Each week at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the law-related, sports stories, including the Colangelo Twitter scandal, and we dive deeper into a possible cheerleaders' union with former union rep and sports-labor expert Al Neal of PeoplesWorld.org and GrandstandCentral.com. Here are your headlines, "Cheats of the Week," "Historically Foul Play" and "Statistically Significant Foul Player" for the week ending June 10.

Headlines

Bryan Colangelo and Philadelphia 76ers Part Ways

Bryan Colangelo resigned on Thursday as president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers after his wife admitted to using Twitter accounts to criticize players and support her husband. Sixers coach Brett Brown will oversee basketball operations on an interim basis.

An independent investigation found Colangelo to be the source of the sensitive information shared by his wife, Barbara Bottini. Colangelo said his wife was “operating without his consent” and that “at no point did I ever purposefully or directly share any sensitive, non-public, club-related information with her.” So how did she come across this information? You say you didn’t directly share sensitive information, so sas she getting it from someone else in the organization? You say you didn’t share it on purpose, so was it shared in the throes of passion?

Barbara taking the blame on this obviously doesn’t make Bryan innocent. She can’t be guilty without having an accomplice giving her the information. It’s a miracle, frankly, Bryan Colangelo wasn’t fired. The Sixers are either being incredibly nice or didn’t want to file the paperwork to fire the man because sharing trade information is a fireable offense.

I don’t see Colangelo working again, regardless of this being a resignation and not a firing. Even if he didn’t know about the Twitter accounts, he still shared sensitive information with someone he shouldn’t. When there’s a big trade on the table at work, you don’t go home at lunch and spill the beans to your wife before it’s final. You don’t spill the beans to anyone outside the organizations involved. 

Delaware Sees $322,000+ in Sports Wagers on First Day of Legal Betting

More than $322,000 was wagered on the first day of legal sports betting in Delaware, Tuesday. Delaware Governor John Carney made the first wager and won, risking $10 on the Philadelphia Phillies to beat the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies won 6-1. That must have paid well.

Delaware was already offering parlay betting during the federal ban since 2009 and built sportsbooks within its casinos, waiting for the end of the federal ban. It’s estimated that $350 million to $760 million could be wagered annually if online betting is fully implemented. 

Mother of G Leaguer Sues NBA after Son Collapses on Court, Dies Two Days Later

The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.

Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later.

Links to video footage, lawsuit, and media advisory!

Cheerleaders Sue Houston Texans Alleging Hostile Work Environment and Withholding Pay

Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.

This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column for the Livingston Enterprise about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014 or so, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. During my painstaking research of NFL cheerleaders, I found that each NFL team employs between 32 and 42 cheerleaders. With 32 NFL teams that brings the total number of cheerleaders employed by the NFL to just over 1,000, which isn’t enough to form a union with any real bargaining power, so this union will have to be formed of cheerleaders and dancers across all sports.

There are usually about 20 Laker Girls employed every season, but the Timberwolves have just 13 dancers. If each NBA team has about 15 dancers, that’s another 450 potential union members.

Most hockey teams employ “ice girls” to shovel the ice during breaks in the action, and many have expressed similar working conditions cited by NFL cheerleaders, according to a 2014 story by Mother Jones that actually resulted in the Flyers eliminating their ice girls and then bringing them back when the men who replaced them were quite literally booed off the ice.

The Vegas Golden Knights held auditions to fill 40 positions on its ice, cheer and gameday crews, however, so these jobs aren’t going anywhere. With another 30 teams employing at least another dozen entertainers, and I’ll get to why it’s 30 and not 31 in the Historically Foul Play segment, that’s 360 more potential union members, bringing the total to just over 1,800. If we include mascots in the union, there’s at least another 123 union members to get us closer to 2,000. But won’t there always be cheaper bodies to objectify regardless of whether a cheerleaders’ union is formed and regardless of how encompassing its membership is? I just don’t think the backlash from having less attractive or less entertaining cheerleaders would affect the NFL owners’ bottom line.

