The bargain basement for professional sports is a disagreeable place, with its mold and standing water. There's a scrap heap in the corner where nocturnal creatures scurry about as general managers dig through the debris, looking for a discarded prize.
Terry Ryan and Bill Smith, Ryan's successor as Twins general manager, are experts on this environment. While competitors shop in the glare of TV cameras, Ryan and Smith for years have been grabbing their flashlights and galoshes and heading below ground into the dankness.
This is where they have found the likes of Sean Bergman and Butch Huskey, Sidney Ponson and Tony Batista, and Mike Lamb and Adam Everett, to name a few.
Smith and his mentor would have found someone else if they had gone subterranean exploring in the past two weeks: Doug Risebrough, the president/GM of the Wild.
Risebrough was in the bargain basement's hockey section, up to his elbows in the squalor of stinking pads and broken sticks, trying to find bodies that he could pass off to his team's gullible consumers as real players.
In several instances, Risebrough was required to place a mirror under the individual's nostrils to make sure he still was breathing. This did not prevent the boss from suggesting the Wild was a better team with these scraps than with Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra.
Double-Talking Doug operates with a motto that has served him extremely well in St. Paul: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, and you can fool all of the Wild fans all of the time."
DTD went into this NHL free agency in great need of a center. He signed forwards Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen and Craig Weller, none being a center.
Poor beat-up Nolan is tied together with baling wire. Brunette spent the best three seasons left in his career in Colorado. And Miettinen received the glowing recommendation from Tom Lynn, DTD assistant and apologist, that he was remindful of Branko Radivojevic.
That should make you excited to send in that last payment for 2008-09 tickets, since Branko lit the lamp seven times last season. He now has gone to Russia to find a contract.
And Weller? He has first cousins who didn't know he played in the NHL last season.
DTD also traded for a pair of softies for the defense, Marek Zidlicky and Marc-Andre Bergeron, as part of his latest message directed to the Cult of 18,000:
The way to score more goals is to move the puck better from the backline, rather than to spend a large pile of dollars on someone to help bring out the best in Marian Gaborik.
A year ago, Smith and the Twins made sure the offers to Torii Hunter and Johan Santana -- though substantial -- were well short of what was required to keep them on the payroll.
Risebrough was able to get some PR out of a similar circumstance with Marian Hossa: He figured out an offer that Hossa could refuse, then made it public after the star right wing signed a one-year deal with Detroit.
Minnesota's hockey fans aren't really gullible enough to believe that there was nothing more DTD could have done to bring Hossa here. Are you?
The Wild boss was back at his double-talking best over the weekend, suggesting it wasn't really salary but the length -- three years rather than four -- that caused him to lose Rolston to New Jersey.
Hogwash. New Jersey came up with $5 million a year, and the Wild never got there.
DTD was moaning last week in a rival newspaper that people suggesting the Wild was cheap were "ill-informed." He based this on the fact the team will be close to the NHL salary cap for the 2008-09 season.
The problem is, being cheap is bringing in a half-dozen marginal players at modest numbers who can be dumped, and being aggressive is making whatever moves are necessary for pricey difference-makers such as Rolston, Hossa and Ryan Malone.
Yes, DTD, the Wild is cheap, and you're a world-class double talker, and the only thing that's going to save next season after what you've lost and what you've added is for the equals of Alexi Casilla, Glen Perkins and Brian Buscher to fall from the sky.
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and at 4:40 p.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org