Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Game: Hockey Fans' Summer 2017 Outrage Guide

By Nick

Hockey fans, particularly the American variety, are used to defending their sport.  Pugilistically, if necessary.  That's what happens when your very legitimacy as fans of a sport is constantly under siege from the barbarian hordes of football and baseball fans.  Now that we've got Charles Barkley, it's only a matter of time until basketball fans assimilate.  So it's no surprise that hockey fans tend to have great capacity to drum up outrage over the perceived and real slights to their sport.  And, when the opportunities to outlet that outrage run dry, hockey fans cope by teeing off on fans of other hockey teams, and the business of their own team - lest ones' head explode from all the pressure.

For 29 teams' fans, the Stanley Cup Final is a chance to recharge their outrage batteries.  Well, 28 teams' fans.  Vegas fans have nothing to be outraged about at this point.  They always talk about the teams in the Final as having that short offseason to rest, recuperate, and get back up to speed before the season starts to ramp up in September.  But hockey fans have a short summer, too.  Because there are plenty of opportunities to vent outrage on the offseason schedule - especially this summer.

So, here's the hockey fan's guide to outrage for summer 2017.

June 15-17: Buyout Window Open

Buyouts have the ability to trigger fan outrage in a couple different ways.  First, nothing gets fans' blood boiling quite like a bad contract.  Either one that started bad, or one that became bad because the player didn't perform making the contract unappealing and, likely, unmovable.  Buyouts are a way for a GM to shunt a bad contract, although it's not without cost.  There is a protracted cap impact in a buyout situation, and that lingers like a fart in church if the team finds itself in cap distress while the buyout is still on the books.  It's also a constant reminder of the unsavory situation.

It is being reported that the Rangers are going to buyout Dan Girardi.

Wild fans have suffered their share of buyouts recently.  Matt Cooke and Thomas Vanek, for example.  Mention either of those names to most Wild fans and the reaction will probably range from ill-disguised contempt to outright disgust.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 16: NMC Waiver Acceptances Due

One of the features of the Las Vegas Expansion Draft rules is that teams can ask players with no movement clauses to waive said clauses for the purposes of exposing them in the expansion draft.  The strategy here is to expose a veteran player with (presumably) a large contract in order to be able to protect a younger player.  Such requests were to have been made within 24 hours of the end of the SCF. Players have until 5pm ET on June 16th to decide whether or not to voluntarily agree to waive their NMC.  The Senators reportedly asked Dion Phaneuf to waive his NMC.  Phaneuf reportedly has declined/will decline to do so - which is entirely his right.

From a fan outrage perspective, while there's no guarantee the exposed veteran would be chosen by Vegas, the optics aren't great.  Maybe the player becomes offended by being asked to waive his NMC (that the team gave him, by the way).  Phaneuf said all the right things the other day, for what it's worth.  But this could trigger the same fan backlash as having to buyout a player.  And, if the player in question is popular among the fan base...

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 17-18: Expansion Draft Protection Lists Submitted/Released

By now you know about the different permutations of how many of what position can be protected, and what kind of contracts must be protected.  We don't need to rehash that here.  What's important is that this is a point of anxiety for fans.  And why shouldn't it be?  Losing a player without recompense can't be any better than it sounds, and it sounds bad.  Especially if you root for one of the teams that, by virtue of current roster composition, is going to have to expose several good, young, players any of whom would be attractive to Vegas.

Teams are required to submit their lists by 5pm ET on June 17th, and the lists will be made public on Sunday, June 18th.

This is situation that is ripe for producing fan outrage.  "How DARE [insert GM name] risk the future of this franchise by exposing [insert player name]?!  The incorrigible rapscallion!  What if Vegas takes him?!  This team is SUNK without him!  Sunk, I say!"  This situation is exacerbated because some teams are working out deals with Vegas to dictate who they take.  If your GM doesn't make a deal, or if that deal looks ugly in the light of day, fan outrage will soar.  Plus, this is exactly the kind of thing that hockey fans freak out about.  Something they can nitpick and analyze in hysterical fits of academic impotence and myopia.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 5 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 20: New Jerseys Released

Armed with a fresh new opportunity to sucker NHL fans into buying new jerseys apparel merchandising deal with Addidas, NHL clubs will begin rolling out new sweaters next week.  There's a subset of NHL fans who get all the way off on uniforms.  They will undoubtedly become supremely exercised about the new jerseys.  Significantly more NHL fans won't get too worked up until teams start selling space on jerseys for advertisements.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 21: Home Openers, NHL Awards, Vegas Roster 

The longest day of the year may feel like the Mayan apocalypse to NHL fans.  Home openers isn't that big of a deal, but the NHL Awards show is outrage primetime for fans.  And it matters who gets snubbed because that is an indictment of that player, coach, GM, team, and fanbase, right?  Hashtag eyeroll.  But teeth will be gnashed.  Adding to that will be the release of the names of the players chosen by Vegas.  The combination of the award show and the Vegas roster has the potential to send fans into orbit. But, after all the wrath when the protected lists come out, when fans realize that they only lost one player, and that was no more players than any other team lost, maybe that will somehow blunt the impact?