Indianapolis Colts’ DE Chris McCain Arrested for Domestic Assault

Colts defensive end Chris McCain was charged with battery stemming from an incident that occurred in January in Los Angeles, according to TMZ. McCain is accused of spitting on a woman and “forcefully grabbing her neck.” He’ll likely face a suspension.

Ottawa Senators’ Assistant GM Arrested for Alleged Harassment

Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee is accused of inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel shuttle driver while in Buffalo for the NHL's scouting combine. He was charged with second-degree harassment on Friday after being arrested and spending the night in jail. If Bryan Colangelo thought he had problems, at least he’s not Randy Lee. It has to be considerably more difficult to get a job as a sexual harasser than a trade-secrets sharing pillow-talker, right?

Historically Foul Play

I promised I’d tell you why just 30 NHL teams employ “ice girls,” and here’s why. In December of 2007, the media’s and masses’ eyes were affixed to a New York Knicks scandal involving former coach Isiah Thomas, who was found by a jury to be guilty of sexual harassment. The plaintiff, a former Knicks’ executive, was awarded $11.5 million in damages, paid by the owners of Madison Square Garden. But that wasn’t the only foul play in the Garden at the time.

Three days after the Thomas verdict, a settlement between Madison Square Garden and a former captain of the New York Rangers’ cheerleader squad flew under the radar. (Court documents of lawsuit filed.) No details were released, but the accuser alleged that her supervisor, Ryan Halkatt, told her which skaters had to lose weight or “stuff their bras” to appear more alluring. That was the last year the Rangers had “ice girls.”

Statistically Significant Foul Player

Sticking with hockey, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Their statistically significant foul player is, of course, Tom Wilson, who spent twice as much time in the penalty box as the next most penalized player on his team. His 187 penalty minutes during the regular season was just 25 off the pace set by Florida’s Micheal Haley this year. Haley’s 212 penalty minutes in a single season doesn’t even put him in the top 250 all-time. The NHL record for penalty minutes accessed in a season is 472 by Dave Schultz in the 1974-75 season. That’s more than five games spent in the penalty box.

Cheats of the Week

Bronze medalist: Julian Edelman is appealing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Edelman has reportedly taken “hundreds of tests” and never tested positive before.

Silver medalist: Free agent left-handed reliever Fernando Abad received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Stanozolol. A lengthy appeals process will make this a short ban for Abad, as the suspension began upon the filing of the appeal. Any team who signs Abad knows he must sit out most of this month, but given the overuse of Ryan Pressly, Abad would be a great fit for the Minnesota Twins. Their splits work out well together, as Abad has been more effective against lefties in his career and Pressly righties, with neither being that bad in either situation. If you’re Paul Molitor, you have to like being able to bring in Abad when two of the next three batters are lefties and Pressly when two of the three are righties.

Gold medalist: Boston Red Sox fans used the flashlights on their phones to distract Detroit Tigers hitters, angering manager Ron Gardenhire, who we know runs hot. The foul play caused a short delay in the seventh inning as security asked fans in the center field sections of Fenway Park to stop using the lights on their cell phones to distract batters for obvious safety reasons. Red Sox manager Alex Cora called it “a good weapon,” which it very well could be if someone were to be hit in the face with a fastball because they’ve been blinded by a flashlight. 

Published in Sports

Each week here at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the week's law-related, sports stories. So here are the cheats, cheap shots, and alleged criminals in sports for the week of May 28.

Headlines

Philadelphia 76ers Launch Investigation of Colangelo’s Alleged Twitter Usage

The Philadelphia 76ers launched an independent investigation into the Twitter usage of president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Wednesday after a report by The Ringer cited circumstantial evidence indicating Colangelo allegedly using anonymous Twitter accounts to defend his work and criticize his current and former players.

Tweets from those accounts alleged by a source cited by The Ringer to belong to Colangelo questioned Joel Embiid's ego, blamed Markelle Fultz's shooting woes on a former mentor of the No. 1 overall draft pick, pushed a theory that a possible Jahlil Okafor trade fell apart because he failed a physical, and called Nerlens Noel a "selfish punk."

Colangelo has denied the Tweets are his, going so far as to call Embiid to express his innocence. Colangelo’s wife has since been implicated as possible owner and operator of the Twitter accounts.

