Without question, the Minnesota Wild are the worst part of the Jets changing divisions. I mean, you know, for me.
I’ve watched this team play the hapless Oilers for years and I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to round 2 in my life. They’re the worst kind of opponent – smothering, patient, and boring. Hockey games feel more like conversations with an over-bearing parent. Sure, once in a while you can throw a tantrum and win a few points, but mostly you’re just helpless to let it happen, slowly sinking in your chair until you want it to end more than you want it to end well.
Sure – you’ll tell me they’ve added all sorts of talent and they’re not a Jacques Lemaire team any longer! Update your narrative, you’ll say. You’re right, to some extent. But even their stars are boring – Parise, Koivu, Suter? These guys are possession monsters. They’re smart, smart hockey players and while Parise has a tenacity rarely seen in skill players, he also doesn’t have a change of pace or the kind of hands and vertical speed that makes skill players fun to watch. He gets it to the net, he follows it, he makes it go in the net. And he’s great at it.
“What about their young guys, dummy??
Ah, so you watched their promotional video about how much fans love Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella, then? Pardon me, their documentary on the future.
Yeah. Jonas Brodin is a remarkable defenceman at a very young age. He’s an incredible transition skater, has calm feet everywhere, and makes the simple play often. Excited yet? Remember when Charlie Coyle scored 25 points in half a season in the AHL? Pure skill, that guy, while wearing Dave Manson’s old number just to make me confused every play. I took Granlund in my fantasy league last year and I will never forgive him his 8 point season. Never.
Matt Cullen was my favourite player to watch and now he’s in Nashville. At least Jason Pominville uses the offensive zone differently than any of these other players. He is to the half-boards what Matt Cullen was to the end-boards. That is, a guy who passes from them. A pass outside of the cycle is as close to offensive excitement as we’re going to see.
But it’s not about the personnel as much as it is about Mike Yeo. COME ON, Hockey Gods! Sure, it’s not a constant trap as with coaches past, but they literally have a breakout play where the winger just turns his stick and lets the pass deflect out into the neutral zone. THAT’S A SET PLAY! The Wild specialize in a system in which neither team really has the puck. They want to create battles and then win them because battles require at least one opponent commit to a space on the ice. And bingo! They have the kind of space that another team might create with passing. (I assume their locker room has a sign that says ‘A pass is just a chance for a turnover’)
Defensively, they create battles by giving one corner of the offensive zone – just inside the blue line. No opportunity for a neutral zone re-group. No opportunity to cut across the top, Gretzky style. You can’t even just carry the damn puck to the corner and get hit. Back pressure takes away the middle lane and the defenceman closes his gap before the top of the circles. You can give it up, dump it (and watch Suter calmly outlet on the weak-side), or start a board battle on the half-wall. Let me make that easier – your coach chose dump in the pre-game. Uuhhhgggrrr… where’s the booze?
The best part of watching this team is seeing Dany Heatley’s career wind down at $7.5M a season. And I suspect that’s less enjoyable for Heater fans. (Is that a thing?)
So why watch at all? Because screw those guys. They’re everything that’s wrong with hockey today and the times you see your favourite player refuse to accept what’s given and slice through the defenders on route to scoring the goal that makes it a one-goal loss feels like the Stanley Cup on Christmas.
This is going to be a bitter rivalry. Just be prepared for more bitterness than rivalry.
We’ve seen the roster card, thanks to Michael Russo, but the lines are still a mystery (to me, anyway). Below are educated guesses.
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Klingberg – O’Dell – Samson
- Wright – Scheifele – Halischuk
- Cormier – Slater – Peluso
I suspect we see the Jets’ top line back together – if not to start the game, then at least to start the second period. Scheifele slides down in my lineup card based on Noel’s constant chatter about the young man learning play many roles on a hockey club. Tonight he could be playing the role of the only forward in the constant 5-on-3 tauntingly referred to as ‘even strength’ with his line on the ice. In all seriousness, this could be the team’s 3rd line when camp breaks.
One of the problems this team has had so far in pre-season is that Noel is constructing lineups that confound evaluation. Ian White got one game on his wrong side with 3 different partners – all of whom were bubble guys. Now tell me how good Ian White is.
Scheifele faces the same challenge tonight unless he lines up with Ladd and Wheeler. The bubbles guys on this roster aren’t being given minutes with a combination of Frolik, Scheifele, and Jokinen – their likely linemates come October. No, they play with each other. Now tell me which one is driving results. I’m not saying its impossible, just that Claude Noel is making his job harder on himself, and I suspect it’s because he already knows his lineup for October 1st against Edmonton.
- Enstrom – Byfuglien
- Clitsome – Trouba
- Stuart – Postma
Oh, hey, did you hear? Enstrom and Byfuglien are back together! They’re effective because they transition well and don’t spend a lot of time in their own zone. If the Wild can force them into board battles, look for Gary Lawless to tell us about how Enstrom isn’t 100% and/or Byfuglien should be traded.
The truth is that the Jets use a swarm system to support their under-physical defence group with battles. So if this unit gets exposed, it’s on the forwards.
Pavelec is finally starting to get some heat in the media. After years of hearing about his ‘big-game’ ability, it seems the team is considering the possibility of trying to win the 82 regular sized games that come first. That said, Claude Noel saying he has to be better is a far cry from trusting another goalie to man the pipes. Montoya, Pasquale, and Hutchison are hardly competition on a team where Pav is a central part of the narrative.
The Jets Nation season-long over/under on Noel using the word ‘consistency’ in his post-game comments about Pavelec is 50. The prop-bets tonight are whether we hear it before or after ‘get(ting) into a rhythm’ and whether it comes in the exact sentence “He needs to take that next step by adding that consistency.” (Complete with the unnecessary ‘that’ before consistency to make us think that it’s a staple of the goalie’s trade)
The Wild have 15 forwards listed for tonight, so we will have to wait to find out who is actually playing. Regardless, it’s a mostly NHL lineup and won’t have much trouble with the Jets’ lesser roster tonight.
- Parise – Koivu – Pominville
- Heatley – Granlund – Coyle
- Dowell – Phillips – Niederreiter
- Graovac – Steckel – Konopka
Graovac is a 6’5" monster, and I want to see him with Steckel for the combined large-itude.
- Sutter – Brodin
- Ballard – Scandella
- Stoner – Spurgeon
What do you say about this back-end? Every year Backstrom slides quietly down another 1 or 2 slots in goalie rankings everywhere as his career .917 save percentage seems further and further behind him. Still, the 35 year old signed another 3 year deal this summer with a cap hit similar to Pavelec and delivered a better-than-Pav .909 last year.
The top pairing on the blue line offers necessary shelter to the rest of the lineup, and playing against not-Suter might be the best chance to beat this team. Scandella and Spurgeon have long been the future of that blueline, and seem to be plateauing below hopes.
Keith Ballard is a cast-off from the Canucks but was a capable defenceman in Florida. Certainly an interesting story to watch this year from the perspective of diagnosing why Florida players seem to go to Vancouver to become bad at hockey (Luongo aside).
Clayton Stoner killed a beloved grizzly bear named Cheeky this summer, in spite of BC First Nations asking him not to. Heck of a guy. I’d love to see Scheifele sail right by him on his way to a winner.