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter:  3 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 22: Full 2017-2018 Schedule Released

Fan outrage about the schedule is usually limited to reaction to long road trips, or challenging back-to-backs.  With no Olympic break, and no World Cup, next season's schedule may be less-condensed than this season's schedule was, too.  Still, hockey fans will find something to get worked up about.

Hockey Fan Outrade Meter: 1 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 23-24: NHL Entry Draft

The draft is such a weird thing.  You'd think it would be hard to work up much angst over your team drafting (or not drafting) some player you've never seen play in person, and who is maybe several years away from having a reasonable shot at the NHL lineup.  But that's what fans do, in every sport.  At least in football and basketball Americans have had a reasonable shot at seeing most of the draftees play on TV during their NCAA careers.  But the middle of the bell curve of NHL fans haven't seen the kid from Frolunda who their team took in the 5th round play even a second of hockey.

As far as outrage, the draft is also an opportunity to bemoan the GM who has traded draft picks for short-term help, and/or the GM who has wasted picks in the recent past.  Sometimes that's the same guy.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 3 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

July 1-?: Unrestricted Free Agency

Which GM overpays?  Which GM is too cheap, or has spent himself into a corner previously, to be able to address needs (by overpaying)?  Which GM is always the bride's maid, never the bride?  And will a GM pull the dick move and sign a RFA to an offer sheet?  In the end, those most inclined to not be able to help themselves from overspending will overspend, those most shackled to a tight budget will sit quietly, and those most likely to resort to having to put lipstick on their own pig will try to find the shade that best brings out their eyes.

And fans will burn about all of it.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 5 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

So there you have it.  There is no shortage of opportunities for hockey fans to rage about things over which they have no control this summer.  It's not even fair to call it an offseason.  For hockey fans, there is no break from outrage.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Game: Bottoming Out

By Nick

"With the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild is proud to select..."

If Wild fans are going to be able to hear Chuck Fletcher say those words, a lot will have to go either right or wrong - depending on what side of the "blow it up" argument you come down on - over the next couple years.  The only reason I'm even entertaining this idea is that I'm tired of the status quo.  I feel like the output over the past five seasons is enough of a sample size to indicate there is some kind of fatal flaw in this particular roster.  And therefore "they had a record regular season, give them another chance" is just unacceptably flaccid to me.

The rationale behind blowing it up is simple: the way to get the kind of high-end impact player that the Wild lacks is by drafting at the top of the first round. Think of the Penguins and Blackhawks.  The Wild, when it has been fortunate enough to have a pick in the first round, has been just competitive enough during the regular season to pick outside the money picks most of the time.  The one time it had a top-three pick, it used it on the franchise's all-time goals leader: Marian Gaborik.  That, by the way, was in the team's first-ever NHL entry draft.  This year's draft, in Chicago, will be the team's eighteenth.  Those Gaby memories are sweet, though, eh?

The Wild is a nice team of low-first-tier/high-second-tier (and lower) offensive talents.  Every team needs the kind of players the Wild has.  It's just that most contending teams also need some kind of game breaker - which the Wild does not have.  Even a plumbing company needs someone to go out and close business.

The downside in blowing it up is that it doesn't guarantee you that game-breaker.  Think of Colorado.  And that's assuming you hit with your pick - which is not a guarantee, given the Wild's draft history.  So, you could endure all the pain of sucking for a protracted period of time - measured in seasons, even - and then walk away with Nail Yakupov as your consolation prize.  Or, worse, AJ Thelen.

There is also the risk that you sacrifice revenue from fans if you lead them into the blow-it-up desert.

I'm of two minds about that when it comes to Wild fans.  On one hand, there is no shortage of good hockey to consume in Minnesota - even if not at the NHL level.  If the Wild tanks, one could easily see all those fans just go back to supporting their local college and high school hockey, eschewing the big league prices (to watch an uncompetitive product) at the X.

On the other hand, I want to say Minnesotans are so hockey-savvy that they would see the potential benefit of a blow it up campaign, and stick with the team throughout.  Or perhaps that they'll remember the cost they ultimately paid the last time they didn't support the local NHL team - regardless of extenuating circumstances.  Those feel like the less-likely scenarios, but who knows?

