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Wild third-period comeback thwarted; One final trade deadline "Russo Rant"

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • March 1, 2011 - 12:56 AM

An exciting finish made it easy to forget how poor the Wild played in the first two periods, but unlike Jan. 9, 2010, there'd be no big third-period comeback win over the Blackhawks tonight.

Martin Havlat did his best to try, scoring his third recent breakaway goal mere 45 seconds into the third. But the Wild just couldn't get that second goal until Brent Burns' career-high 16th with 4:12 left. You just felt if they could have gotten a goal earlier, the comeback would have been just as plausible as last season's 4-goal, third-period comeback.

This one was from 3-0 down to start the third.

But just as a colleague came up to me after Burns' goal to make it 3-2 to say the Wild wins this game as long as Chicago doesn't take another penalty, Tomas Kopecky tossed one into the crowd for a delay of game.

The Wild's power play had been that deflating all night, and frankly, recently. To be fair, this power play wasn't momentum-killing. The Wild had generated looks. The Wild peppered Corey Crawford, but in the end, Pierre-Marc Bouchard made a valiant effort to try to save a puck at the blue line.

He actually sprawled and made the save on the blue paint, but Jonathan Toews pounced and capped a one-goal, two-assist night by setting up Marian Hossa's shorthanded goal with 1:52 left for a 4-2 Chicago lead.

The Blackhawks moved from ninth to sixth. The Wild, after going 1-2 since beating Edmonton, fell from fifth to ninth in six days (seventh to ninth tonight).

The game looked quick for many Wild players early. The Wild lacked energy, was sloppy, made bad decisions. As Havlat said, the Wild got caught watching the Blackhawks skate in the first two periods before doing good things in the third.

The Blackhawks outskilled the Wild, and when Chicago has the puck, it's tough to get it back. When the Wild plays teams like Chicago, it's lack of skill is really exposed in my opinion, which is why with the Wild hampered by injuries to Mikko Koivu and waiting on Gui Latendresse and with the Wild already being one of the lowest-scoring team in the league, I'd play Havlat more than his 18:50 tonight.

Right now he's playing his best hockey, taking four, six, eight shots a night. To me, ride Havlat right now. He's the Wild's best offensive player and the Wild needs the offense.

The Wild looked emotionally drained, and read the gamer because Greg Zanon seemed to intimate players were disappointed that the front office didn't make a move. It was just a little comment, one that was unsolicited, in the middle of another comment, and when I asked a follow up, he made it clear that this is what the Wild's got and they're confident with that.

I'm sure it's natural that there was some disappointment by players that not a single player was added. Hey, these dudes are the ones laying it on the line every night in a desperate playoff race, pouring sweat on the ice, diving in front of pucks and the only move made is Anton Khudobin for a minor-leaguer and the rights to somebody playing in Europe.

Naturally, I'm sure there were a couple of similar reactions to when the Wild traded for Chris Simon while fighting for a division championship.

Players play for the present. They're in a cutthroat race and want to win now. Management has to think about the present and the future.

And trust me, I get and fully respect the fact that some fans are ticked that in a cutthroat playoff race, the Wild couldn't manage anything but trade Anton Khudobin.

I purposely stayed away from the comments today because I'm sure I was being called a Wild apologist. By the way, I'm the same guy who was allegedly Mr. Negative the entire first half and ticked off pretty much this entire organization and many of the glass half-full portion of the fan base for my "negative" reporting.

To me, I'm just doing what I always do. I feel it's my drop to help explain the inner-workings in an objective manner, and that means extending some honest perspective of what was going to happen at the trade deadline, what wound up happening and trying to make you understand why it's going to be this way.

Just hear me out for five minutes and think about this logically, and hopefully I write this clearly because my heads cloudy now after being in this building for like 16 hours and I've punched a million buttons on this laptop today:

I talk to execs in the league all year long, but especially recently. I started to really comprehend what the asking price was going to be for the most marginal of players. The bar was set with Mike Fisher for a first, but when you have so many teams fighting for a race, that leads to few sellers, which leads to inflated prices.

So I knew what the price would be and I knew what the Wild was 1) going to be willing to pay; 2) could even pay.

The Wild was not trading first- or second-round draft picks or prospects like Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker and Brett Bulmer for third-line centers like Marty Reasoner and fourth-line centers like Zenon Konopka or even rental top-6 wingers or guys like Brad Boyes, who has another year left on his deal at $4.5 million.

Some organizations are in a position to do that. The Wild is absolutely not.

To me, the only thing that can really be second-guessed is not trading any of the unrestricted free agents because of this "symmetry" in the room.

Could they have dealt Antti Miettinen or Chuck Kobasew? I don't know. But were they getting the Wild a top-6 winger? Probably not. Could they have gotten the Wild a third- or fourth-liner like Brad Winchester? Probably.

