On Backstrom: The guy is just playing great right now. No, he doesn’t see a ton of shots, nor does he see a bunch of scoring chances. But he is absolutely deserving of all the praise he’s receiving now. He’s also an unrestricted free agent after this season, inexpensive (making $3.1M this year) and not that old (30).
Wild GM Risebrough is sort of waffling in the press about whether or not he’s negotiating an extension, and one assumes Riser is hoping the team will dictate his course of action by whether or not they remain in the playoff hunt as the trade deadline approaches. But, with every strong outing, Backstrom’s price tag – not to mention the allure of untold riches in free agency – just increases. Clearly there are teams that could use him, and you have to think at least a couple of them might be willing to pay for a “rental” if they think it could help them reach the promised land this spring.
And, as mentioned in this space previously, Risebrough may not be able to allow another high-end asset to walk without recompense back to the Wild.
In the meantime, Wild fans seem to be enjoying Nik’s stellar play while holding their breath in anticipation of the resolution of his contract status with the team.
On the schedule: The Wild is looking at a tale of two schedules over the next two months. In February, they play eight -of-twelve at home. In March, they play twelve-of-sixteen on the road.
Included in that brutal March schedule is a trip to the New York City metropolitan area for games against the Devils, Rangers and Islanders. Except, between a Friday game in Newark and a Tuesday game in midtown Manhattan, they have to fly home for a Sunday game in St. Paul! Ridiculous.
Clearly the team needs to be at their best in February in order to garner any kind of momentum with which to battle the schedule (read: stay in the playoff hunt) in March. Unfortunately, “consistency” has not exactly been the hallmark of this team.
On the Calder: When Cal Clutterbuck first broke onto the scene (a strong showing in the Traverse City prospects tournament in 2007), he was little more than a great name to Wild fans. He earned an invite to camp that year, got sent to Houston, had a cup of coffee with the big team and that was pretty much it for 07-08.
He had another strong camp coming into this season, played two games in Houston before getting the call from St. Paul, and it’s been Hollywood since then. 43 games with the Wild, 8-3-11, leading the entire league in hits, NOT embarrassing himself (or the team) Avery/Ruutu-style, and amassing a fair amount of notice across the league.
He’s a cannonball on the ice to be sure, but he claims that he goes out of his way to hit people the right way – respectfully, if you will. He sees himself as an energy guy, not a pest. And he’s scored four goals in his last six games – so he’s multi-dimensional.
The question among Wild fans right now is: Why not any Calder consideration?
No, he’s not Versteeg, Mason, Wheeler, Doughty or Ryan. But shouldn’t he at least be on the dance floor with those guys?
On offense: There can be no debating that the Wild is an offensively-challenged team. Always has been. But the Risebrough detractors like to claim that he handicapped the team by not re-signing Rolston and Demitra, and by how he has handled the Gaborik situation.
That may be, but here’s some grist for that mill:
Last season, through 47 games, with those three players for the majority of those games, the Wild scored 130 goals.
This season, through 47 games, without those three players for the majority of those games, the Wild has scored 123 goals.
This is not to suggest they are not an offensively-challenged team. But perhaps they are getting good efforts from the guys (like Clutterbuck) they do have this season, which paints a picture that, while not rosy, may not be as dark as it seems.