Mother of G Leaguer Sues NBA after Son Collapses on Court, Dies

The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.

Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later. 

Links to video footage, lawsuit, and media advisory.

Cheerleaders Sue Houston Texans Alleging Hostile Work Environment and Withholding Pay

Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.

This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014, I think, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. I think these NFL owners continually take advantage of these women because there will always be a cheaper body to objectify, even if there was a cheerleaders’ union.

Tampa Bay Rays’ Carlos Gomez Alleges MLB’s Drug Testing Not Random

Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Carlos Gomez alleges that Major League Baseball targets older players and Latino players for drug testing in an interview for a Yahoo! Sports podcast the day after Mariners’ All-star Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games. Gomez said, “One month into the season I got like seven drug tests. Something like that. Between five or seven. That’s not right. We have a guy on the team who for sure hasn’t had one drug test.” Three days after coming off the disabled list, Gomez was again drug tested.

MLB defended its drug testing policies in a statement made to the Tampa Bay Times: "Our Joint Drug Program, which is negotiated with the Players Association, is independently administered and has random testing procedures in place with no regard for a player's birthplace, age, or any other factor," the league said. "Every aspect of the test selection process is randomized and de-identified, and every player is included each time random selection is conducted. This results in some players being tested more often than others, but, as a whole, MLB players are tested more frequently than any athletes in professional sports.”

Like Gomez, the three Major League players suspended for failing performance-enhancing drug tests are from the Dominican Republic. Gomez wants MLB to prove to him the process is randomized, and won’t believe it is until they do so. MLB isn’t required to reveal anything, though, and probably insulates itself from any wrongdoing by outsourcing the testing to an independent firm.

Cheats of the Week

Dishonorable mention: San Francisco 49ers receiver Victor Bolden Jr. has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Bolden is trying to make the team as a kick returner and has considerable competition.

Bronze medalist: Anthony Rizzo, last week’s Statistically Significant Foul Player for his uncanny ability to be hit by pitches, slid into the feet of catcher Elias Diaz of Pittsburgh to break up a double play. He was successful, as Diaz threw the ball into right field allowing two Cubs’ runners to score. While umpires on the field called it a clean play, reviewed it and upheld the call, Major League Baseball said the slide wasn’t legal. Rizzo clearly altered his path to contact the catcher, sliding late and well inside the baseline.

Silver medalist: Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson blindsided Jon Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The hit came well after Marchessault had handled the puck, but Wilson, who has a history of questionable, physical play, avoided a suspension for the hit. Marchessault was unable to stay on the ice for the 4-on-4 that resulted from Wilson’s two-minute minor that should have probably been a five-minute major penalty.

Gold medalist: Wilson’s hit might have been the cheapest shot taken in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t the most effective form of cheating used in the game. Vegas Golden Knight Ryan Reaves scored a game-tying goal in the third period as the result of a cross-check on Washington’s John Carlson. The goal was a quick response to the Capitals’ go-ahead goal scored just 91 seconds earlier, and swung the momentum back to the Knights.

Historically Foul Play

Mel Bridgeman of the Flyers served 53 minutes in penalties in 1980 against the Islanders, the most by any player in one Stanley Cup Final. Chris Nilan of the Canadiens is next with 49 minutes in 1986. They play 60 minutes in a game if you’re unaware.

Statistically Significant Foul Player

Vegas’s Erik Haula has spent 19 minutes in the penalty box during this Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, which is almost half as many minutes as he’s skated in the series.

Published in Sports

Before the National Basketball Association (NBA) season began, almost anyone with any awareness of the NBA’s existence felt they knew which teams would be playing in each of the Conference Finals. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics would meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors would play the Houston Rockets’ James Harden and Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.

