DENVER Wild coach Jacques Lemaire says Derek Boogaard is in "great shape and shoots the puck better than ever."
Yet, 10 games into a season in which Boogaard's role was expected to broaden with more ice time, the Wild enforcer is averaging 2 minutes, 32 seconds a game, which is 637th out of 642 NHL players, or dead last among players who have skated in more than four games.
In four of the past six games, Boogaard has played less than two minutes. Something doesn't add up if he is "perfectly fine," as Lemaire puts it.
The truth? Lemaire doesn't play Boogaard because of a lack of confidence, not in Boogaard but in referees. Lemaire believes some refs have branded Boogaard a dirty player and focus only on the 6-7 giant when he's on the ice.
Thursday's roughing penalty to Boogaard may best typify Lemaire's theory. Boogaard was the only player pulled from a scrum and sent to the penalty box, even though Edmonton's Mathieu Roy punched Mark Parrish to the ice in front of referee Dennis LaRue.
"It was nothing," said Lemaire, adding this is why Boogaard doesn't play much. "What can you do?"
Asked why Boogaard is allegedly targeted when he's never been suspended and typically shows enormous discipline by standing there and taking it when opponents punch him, Lemaire said, "I don't want to say what comes to my mind. If I would say they're too stupid to know, I would get fined, as an example."
Boogaard feels helpless.
"It's frustrating. It's been following me ever since I've been junior, you know?" Boogaard said. "I'm trying to play. ... I'm not out there to hurt people or try to start stuff.
"I can talk 'til I'm blue in the face. It's not changing. It's too bad. They don't want bigger, physical players in the league."
Asked how this could change, he said: "I guess I have to get 50 goals a year. ... Maybe they want me to snap and go rip someone's head off, I don't know."
Not long in the tooth
Defenseman Brent Burns, riding the bike Friday instead of practicing because of a charley horse, took lots of flak for his new $14.2 million extension.
"First day with the new contract, the guy's already taking a day off," assistant coach Mario Tremblay cracked. "I'm 51 years old, and I'm on the ice all the time."
Added defenseman Kurtis Foster, "I expect a nice big wedding gift next summer."
Burns also brings it on himself.
After the Wild arrived in Denver on Friday, the self-described goofball got on the bus and realized he'd lost his fake tooth. He had taken it out and put it in his pocket as he ate lunch on the plane.
Good news: A flight attendant found it between the seats.