Minnesota will begin a new chapter in its (nine-year) history when it opens the 2009-2010 season against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena Saturday night.
Head coach Todd Richards, who has made the post-season in all 13 seasons as a player and coach, makes his debut in addition to five new players (Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora, Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy, Kyle Brodziak) that General Manager Chuck Fletcher added to the roster.
The Wild capped its pre-season campaign with a 3-4 record. On Tuesday, the Wild overcame a two goal deficit and defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 via the shootout at Wachovia Center. Michael Russo of the Star Tribune blogged the details of the shootout and how each Wild player scored.
*Martin Havlat led the team with four goals during the pre-season. Havlat struck twice on September 20 against the Chicago Blackhawks, his former club. Havlat led the ‘Hawks in scoring with 29 goals and 48 assists.
*Petr Sykora arrived as a try-out on September 14 and then signed with the Wild three days later. Sykora notched his first goal in a 3-0 win over Chicago by tipping a give-and-go pass from Owen Nolan into the net. With Pittsburgh, Sykora scored 13 of 25 goals on the power-play in 76 regular season games last season.
*Cal Clutterbuck’s two tallies on September 18 gave the Wild a 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets. According to John Shipley of the Pioneer Press, Clutterbuck approached Owen Nolan last season about feedback and the veteran is expected to tutor in addition to scoring goals.
IN OTHER NEWS
*Kevin Allen of USA Today cited Nicklas Backstrom’s willingness to stay in Minnesota as a selling point for General Manager Chuck Fletcher to lure free agents to the State of Hockey. Allen also gave five reasons why Fletcher will thrive as Minnesota’s GM. Reason No. 5 pointed to Fletcher persuading then Anaheim GM Brian Burke to draft Bobby Ryan. Fletcher also hired Dan Bylsma who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup last season.
*NHL.com predicted the Wild will need its youngsters to step up and contribute in order to make the playoffs in what is sure to be a “hard-fought battle” in the Western Conference.
*Here is a complete breakdown from Todd Kimberley on the Wild’s up-tempo style and its forwards, defensemen and goalies.
*SI.com’s Alan Muir looks forward to seeing the Wild transform into an entertaining club with its aggressive forecheck and new style of play under head coach Todd Richards. Muir expects James Sheppard and Mikko Koivu to have much better numbers offensively under Richards’ system.
* Wild.com’s Dave McMahon highlighted James Sheppard’s immense potential and talent as the No. 9 2006 draft choice will be counted on to provide more five-on-five scoring.
* Yahoo! Sports Editor Ross McKeon believes that Pierre Marc Bouchard will break through under the new system and emerge as the team’s offensive leader. Meantime, McKeon pointed out that the Wild defensemen will be expected to be more involved in the attack.
*On that note, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen looked at Brent Burns and how he could thrive under Richards’ direction.
*SI.com’ Darren Eliot named Kyle Brodziak among the league’s top five most valuable role players who produce despite playing less than 15 minutes per game.
*A healthy Brent Burns and the additions of Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora should help the Wild improve upon last season’s No. 22 ranking of 2.61 goals per game according to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun.
*Under a new braintrust, TSN.ca expects Mikko Koivu to have a career year and perhaps mesh quickly with Martin Havlat.
*The Hockey News ranked the Wild's home sweater No. 5 in its NHL Jersey Rankings.
*Here is a complete TV schedule for the Wild this season and when the team will wear the new third jerseys.
*Vancounver General Manager Mike Gillis landed three defensemen and resigned goalie Roberto Luongo, fourth among active goalies with 47 shutouts, to a 12-year contract. !Yahoo Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshinski picked last year’s division winners to emerge as the Western Conference finalists. The Canucks lost its opener 5-3 to Calgary.
*Theo Fleury attempted a comeback with the Calgary Flames when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman granted him a pardon on September 10 from violating the league’s substance abuse program. The 41-year-old left winger collected four points during his stint, though the Flames ended his tryout and Fleury retired on September 29. Fleury began his career with the Flames and won a Stanley Cup in 1989.