So, how would a blow it up even work?  And there's where it gets tricky.  There are no compliance buyouts anymore.  Contracts are guaranteed in the NHL.  And then there are no move and no trade clauses, not to mention contracts that are just so ugly that no one else would take them.

Trade The Vets?

One way teams bottom out is to shed high-priced veterans, garnering draft picks, while also performing poorly enough to maximize your odds of using those draft picks at the beginning of each round of the draft.  Especially those high-priced veterans who project to be past their prime contributing years by the time the re-build bears fruit.  The Wild, though, doesn't really have the luxury of that option.

Up front, there's one more season of Mikko ($6.75M cap hit).  Two more seasons of Staal ($3.5M cap hit).  Two more seasons of Pominville ($5.6M cap hit).  Parise's under contract for roughly 73 more seasons ($7.538M cap hit).  Mikko and Parise both have no moves.  Staal has a no trade.  Pominville, bless Chuck's heart, has both a no move and a no trade.  Isn't that like a Pope making Jesus Christ a saint?  St. Jesus, patron saint of....all the saints?

Defensively, for Suter see Parise.  Three more years of Spurgeon ($5.187M cap hit), with a no trade.

In goal, four more seasons of Duby ($4.333M cap hit), with a no trade.

Six of those players are both veterans and carry either a no move, a no trade, or both.  And they total  $40.446M worth of cap hit.  The other of those players, Spurgeon, is expensive and has a no trade, but is only 27.  And, as the greatest of the scant few hits of the Fletcher tenure, I think Chuck would move his own mother before he moved Spurge.  You're right, that's ridiculous.  His mother and a 2nd round pick.

But Who Wants To Eat Their Young?

The problem with being locked in on the vets is that it leaves the youth as the stockpile from which to select assets to move.  And, while none of the Wild's non-rookie youths is really distinguishing himself on a consistent basis, it's still galling to think of having to move them because you can't move the veterans on the team - who also aren't doing a hell of a lot to distinguish themselves.  And then you have to consider that any GM with whom Chuck tries to deal has to wonder what it is about [insert Wild kid name here] that Chuck knows that he doesn't know, that is making Chuck be willing to trade him in the first place.  Is it just that he forgot to give that particular kid a no move/no trade?  And, if it keeps the return value down, that's all that really matters to this discussion.

Conclusion One

I just don't see how you implement an actual blow-it-up strategy right now if you're the Wild.  In the first place, if a plan doesn't involve jettisoning a material representation of the veterans, can it be called a blow it up plan?  I'm going to go with "no."

Now, pro sports GMs have a penchant for believing that an underperforming player on another team is only a change of scenery away from ascending to the very height of their potential under the warm embrace of their organization.  So maybe you can get some other sap audacious GM to take that chance on our crusts.  And there's always the chance some other rebuilding GM will need to get to the cap floor which would put him in the market for one of our crusts.  And, maybe that's as close to a blow-it-up/re-build as we're going to come.  But, if it is, is it worth it?

How Would It Even Work?

Okay, let's sand table this exercise to see how it could even go down.  Obviously lots of wild cards and unknowns, far more than knowns, but what else are we going to argue over right now?

Summer, 2017

Try to trade Pominville.  Ideally not taking back any salary.  When you're ultimately forced to take back some salary, try to do so in the form of an ELC, preferably with waiver exemption remaining. And a unicorn.  And dinner with Jennifer Lawrence. When that ends up not happening, just try not to get fleeced.   Outcome: Pommer still on the team next October.

Don't re-sign Mikko.  If you want to bring him back beyond his current deal, he may not want to play anywhere else, even if you disrespect him a little bit by waiting to talk to him.  And he's 34.  As well as he played the first half of this season, he definitely cooled off down the stretch.  Once he's just a faceoff/defensive play guy, he's effectively a 3rd liner.  So okay, only re-sign him if he's willing to take a pay cut.  But even then, I wouldn't go longer than 2 years. Three, tops.  That may be a non-starter for him.  But, as far as risking him feeling disrespected, what's the bigger risk between waiting until January 1, 2018 to start talking to him, or low-balling him now?  Look, if he's reduced to a 3rd line role, he's more replaceable/less critical to us anyway.  Outcome: Mikko still on the team next October.

Think about leaving Staal unprotected.  His concussion in game 5 and the second year remaining on his contract may off-set the attractiveness of his strong regular season and relatively-cheap cap hit in George McPhee's mind.  You'd have to decide if leaving Staal unprotected or asking Pommer to waive all of his coats of armor is worse, optics-wise, as far as a signal to other potential UFAs of how we treat them here in Minnesota.  Outcome: Staal still on the team next October.

