The Current State of Thomas Vanek

If you take a look at the Minnesota Wild fanbase, you’ll see a split opinion on Thomas Vanek. Some fans will argue that he’s doing just what he needs to do, but others will say he isn’t doing enough for the team. If you look at the stats, it will tend to lead to the conclusion that Vanek has decreased his production since arriving in Minnesota. However, there is more to a player than just his statistics. Within the last 2 seasons, he has gone between 4 teams. He started out the 2013-14 season in Buffalo, found himself playing on the Islanders, and later on landed in Montreal. That offseason, he signed a 3-year contract with Minnesota and has been there since. As you can imagine, that’s more than enough adjusting for him to have to deal with in many ways. Not only does he have to pack up and move to a new city, he has to learn how to work with new teammates in a new system with new coaches.

If you look at the simple numbers of production, such as his points, it was a bit of a down year for him. However, he might be getting criticized even more due to the fact that his numbers in the playoffs were subpar and the Wild as a team have again failed to improve themselves in the playoffs. Many are wondering if he is just naturally declining or if it is just a case of bad luck. Vanek had shown multiple times last season that he still has talent, but at the same time he isn’t getting any younger. It mainly seems like this season was a case of bad luck, and that could easily be fixed by just giving him some time. He bounced around a lot recently, so if he is given time to adjust to the Wild’s system and the players his numbers certainly could start to go up again. If he happens to find chemistry with his linemates in Minnesota like he did with Pacioretty and Desharnais in Montreal, there’s no telling what he could be capable of doing. It’s hard to wait and give him more time to bounce back, but it’s very important to do. Chemistry is one of the few things in this league that can’t be rushed.

Prediction of the Minnesota Wild’s season

The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 campaign went as many people had expected it to go. While there is certainly great talent and potential on the roster, there has always been room to improve. Until Devan Dubnyk was traded to the team, they showed their need for a new goalie. Their depth with their forwards was shown to be a swing or a miss due to the fact that many of them are still developing players who have not yet hit their stride. They were able to produce goals and were better at not allowing goals, especially on the penalty kill. After acquiring Dubnyk, they rocketed themselves up the Western Conference and found themselves landing a spot in the playoffs. However, as many expected, they were shown the door out by the Chicago Blackhawks for the third straight season, again leaving the team as well as the fans wondering what can be done to get over that hump. My first guess would be to shake things up within the organization and make bold moves. If a big name has to be traded off for some prospects to keep the window open longer, so be it. If making any more progress requires a new coach or a new GM, then do what it takes. So far, the Wild have not made any big splashes or very many moves for that matter, and that might hurt them in the upcoming season.

As far as the upcoming season goes for Minnesota, I can see a lot of potential but not much guaranteed in the success department. They should have consistent and solid goaltending if Dubnyk does what he needs to do and having a good backup like Kuemper. Their defense shouldn’t disappoint either considering that not much was lost in free agency and the 6th defensive spot is still left open to one of the many young defensemen. Not only does that create competition that the from office would love to see, but it also reminds the Wild of the promise left in their defense. The offense is where I see problems forming for the team. Stewart left for Anaheim, Brodziak left for St. Louis, and Bergenheim is still floating in free agency. While the loss of these forwards will not destroy the team, it does take out depth that the team could certainly use. There isn’t much left in Iowa for great promise, so until they have reloaded it with more prospects they are left with free agency and what they currently have on the team. I still see Minnesota as a playoff team, but there is a doubt about being a Cup contender. I see the Wild having another solid year and landing a spot in the playoffs. I can see them landing a wild card spot much like they did this previous season. How far they make it in the playoffs will be a luck of the draw. If the Blackhawks happen to cross their path, the result of previous matches could easily expected to be the same. I would absolutely love to see them finally have Chicago’s number, but they didn’t make the sort of changes that they would need to in order to beat them, which mainly seems to be getting the puck in the net.

Is the Window Closing for the Minnesota Wild?

