hope getting McDavid is going to pay off too so we can keep on celebrating,” said McLaughlin, with a laugh.

ORANGE WAVE

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On draft day, the Oilers surprised their fan base by presenting McDavid with a brand-new orange Oilers jersey, which the team says they will wear at seven home games during the franchise’s farewll season at Rexall Place, including on opening night on Thursday, October 15 against the St. Louis Blues.

“This new orange jersey is an exciting addition to the roster of jerseys worn by the Edmonton Oilers over the last 40 years. It is both contemporary and fresh, while also paying homage to the great history of the organization,” said Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and vice chair, Bob Nicholson. “The wave of orange is going to look great during our Farewell Season at Rexall Place, and beyond.”

The new jersey’s are available for pre-order at wholesalenhljerseys.cc.