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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Tebow is the devil, and this week's LPR, with lots of thoughts on Cuddyer, Ryan and Twins

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 16, 2011 - 1:07 PM

OK, as usual, the headline is a little strong. What I meant to say is that Tim Tebow isn't the devil. I just think he made a deal with the devil. All this religious stuff is just cover.

Tebow obviously has sold his soul for a few NFL victories. There is no other rational explanation for him going 7-1 while throwing like a drunk Tarvaris Jackson.

On to today's highly irrelevant Local Power Rankings, which are really just a vehicle that allows me to comment on the seven major revenue sports in town:

1. Minnesota Wild.

Duh. Still the No. 1 team in the NHL. I wrote in today's paper how everything is looking up for the franchise, whether you're looking at the standings or young talent or realignment.

I asked Mike Yeo on Wednesday night if he looked forward to playing more games against teams like the Jets and Blackhawks. Yeo said, yes, ``we already dislike the Jets. And we already dislike the Blackhawks.''

The Wild could be quite entertaining for years to come, and I hope they find a way to land Zach Parise, who owns a home in Minnesota and would the front-line scorer this team needs.

2. Gopher hockey

We're seeing slippage. I love the talent on this team but have to be shown that they can gut through the long season and be at their best in the postseason. So far they've been impressive, but I still don't think they're quite playing to their talent level.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Yes, the Gopher basketball team has a gaudy record. But just holding intrasquad scrimmages means the Timberwolves have faced tougher competition.

I'll be at Target Center on Saturday night to see the debut of Rubio, Adelman, et al. And I'm as intrigued and optimistic about this franchise as I've been since Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell staged their mutiny.

4. Gopher basketball

Can we please get to the point where the Gophers stop getting praised for playing and beating lousy teams?

The Gophers' nonconference schedule is an embarrassment for the program and an affront to ticket-buyers. I'm not going to take this team seriously until it plays, and wins, a few conference games.

5. Minnesota Twins

While the average ranting fan demands that the Twins make a blockbuster trade or sign a top free agent, realistic observers of the team should be able to recognize that Terry Ryan is having a very good offseason so far.

Bringing Matt Capps back doesn't impress anyone, but Ryan has always believed that competent relievers fluctuate year-to-year, so it's probably a worthwhile gamble. He got rid of Kevin Slowey, which could have the same positive effect on the Twins that the Wild trading Martin Havlat has had. Jamey Carroll is the kind of short-term, inexpensive stopgap that could help the 2012 Twins without busting the payroll or blocking any worthwhile infield prospects. Ryan Doumit is a perfect fit for a team that doesn't know how many games its catcher will catch.

And even for someone who has known Michael Cuddyer since 1997 and thinks very highly of him as a player and a human, the Josh Willingham signing is a winner. Willingham is a similar player to Cuddyer and is less expensive, and Cuddyer's departure brings two draft picks to a Twins franchise desperate to rebuild its farm system.

Ryan has also signed a number of minor-league players who are more talented than their struggles indicate. And remember, Ryan's strength was always finding hidding gems, like Lew Ford, Alexi Casilla, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana.

Also: Bringing back Bill Smith is a winning move for the organization. I don't think he was a natural general manager, but he does good work in Latin America and in Lee County, where he's always had a great working relationship with the stewards of the Twins' spring training ballpark.

Smith is a valuable employee, and it speaks volumes about his selflessness and his relationship with Ryan that he would come back to an organization that just fired him.

A couple of months ago, the Twins' front office looked overmatched. Now the Twins' front office features Ryan as the boss, former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky as a valued adviser, and Smith. Those moves, with the addition of Gene Glynn as the Triple-A manager, should pay dividends. If not this year, then in the future.

6. Gopher football

Jerry Kill hasn't lost a game in a long time.

7. Minnesota Vikings

They need to keep losing and draft Matt Kalil, then land either a speed receiver or quality defensive back at the top of the second round.

The Vikings have a dozen problems to address, but as Jacques Lemaire always said, ``Solve one problem, and two more disappear.''

