Monday, June 29, 2009

Another New Writing Assignment

As of Monday morning, I added the WCHA to my Minnesota Twins responsibilities on the publication. I will cover the entire league and will report on a variety of topics. In addition, I will continue to cover the Twins for the publication.

Donny Puck will still be a source for Gopher Hockey coverage, but my Examiner pieces will be more broad. Check out both sites as the summer moves along for the latest league news.

My WCHA Examiner homepage is linked here; my Twins Examiner page is here.

We'll try to add some post-draft coverage as the week progresses. DP will focus on the Gophers and those with Minnesota ties, while Examiner will span the entire WCHA.

Quick Gopher Hockey/WCHA hits:

Kahn's First Wolves Draft A Success

David Kahn made a huge pre-draft splash when he traded away his starting backcourt for the Washington Wizards' pick (#5) in the 2009 NBA Draft. When he held onto both picks on Thursday night, it was a bit risky, as the player the team reportedly coveted, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, was also sought after by other teams ahead of them. When Rubio was still available at #5, the Wolves jumped all over him, and added Syracuse's Jonny Flynn right after him at #6. The selection of those two players represents a watershed moment for a franchise which has fallen on hard times.

The Wolves had four first round picks, and used the third one (#18 overall) to take North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, whom they promptly traded to Denver for a future draft pick. The final first round selection (#28) was used on North Carolina shooting guard Wayne Ellington, who should improve the Wolves' outside shooting. Second rounders rarely amount to much, and the Wolves made two selections last week. The first was used on Florida point man Nick Calathes, who was immediately traded to Dallas. The final selection was used on Henk Norel, a power forward from The Netherlands.

Now, speculation as to Rubio's availability for the 2009-10 season is rampant, but the Wolves are expected to meet with him this week. He may get offers from teams in Turkey, Spain, or wherever, but the Wolves were absolutely required to take him in this spot. They simply could not have left him on the board in order to have any credibility in the league.

Having Rubio sharing a backcourt with Flynn next season will be exciting. Flynn is a point guard, as is Rubio, but Kahn seems to think that the two can play off each other. That will be interesting, but the Wolves certainly have filled a talent void with two special players.

The Timberwolves are getting some mixed reviews for their draft strategy. However, as I posted last week, the team is in no position to have been choosers last Thursday night, and operated as such. They stocked up on talented guards in the first round and now must add a head coach who can bring these players along slowly (Sam Mitchell, perhaps?). Signing Rubio for this season may be tricky, but having Flynn in the mix means a quality player will be manning the point no matter what. Having both in the same backcourt will certainly sell tickets.
Count me as an early supporter of Kahn's strategy. It certainly cannot get worse in Minnesota, and at least the Wolves are guaranteed a solid performer at the point next season.

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P., Michael Jackson, aka "King of Pop"

No posts until next Tuesday, when we'll have a recap of the Timberwolves' and Wild drafts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wolves Make Big Pre-Draft Deal

In a surprise move, the Minnesota Timberwolves traded away a big part of their offense on Tuesday in an effort to move up in Thursday's NBA Draft. The Wolves sent guard Randy Foye and guard/forward Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards for center Etan Thomas, power forward Darius Songaila, center Oleksiy Pecherov, and the Wiz's first round pick on Thursday - fifth overall. The Wolves now hold the 5th, 6th, 18th, and 28th picks in the draft. Although the deal is still not finalized, it is expected to be Wednesday, as a clerical issue with Thomas need to be agreed-to and Wolves' owner Glen Taylor needs to be formally consulted.'s David Aldridge and's Ric Bucher are both reporting that the Timberwolves have Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio in their sites, and are looking to package the 5th and 6th picks in a deal with Memphis at #2. It's thought that the Grizzlies covet UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, leaving Oklahoma City #3 as a potential Rubio destination. The Thunder apparently covet Rubio and would be reluctant to trade the pick for two lower ones. Sacramento picks fourth.