Plan to take at least one of Granlund or Niederreiter to arbitration.  This likely saves you in the short term of a couple extra years in term, and possibly some cap hit.  Outcome: Nino and Granlund both still on the team next October.

I trust you see the pattern here.

When it comes to the expansion draft, who knows?  Let's proceed with the premise that our young, unprotectable D are most-attractive to Vegas.  So, we're losing one.  As far as losing two young D this summer, if losing one in the expansion draft is going to happen, and losing another one (e.g. in a trade) frees up cap space to address another problem, then fine.  The whole point of a blow-it-up exercise is that the status quo is unacceptable.  So you're either willing to make changes or you're not.
But then you're still down two of your top 6 D from last season.  You need bodies.  Is Mike Reilly ready to stay with the big club?  What do we have in Olofsson - and does it even matter if he can't figure out how to stay out of the trainer's room?  But, if #Oneofus and Mr. Band-Aid aren't the answer on D, then you have to acquire some (free agency or trade).  That does fulfill the blow-it-up mandate, at least on D.

"With the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild is proud to select..."

Frankly, the most-likely route to an actual re-build would be to take both Nino and Granlund to arbitration this summer - assuming the team can get 2-year deals for both.  If the only option is a 1-year deal in arb this summer, it becomes less of a solution - even of the short-term variety.  (I'm not 100% sure of how the 1-year or 2-year elections work in arb.)  Do not re-sign Mikko, and plan to move on from him after next season (or trade him at next season's deadline when he's in the last year of his deal).  And plan to shop Staal and Pominville leading up to the trade deadline in 2019 - when they're in the last year of their respective deals.  In other words, target the 2019 entry draft as the one you're going to try to pick at the top of.

Conclusion Two

While that's the most-likely route and timeline to an actual re-build, once you start thinking that far out it becomes less-evident that you'll need to try to execute a re-build at that time in the first place.  Think about it.  If you're willing to wait two more seasons to start the damn thing, by that time Mikko's gone, and it's not like you're really accelerating the time frame by waiting until the trade deadline before both Staal's and Pommer's walk years anyway.  All you have to do is roll with the current lineup without making major changes between then and now.  That's highly unsatisfying against my "the status quo feels terrible" position way back in the first paragraph.  But I really don't see a faster route to an actual blow-it-up.

But, hey, Chuck says teams don't have windows.  So theoretically ours is still wide open.  Maybe Vegas will do us a solid and take a bad contract off our hands just because.  And maybe we'll find a back up who can give Duby some rest down the stretch next season.  And maybe Coyle, and Nino, and Zucker, and Granlund can find some consistency in their A-game.  And maybe Dumba will either find enough defense to be acceptable, or find enough offense to make his defensive shortcomings worth enduring.  And maybe Santa will bring Parise a new spine for Christmas.  And maybe Pominville....well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

*All contract information from the good people at Cap Friendly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Game: The Raging Impotence Of A Jilted Sports Fan

By Nick

I don't have a good reason why I think Chuck Fletcher should be invited to not continue as the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild.  But yet I do.

I've been in several good debates about this on Twitter since the Wild's season abruptly ended.  The team has a good core.  That's on Chuck.  The team got arguably the biggest steal in UFA last summer in Eric Staal.  That's on Chuck.  The team made a big deadline day deal to address a perceived hole.  That's on Chuck.

The team has solid younger players.  That's on Chuck.  The team has a very good coach.  That's on Chuck.  The team has an above-average starting goalie.  That's on Chuck.

The team has some intriguing prospects.  That's on Chuck.  The team just completed a record-setting regular season and has made the playoffs for five-straight seasons - all during Chuck's reign.  You read all that, and why the hell are we even having this discussion?

Well, the team's core is aging, and has not produced despite chances to do so, when it counts.  It's also largely unmovable for one reason or another.  That's on Chuck.  That UFA splash didn't produce in the playoffs, and looked tired.  Those deadline day rentals were a mixed bag.  I'm not as down on Hanzal as some others, but White was not additive, and it's possible - though not provable - that the trade itself disrupted the room.  (This is a minor gripe.  I distinctly remember how lame it felt when Riser did nothing (a.k.a. Chris Simon) on deadline day.)

The team has solid younger players who, while showing some regular season promise, were hit or miss in the playoffs.  Additionally, several of them are signed to relatively expensive contracts that would indicate a low value relative to overall performance.  That's on Chuck.  The team's coach is the team's coach because Chuck scape-goated his three prior hires.  The team has an above-average goalie who they have needed to drive into the ground the past few seasons because the alternatives were unsavory.  That's on Chuck (I'm not talking about the Kuemper contract deal so much as not addressing the issue sooner, and now we've wasted two more opportunities in part because Duby wasn't at his best which may have been at least partly because he was tired).