----------------------------------------

Upcoming: I'll be at Target Center to watch the new Wolves on Saturday, then at the future site of Zygiopolis on Sunday to watch the Saints and Vikings.

Today, I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05, and sometime tonight (between 6 and 8) with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday before the Vikings game (also on 1500espn). My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

This week's LPR: Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: November 29, 2011 - 10:21 AM

Was off for the holidays last week, so I haven't offered my second installment of the all-important LPR: Local Power Rankings of our mostly-woeful revenue sports teams.

Here's Round 2:

1. Minnesota Wild:

Impressive that Mike Yeo could get this team to respond after a two-game losing streak, and on a back-to-back with a goalie who got pulled the night before. Right now Yeo might be the best coach/manager in town, and he's still getting used to having his own parking space at the X.

Also: Cal Clutterbuck, long a favorite of mine because of his toughness and hustle, was outstanding last night. As was Mikko Koivu and Backstrom. This team continues to overachieve, and in this town, if you overachieve you're an easy No. 1.

2. Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team

We're seeing some slippage here. They've slipped to No. 5 in the national rankings, and the specter of all of Lucia's recent underachievers is rising into view. In this town, they're still easily No. 2, but they have to prove they can win games while they're under pressure. This has been a soft, soft program for a long time.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

That's right, just planning to practice within the next two weeks moves the Wolves to No. 3. In this case, the devil you don't know is better than the devils you know. Plus, the 66-game schedule almost ensures that the Wolves won't lose 50 games again.

4. Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team

What does it say about Tubby's program that one injury can destroy all expectations for an entire season even before the Big Ten schedule begins?

Actually, it says a lot.

5. Minnesota Twins

The signings of Doumit and Carroll are good, common-sense moves that could solve glaring problems. What's more impressive is the way Terry Ryan (and Bill Smith before he was fired) started fixing the baseball operation. The hiring of Wayne Krivsky (Smith deserves credit for that one), the re-hiring of Ryan, and the hiring of Gene Glynn as Triple A manager are moves that might not affect the 2012 standings but should help the Twins regain their respectability and set them up for future success.

The Twins would also benefit from luring Smith back into the fold. He has many skills that can benefit the business side of the operation. He's been a good soldier for this organization for a long time and should be treated as such.

6. Minnesota Gopher football team

Three victories against a weak schedule is not impressive, but Kill and his staff at least coaxed some improvement from Gray.

7. Minnesota Vikings

This team is an imperfect storm of lousy personnel and poor coaching. I think personnel depth is the bigger problem, but a team with Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin in their prime should have more than two victories.

Upcoming:

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey, and at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Thursday night draft thoughts...

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: April 28, 2011 - 10:17 PM

Let's be honest. I don't know if Christian Ponder is going to be a star or a bust. You don't know, either. The Vikings' braintrust, which invested countless hours dissecting his film and background and interviewing him and his coaches, don't really know, either.

But if you stop worrying about where draft experts had him ranked, he has a lot going for him.

According to consensus and statistics, he's:

-Extremely bright.

-Personable. (Personality matters for quarterbacks; they have to be leaders.)

-Accurate (he completed 69 percent of his passes as a junior, and 62 percent as a senior.)

The biggest knock on him seems to be durability, but the Vikings say they thought he displayed toughness in trying to play through his injuries.

My column, in the Friday paper, makes this point: We don't know how good this kid is, but if he can play, we are about to be treated to the best drama in sports: The nurturing of a young quarterback.

For now, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier. I think Frazier knows what makes an NFL player tick, and Spielman is a tireless worker. I think they feel they landed a guy with great strengths and no glaring weaknesses.

I'll say this: I'm much more interested in this team today than I was yesterday.

-Congratulations to Michael Cuddyer for ripping into his teammates today. Somebody had to say it.

I think this will be Cuddyer's last season in Minnesota - he'll be a free agent and is not likely to want to take the kind of pay cut necessary to keep him here - and I'll miss him. He's honest, team-oriented, selfless and has a sense of humor. And he's responsible and accountable. A few of his teammates should take note.