Chad Ford has his mock draft here, with the Wolves staying at #5 and 6 and picking up Arizona State's James Harden and Davidson's Stephen Curry. The Wolves also like Memphis guard Tyreke Evans as well.

Foye became a Timberwolf in 2006-07 after four years at Villanova. The Wolves selected Washington guard Brandon Roy with the sixth selection that year, and then sent his rights to Portland for the rights to Foye, whom the Blazers drafted seventh. The move was initially deemed a wash, as both guards were considered safe picks. However, Foye was given inconsistent minutes his rookie year under coach Dwane Casey and struggled somewhat, while Roy became NBA Rookie of the Year and a perennial all-star. The deal was added to Kevin McHale's list of failures the next year as Foye was limited to just 39 games with injuries while Roy made his first all-star team.

In 2008-09, Foye showed glimpses of his NBA ability, averaging 16.3 points on 41% from the floor. He exhibited the leadership qualities he displayed at Villanova and was a solid contributor all season long. He missed 12 of the team's last 22 games with injuries, but recovered nicely from his knee issues of the season prior.

Miller joined the Wolves prior to 2008-09 in a deal with Memphis which dumped a lot of garbage (read Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker) on the Grizzlies and also included the O.J. Mayo-for-Kevin Love aspect. Miller performed nicely for the Wolves last season, providing 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and displaying hustle every night.

Of the players coming over, Thomas has the most experience, but missed a good chunk of last season with a torn MCL. If he stays, the 31-year-old big man would expect limited minutes in Minnesota behind Al Jefferson. Best yet, hit contract expires at the end of 2009-10 at $7.35M. Songaila is another 31-year-old forward with limited impact, and has two years remaining on his contract for a total of $9.3M. Pecherov is a young 7-foot project and has three years remaining on his contract at $7.1M.

The centerpiece of this deal is obviously the draft pick. With Foye and Miller departing, the Wolves' backcourt will be completely re-made for 2009-10, with holdover Sebastian Telfair providing back-up at the point. They will draft guards on Thursday night; just which ones obviously remain to be seen. What is certain is that new basketball operations head David Kahn has made a bold move in his first few weeks on the job, and his promise of change is not an idle one.

Here's hoping that Memphis will do us another favor on Thursday night and that we'll be seeing Rubio at the point night-in and night-out......

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NBA Draft Chatter

The NBA Draft is Thursday night, and to say that this is a pivotal draft for the Minnesota Timberwolves would be an extreme understatement. The franchise is coming off a 24-win season, just fired their coach, and needs something big to keep the interest in this team from sliding into apathy. With three picks in the first round Thursday, the Wolves are in a position to get the ship turned in the right direction. has a list of consensus top 14 picks, and the player the Timberwolves are most commonly linked with at #6 is Memphis guardTyreke Evans. Other names surfacing there include Davidson guard Stephen Curry, Connecticut big man Hasheem Thabeet, USC forward Demar DeRozan, Arizona State guard James Harden, UCLA guard Jrue Holiday, and Italian league guard Brandon Jennings.

Thabeet will almost certainly be gone by the 6th pick - it's thought that Memphis really likes him at #2. Also, DeRozan canceled his workout for the Wolves with an "illness." The only names which show up more than once on the experts' mock drafts are Evans and Curry, so we'll take a look at both players.

Evans is a 6-6, 220 lb. guard who played one season for John Calipari at Memphis. He averaged 17.1 points for the Tigers, shooting 45% from the floor and 27% from beyond the arc. He was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year, was National Freshman of the Year as voted by various outlets, and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. He has big-time scoring ability and is viewed as a great ball-handler.

Curry played three seasons at Davidson College and displayed his scoring ability on a national stage in the last two NCAA Tournaments. He averaged over 25 points a game for his career, and led the country last season with 28.6 on 45% from the floor and 39% from three-point range. His strength is scoring, and, unlike some other premium scorers in past drafts (Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick) can create his own shots.

