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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Today's LPR, my Local Power Rankings of revenue sports, sees little change. For good reason.
1. Minnesota Wild
While most local sports fans were reveling in the Gopher basketball team beating a mediocre, unranked opponent at home, the most impressive victory on Wednesday night was the Wild coming back from a 2-0 deficit in Edmonton to win in a shootout.
Now the Wild needs to survive a stretch of the schedule in which 20 of its 29 games are on the road. They won't have the best record in the West at the end of that stretch, but if they can remain in the middle of the playoff pack, they'll be set up well for the stretch run.
Mike Yeo has got to be the coach of the year in the NHL right now, and Chuck Fletcher has to be among the leading candidates for executive of the year, given that his trades improved the Wild's prospects for the future as well as improved the team this year.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
Time for this team to prove it's not going to fade away like so many other Lucia products. They've proven they have plenty of talent; now they have to show some grit.
3. Golden Gopher basketball
Nice win on Wednesday, but the level of cheerleading among local media members is a bit embarrassing. It's our job to put things into context, not do backflips over every victory. Yes, there were positives, like Julian Welch playing well at the point and Elliott Eliason showing great court-sense, and Rodney Williams looking comfortable at power forward.
Here's the proper context, though: Tubby Smith has beaten highly-ranked teams from Louisville and North Carolina during the non-conference schedule during his tenure at Minnesota, and those victories did not catapult his team to great heights. Beating Virginia Tech at home doesn't prove a whole lot more than this team can beat Virginia Tech at home.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
I don't like to see arena workers losing paychecks, so I can't be thrilled that the NBA went through a lockout and will play a shortened season. But from a selfish standpoint, this is perfect. Early-season NBA games can be horrid and meaningless. Now we get a 66-game season that will really get rolling right about the time football wraps up, and any winning streak the Wolves can muster could actually make a difference in the standings.
I'm most intrigued not by Ricky Rubio, but by how Rick Adelman will coach a bunch of players with a certain amount of skill but no real idea of how to play the game.
5. Minnesota Twins
Terry Ryan, Wayne Krivsky and Gene Glynn are all good hires, and Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were good, subtle, acquisitions. But the pitching staff is a mess, and without Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel the outfield will be, too.
I'm highly intrigued to see if Ryan make a bold move or merely hopes for improvement within the current roster.
6. Golden Gopher football
They haven't lost in, like, two weeks. Is that some sort of record?
7. Minnesota Vikings
I wrote about Leslie Frazier and the Vikings' front office for the Sunday paper. If you really care about this team, all you should be hoping for now is positive developments in the stadium chase, a healthy end of the season for players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and the highest-possible draft pick.
In other words, lose, baby, lose.
A follow-up to my column today on the ills of high-profile college coaching: I prefer pro sports to college sports. Pro sports are inherently honest. You win or you get fired. You produce or you get cut. No one is pretending to be Mother Teresa. I admire high school and small-college coaches who obviously aren't in it for the money, who actually do have a positive effect on their kids and sometimes their communities.
Only in large-revenue college athletics do you have the disconnect of rich, domineering coaches who, when they lose, want to tell you that they're molders of young men. Only in large-revenue college athletics on insular campuses could men like Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine be able to use the auspices of a program to lure victims, and not get caught.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today for my regular appearance on Reusse & Mackey, then I'm filling in for Joe Soucheray on Garage Logic on the same station from 3-6. I'll also be on Tom Pelissero's show at about 6:15.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Enjoy the weekend.
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.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey, and at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
I'm still in the process of figuring out exactly how to use this blog. Today I'm going to start a pretty silly but topical feature I'll call Local Power Rankings.
This will assess the relative merits and strengths of the seven local major revenue sports. I'll plan to do this every Friday, as a way to offer brief commentary on developments on the local sports scene.
My inaugural Local Sports Power Ranking:
1. Minnesota Wild
Spent some time this week with Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo. They're pulling a neat trick, getting younger and yet improving on the fly. The young D has been impressive, the goalies have been spectacular, but I think Yeo is the MVP of the team so far. He's developing a gritty, unselfish team that can win even when it's not scoring many goals. This is miracle work, for the Wild to be in first place of the Northwest Division with this team, and these injuries.
I wrote about this topic for the Sunday Star Tribune.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
The Gophers have been more dominant than the Wild...but this should be the best college hockey program in the land, and only postseason success should be deemed real success. I like the fact that this team looks tougher, mentally and physically, than a lot of Don Lucia's recent failures. But I have to wait before doling out too much credit here.