Three years ago when the Minnesota Wild went out and handed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter their matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, they began to turn their team into a potential Stanley Cup winner. Since then, they have managed to surround them with solid players like Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu. So far this core has managed to carry the team as far as the second round of the playoffs, only to get continually knocked out by teams like the Blackhawks, who have always had their number. While the Wild are still attempting to figure out how to solve the Blackhawks, they are running out of time to do so. Minnesota isn’t getting any younger, but most of the Central division is. The group of leaders in St. Paul make up one of the oldest groups in the division with none of the 5 players of Parise, Suter, Vanek, Pominville, or Koivu being under 30 years old. In most sports, players start to hit a decline in their production once they start hitting 30 years or older, which is why the state of the Wild is becoming more urgent. Around the rest of the Central, you can start to see many of these young team’s players hitting their strides. Chicago is still anchored well by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who are 26 and 27 years old. Even their star defensemen Duncan Keith looked very strong at the age of 31 in the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis, who has upped their game within the last few seasons, still has youth. Backes and Steen come in as the oldest of their leaders at 31, to be followed soon by Vladimir Tarasenko (23), Alex Pietrangelo (25), and Kevin Shattenkirk (26). Nashville is also led by many young players like Forsberg, Neal, Weber, and Josi, who have long careers still ahead of them that look to be filled with promise. Winnipeg’s core of Wheeler, Little, Ladd, Byfuglien, and Pavlec have an average age of 28 and could also find themselves in the talks of making the playoffs. The Dallas Stars have also managed to build themselves into the playoff talks this offseason. They added two Stanley Cup Champions in Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya who should mix well with the young dynamic duo of Benn and Seguin, who are 25 and 23. John Klingberg (22) and Jason Spezza (33) provide great addition on top what they already have. Even the Colorado Avalanche have hopes for the future in their captain Landeskog (22), Duchene(24), and MacKinnon (19). Sure, the Wild have young players, many of whom could become valuable to the team, but none are expected to be rising stars like those mentioned above. If you look down at the Iowa Wild, there isn’t very much promise there. Many of the hyped up prospects won’t be around for 3 or 4 more years, so we are left with what is currently our NHL youth. Niederreiter and Zucker both have the ability to become 20+ goal scorers for the team, but there is still a hint of doubt in the air which is why they are still on fairly short contracts. Granlund also has the potential to become important to the Wild, but he also has to work to prove that he belongs. The Wild have gone and locked down Coyle (23), Brodin (21), and Scandella (25) to longer term deals and are expected to be a vital part of the team’s future. It’s hard to say how their futures look, but the front office certainly believes that they are staying on the team for a reason. I would like to see young defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon play a role in the future of Minnesota’s defense, but I could see either one or both of them be traded to try and develop an even longer term solution. Having traded away so many second and third round picks within the recent years has not helped them gain and develop more prospects, so they will have to make what they currently have work for the mean time. Can this team manage to pull together their veteran experience to make a contender, or will they have to hit the reset button and go into a rebuilding mode? Only time will tell.

Minnesota’s goaltending future

As most people know, the Wild recently signed Dubnyk to a new 6-year, $26 million contract. He is expected to be the goalie of the future for the team, but the question still remains on what should be done about the other goalies on the team. Ideally, the team will attempt to keep depth in that position and not leave themselves with only one goalie, whose future career is anything but certain. Surely Dubnyk will not have as intense of a work load as he did during the second half of the season, so it’s important to have a good backup.

For many people, including myself, I like Kuemper as a backup. In 63 career starts, he has posted a 2.48 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Considering that he is only 25, I think that he has put up great numbers and still has many more years left in the league to show everyone what he is made of.

Just like most Wild fans, I am beyond ready to see Backstrom eventually leave the team. He is hardly used, having only played 40 games in the last 2 seasons, and is owed $3.75 million this upcoming season. That’s a lot of money to pay someone who sits on the bench most games. Regardless of how long he has been on the team or how many records he holds, his time is done. If he can be traded away, that certainly helps the Wild. It’s not necessary to have 3 goalies on the roster, but if they are choosing to do so, I believe they should let their young players battle it out for the last spot.

Kansas City and the NHL: Just a Dream?

Since the building of the Sprint Center in Downtown Kansas City in 2007, there have been rumors of an NHL team being expanded or relocated there. It made sense for many reasons right off the bat. The arena was large, beautiful, and perfectly ready to add a franchise in at any given moment.