This franchise needs some energy and excitement, and either of these two players will provide just that. Curry's the more recognizable of the two, but both seem to fit in nicely with the returning core of Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Kevin Love, Ryan Gomes, and Corey Brewer. Foye's presence will make an interesting side story should either Evans or Curry be drafted, as all three would seemingly play the same off-guard position. Still, with the Timberwolves in their current state, their needs are great, and they are truly in the position of having to pick the best player available, regardless of need.

Still hoping for a trade up to #3 to draft Ricky Rubio, but my hopes are fading.......

Sunday, June 21, 2009

NHL Draft Chatter / Gopher Hockey Schedule

The NHL Draft begins this Friday night, and the speculation continues who the New York Islanders will take with the top pick. Conventional wisdom states that the team cannot go wrong if it selects either John Tavares or Victor Hedman with the top pick. As an Islander fan myself, I don't see how General Manager Garth Snow can pass Tavares up, but stranger things have occurred. You may recall that Steven Stamkos was a slam-dunk #1 overall pick going into last year's draft, and he struggled his way through his rookie campaign. It's hard to expect too much from 18-year-old kids, but that's what the NHL Draft has evolved into. Guys like Sidney Crosby (2005) and Patrick Kane (2007) raised the bar for #1 overall picks, and the days of drafting a guy and letting him develop are over, especially for teams who desperately need immediate help. This is precisely why the Islanders need to look at Tavares. He'll provide some pizazz to a team struggling in the standings and at the gate.

The Minnesota Wild pick #12, and it's entirely possible that University of Minnesota forward Jordan Schroeder will be available. He's the fifth-rated North American skater in the final Central Scouting Bureau rankings and will almost certainly go among the top 15 picks. I saw Schroeder play 10-15 times this past season, and he was many nights Minnesota's best player as a freshman. That includes Ryan Stoa, who signed with Colorado this past spring. Schroeder is smallish, but player bigger than his size indicates. His skating ability is great, and he's extremely hard to knock off the puck.

The Wild need a guy like Schroeder this upcoming weekend. He would fit seemingly well in new coach Todd Richards' up-tempo style of play. He has a nice touch with the puck and would be an ideal centerman for someone like Marian Gaborik - if he re-signs. A young forward corp with Schroeder, James Sheppard, and Mikko Koivu would be fun to watch. If new GM Chuck Fletcher wants to make a splash, he should take Schroeder, provided he's on the board. This isn't just because Schroeder is a Minnesota native. He's an elite player who can help this team immediately.

Michael Russo has more on the Wild's potential draft strategy, and we'll fill in more as the week progresses.

Gopher Hockey Schedule:

Roman has the Gophers' 2009-10 schedule here. As has been the case in prior seasons, the Gophers will start tough this season, with North Dakota (on the road) and Denver providing the opposition. Non-conference opponents include Bemidji State, Harvard, and Bowling Green - in addition to Michigan and Michigan State (on the road) in the College Hockey Showcase. Interesting that the Gophers will play Wisconsin at the Target Center in March.
Funny Stuff:
You need to check out this video from YouTube. It's NSFW because of language, so tread lightly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Fillers....

  • The NBA Draft is approaching and the Wolves have three picks in the first round (#6, 18, and 28). Lots of analysis is available. This piece by Chad Ford puts the draft prospects into tiers; here is Ford's latest mock draft; ESPN's top 100 prospects; CNNSI's mock draft. Any way the Wolves will see Ricky Rubio fall to them at #6? It looks unlikely now......
  • Speaking of the Wolves, two rumors surfaced in the past week surrounding Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. The Jefferson move would be disastrous to a rebuilding franchise and do nothing to improve the current roster. The Love rumor is simply not going to happen. New basketball operations chief David Kahn has apparently denied the Jefferson rumor, and that is the right move in my book.
  • The NHL Draft is also approaching, and the Central Scouting Bureau has released its final North American rankings. Gopher Jordan Schroeder is ranked fifth, incoming Gophers Zach Budish (22) and Nick Leddy (24) are also rated high. The Wild pick 12th. Three mock drafts from are linked. Schroeder, Budish, and Leddy are featured prominently in these guesses.
  • The NHL also handed out its hardware on Thursday night, and it was a big night for the Boston Bruins who took home the Norris (Zdeno Chara), Jack Adams (coach Claude Julien), and Vezina (Tim Thomas) trophies. I love that the NHL still attached names to the trophies and only wish that the old divisional and conference names will one day re-appear. It sounds better to be "Prince of Wales Conference Champions" than "Eastern Conference Champions."
  • Check out my continued Twins coverage on I write almost daily on all things Twins and have focused the last week on the starting pitching.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kevin McHale Will Not Return to Wolves