Still, a fantastic start for the Gophs.
3. Gopher basketball
It's a measure of the lousiness of the local sports scene that Tubby's guys can climb this high without playing a meaningful game. These have been nothing more than exhibitions, and I still don't see that he's solved his ballhandling or scoring problems.
Still, this team should be competitive, which puts it ahead of most of the local competition.
Not playing games puts the Wolves right in the middle of the pack, because they at least have the promise of Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams. I still haven't given up hope that the lockout will end in the next two weeks and the season begins by January. Or Christmas.
This franchise is a mess right now, but Terry Ryan has made two reasonable, surgical signings in Carroll and Doumit. Ryan alone gives me hope for this franchise.
6. Gopher football
Tough choice between Gopher football and the Vikings for the bottom slot. I would argue that the Vikings are more disappointing and have earned the bottom. I actually think Jerry Kill will eventually make this program competent.
I didn't think this would be a good, but even so, I picked it to finish 7-9 before the season started. I was a raving optimist, bhut not as much as Leslie Frazier and the people who thought this should be a playoff team.
Everyone in this organization should be on notice. If this is a rebuilding job, are these coaches and personnel experts the right people to do the rebuilding?
As I said above, I like Terry Ryan's first two moves. Carroll can catch the ball and get on base, which makes him light years better than anyone who played shortstop for the Twins last year. Ryan Doumit can catch, play first base and rightfield, meaning he could be the perfect complement to Joe Mauer in a season in which we have no idea how often Mauer will play and where he'll wind up.
Most of the people disappointed with these moves expected the Twins to spend $100 million on someone like Jose Reyes. Not gonna happen, people. Be realists. Spending ridiculous money on the best free agent on the market (Mauer) is exactly how the Twins wound up in this mess.
Congratulations to Dan Monson on his team's upset of Pitt. Monson's not a bad guy or a bad coach, he was just a terrible fit for Minnesota. Dan: My apologies for taking cheap shots at you. Best of luck at Long Beach State, which is probably just the right kind of program for a good coach who doesn't like the Midwest or unrealistic expectations.
After getting 8 million emails telling me the Penn State child rape scandal is none of the NCAA's business, the NCAA is now investigating the program for lack of institutional control.
Which is exactly what should happen.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and again at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. Sunday, we have Chuck Fletcher lined up for Sunday Morning Sports Talk (10-noon) as well as Kevin Seifert and possibly another guest.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
The Wolves really are cursed. They finally inspire hope with the hiring of Rick Adelman, and now they might not have a season.
My knee-jerk, Twitter-enabled reaction to the NBA players union shunning the owner's latest offer was that the players are being foolish. They're giving up huge money that they'll never make back while fighting over terms many of them don't even understand. (I'm not insulting their intelligence; I don't understand most of these deep financial negotiations, either.)
But I should be more even-handed. The owners are just as much to blame as the players. They were on the verge of a great deal for them, and by trying to wring the last dime and concession out of the players that they could, they did the worst thing they possibly could have done: They pushed the players into shutting down negotiations and lawyering up.
Whether it's divorce or sports negotiations, it's never a good sign when one or both sides invest heavily in power lawyers. Because power lawyers aren't there to get a fair deal. They're there to prove their worth by crushing the opponent. They're there to rack up billable hours.
I could still see a deal getting done in the next three weeks, could see the owners realizing they pushed too far and working to save the season with a reasonable deal. But now it's a long-shot, and David Stern is just as much to blame as the players.
It's nice that the Gophers basketball team keeps beating overmatched opponents, but the measure of a Tubby Smith Minnesota team is whether they can win a close game against a decent Big Ten team by running a real offense in crunch time. Until I see that, I'm not going to be impressed.
If you enjoyed watching the Lynx, like women's basketball or just like to watch a talented athlete of any gender or age develop, I recommend watching the Gopher women and freshman point guard Rachel Banham.
She's a dynamnic ballhandler who can shoot, finish and set up here teammates. She's the most talented player the Gophers have had since Lindsay Whalen left.
With the NBA locked out and the football teams stinking it up, we're pretty close to becoming a hockey town. (Or hockey cities.)
What's encouraging about the local hockey teams is that the Gophers look like they're much tougher physically and mentally than they've been in years. They don't wimp out around the net or in the corners, and they bounced back from a tough loss at Wisconsin with an impressive victory.