The team has some intriguing prospects, but none of whom were in a position to help this season, and Chuck decided to reverse his own decision and burn a year of Eriksson-Ek's deal in desperation as the ugly March wore on.  The kids are also weighted to the forward side, and less to the defensive side.  That's on Chuck.  The team just completed a record-setting regular season that would have been even more record-setting if their collective character flaw, that doesn't allow them to pull out of ugly slides sooner, hadn't reared its head again.  That's on Chuck, since it has been a trend and he hasn't rooted out the problem and addressed it.  The team has made the playoffs for five-straight seasons, but only advanced out of the first round twice, and never farther than the second round.  How much of that is on Chuck?  That's where Wild fans choose up sides.

Before we choose up sides in this post, let me stop and say: my internal accounting of all of the preceding sums to at worst a push, as far as Chuck goes.  Yes, the roster is inflexible.  But isn't roster/salary cap inflexibility a reasonable price to pay for that litany of merits in a team?  The team is certainly better now than it was when Chuck took over.  He has traded away a lot of assets, yes.  But it was always for some gain, and usually a defensible one at the time.  Some haven't worked out.  But, if he hadn't made those trades, I think I'd feel worse.  Sins of commission versus omission, and all that.

So then, why?

  • 2012-2013 lost in round 1
  • 2013-2014 lost in round 2
  • 2014-2015 lost in round 2
  • 2015-2016 lost in round 1
  • 2016-2017 lost in round 1

In the first place, making the playoffs for five straight years is not as remarkable as it sounds, given 54% of teams in the league, and 57% of teams in the Western Conference, make it every season.  It's a low bar, in other words.  Making the playoffs should constitute a base-level given for every team, every season.

But it's also the final outcome.  Compare our record the last five seasons to the Blues, for example.

  • 2012-2013 lost in round 1
  • 2013-2014 lost in round 1
  • 2014-2015 lost in round 1
  • 2015-2016 lost in 3rd round
  • 2016-2017 TBD, but no worse than losing in round 2

The Wild isn't improving.  And, you could argue based on final outcomes that it's moving the wrong way.  The problem with that argument is that it is difficult to quantify, and therefore difficult to address.  Those first three coaching hires speak to attempts - and failures - to address it via the bench boss.  I'm not prepared to get down on Boudreau at this point, but it's safe to say the issue isn't coaching.  Which means it's the players.  Maybe not individually.  There are better-defined roles for players now than maybe ever before.  At least in relation to the individual player's strengths and optimal usage.  So, is it that the collective organism of this group - with minimal significant changes over the past five seasons - is either missing some element in the elusive chemistry department, or has some characteristic that is self-inhibiting?  We'll never know that.

Those who cannot tolerate dwelling in areas where we can't know things look to the empirical analytical and take comfort and shelter from the output there.  It's great that the Wild is so good at Corsi.  And it might represent bad luck when you out-Corsi opponents without payoff for a while.  But all of March and most of April starts to stretch credibility as a run of bad luck and reaches the point of being that acceptable sample size that the stats-heads are so concerned about (when the stats don't show what they want them to) as to indicate that, maybe these guys just can't finish when it counts.

I was therefore disappointed to hear Chuck talk about being a good Corsi team in March, in his end-of-season presser.  The last time I checked you don't get to hang a banner for being the best Corsi team.

Ultimately this comes down to expectations.  Conveniently, Chuck also espouses the idea that there is no such thing as a window in which teams can compete.  Competitive cycles, if you will.  That is the narrative of the perpetually mediocre - again 57% of teams make the playoffs from the West.  It basically amounts to "We'll get 'em next year!"

If this was year one or two of the above run, that might work.  Heck, he probably said that in 2013 and 2014 after they lost in the first round.  But it's been five years now, and they're regressing.  Also, and I realize this isn't Chuck's baggage to carry, I'm 42.  Minnesota has had 3 or 4 major men's professional sports teams my entire life.  I've seen two championships - from the same team.

I have no tolerance for "We'll get 'em next year!" anymore from any of my teams' GMs, players, or owners.  I refuse to accept mediocrity anymore.  I realize I don't have any impact on the outcome.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it.  Every single person associated with professional sports says it's about the ring.  The banner.  The championship.  Every single person.  Why should we hold them to a lower standard?  Obviously life goes on if they lose - and they're more likely to lose than not.  But you can still harbor high expectations and be a good fan.  I expect championships.  I'm prepared to be disappointed.  But that's where I choose to set my expectations.  Regular season Corsi success is an absolute joke, and it was embarrassing to hear Chuck talk about it as though we should all take solace from it.  And, if that made you feel better about this season, then I say shame on you.  You're selling yourself short.

