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Wild, Simon see fresh starts

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Standing before the crossroad that is the NHL's Trade Deadline, Wild management approached its future on Tuesday by looking into its past. With memories of finishing only one point from winning the Northwest Division in 2006-07 and the playoff run that ended only against eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim still fresh in their minds, Doug Risebrough and Co. looked both ways and crossed the threshold into the annual swap meet.

* Press Release (Feb. 26)
   Wild acquires Chris Simon

* Wild PONDcast (Feb. 26)
   Kevin Falness interviews Chris Simon

* Wild PONDcast (Feb. 26)
   Doug Risebrough conference call

* Photo Gallery (Feb. 26)
    Simon through the years

* Wild PONDcast (Feb. 26)
    Postgame at WAS

* BONUS PONDcast (Feb. 26)
   Tom Reid catches up with George McPhee

"I was quietly hoping that something would happen, and was happy to go to a team like the Wild. I've never heard a bad thing about the organization, especially the fans and it being a great hockey environment."- Simon
The step was as confined in scope as it was bold in approach. During a day that featured 25 trades involving 45 players and 23 draft picks across the NHL, Minnesota chose not to tear up its roster with a big, bold-lettered, 72-point-font TRADE, but instead to augment it in a buzzer-beating trade with the Islanders. (In fact, the deal had been broached earlier in the day before the teams revisited it near the 2 p.m. CST deadline.)

In exchange for a sixth-round draft pick next summer, the Wild picked up Chris Simon.

Simon, set to join the team in Tampa Bay, is a 15-year veteran of the NHL who has seen both great times and hard times while accumulating 114 goals, 161 assists and 1,808 penalty minutes in 772 games with six teams.

Along the way, he has also earned rave reviews as a team-first player, and he comes to the Wild thrilled with his change of scenery and proud of the reputation he's built among former teammates.

"I spoke with Doug Risebrough earlier [Tuesday], and he welcomed me to the team," Simon told Wild Radio's Kevin Falness. "He said he hadn't heard a bad thing about me from anybody and that I was the ultimate team guy. It brings a smile to my face because it's a thing I pride myself on, being a good teammate."

In that regard, Simon is nice fit for the Wild, which is built largely on that premise. His size also makes for a nice fit. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound left wing is not shy about brining his physical game to the rink. Minnesota adds to a lineup that already includes Aaron Voros, Todd Fedoruk and, when healthy, Derek Boogaard, one of the NHL’s more intimidating physical presences.

"I think the type of player he is will help us,” Risebrough said. “We are a team that plays in a very competitive, very physical division. We are probably one of the smaller teams in our division and getting size, I think, is a factor, especially size that can produce offensively.”

Simon has scored at least 10 goals in seven different NHL seasons, including last season in 67 games on Long Island, where he was also plus-17. In 28 games with the Islanders this season, Simon was minus-1 with a goal and an assist in a campaign stunted by a lengthy suspension. And, some may think, therein lies the rub.

Simon has been suspended by the NHL for various infractions, including a most recent punishment that cost him more than two months for an incident on Dec. 15. Prior to being traded on Tuesday, Simon had returned after serving his 30-game penance to play two games with New York.

“He paid his time,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan told the New York Times recently. “He did something wrong, and he paid the consequences.”

While not condoning Simon’s actions on the ice, the Wild does not see Simon’s offenses as those of a recidivist. Minnesota’s environment is a taut one, and one that believes its image is worth preserving. The team doesn't believe acquiring Simon is a detriment to that aim, and any reluctance to make the move was trumped by the evidence of his being a positive impact on locker rooms over a very long career.

Simon's resume also includes 73 playoff games, three Stanley Cup finals appearances with three different teams, and winning a Stanley Cup in 1996 with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Minnesota franchise, while not positioning itself as an incubator of reclamation projects, would register, with Jacques Lemaire providing stability behind the bench and the fact that this is among the NHL's very best hockey markets, as a healthy and hospitable environment for anyone looking to a fresh start.

"I've made some mistakes and I'm just looking forward to get back to playing some hard hockey, and being the physical presence I can be,” said Simon. “I've always been a guy who's team-first, and I'll continue that. I'll do what's called upon -- if I have to stand up for a teammate, or get in front of the net and screen a goalie, and, hopefully put some pucks in the net also.”

The General Manager sees Simon’s game as, in a way, versatile in the sense that he can play minutes, bring a presence to his shifts and score some goals that might not make the highlight reels.

“He can stay in front of the net and score the type of goal that is being scored [in the NHL], and we’re not scoring enough of those, so we need to do that,” said Risebrough. “[Simon] can play offensively physical, meaning he can play in front of the net, he can work the corners, he can go to the net, he can jam pucks in. And I think we've seen the benefit of that in our lineup with the decisions that we've made over the year -- by Voros, by Fedoruk -- and I'd say that was the motivation for doing it."

The Wild see the move, ultimately, as one that adds a missing element to a lineup that is very similar, only more experienced and more physical, to the one that nearly won a division title last season. So Wild management looked both ways, stepped into the trade market, and came out with an asset that can help them down the stretch and into a playoff run.

Simon quote sheet

On returning to regular action: "Yeah, I feel great. I worked really hard off the ice and, once I got back skating with the team, did a lot of extra skating. I feel really good. I feel better than before I got suspended. I feel great physically. Mentally, I feel awesome. It's just a fresh start and a great team to come to and a playoff contender and a team that can challenge for a Stanley Cup."

On having a number of physical players: “I think it's great. Having other guys who are obvious, established heavyweights in the league, I think that's awesome. We'll create room and space for the other players on the team, and, you know, it gives those guys a lot respect around the league. Teams know that when they face us, there are a lot of guys they'll have to answer to if they try to take liberties on certain players. We won't accept that. When you have big guys who can skate and bang around and play physical, it wears on other teams.”

On his role as a team player: “Sometimes you have to do things that other guys don't like to do. I've been the type of guy who has always stuck up for my teammates and that's what I want to get back to -- playing hard, honest hockey, fighting when I have to, and, hopefully, I want to start putting the puck back in the net. I've had success before with scoring goals and I want to get back to that."

Jamie MacDonald | Web Content
Minnesota Wild

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