Kevin McHale has been informed he will not coach the Timberwolves in 2009-10 after a third meeting with new personnel guru David Kahn. According to the Jerry Zgoda article, no formal reason was given other than Kahn wanted to make a change.

McHale's record as a coach was certainly better than his personnel record. He took over the team from Randy Wittman 19 games into the 2008-09 season and turned over his front office responsibilities in the process. He was 20-43 the rest of the season, but coached without forward Al Jefferson for the final 32 games after blowing out his ACL and guard Randy Foye missed 12 of the team's final 22 games. When at full strength, the T-Wolves played hard under McHale - something not present with Wittman at the helm. McHale also coached the final 31 games of the 2005-06 season after firing Flip Saunders and went 19-12. His overall coaching mark is 39-55 in parts of two seasons.

McHale joined the Wolves' front office in 1993 after he retired and assumed control of basketball operations in 1995. He drafted Kevin Garnett in his first draft in 1995 and acquired Stephon Marbury at the 1996 draft. The two formed the core of a team which made eight-consecutive playoff appearances, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. The team has not been back to the playoffs since, and was forced to trade McHale in the summer of 2007 after deciding not to offer him an extension.

McHale's personnel blunders are summarized well here. However, it's important to remember that the team was absolutely dead when he arrived in 1993 and moribund when he took over basketball operations in 1995. He also hired Flip Saunders to coach the team, and the tandem was absolutely the right group to lead this team to respectability. The Garnett trade will eventually make this franchise solid in a few years, but it's too bad that McHale held on to Garnett for one or two years longer than he did, as the rebuilding phase could have been commenced earlier and the team would be that much closer to respectability.

What's next for the Wolves? Well, the draft is approaching, and the team has three first round picks at #6, 18, and 28. Kahn must also begin his search for a new coach. The new head coach must be able to work well with young players. The nucleus here is actually pretty good, with Jefferson, Foye, Kevin Love, and Ryan Gomes forming the heart of the team. Fitting one or two of the first round picks into the rotation should be easy, but 2009-10 is going to be another long season in Minnesota. If I were Kahn, I'd call two guys: Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau and Dallas assistant Dwane Casey. Thibodeau is a defensive wiz and is on everyone's short list for a head coaching candidate. He was an assistant to Bill Musselman on the original Wolves' coaching staff. Casey, of course, was the head coach of the Wolves for less than two seasons and was fired with a 20-20 record in 2007. Both should warrant calls.

More on the Todd Richards Hiring

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I like this hire a lot. He's going to bring an up-tempo style to the Wild which this team has been sorely lacking. Ever since the post-lockout rule changes, a look at the Stanley Cup champions bears out that the up-tempo teams are the ones which took home the hardware:

  • 2006 - Carolina over Edmonton
  • 2007 - Anaheim over Ottawa
  • 2008 - Detroit over Pittsburgh
  • 2009 - Pittsburgh over Detroit

Taking nothing away from Jacques Lemaire and the job he did here, I don't see any trapping teams among the Stanley Cup finalists in any of those seasons. All eight teams listed above had defensemen who rushed the puck, forechecked aggressively, and played fast. The Wild of the 2008-09 season looked like they have cement blocks in their skates compared to the playoff teams. New GM Chuck Fletcher and new coach Todd Richards were brought in to change that.

What the media is reporting about Richards:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wild Coach: It's Richards

Todd Richards will coach the Wild starting next season, according to the Star Tribune's Michael Russo.