I don't believe that I'm owed a Cup.  Or a Lombardi.  Or the upside down popcorn bucket that they get when they win the NBA championship.  Or...whatever the hell the MLB trophy is.  But, by the same token, every year that goes by where the only banner in the X is the retired #1 for the fans, that banner takes on more of a mocking, jeering quality - especially when the building sits empty as April turns into May.

So, back to the top.  Chuck has had ample opportunities to build a team that takes the next step.  He has failed.  It's a performance results-oriented business.  His performance, when it counts, has been unacceptable.  It's like saying, I love everything about my car, but the brakes don't work.  Or, we built you your dream house, but the roof collapsed in on you your first night in it.  This is about winning championships.  The moment it becomes about something other than winning championships, I'm out of here.  Chuck has demonstrated he can't find the right combination of elements to keep the team moving forward toward that championship.  Worse, he has shown a propensity to get tracked into one strategy at the risk of falling victim to another set of circumstances - as building to beat Chicago only to not play them, and losing to St. Louis anyway would indicate.  Thank you, Chuck, for what you've done to bring us to this point.  Now, like the players on your team, it's time to find someone who can finish when it counts.

Monday, March 27, 2017

And Another Thing: Farewell, Minnesota

I am leaving Minnesota.

Just putting those words to screen sends a little shiver down my spine. It makes things a little more real. I am not leaving Minnesota because I have any grievance whatsoever with the state I grew up in and have grown to love with every fiber of my being for 43+ years.

The reality is that I have a great opportunity for a job in Columbus, Ohio. My wife also looks forward to being able to start anew with her job in a way that hopefully allows her to spend more time with our kids.

This was an agonizing decision to come to. Minnesota is who I am: the lakes, hockey, winter, the seasons. The Twin Cities, and Saint Paul in particular, is where I've chosen to live. My politics match the city, the arts and culture is interesting to me, and outdoor activities fit in with my interests. In other words, everything I love is here.

But sometimes, a "You'd be stupid not to" opportunity comes along. In my case, it forced me to make a decision: Do we take more money and move away? Or stay where we are and continue to tread water financially? For us, it came down to the numbers, and we realized that we'd be dumb to turn away from this opportunity. A bigger paycheck for me and a lower cost of living in Columbus means that my wife can work less and we can have a better quality of life for a comparable household income.

A couple questions: Will I be a Buckeyes fan? Nope, sorry. Blue Jackets? Gross. I'll always be a Wild/Twins/Saints/Vikings/Gophers fan for as long as I breathe. I am Minnesotan at my very core, and here my heart will always be. I will miss it dearly: the lakes, the bitter cold winters and hot and humid summers, and the changing of the seasons. And this says nothing about being 12 hours away from family and friends.

This spring we'll put our house on the market, and go scouting for a new home in the Columbus area. Sometime after the kids are out of school in June, we'll pack up and move. At that time, we'll open a new chapter in our lives. In August, our kids will go to a new school and make new friends. At Christmas we'll come home to visit family. We'll celebrate birthdays with new friends. The sun will rise and life will go on.

I've had my emotions: the sadness that I know I'll be losing something; the apprehension of the new and unknown; the excitement of new possibilities. Someday I may physically return to live or retire here. Until then, my family will grow to love our new home and community. 

It'll be a great adventure.

Discuss this article here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

And Another Thing: There's No Reason to Play Up

As should be clear by now if you've been reading me for awhile, my son plays hockey. He just wrapped up his second year of Mites. Long ago, a coworker told me that if we ever had a chance to play spring hockey, to do it. Cheap youth hockey and enough ice time to satisfy Ryan Suter.

Last year, when the e-mail went out, I replied 30 seconds later that we were in. My son's agent wanted to go slow and think about it, but he overruled her, and we signed up. And it was awesome. He fit in with his team and was one of the leaders in scoring by my unofficial tally. What I found out after all the games were done is that he was one of three 1st years on that team.

This year, he was arguably the best player on his team. Our association splits Mites (8U) level kids into three teams, with preference to match kids by their school. Since players aren't rated by skill, this can lead to some teams being better than others. So, despite being the best player on his team, he was on arguably the worst team.

This year, nobody stepped up to get a spring league team together, so I did it. At the same time, one of the Squirts coaches wanted to get a second Squirts (10U) team together and invited mites to join.