And while it's always risky to jump to conclusions at any point of the long NHL season, it appears Mike Yeo has the presence of a winning coach. It's funny, too, that the way they're playing now reminds you a lot of the way Wild played under Lemaire - responsible defensively, and making the most of the few goals they score.
You are entitled to be underwhelmed by the Twins' signing of shortstop Jamey Carroll, but this is the kind of reasonable, subtle, important move that the Twins need to make.
No matter what their payroll, they're not going to outspend big-market teams for premier talent. They have to use their money wisely, and Carroll, while limited, is a great upgrade over everyone who played shortstop for the Twins last year.
Now the Twins need to sign someone who can either catch 140 games if needed, or can move around the diamond and sub at catcher for Joe Mauer.
If only Trevor Plouffe could catch....
Aaron Rodgers is so good that, for the first time since I started writing about the NFL in 1989, I'm startled when a pass falls incomplete.
He completed 23 of 30 passes on Monday night. The web site Profootballfocus.com reported that of the 27 passes he tried to complete (wasn't spiking or throwing away), he completed 23, and his receivers dropped three of his four incompletions.
I know a lot of Minnesotans love to hate the Pack, but I like watching greatness no matter what color it wears. This is greatness.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Amazing how our quiet, borderline-depressing sports scene continues to make news. A month ago, I feared a summer in which the Twins were irrelevant and the NFL was dormant.
Now I expect the Twins to play meaningful games all season, the NFL to start on time, and the Wolves to be much more interesting by this fall.
I'm not sure what they're thinking.
They pushed Jacques Lemaire out. Lemaire's message may have gotten old, but he's a hockey genius. They replaced him with Todd Richards. Fine, you went with a young coach and planned to be patient while he developed. But then you fired him after two years, probably just as he was adapting fully to the job.
And then you went looking for a veteran coach. Craig MacTavish? Sounds good. Ken Hitchcock? Love it.
Now, I'm not predicting that Yeo will fail. Maybe he'll be a great coach, and Chuck Fletcher has made a brilliant, insightful, move. That wouldn't be shocking.
But this is a strange progression, from veteran brilliant coach to long shot to...long shot.
Because what Fletcher doesn't know about Yeo is exactly what he didn't know about Richards - how he would react to the pressure, the speed, and the players of the NHL.
This smells like a money-saving move. Yeo is thrilled to have the job. MacTavish and Hitchcock would have wanted money and influence. For a franchise needing credibility and a way to keep fans interested, this is a puzzling move.
Whatever the Wolves' problems, they may be close to passing the Wild in terms of intrigue and watchability.
-Wolves' exec Tony Ronzone told our Jerry Zgoda and other reporters today that the Wolves plan to hold onto the No. 2 pick and take the best player available. That is exactly the right approach. Derrick Williams is the right choice at No. 2. He might be talented enough to make Ricky Rubio look good.
After speaking with a few people around the NBA, I believe that if the Wolves take Williams, they'll need to trade Michael Beasley. Beasley is a nice enough guy, and he can score, but he doesn't play defense and doesn't get his points in a structured, reliable, way. You don't want Williams having to share shots with him. Williams could become a star.
-I'm rooting for Rory McIlroy. Golf needs a magnetic, charismatic, brilliantly-talented star to capture the imagination. Martin Kaymer doesn't cut it. And Phil Mickelson looks like he'll never win another major.
-Joe Mauer spoke today. He looked lean and tanned, and he handled the tougher questions very well.
He was asked about people who have criticized him for an unwillingness to play hurt. He called the critics, ``Misinformed.'' That's a logical response, but what he should know is that his slow recovery created critics not just in the media, but throughout his organization and in his clubhouse and among former players.
The percentage of Twins' employees rolling their eyes about Mauer's timetable was about the same as the percentage of fans screaming about him.
-Wrote my Friday column on the Twins' latest improbable victory, and Ozzie Guillen's latest nickname for their lineup. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 Friday.
-My prayers go out to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who is recovering from a stroke. I listened to a bunch of hair bands with my high school buddies until one day we were driving around, and this sax break played over the radio, interrupting a song featuring lyrics about life, and death, and redemption, and I could never listen to Styx again.
Clarence played that sax, and as much as I love Springsteen, the best moments of his glorious concerts always feature Clemons, as soloist or foil. I stopped listening to ``Jungleland'' years ago...except for Clemons' amazing, emotive, expressive solo, during which, in concert, Springsteen always walks around the stage, pumping his fist, leading cheers for the Big Man. As it should be, and I hope someday will be again.
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