The former Gopher played at Osseo High School and the U of M. He coached the Pittsburgh Penguins' top affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton for two season, and spent last season as an assistant in San Jose.

Richards is a great hire. Although I preferred Peter Laviolette and probably still prefer his experience, it's refreshing to see the Wild go for a young up-tempo coach.

Russo is also reporting that the Wild has fired assistant GM Tom Lynn, this coming after initially retaining both Lynn and Tom Thompson as holdover Assistant GMs from the Doug Risebrough regime. Lynn seemed an odd fit for a new manager, and it's apparent that Chuck Fletcher wants to start fresh after the draft.

It's too bad that this didn't happen a year earlier when they could have hired San Jose coach Todd McLellan, who was the coach of the Wild affiliate Houston Aeros for a few seasons before leaving to serve as an assistant in Detroit.

Notebook Items For a Monday.....

  • Congrats to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their Stanley Cup victory Friday night. It's rare that a team wins a decisive game 7 on the road, and the Pens had to do it twice in 2009. They beat Washington in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then beat Detroit to win the Cup. It was the first time a championship had been decided in a game 7 on the road in any sport since the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series. After Detroit beat Pittsburgh 5-0 in Game 5, I really thought this series was over. However, give the Pens credit - especially goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for his heroics in games 6 and 7. This young team will be around for a while, and we may be witnessing a dynasty.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Title on Sunday. Kobe Bryant won a title without Shaquille O'Neal, so the media is quick to crown him king. Marc Jackson said as much late in Sunday night's telecast. Bryant had a great Finals, but the fact that Cleveland or a healthy Boston team was not his opponent in the Finals did as much to decide the title as Bryant's heroics.
  • The next items ahead for the NHL and NBA are the drafts. We'll have coverage as the events approach later in June. As far as the local teams are concerned, this is an important draft year for both the Timberwolves and Wild.
  • Mock drafts continue to appear. In the NBA, here are a few examples, and pay close attention to the Wolves who pick at #6, 18, and 28: Yahoo! Sports; ESPN; Draft Express; NBA Draft Net; Hoops Hype; InsideHoops;;
  • For the NHL, the Wild pick 12th, and here is how some mock drafts set up: NHL Draft Site;;
  • The Nebraska-Omaha coaching position has been filled, and the new coach is not Gopher assistant Mike Hastings. It is none other than Dean Blais - he of former North Dakota fame. What an excellent hire for the Mavericks. Some are saying this is positioning for UNO's joining the WCHA, but it's a good choice regardless of the conference in which they play.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Please be Patient!

My time has been monopolized by my job search and getting my traffic up, so I haven't posted hardly anything on DP. I hope to change that soon, with the NHL and NBA Drafts approaching, the Wild soon to hire a coach, NHL free agency, and Gopher Hockey hot stove league stuff. I appreciate your patience, and please check back often for updates here.

For my Twins-related coverage, check out my Examiner home page. I wrote three articles this morning, so please check it out.

Emptying the notebook:
  • Roman has the Gopher hockey schedule here. It apparently is changing, so check this site for updates.
  • Check my blogroll for some blog sites for Colorado College, North Dakota, MSU-Mankato, Wisconsin, and St. Cloud State. There's not much going on in the world of college hockey, but be sure to check those sites to keep up with news on our rivals.
  • Congratulations to St. Cloud State's Bob Motzko, who received a six-year contract extension recently. He's a good coach who has that program on the rise again. I say often that the Gopher/St. Cloud rivalry of the early part of this decade was as good as it gets in college hockey, and Motzko's the guy to get that going again soon.
  • Here are some mock NHL Drafts to look at (Schroeder, Budish, etc.):;; Total Pro Sports.
  • According to this from Michael Russo, new Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes to have a coach named soon. Still hoping for Peter Laviolette, although Todd Richards would be fine as well.
  • The Cup will be hoisted tomorrow night, in my opinion. Watching Detroit play is just beautiful - even though I do not personally like the Wings. They do everything well and the way they skate and pass the puck is almost majestic.