The Wild does not need third- and fourth-liners. They did that work last summer. I got one email today that basically said,"Oh My God, the Calgary Flames traded for Fredrik Modin and the Vancouver Canucks traded for Maxim Lapierre and we did nothing!!!" I mean, give me a break.

I get why Jose Theodore wasn't moved as I explained in yesterday's article, although I don't think there was a market today because no goalie was traded, I don't think. Mikko Koivu's injury and Casey Wellman's injury problems and Cody Almond's clear lack of trust from the organization (sorry, but you don't make Warren Peters fly to Oklahoma City, then fly to Houston, only to call him back up for Almond if there's a lot of faith in Almond's game) made it impossible to trade John Madden. Because Wellman's been so hurt, because Almond's been tentative up here, because James Sheppard and Guillaume Latendresse haven't played up here, it stops you from being able to do other things, even small moves, like potentially trade Madden.

This is what the Wild's been combatting all season with these injuries to Latendresse, and even Sheppard. If Wellman didn't have half his year destroyed by injury, maybe he's ready to step in now and the Wild could have traded a Kobasew or Miettinen. That's my point.

And lastly from a UFA standpoint, if the Wild's going for the playoffs, are you trading Andrew Brunette? Hey, that's debatable, too, I guess, but realistically, you trade Brunette while going for the playoffs, it could tear the room to shreds.

So what else was there? They're not trading guys like Cal Clutterbuck, although I'm sure he's a wanted man. Guys with big contracts and term left like Nick Schultz and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are not guys that typically can be traded at the deadline. I mean, just look at today's moves. No players of that type of term left/price were traded.

If the Wild's going to consider trading Brent Burns, there is absolutely no question that the better options will come in the summertime, not the trade deadline.

After that, what else is there? Some of the inventive emails I got the last couple of days were pretty creative. Cam Barker and Chuck Kobasew were packaged in most of them, usually for Ales Hemsky and Stephen Weiss.

Those would be denied even by fantasy commissioners.

Think Colton Gillies or Cody Almond were getting anything big today? My point going in is if you think about all of the above, you just knew their hands were tied.

Frankly, folks, the fact the Wild had so few options this trade deadline is why the Wild can't be throwing away third-round picks for Konopka and trading Larsson for quick fixes. The Wild has so many fewer "chips" than most every other team, it's absolutely unbelievable.

They've got to keep adding these pieces, not trading them, so maybe one day they can actually get involved and be players in real impact trades like James Neal or Chris Stewart.

Otherwise, it's going to be the same cycle year after year. Unfortunately, when you're a fan of an organization that has such few bargaining chips on a day like today, it takes some patience and understanding from the fans. 

Now, I do know that's easy for me to say. I don't pay a dime for tickets or team merchandise. I'm not emotionally invested like you all.

This is my job. But I do feel it's my job to just say this is the reality, folks. It's not me being an apologist. It's me trying to explain to you some of the things that go into these decisions.

This is why I've written so much the last few years about the Wild's bare cupboard and bad contracts. It just handcuffs your options at these times.

Regardless, this is what the Wild's got now.

This is the team, a team by the way that's been pretty doggone good the past nine weeks. So one lousy loss shouldn't douse things unless the players let things compound. The Wild's been real good at stopping their losing streaks at one the past five or six weeks, so we'll see if they can do it on Long Island and Manhattan.

If help's coming, it'll have to come now in the form of Mikko Koivu or Guillaume Latendresse, eventually. When that happens, who knows? Koivu is probably 2 weeks from playing, and he's not skating right now. And Latendresse, Chuck Fletcher's saying 7 to 14 days. I'm skeptical. He's still complaining about pain in his hip and groins, and he admits his conditioning isn't up to snuff because he can't push fully on his muscles.

Anyway, I'm beyond spent. It's been a long day between writing and fending emails and tweeting and reporting and, dare we say, actually covering the game.

I walked into this arena Monday at 8 a.m. It's now 12:56 a.m. Tuesday and I have a flight to New York in a few hours.

 Kent Youngblood's covering practice for me, but I'll have a pretty neat story in Wednesday's paper.

Kent will blog Wednesday and I'll be back Thursday, and get ready for some real nauseating gushing as I return to where I grew up a hockey fan, the beautiful Nassau Coliseum.

Anyway, forgive the loooooong rant and don't hold it against me. Just felt after all the emails and negative tweets I got today, I just probably needed to give a little refresher of the state of the franchise.

I still really believe this team can make the playoffs, and of course depending on the matchup, I believe they're a team that can make some waves. This is a team of great character. I think they've proved it the past nine weeks. It was one bad loss.

That's it for me. Now all I've got to do is remember where I parked my car.

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