-Joe Mauer wants to remain a catcher? Then he needs to prove he can recover from injuries and stay behind the plate. At some point, the Twins may have to remind him that he's the employee, not the employer.

-I know, I know, the Twins stink right now. They're a rather pathetic group.

Let me just remind you how lousy a team can look and still win something, though. In April of 2006, the Twins were swept by Cleveland early in the season by a combined 17-8. Then they were swept by Chicago by a combined 23-6. Then they were swept by Detroit by a combined 33-1.

That team, of course, won 96 games.

That's not a prediction of future success, merely a reminder that past failures haven't always been terrible omens.

-Ralph Sampson is declaring for the NBA draft?

Then I'm declaring that I'm about to win $1 billion dollars.

-While other NBA teams conduct their coaching searches, the Wolves...are...still...thinking...about...it...very...slowly...so...as...to...create...the...illusion...of...thoughful...ness.

-Upcoming: I'm outta here. Taking my first real adult vacation in a long, long time. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 tomorrow, then going on a cruise. Tom Pelissero will conduct the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk along with my Strib colleague Judd Zulgad. I'm guessing they might talk about the draft.

I'll be back the following Sunday.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. I may tweet from the beach; I may not, but this is a good time to thank y'all for reading, and listening.

Way to go, Wilfs

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 26, 2011 - 9:04 AM

I'd like to congratulate Zygi Wilf and the Vikings' ownership team for telling Vikings employees that they won't suffer financially if there is a lockout.

I thought one of the most embarrassing moments in Twins history occured when billionaire owner Carl Pohlad laid off or dismissed employees during the 1994-1995 work stoppage.

Bilionaire owners in billion-dollar industries shouldn't sacrifice five-figure employees during tough times. Most sports employees work ridiculous hours for relatively low pay. They shouldn't take the brunt of economic downturns.

-I can't tell if it's the sunshine or the good company down here, but I just can't get too worked up about the Twins' most notable injuries. And I'm not talking about Michael Cuddyer's mystery wart.

My information is that Justin Morneau is fine, in a medical sense, and only needs to become comfortable with playing baseball and facing live pitching again. I predict he'll be in the opening day lineup.

Joe Mauer getting shots in his surgically-repaired knee doesn't concern me, because Nick Blackburn, who has undergone similar procedures, say the shots work wonders. Also, while I don't expect Mauer to miss any time in April, the last time he did miss time in April, he won the MVP award.

As for Joe Nathan, he's throwing harder coming off Tommy John surgery than he ever has before at this juncture of spring training. If you want to be concerned about an injury, worry that Nathan is such a hard worker that he might not know how to take it easy when he should.

-The Wild continues to be my favorite Minnesota winter sports team. While the Wolves embarrass themselves and the Gopher basketball team underachieves, the Wild are overachieving, given their talent level and injuries. I don't know if Todd Richards is a brilliant tactician, but his guys play for him, which is more important.

 -My hockey people tell me that while the Gopher hockey team has been underwhelming for much of this season, this is a team that could surprise in the postseason. Kent Patterson gives them stable goaltending, and a group of young, talented players seems to be getting better as the season progresses.

That would be a great sign for Don Lucia and his program, if his team could actually overachieve for the first time in years.

-Upcoming: I'll run Sunday Sports Talk from the press box in Fort Myers, starting 10 a.m. on Sunday. Partner Tom Pelissero will be in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. We hope to have on Twins' general manager Bill Smith and 1500espn Timberwolves writer Dana Wessel, and we'll hit the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers basketball and Wild. And maybe even NASCAR. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

Big(?) Game Tonight at The Barn

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 10, 2011 - 4:57 PM

Here's what I hope happens tonight at the Barn:

I hope the Gophers play hard. All of them, not just Blake Hoffarber and Chip Armelin.

I hope Armelin starts at point guard, although I don't think Tubby Smith agrees with me. His loss.

I hope Trevor Mbakwe makes more contact with the Illinois front line than he has with ex-girlfriends who have restraining orders against him.

