Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Nice to see Erik Haula not only in the lineup, but dressing in an actual locker today. No longer is he sitting under the occupancy sign and in front of a brick wall.
Haula will bring speed to the Wild's lineup, and I'm guessing that if Mike Yeo was willing to pick him to replace the injured Justin Fontaine, that Haula's conditioning and practice intensity have improved of late.
Sometimes Wild coach Mike Yeo is very forthcoming about the way the game is played, and I loved the way he broke down the Wild's philosophy when attacking the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are excellent at breaking out after blocked shots or rebounds. So how does the Wild adapt to that?
Here's Yeo at length on the subject from this morning:
``One, you have to make sure that when you have an oportunity to shoot the puck you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots, which leads to a lt of blocks, and obviously those blocks they’re in a pretty good structure and position where they can coutner attack from that.
It’s the recognition. We still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all of s sudden be afraid to shoot pucks, we have to make sure we’re getting pucks there and if we do get it by then then quite often we’ve seen a few pictures already where we’re in behind them and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little bit quicker and do get it to the net.
``If that’s not there the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it, that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game, we didn’t’ have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up, we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there.''
Yeo was also asked about the closeness of many of his players.
Yeo: ``Obviously as a coach you try to learn as much as you can what builds teams. Certainly we try to do anything we can as far as the team0-building. First and foremost it’s about bringing eh right people into your organization. But nothing builds a team the way that winning does. As we’ve started to win some more games, players start to recognize and they look across the lockerroom and see a guy who is doing everything he can to help you and your cause, those are the things that build a team for sure. We’ve got good people and we’ve got good people pulling for each other.''
I also liked his answer to a question about Matt Dumba's enthusiasm. Dumba has been full of life during practices here.
Yeo: ``I think that’s a really really important quality. Quite often there’s such emotion and with emotion comes tension and obviously frustration at times, at the complete other end of the spectrum. The ability to enjoy what we’re in right now, to me that’s crucial, and obviously we all have big plans of what we’d like to do here, but the bottom line is you have to enjoy what you’re doing ,and you have to enjoy the competition and you have to enjoy the hard parts. It’s something that we try to stress – that’s what makes it great right now. Enjoy the pressures and enjoy the difficulties and the battles through the course of the game, because in the game overcoming that stuff is what makes it so great.
When the Twins started 1-6, guess what? Fans were angry, because this felt like the same ol' mediocre team.
Since then, the Twins are 11-6 even without their two primary free agent signees the last two seasons, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco.
Paul Molitor should be commended for providing calm when this team needed it. Players are raving about his demeanor. I also think Torii Hunter's ability to remain positive while he and the team were struggling has played a role.
On SouhanUnfiltered.com, Michael Russo and I previewed the series in our last podcast. Next one: 2 p.m. Tuesday at The Liffey, across from the Xcel Energy Center, with Wild owner Craig Leipold. Free Guinnesses and prizes to people who show up.
So, the day I write a column about how entertaining the NFL draft and even Rick Spielman are, we have one of the most boring first rounds in memory.
The Vikings' pick was boring, too. Logical, but boring.
Since Spielman hired Mike Zimmer and Zimmer hired Norv Turner, it's remarkable how linked their player evaluation and player development has been.
Zimmer saw a great player in the quite-raw Anthony Barr, and he was right on. Turner ignored Teddy Bridtgewater's horrendous pro day, saw a fine quarterback with a fixable flaw, and he was right on.
Trae Waynes is another player with outstanding physical skills who Zimmer thinks will fit his system and approach. Zimmer has built enough credibility that it's difficult to question him.
I'm sure Spielman wanted to trade down and pick up extra picks. I'm also sure that every other team picking from 10-20 would have traded down, meaning Spielman had no viable trade partners. So he took a player with whom he was comfortable, and with whom Zimmer wanted to work.
Not exciting, but it fits the Vikings' plan.
Wasn't there, but I was told that the NFL draft in Chicago was a little awkward. Nothing happening in the arena between picks. A lot of quiet, interrupted by booing of Roger Goodell.
Even though it's a TV event, the NFL should find a way to make it more of a party for those who show up in person. Every team does it these days. Why can't the league?