This led to an interesting situation. We had some kids who were expressing interest in both teams. Eventually, 3 kids wanted to play up on the Squirts. I would argue that there are two Mites that could handle playing 10U hockey, and both are on the Mites spring league team. (Caveat: I don't know the 3 kids playing up this spring very well, so I won't comment on their skill level.)

So where's the line? One of the youth sports associations in my area (HGRA - St Paul) famously will tell any parent "Joe Mauer didn't play up, your kid won't either." I largely agree with this logic and I think there are very few exceptions:

  • Your kid is head and shoulders above all the other kids at his or her level.
  • You have two kids close in age and you want them to stay together. 

That's about it. And even in the first case, should you?

Look. Your kid is not Wayne Gretzky. Sorry to break it to you. And hell, even if he was, I'd argue it's better for them to play at their level. Look at John Tavares. If his leagues and the NHL had let him get drafted when he wanted to be, he'd have been in the Steven Stamkos draft, similar to the Connor McDavid / Jack Eichel draft. Instead, he was drafted in 2009, first overall. While 11 or 12 years down the road Stamkos is arguably the better player, at the time it probably worked in Tavares' favor. Whatever happened at the time, he's the same player that he'd always have been, but he's not in Stamkos' shadow the way Eichel is in McDavid's. 

Could my kid play up in a spring league that focuses on fun rather than competition? Sure. But at the ages that I'm working with, developing high end skill isn't in the kids' best interests. Even USA Hockey advocates that kids have fun and cross train with other sports - soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics (yes, you read correctly) - at this level. Then, as kids get older, their bodies begin to develop and get stronger, so you run a safety risk when playing kids at disparate sizes.

Even if my kid had elite skill and size, I'd still play him at his recommended level. Why? Because children - yes, we're still talking about children - should be having fun. When my kid is a teenager and if he wants to develop his game and try to be an elite talent, then we'll decide how to proceed at that time. 

Until then, he's a kid. I'll let him be one. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

This Week in the NHL

Standings Watch: The best division last week was the Metropolitan, who went a collective 16-5-4. There were two games between the Metron and Central last week: Pittsburgh beat both the Predators and Blues.

The Pacific was the second best division, with a 10-10-2 record. There were 8 games between Central teams and Pacific teams, with the Central splitting the meetings 4-4: Minnesota lost to Calgary but beat the Oilers and Canucks. Colorado (lol) lost to the Ducks and Kings. San Jose beat the Hawks, who beat the Coyotes, and the Predators beat the Oilers.

Then came the Central at 10-11-0. Winnipeg beat the Blues and Stars and lost to LOLorado. Also, the Hawks also beat the Stars.

The Atlantic, who was the best division the week before the All Star Break, was the worst division last week, its teams went 10-12-2. Only three games between Central and Atlantic teams took place last week, with the Leafs losing to Dallas and St Louis, but the Red Wings did defeat the Predators.

Here’s something fun to try: Youtube “Marchand Slewfoot” and check out the fact that there isn’t a single hit. There are two from this clown:

Marchand is an asshole. A very wealthy asshole at this point, but an asshole nonetheless. At some point, the NHL needs to step in and do something about him. But that would require a spine, which we know they don’t have. (Unless you’re Pierre Marc Bouchard and have your stick lifted into someone’s face. Then they’re tough.)

The Presidents’ Trophy is given to the team with the best regular season record, and the Wild are currently in second place in the whole NHL, having overtaken the Blue Jackets. The Captials are still sitting 5 points ahead of the Wild with two more games played, and the Blue Jackets are 2 points behind the Wild with the same number of games played.  

Two teams have won the Cup in the last 10 years after winning the Presidents’ Trophy: the 07-08 Red Wings and 12-13 Blackhawks. So, whoever wins the trophy next year should win the Cup if the pattern holds. But I don’t buy that a curse exists. Whatever they do they CANNOT TOUCH ANY TROPHY BUT THE CUP.  

It’s time to start talking about trade deadline pickups. The Wild should be inquiring about three gentlemen: Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal and Brian Boyle. All three are expiring UFAs this summer. Let’s look at the three.

Colorado sucks big time. No surprise there. But if you think Iginla has nothing to give looking at his stats line, think again. Even at his age, players like Iginla are natural competitors and leaders and I do believe he has a lot to give. He’ll likely end up elsewhere, though. I don’t see CF mortgaging the future of the Wild to a divisional competitor.    

Arizona is the second worst team in the NHL, but rumor has it they’re looking for a first round pick for Hanzal, a huge center who has played on the upper lines in the past. But having depth on your team means you’re playing former top line guys on your fourth line.

Brian Boyle would be an interesting choice. Depth center who can play wing if needed, and the cheapest of the bunch. Not a skill player, but a checking line player with good possession stats.