Everyone was anxiously waiting for any sort of breaking news regarding expansion or relocation for weeks. Slowly, those weeks turned into months, and soon enough those months turned into years. Now here we are, 2015, on the brink of adding expansion teams, and Kansas City is hardly mentioned. That leaves many wondering, whatever ended up happening to all that talk? Kansas City has gone from a very possible target to a lost cause in 8 years. It leaves many locals puzzled and wondering what happened so quickly to cause that change. The arena is still in great condition, and shouldn’t pose any problems with gaining a franchise. The market is actually not bad like everybody seems to think it is. Kansas City is the No. 31 TV market in the country. It might not sound good, but in comparison Columbus is  No. 32, Buffalo is No. 52, and expected expansion city Las Vegas is No. 41.

Just like any other city that were to gain an expansion team, you would also see the number of hockey fans grow from the time the team is awarded to the time when they first take the ice. Outside of the building they play in, most of the results in the future are all hypothetical. There is no promise that the fans will stay or that the team will be good, all you really can do is hope for the best of the franchise to show up. I don’t have a problem believing in it though; the city has shown much love to its current sports teams. The Royals are currently on pace to set a new season attendance record, the Chiefs never fail to draw fans, even if they sport a lovely 2-14 record, and Sporting KC is nothing short of loved. In fact, Kansas City is known to be one of, if not the best, Soccer cities in America. If they can support Soccer, a sport that has been historically outspoken in this country, I don’t see what the harm is in giving them a chance.

The only thing standing in the way of this? Ownership. None of the owners in Kansas City have expressed even a lick of interest toward putting in a bid for an expansion team. They all scoffed at the $500 million expansion fee, with one of the Kansas City owners Lamar Hunt Jr. calling it “a ridiculously big fee.” He also went on to say that he is not interested in pursuing an expansion team and is not aware of anyone in Kansas City who is willing to do so either. It’s always a shame to see an arena like the Sprint Center go to waste and to continually watch your dreams of a hockey team go down the drain, but until somebody is willing to cough up money it won’t happen.

NHL Expansion: Where are the teams going?

The NHL has begun the formal process of expansion, which would be the first expansion since the 2000-01 season. An expansion franchise, for the owners interested in doing so, comes with the steep expected cost nearing $500 million. That price tag alone has lost interest from many potential owners. Many cities like Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City, and Toronto have been in the talks for getting a team. Other cities like Houston, Kansas City, Hartford, and so forth have been in less serious talks about it. Some of the cities make sense for an expansion, but others, not as much.

Toronto

Many people might roll their eyes when they hear Toronto mentioned in the talks for a second team, but quite frankly, it’s one of the better options out there. If you look at the number of hockey fans in each market, Toronto has the largest market by far boasting slightly over 5 million hockey fans. That is double the number of hockey fans in the New York City/ New Jersey area, who currently has 3 teams to its name. If 25% of the Toronto market were to become fans of the new team, they would stand to still have more fans than teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks. Not only does that give them the largest expansion market without a doubt, it might also prove to be the most profitable market. It almost seems like it would be bad from the viewpoint of the NHL to not award them another team.

Quebec City

quebec city

Out of the NHL cities that have lost a team, Quebec City is right up there at the top of the list of the cities that deserve a second chance. In terms of population, they might not have an advantage over other cities, but their advantage comes with the number of hockey fans. As it currently stands, there are around 530,000 NHL fans in Quebec City, nearly the same number as cities such as Winnipeg and Buffalo that boast the most NHL fans out of any prospective market. That is more than enough of a fanbase to support a new and growing franchise and create a profitable market. To add the cherry on top, the new 18,259-seat arena, Videotron Centre, is set to open in September of this year.

Las Vegas

las vegas

Without a doubt, Las Vegas is the most talked about city on this list. They are either loved or hated as an expansion city and there are reasons for both sides, starting with the positives. So far, Las Vegas is building a new $350 million, 17,500-seat arena set to open in 2016 and has managed to get commitments from 11,000 to be season ticket holders. There are also many other residents in the city who could be interested in attending a game every once in a while, and that number surely would grow if the city were to be awarded a franchise. One of the other boosters for the team’s attendance could be the tourists. Las Vegas has nearly 150,000 hotel rooms which shows how high of a number of tourists the city sees.