I picked the Wild to beat the Blues in seven, and it turns out I was a pessimist.
I'm picking the Wild to beat Chicago in six, mainly because I think if the Wild is going to win it has to follow a certain blueprint: Win one of the first two, win both at home, survive a Game 5 loss and win GAme 6.
The Blackhawks are still a superior team of skaters, but Devan Dubnyk gives the Wild a tremendous advantage in goal over the Hawks' duo.
An interesting Twins' development: It seems that every time manager Paul Molitor rests a slumping player, that player returns with a better swing and approach. Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Brian Dozier...Credit Tom Brunansky and Molitor, two very different hitters who seem to have the players' attention.
Today at SouhanUnfiltered.com, Strib hockey writer Michael Russo will be doing a live podcast from Chicago this afternoon. We'll tweet out the time later after we attend the Wild's morning skate. Other recent podcasts: Strib basketball writer Jerry Zgoda on the Wolves and North Stars, Strib football writer Master Tesfasion with detailed analysis of the draft, and more Russo. Thanks for listening.
Also, I'll be on 105 The Ticket with Bob Sansevere at 3:30 this and every weekday afternoon.
I'm at the Xcel Energy Center for Game 4. I picked the Wild to win in seven. Now I'm picking them in six. I think they win tonight, something like 3-1. The Wild seems stunningly confident of their ability to not only win the series but withstand the Blues' physical play, and you hear a lot of subtle digs at coach Ken Hitchcock from the Blues' lockerroom. If the Wild withstands the expected early, physical, assault, I think they win this one.
A reader asked me an interesting question the other day: If Andrew Wiggins, coming off one not-so-great college season, can come into the NBA and play as well as he did as a rookie, why couldn't Byron Buxton join the Twins now and learn how to hit major-league pitching while in the majors?
Having covered baseball for 22 years and having heard the usual explanations so often, I hadn't really reexamined the issue from this perspective. It's a great question. My answer?
Good NBA players are intelligent, but basketball is an athletic and activity sport. If you possess great athletic ability, as Wiggins does, it should show up over 48 minutes of constant activity. If you can dribble past and jump higher than opponents, your advantages are going to show up, as Wiggins' did.
Buxton is comparable to Wiggins when it comes to fielding. He has tremendous speed, tremendous range, the bravery to challenge fences and an exceptional arm. Those advantages would show up in the big-leagues, even if he has more to learn.
Hitting is different. Buxton would spend about four minutes a day taking major-league at-bats. The rest of the time he would be thinking about hitting, and if he got off to a slow start - probable, since he's not even hitting AA pitching yet - he would have an immense amount of time to analyze and over-analyze his swing, his approach, his pitch selection.
I've seen good big-league hitters tie themselves in knots with overanalysis. If Buxton, or any rookie, got caught in that trap, it could set him back months and damage his confidence, at least temporarily.
So while I'm in favor of calling up Buxton because of his fielding and speed, I don't think it's reasonable to think that his exceptional athletic ability would make his transition to hitting big-league pitching easier. Offensively, it would be best to bring him up when he's hot and confident.
The reason I wrote that the Twins should consider bringing him up soon is that I think he will start hitting AA pitching soon, and that may be the right time to give this team a real centerfielder.
Latest 3 podcasts at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Strib basketball writer Jerry Zgoda, Minnesota United FC defender Brian Kallman and Strib hockey writer Michael Russo. Next: Me and Russo from St. Louis on Friday afternoon before Game 5.
Sprinkling the infield and correcting frequent misperceptions...
1. This is the best Wild team in franchise history. Better goaltending, a defensive system that leads to offensive chances, most depth at forward ever, and excellent leadership. The team that went to the conference finals was an average team that played admirably when it mattered most. The Gaborik-Rolston Wild didn't have thsi depth or goaltending. This team has a chance to become the second conference finalist in franchise history.
2. That Reds manager Bryan Price should think that it's the media's job to support the team isn't surprising. I run into that from team employees, players and fans all the time. What's really shocking to me is that Price was stupid enough to embarrass himself on tape with an unprofessional outburst. He's the face of his franchise. He wanted that job. He made himself and his organization look ridiculous.
