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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Wild coach Mike Yeo met with some high school hockey coaches on Tuesday.
Yes, he said, half-joking, they had suggestions for his power play.
It's been an interesting season for the Wild. They've battled the mumps. They've signed some of their best young players to long-term contracts. They seem to have set themselves up to be contenders for seasons to come, and yet, despite all of their promise, they are ninth in their conference right now, one point out of a playoff spot.
I asked Yeo how he feels about that.
``I would say that we have room for improvement, there's no question,'' he said after practice. ``I look at the stretch that we went through and there was an awful lot of travel, and during that time I felt that our game began to slip a little bit.
``I felt in the St. Louis game that we started moving in the right direction. In saying that, I think we've won six of our last eight games. at the same time, there's a certain feel taht you have when you're watching from the bench and you feel that your team is right on it.
`i look at where we're at right now. Far more imprtnat for me than the standings, and we've won six of eight, I want to make sure that we're tracking i the right direction. We have an opportunity now, schedule-wise, to get practice in to make sure we're playing the games the right way. i would really like to see our team move forward here.''
I had a long conversation with Wild owner Craig Leipold, who said, ``In my heart, I believe we're going to be a better team as the season goes on.''
Leipold also told me that Thomas Vanek's gambling debts bothered him, and that general manager Chuck Fletcher has met with Vanek to make sure there isn't more to the story. Leipold said he thinks Vanek simply made a mistake.
As far as Yeo's comments, cover any underperforming team and you'll hear similar sentiments. In this case, I tend to believe Yeo and Leipold. The power-play can't be this bad for much longer. I spoke with several people affiliated with the organization who say they believe the key power play players have become up tight and have failed to shoot when shots are available. I've also heard from several people that Yeo should try changing up personnel, perhaps involving Nino Neiderreiter more.
But there's too much skill for the power play to languish forever.
As much as hockey people love to talk about the hard-edged aspects of the game, over a long season successful NHL teams find ways to score easy goals, either via individual skill or the power play. If the Wild's power play improves to even average it will give this team a big boost.
My full conversation with Leipold, involving Vince Gill, The Beatles, his business and leadership philosophies, the difficulty of firing Doug Risebrough, and his memories of his mother are on my podcast at Souhanunfiltered.com. Previous conversations with Paul Molitor, Michael Russo, Mark Craig, Twins' assistant general manager Rob Antony and ESPN.com football writer Kevin Seifert are up, too.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec. 3) at 5 p.m. I'll host a new podcast at The Local in downtown Minneapolis. My guest will be Twins star Glen Perkins. Next Wednesday it will be at Kierans Irish Pub with Jayhawks front man Gary Louris, who is doing solo work and will play at the Cedar Cultural Center on Dec. 11. Dec. 17 it's back to The Local with guest Roy Smalley, the former Twin and great baseball storyteller.
All podcasts go up at Souhanunfiltered.com. Thanks for reading and listening.
The emphasis in my columns about Adrian Peterson has been on his act - what I view to be an act of evil, or at least grotesque irresponsibility.
To be clear: That doesn't mean I'm suddenly in favor NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's management.
When the Ray Rice story broke, I called for Goodell to be fired. I still think he deserves to be fired. I think he has mismanaged an idiot-proof job. I think he's power hungry and has watched too many tough-cop movies. If I were the NFLPA, or a member, I would find him very distasteful.
When I write that I like the results of his disciplining of Peterson, it's not because I agree with the process or the person ruling over it. I'm just fine with Peterson being used as an example that may cause some other NFL player, or US citizen, to pause before beating his child.
I'm not defending Goodell. I still think he deserves to be fired, and should be replaced by someone savvier and smarter. I'm just OK with the results of this bizarrre process.
Latest podcast up on Souhanunfiltered.com with Strib hockey writer Michael Russo as my guest. You already know Michael as a great reporter; we get into how he got his career start and what life as a young sportswriter was like, as well as his thoughts on Josh Harding and all of the key figures in the Wild organization.
Let's not waste any time. Here are the biggest issues facing the Wild:
-Mike Yeo's contract
He's underpaid and his contract is up. He proved himself over the last two months. I say he should get a three-year deal that places him in the upper-half of NHL coaching salaries.
Thomas Vanek has been rumored to end up with the Wild for years, and for good reason, but he's not exactly performing like a scoring star right now, and the Wild have a bunch of good young players coming along, and I'm not sure you tie up all of your money in Vanek at this point. It would be a popular but destructive move.
Because Ilya Bryzgalov played better than expected during this series, I can understand fans wanting him back. But he's not a long-term solution, and he may not even be a good short-term solution. He was terrible down the stretch and got benched for good reason during the Colorado series. I want someone more reliable. The Wild will have to decide whether Kuemper is a full-time starter, someone who should split time, or a backup. If he's not a full-time starter, this is where you invest.
The Wild could use a big, physical defenseman, but Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella both had excellent stretches in the playoffs. This is another area where you could throw money at a problem, but the best solutions might come from within.
Just as Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson weren't magical solutions, the next free-agent the Wild signs probably won't be either. This team will progress based on the development of Kuemper, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Stoner and Scandella.
Remember, few of those players have put together a full, impressive, NHL season. They will all have to learn how to grind through a long season and play well when other teams are game-planning for them.
But the talent is there, and Yeo's system gives this team a chance to win even when it's not scoring.
There should be better days ahead, but in the Western Conference, imporvement will be needed just to compete for home ice in a playoff series.
``I thought we were as good as anyone,'' Zach Parise said.
Not quite. There's no rational reason to believe the Wild would have won at Chicago in a Game 7. But at least this team has progressed to the point where it can dream.
I'll be on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish tomorrow to discuss this great game, and the Twins' walk-off. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Some things jump off the statistical sheet:
-You might be surprised at who leads the Wild in hits. It's Nino Niederreiter, with 37. That speaks well of his ability to be a skilled offensive player as well as a strong forechecker. He is learning to use his size. He also leads the wild with two game-winning goals this postseason.
-Bryan Bickell leads the Blackhawks with 45 hits. He also leads both teams in goals this postseason, with six.
-Chicago star Jonathan Toews leads both teams with four game-winning goals this postseason.
-Befitting his reputation as a volume shooter, Zach Parise leads both teams with 47 shots in the postseason. Mikael Granlund is second on the Wild with 31, and Marian Hossa leads Chicago with 43.
-Bickell and Parise are the only players in this series with more than one power-play goal in the postseason. Both have two.
-Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner leads both teams with 26 postseason penalty minutes.
-Stat the night: Since they've played together, Toews and Patrick Kane are 13-0 in playoff series games after the series has been tied 2-2.
-The Wild is trying to become the first NHL team to force consecutive Games 7 in the same postseason without holding a lead in either series since the Islanders in 1987.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish tomorrow and the rest of the week. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Everybody seems to be making picks for Game 6, and those on my staff seem to be picking the Wild.
If you were silly enough to bet on sports, wouldn't you go that way, too?
The Wild have played 12 playoff games this season. In those 12 games, the road team has not won in regulation once. The only road victory in those 12 games occured when the Wild won in overtime at Colorado, long after establishing that Minnesota was the superior team.
So, yes, if you're going to pick a winner based on logic, you'd pick the Wild to win Game 6.
And the Blackhawks to win Game 7.
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