That’s exactly how it turned out, minus Irving, who barring injury, would be suiting up against his former teammate in a Conference Final I’d actually watch. Now, I’ll wait to see if Houston can force a Game 7 against Golden State before tuning into the NBA Conference Finals, and it took me betting on Houston to win it all to even have an interest in that series. Basketball’s predictability is the very reason I prefer the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Giant men wearing armor and wielding weapons in their hands and on their feet skate at immense speeds on an ever-changing playing surface chucking a rubber saucer at speeds even faster than their feet can carry them or baseballs are thrown while their opponents do all they can to get in front of that unpredictable projectile. Hockey is a most unpredictable sport, and that’s what holds my interest. The fact it hardly has any stoppages for commercial breaks, provides coaches with just one timeout, and requires live substitutions are all just big bonuses for the sport with the best postseason -- a postseason that can still be improved.

The NBA is also looking to improve its postseason, thankfully. Commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of eliminating the conferences for the postseason and simply seeding the top 16 teams based on record. This would result in less chance of a lopsided NBA Finals series. For instance, the series most of us believe to be the actual championship series between Houston and Golden State would actually be played for the championship. Houston and Golden State would be the first- and second-ranked NBA playoff teams, respectively, and would only meet in the NBA Finals under the proposed postseason alteration.

While travel concerns and the fact that the seeding of Eastern Conference teams would be skewed based on them playing half as many games against the more dominant, deeper Western Conference might thwart the NBA’s efforts to improve the postseason. But they shouldn’t. As long as there are no back-to-back games scheduled in the NBA Playoffs, travel shouldn’t be a concern. And the seeding of teams from different conferences could be based on their play against similar opponents. For instance, if an Eastern Conference team finished the regular season with a better record than a Western Conference team but lost both games to that Western Conference team, the Eastern Conference team could be seeded behind the Western Conference team based on its performance in head-to-head matchups.

The dominance and depth of the NBA’s Western Conference is forcing Silver to find a way to remedy the lack of intrigue in his sport’s predictable playoffs. A lack of competitiveness results in a loss of fans, which is exactly what has happened with elections due to partisan gerrymandering. Because elections have become so uncompetitive, fewer people vote, thinking their vote doesn’t matter, which, of course, is the intent of partisan gerrymandering.

The same is true of American capitalism. “Free” markets work for the consumer when there’s competition. But businesses want markets working for them. It’s why six companies own the majority of media in America or the means to deliver media messages. Hollywood called this “vertical integration” until the Supreme Court eventually forced movie studios to divest their interest in theaters.

But it’s happening again, and on a much more massive scale. Not only do media moguls own the media produced but the means of distribution. Comcast owns the “movies” it makes and the “theaters” that distribute them. The theaters are the cable, internet and mobile data arms of Comcast, so not only are they pulling revenue from ad sales of their shows, but they’re making two trips to the bank on just about every customer by being either one of two or the sole provider of cable, internet or wireless data in that customer’s area.

The increasingly deregulated capitalistic markets reward monopolistic businesses at the expense of the consumer. Mergers are great for big business, but they aren’t good for consumers. Sprint merging with T-Mobile would result in one less competitor in the mobile data and mobile phone markets, and with each fallen competitor the price for those services increases.

If you live in rural America you’re probably familiar with the price gouging that occurs because of a lack of competition, especially in the cable, satellite, internet service and mobile data industries. Verizon actually kicked Eastern Montana customers off their data plans because they used too much data. Many of those customers don’t have access to internet otherwise, so Verizon knows they’ll have to come back, and will pay more to do so.

So I don’t watch the NBA Playoffs for the same reason I despise American capitalism: a lack of competitiveness that results from monopolistic mergers, like Durant going to Golden State. Maybe when my Timberwolves actually win a playoff series I’ll give the NBA Playoffs my divided attention. But even with my Minnesota Wild eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I have and will continue to watch the NHL postseason, because there’s no telling what could happen.

Published in Sports

The Minnesota Wild parted ways with general manager Chuck Fletcher on Monday after a nine-season tenure that saw the Wild reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for six consecutive seasons, but fail to get out of the second round.

Joe Bouley over at Hockey Wilderness tabs Toronto’s Kyle Dubas, Tampa’s Julien Briesbois, Nashville’s Paul Fenton and Pittsburgh’s Bill Guerin as potential replacements. Regardless of who takes the Wild reigns, they’ll inherit quite the mess from Fletcher.