I hope Ralph Sampson steps foot in the paint.

I hope Rodney Williams offers evidence that he's in the arena.

I hope Tubby Smith does not again link his players' softness with the hardship of having to walk across the street  - in the cold! - to lift weights. I'm sure Bud Grant would emphathize.

I hope the Gophers don't completely collapse, and miss the NCAA Tournament. (I like going to the NCAA Tournament.)

I hope this team has more than false hope to offer the rest of the way.

----------------

Should the Twins trade Francisco Liriano? Yes and no.

No, they shouldn't trade him just to trade him. He's their best pitcher, and by some statistical measures he was an elite pitcher in the American League last year. No contender should trade its best pitcher unless it receives equal value, and receiving equal value for Liriano would be difficult right now.

That's the way a fan, or a writer invested in this season, would think.

Here's the way the Twins are thinking:

Liriano is valuable. He's more valuable today than he has been since 2006. By next season, if he pitches decently this year, he will be expensive. By next season, when he is a year away from free agency, he may be difficult to trade for value. Most important, he is a constant injury risk.

So while anyone focused on this season would not want to see Liriano traded, anyone worried about the long-term health of the franchise might want to move Liriano, for value, before he flops or gets hurt again or fails in more big games, damaging his value to the teams that might be interested in trading for him.

It's a tough call, which means the Twins won't trade him just to trade him, but might be willing to trade him if they receive excellent value - say, a power arm for the bullpen and a top pitching prospect.

As with any trade rumor/speculation/report, what really matters is what they would get in return. I wouldn't call for the Twins to trade Joe Mauer, but if the deal happened to be Mauer for Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, I'd be all for it.

Last year, I called for the Twins to trade Delmon Young for an ace. I was accused of being mean to Young. Not at all. I was paying him quite a compliment: That he had improved his value to the point where he could be exchanged for an ace like Zack Greinke. Trades are only insults if you trade someone just to be rid of them.

Trading Liriano just to be rid of him would be foolish. Trading him for good value would just be sound management.

Looking back on the Johan Santana scenario, the Twins wound up making the worst possible decision - they traded Santana for detritus and lost his services for the '98 season.

We now know that they should have either traded him a year earlier, when he would have had more value, or carried him into the season, knowing they could move him at the deadline - or allow him to help them win the division, enjoy having him pitch in Game 1 of the playoffs, and then collect the draft picks.

Investigating deals for Liriano is only logical. The Twins have six starters, plus Kyle Gibson on the cusp of the big leagues.

It all depends on what they would get in return.

------------------

The Wild is becoming a fun team to watch. Which is strange for me to say, because generally I prefer hockey teams with star power and spectacular scoring.

The Wild, though, is becoming one of those teams that is easy to like because of its grit, depth and teamwork.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has told me he believes this team will make the playoffs because while it lacks star power, it can offer four solid lines and good goaltending. And teamwork.

This team has surged because it is playing better than the sum of its parts. Fletcher says Mikko Koivu remains his best player, but Brent Burns might be his most talented player, and Cal Clutterbuck might be his most emblematic - a gritty, hard-hitting player who contributes scoring.

This team has already exceeded my expectations. And, as Fletcher says, if this team gets into the playoffs and Backstrom is hot, it could give any team trouble.

--------------

Upcoming: I'm on 1500espn from noon-2 on Friday, with Strib hockey writer Michael Russo as my co-host. We'll have on Strib writer Phil Miller to talk Gophers football and Jerry Sloan's retirement - Phil covered Jerry for years on the Jazz beat before repairing to Minnesota.

Michael is also lining up a hockey guest - I believe Matt Cullen. We'll also take calls.

Sunday, Brad Lane and I will run our last Sunday Sports Talk together. With Brad shifting to program director of the station, Tom Pelissero will be my co-host starting on Feb. 20, when we'll broadcast from Twins spring training in Fort Myers.

My Twitter name is Souhanstrib. You should follow me. It's very entertaining, since I really don't know what I'm doing.

 

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