I'm also frequently shocked by how little teams and media directors do to inform their employees how this is supposed to work. I've had to explain the real dynamic to many athletes and coaches, and here's the deal: We work for our organizations, not the teams we cover. It's not our job to help the team win, or to make the team comfortable. It's that simple.
But I understand the confusion. The lines have been blurred by fan blogs, team web sites, sycophantic team partners and mainstream journalism shills. There are people in my business who should be professional, if not completely objective, and who act like fans. So while I blame Price for his unprofessionalism, I'm not shocked that either his organization or some of the people who cover the team gave him the impression that reporters should be there to help him.
3. Wrote about Steve Ott's buffoonery today. The Stanley Cup playoffs are phenomenal, but the way the game is officiated and overseen is often a joke. If a player is on the ice late in the game solely for the purpose of starting trouble, he should be suspended for the following game, minimum, and his coach should be suspended as well, and the general manager should face a six-figure fine. That's all it would take to stop this nonsense.
4. Will talk about Ott, the Wild, Minnesota sports and general and the Minnesota United FC in particular with United defender Brian Kallman tonight at 5 p.m. at Kieran's Irish Pub, across from Target Center. Can listen in person, live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com. First 50 to show up and get a free pint of Guinness, plus a couple of other gifts. Follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib for updates.
Thanks for reading and listening.
Walked Augusta National today. Saw a lot of salmon-colored shorts, pink-striped seersucker shorts, and heard this:
``Is that real grass?''
Yes, yes it is. That is real grass.
Picking the winner of a golf tournament has been silly since the days when it was reasonable to pick Tiger Woods against the field, but here are the golfers I think have the best chance to wear the green jacket (which does not go well with seersucker shorts):
-Rory McIlroy, the subject of my Thursday column, is the easy pick, for all the right reasons. He can hit a high and far, he can work the ball, he can putt, and he knows how to win under pressure. He has to be the favorite.
-Jordan Spieth: Playing well, contended last year at The Masters, great putter, wants to be great.
-Dustin Johnson: Seems to have straightened out his personal life, hits it as well as anyone on tour. The big question: Can he think his way around a course that will challenge your decision-making?
-Bubba Watson: The course is perfect for his game, but I can't believe he's going to become one of the rare players to repeat at The Masters.
-Jason Day: He's approaching best-player-to-never-win-a-major territory. Can he putt well enough on these tricky greens?
-Henrik Stenson: Had the flu all week. Can't imagine him having the stamina necessary to win.
Yes ,this course requires stamina. While golfers get picked on for not being great athletes in term of cardiovascular capabilities, walking 72 holes up and down hills under intense mental and emotional pressure will wear anyone out.
This is a beautiful course. It is also a challenging walk.
The Twins are 0-2. They lost to a great pitcher on Monday in a clean game. They looked horrible in a horrible game on Wednesday. They have yet to score.
Now, I believe the suspension of Ervin Santana had an emotional impact on the team, and also forced Ricky Nolasco, who should be a fourth starter, to take the ball in game 2. I believe Santana's suspension takes this team from having a chance to win 80-plus games to probably winning 76-78.
Outfield defense and bullpen depth are both concerns that played out poorly today.
-No team's fate is determined after two games. The '91 Twins were lousy for two weeks, and that turned out OK. If this were an NFL season, we'd be in the middle of the first quarter.
-This team finished seventh in the big leagues in runs last year largely because of contributions from Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas, who will be in the big leagues all year. Santana can hit. Dozier can hit. Mauer, when healthy, can hit. Vargas can hit. Plouffe has been relatively productive the last three years. Hunter should be fine. Arcia is a question mark but has lots of talent. Buxton and Sano could be in the majors by midseason.
I think the Twins will have to make a change in centerfield, and the bullpen will be a work in progress. But this team should score runs, and anybody who panics after two games should be watching a different sport.
In my latest podcast, Doug Mientkiewicz tells some stories I've never heard before, including what Terry Ryan said to him and Ron Gardenhire during a private and emotional meeting, all at SouhanUnfiltered.com
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