The Wild’s Mess

According to Sportrac, the Wild have just over $10 million in cap space to work with next season. Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Nick Seeler and Ryan Murphy are all restricted free agents. Zucker made $2 million in 2017-18 and will demand a considerable raise. He was third on his team in relative Fenwick at even strength and fourth on his team in relative Corsi at even strength. Dumba made $2.55 million and will also demand a raise, setting career highs in just about every category. He even matched his career-high plus-minus of 15 set last season.

The new Wild general manager won’t likely let Zucker or Dumba go, and Murphy and Seeler were both positive contributors in 2017-18, too. Murphy’s relative Fenwick at even strength of 1.4 was a career high, and Seeler’s relative Fenwick of .9 was respectable in his first season. Murphy earned $700,000 in 2017-18, and Seeler made $717,500.

So if Fletcher’s replacement signs all four of the Wild’s restricted free agents to contracts, there won’t likely be money to spend on unrestricted free agents, which means trades will have to be made in order for the Wild to improve the roster. Luckily, the Wild have a whole bunch of picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and some trade chips worth something.

The Wild’s Ammo

The Wild have a first-round pick, three third-round picks, two fifth-round picks, and a sixth- and seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Whether the incoming general manager is of the opinion that it’s time for the Wild to blow it up and rebuild or just a few pieces away from contending for a championship will determine how the Wild’s ammo will be utilized. But it’s hard to blow up a team that’s paying more than $15 million annually to two players who can’t be traded (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise).

The Wild might have the most valuable trade chip on the table, though, in center Eric Staal. Staal, at 33, finished fourth in goals scored and 26th in the league in points, and he’s owed just $3.5 million next season -- the final year of his deal with the Wild. Staal has said he and his family are comfortable in Minnesota, but a long-term extension is unlikely this offseason given the Wild’s lack of salary cap flexibility. Stall might have to be traded just to remedy the situation.

Potential Wild Offseason Moves

Trade Marcus Foligno and Mikko Koivu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson and draft pick(s)

One of Fletcher’s most recent offseason acquisitions just didn’t pan out. The Wild needed a guy who could deliver hits, sure, but his average time on ice dropped more than four minutes, resulting in 34 percent fewer hits than his monster season last year when he delivered 279 hits for Buffalo. And while his possession metrics were the best they’ve been since 2012-13, left wing has become a position of depth for the Wild with the addition of Jordan Greenway and Parise recovering from back surgery (only to enter another offseason with an injury).

The Columbus Blue Jackets need a third-line left wing with Matt Calvert’s contract coming off the books, and Marcus’s older brother Nick is already the center on the Blue Jackets’ third line. Dumping the $2.875 million the Wild owe Foligno each of the next three seasons would be a good place for the new Wild GM to start cleaning up Fletcher’s salary cap mess. The Wild could always sign free agents Patrick Maroon (+1, 4.2 relative Corsi, 4.1 relative Fenwick) or Jussi Jokinen (+7, 0.8 Corsi, 0.8 Fenwick) to fill the left wing position on the third or fourth lines.

 The Blue Jackets have one draft pick in each of the first, second, third, sixth and seventh rounds, but packaging Foligno with, say, Mikko Koivu, could really go far in clearing the cap space necessary to extend Staal.

The Blue Jackets have roughly $17 million in cap space for next season, with only third-line defenseman Ryan Murray a restricted free agent worthy of a contract offer. The Blue Jackets’ fourth-line center Mark Letestu will also be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Acquiring Koivu would allow the Folignos to move down to the fourth line and second-line center Alexander Wennberg, 23, to skate third-line minutes. The move would transfer $8,375,000 from the Wild’s books to the Blue Jackets’ for the next two years, and Koivu’s $5.5 million in 2019-20 as well.

Coming back to the Wild could be Columbus’s third-line right wing Josh Anderson, controlled through 2019-20 at the modest price of $1.85 million annually. Currently, the Wild have just two healthy right wings on the roster in Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Rookie Kyle Rau was playing on the third line with Parise hurt in the playoffs. Anderson, 23, logged an impressive 3.3 relative Corsi and 3.2 relative Fenwick during 986.9 minutes at even strength, and would be a considerable upgrade to unrestricted free agent Daniel Winnik, who posted a relative Corsi and relative Fenwick of -3.1 as the Wild’s fourth-line right winger.