My money is on Hanzal, since the Fletcher has made deals with the Coyotes in the past. It’s possible we pick up Shane Doan as well, to add depth on the wing.  

But such a deal won’t come cheap. The Coyotes will want something substantial for Hanzal alone, and a package deal including Doan could be expensive. So who goes the other way? My take is that Fletcher won’t want to upset the apple cart too much, so it’ll likely be guys like Graovac, Schroeder, or a prospect. I would be loath to part with a Haula, but it’s possible. Scandella has been a non-factor all season, so he’s a candidate as well to go the other way in a deadline deal.

Wild speculation of the week: Jason Zucker will be protected in the expansion draft.

Bits and Pieces Round:
  • The Wild have the 20th ranked road PK.
  •  The Wild have the 26th ranked road PP
  •  The good news? There are usually fewer penalties called in the playoffs.
  • The Wild are 3-5-1 when trailing after 2, the second best winning percentage in the NHL (Pittsbiurgh 7-11-1).
  • The Wild have allowed 80 5 on 5 goals, the second fewest in the NHL (Washington, 66)

Looking ahead:
  •  Three Central Division games this week: The Wild play the Jets and Hawks
  • Also: The Hawks and Jets play each other.
  • Nerd fight of the week: Jets-Bolts next Saturday.
Discuss this topic in our forums here. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

And Another Thing: Drive-thrus are not for me, and no, I don’t want a meal

I won’t make it a big secret that I prefer the convenience of picking up some dinner at a restaurant rather than cook at home. I don’t mind cooking; it’s really just the time factor that gets in the way. Oh, and the planning. Trying to figure out what to do for dinner at 6:14 p.m. isn’t ideal for cooking up some creation on the stove.

So anyway, I eat out a lot. Sure it’s unhealthy and isn’t helping me trim my figure, but it’s just a reality. Which brings me to the topic: Ordering fast food.

First of all, I always walk into the establishment to order my food. I park my vehicle in the parking lot, physically exit, walk into the building and step up to the counter to place my order. Is this exhausting? No. But apparently fast food is even more convenient if you order in the drive-thru lane. I know I’m probably in the minority here, but drive-thrus are just dumb to me.

Is it really that much quicker when there’s 10 cars in line? Then you often have to sit there past the window and wait for someone to deliver the food to your car anyway. (I also do not understand why people eating their parked cars in the parking lot is a thing. Just go inside and sit at a table! Or go home and eat!) The other side though, from a person that orders inside, is that the drive-thru can slow things down at the counter. I’ve waited to have my order taken while the drive-thru gets serviced first, or so it seems.

It’s also expanded to drug stores and banks. My family and I make jokes about what else could have a drive-thru setup, making it easier for lazy people to never have to leave their cars. “I’d drive into the building if I could,” we say, in a sing-song voice.

My apologies if you prefer using drive-thrus and don’t consider yourself a lazy human being. Like I acknowledged, I know I’m probably in the minority here.

Here’s the other thing about these joints that really grinds my gears: Meals. The old saying about fast food places was: “Would you like fries with that?” Well, that’s turned into: “Would you like a meal?” I don’t know who started it, but every menu board has a numbered list of meal options, the main food item with a side/fries and then a drink. What a deal! You’ll probably save 29 cents or something, too.

It’s like a reflex for workers to ask this question, even before you’re done ordering in some cases. I know what I want. When I ask for a cheeseburger and a medium drink, it means I don’t want any fries so why would I order a meal? I'm also not completely against these meals; I'll get them sometimes.

My dad ordered a cheeseburger, medium fries and a drink at McDonald’s recently. Right away, the fella asked about a meal. And then: “Well, the meal comes with two cheeseburgers, is that OK?” Um, no. He didn’t want TWO cheeseburgers. One unhealthy patty with melted cheese is enough.

I’m a fan of Arby’s, mostly for the curly fries. I’ll often order a sandwich with the snack-size fries, because it’s only $1 for the fries and there’s less of them, so it’s a way of tricking myself into thinking I’m not being as unhealthy as I could be if I get the larger order with a meal. Of course, ordering this way will usually get me the meal question.

This all may seem super petty and stupid, but that’s why this is filed under the “And another thing” category. Feel free to tell me in the comments why drive-thrus and fast-food meals are amazing.

Full disclosure: I have not worked in one of these drive-thru establishments, so maybe I shouldn’t be complaining about something when I don’t know the process firsthand. More power to those that do this work. But this is a blog, so I’ll share my opinion about it.

Now I’ll go order my single cheeseburger with a small fries. No, I don’t want a meal.

Please join us in the message boards to discuss this article, and everything else.