As for the negatives, the numbers show that it is in fact a weak market. There are only 90,000 some NHL fans who permanently live in the city, and there are multiple markets who have more than double the number of fans and still don’t turn a profit. The tourism could help raise attendance numbers, but tourism is not something you would want your franchise to rely on. Las Vegas has also struggled to support minor league franchises and that raises some questions as it is. If a minor league team can’t stay, how could we expect a major league team to stay? Some might make the case that the games would be better attended because it is a major league team, but many other cities with multiple minor league teams have not had problems with attendance.

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle has many gray areas in the expansion process, which could start to make them a less serious candidate as the bids are processed and reviewed unless they begin to make some changes. As it currently stands, they have 240,000 NHL fans in the city which puts them a little bit under the number of fans necessary to make the team profitable. There is no certainty that this could happen, but that number could grow if they were awarded a franchise. Currently, the KeyArena is the only arena that Seattle could use for an NHL team and the former NBA commissioner David Stern described the arena as inadequate for an NBA team. If it was not suitable for an NBA team in 2008 and hasn’t been improved since, it is more than likely inadequate for an NHL team as well. There are talks and proposals for a new arena to be built in the city, but none have broke ground and that could be a turn off to the NHL.

Kansas City

Kansas City 2

Kansas City is seen by many as a dark horse candidate out of the expansion cities. It has been used repeatedly as leverage by multiple franchises to get a new arena within their current city, especially in the early years when the Sprint Center was built and still had no franchises in it. The Sprint Center is still a new and NHL ready facility, but the fan base simply is not there. According to the data, there are only 80,000 NHL fans living in the Kansas City area. Like Seattle, I believe that number would grow if they were to be awarded a team, but I do not see that happening mainly because of the ownership. Between the current owners of other Kansas City teams, none of them are willing to spend that much money to move in a hockey team. AEG, the main group who previously spearheaded the campaign to get Kansas City an NHL or NBA team, has shifted its focus to Las Vegas. Even though the Kansas City Scouts moved away 39 years ago, their short and unpleasant 2-year stint left a long lasting unpleasant appearance to the league.

Houston

houston

Despite being the largest city in the United States to not have a hockey team, they are only estimated to have around 140,000 NHL fans which is not sufficient enough to support a franchise. The biggest question for Houston would be where they would play since that is directly affected by the Les Alexander, the owner of the Houston Rockets. His lease on the Toyota Center gives him exclusive rights to an NHL team who would play there and it is unknown whether or not he has interest in bringing one in, considering he had failed with his previous attempts to do so.

Hartford

Hartford is also a possible expansion location for a new team, but there are also many questions surrounding that possibility. Hartford is only estimated to hold 180,000 NHL fans and that doesn’t fare well for their chances. Their location also does them no favors considering how close they are to both Boston and New York City, which combined hold 4 NHL franchises as it is. The Hartford Whalers left town for Carolina in 1997 due to poor attendance and financial struggle, and the current projection of their fanbase does them no favors. Before any new team were to step into town, the XL Center, former home of the Whalers, would need to be renovated to better suit a new franchise. From the current proposals given to renovate the XL Center, it is going to be around $500 million. Unless the city were to provide funding for the renovations, there is that cost to worry about along with the hefty $500 million price tag expected for expansion teams. While there are multiple Fortune 500 companies based in Hartford, it is not known if any of them would be willing to take on a task like this.

Should the Wild have kept Chris Stewart?

Yesterday, Chris Stewart signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks. He brings to Anaheim veteran experience from 7 years in the league as well as his toughness. The physicality that he brings on the ice every night is something that a team like Minnesota might end up missing. After he was traded to the Wild, he blended well with the team and brought them a physical presence that is a nice change of scenery for Minnesota. Not many of the players will or are as willing to throw out hits and risk taking penalty minutes like Chris Stewart, and that’s one of the reasons why he fit so well into the team. Late in the season, the Wild added depth and brought in Stewart from Buffalo and Sean Bergenheim from Florida. Stewart fared much better than Bergenheim, who only scored 1 point in 17 games for the team. However, neither player was resigned by the team, which seems rather counterproductive to their intention of adding depth. Considering what he brought, the fact that he only appeared in 20 regular season games, and was traded for a 2017 2nd round pick, I was surprised that they let him walk so easily. Only time will truly tell whether or not he will be missed next year in St. Paul.