*The Flames unveiled a vintage third jersey on September 2 to honor the team’s 30th anniversary.
*According to Sun Media’s Derek Vadiest, the Edmonton Oilers are counting on a healthy Ales Hemsky, who has led the team in scoring the last two years, to continue his success as the team opens up against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
*The Colorado Avalanche named Adam Foote captain on September 11. First year head coach Joe Sacco guided the Avs to a stunning 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, last year’s President Trophy winners. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post discussed the team opening the season without Joe Sakic and 18-year-old center Matt Duchesne (No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft) trying to fill Sakic’s shoes. Colorado also retired Sakic’s No. 19 sweater.
AROUND THE NHL
*Tim Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch compiled a list of things to watch.
*DirecTV subscribers will no longer be able to watch NHL games broadcast on the Versus network because DTV dropped Versus from its lineup on September 1. DirecTV blames Comcast, who owns the Versus network, for unfair pricing demands.
*Judge Redfield T. Baum rejected bids by the NHL and BlackBerry boss Jim Balsillie to buy the Phoenix Coyotes on September 30. Balsillie, who said he would not appeal the decision, wanted to move the Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario without the NHL’s blessing.
Gary Bettman backed the decision and the league plans to buy the franchise and then sell it to a qualified bidder.
And despite the U.S. court decision, Hamilton residents refuse to give up on the NHL dream.
*Wayne Gretzky stepped down as managing partner-head coach of the Coyotes on September 24. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun examined the fallout from the Great One’s resignation.
*SI.com’s Jim Kelley delved into the league’s off season chaos by focusing on the Coyotes ownership debacle, the surprising dismissal of union head Paul Kelley and the resignation of Stephen Walkom from his post as officiating director. The NHL promoted Terry Gregson to replace Walkom on September 8.
*Kelley discussed his firing from the NHL Players’ Association with ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside.
*After 20 years of service with the Quebec Norqiques, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancounver Canucks, 38-year-old Swedish born center Mats Sundin retired on September 30. The eight time all star, who captained the Leafs for 13 seasons, will finish first among Swedes with 564 goals and 1,349 points.
*Former Wild Assistant GM Tom Lynn shared some anecdotes from his stint regarding the limits and context of statistical analysis.
*Sidney Crosby delivered season tickets to a fan who has had Penguins tickets for 40 years.
IN THE SYSTEM
*Tyler Cuma, the Wild’s 2008 first rounder, started another season with the Ottawa 67s. NHL.com’s Larry Wiggie spotlighted Cuma during the Traverse City prospect tournament.
*During that tournament, the Wild made it to the championship game but fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on September 11. The Wild played eight draft choices and head coach Kevin Constantine guided the team to adapting to an up tempo style that will also be played in Houston.
*Petr Kalus returned to the Wild after quitting the team last year to play in the KHL. Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press described Kalus’ physical impressions during training camp. Minnesota acquired the Czech native and a 2009 fourth-round draft choice from the Bruins in exchange for Manny Fernandez on June 30, 2007.
*Like its parent club, the Houston Aeros finished the preseason with a win by downing the Texas Stars 3-2 in the shootout. Houston opens against the Manitoba Moose tonight at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The Aeros’ play host to the stars on October 9.
*Here’s a 2009-2010 preview of the Wild’s prospects from Shane Goudie of Hockey’s Future.
UP NEXT*The Blue Jackets’ 92 points in 2008-2009 earned them a post-season birth for the first time in franchise history. BlueJackets.com’s David DiCenzo focused on the team’s depth and chances to win the Central Division this year with reigning Calder Trophy Winner Steve Mason in the pipes, Rick Nash leading the offense with a supporting cast mixed with skill and grit featuring centers Derrick Brassard (2006 No. 6 pick) and Antoine Vermette (acquired from Ottawa for Pascale LeClaire), left winger Nikita Filatov (2008 No. 6 pick) and R.J. Umberger (26 goals, 46 points).