The Wild should also get a high-round draft pick from Columbus in exchange for Koivu, but probably not the first-rounder. The Wild adding a second-round selection in a draft expected to be deep with talent would be an exceptional return for their captain, Koivu. The trade would leave the Wild with $6.525 million in cap space to extend Staal or do something else if they choose to trade Staal.

Trade or Extend Eric Staal?

Staal is coming off his best offensive season in a decade, so he’s going to demand Parise and Suter money to make up for the measly $3.5 million annual salary he was paid this year and last. But at 33, he might be signing his last contract, so much of his salary could be backloaded to give the Wild some salary cap flexibility in these years they are cleaning up Fletcher’s mess and transitioning to a new general manager.

The smart move would be to hold off on trading or extending Staal this offseason and hope he comes back strong in the first half of 2018-19, attracting interest from contending teams prior to the trade deadline. This would give the new Wild general manager at least a little time to evaluate 20-year-old center Luke Kunin, who will likely miss the start of the 2018-19 season recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee.

Even if Kunin shows the potential to be a top-line center right away, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to retain Staal as a mentor. The Wild could still sign Staal as an unrestricted free agent next offseason even after trading him for something at the deadline. Or the Wild could simply retain Staal, work Kunin into the lineup and make the playoffs again. It’s a nice problem to have, and one of the two moves of the Fletcher era that worked to perfection (the other being goalie Devan Dubnyk).

Regardless, the Minnesota Wild general manager job might not be that attractive to potential candidates, but whoever takes over the Wild not only inherits a mess, but an opportunity to contend immediately or the means to blow it all up and rebuild.


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Published in News & Information

The best days of the Minnesota sports year are here, and I’m not just saying that because Target Field opens its gates for baseball on Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are, as of this writing, playing their home opener against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.

Even if the foot of snow the Twin Cities received Tuesday doesn’t melt by game time or more rain and snow moves into the area forcing a postponement, at least Minnesota sports fans will have two more games to watch later that night. Both the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves play games that could affect the postseason, and both play at the same time, which is frustrating and frankly, should be illegal.

Thursday is going to be the best day of the Minnesota sports season. That is until Saturday, April 14, when four professional sports teams in Minnesota could all play on the same day for the first time ever. We know the Twins and Minnesota United FC (MNUFC or Loons for short) will be in action. But with the NBA Playoffs set to begin that same day, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs also underway, Minnesota sports fans could watch their home teams for up to 11 consecutive hours on April 14. The Twins host the Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. CDT and MNUFC’s match in Portland kicks off at 9:30 p.m. That leaves plenty of room in the television schedule for both the Wolves and Wild.

These really are the best days of the Minnesota sports year, and they’ll continue for as long as the Wild and Timberwolves allow. Here’s the potential schedule for the best days of the Minnesota sports year. You’ll notice this is not a complete schedule of upcoming sporting events featuring a team from Minnesota. Days during which just one Minnesota sports team plays a game are not included. Each day listed has the potential for at least two games to be played by a team from Minnesota. All times are Central. Asterisks indicate a potential game not yet scheduled. Check back for updates.

Thursday, April 5

  • MLB Home Opener: Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 3:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ Los Angeles Kings, 9:30 p.m. on FSN
  • Timberwolves @ Denver Nuggets, 9:30 p.m. on TNT

Saturday, April 7

  • Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 1:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ San Jose Sharks, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Monday, April 9

  • Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 7 p.m. on FSN Plus
  • Twins vs. Houston Astros, 7:10 p.m. on FSN

Wednesday, April 11

Friday, April 13:

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 14

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 1:10 p.m.
  • Minnesota United FC @ Portland Timbers, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 15

Tuesday, April 17

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on FS1 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7 p.m. on CNBC

Wednesday, April 18

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on ESPN in San Juan, Puerto Rico
      • José Berríos is scheduled to start this one in his home state of Puerto Rico, just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Bayamon. Berríos is an excitable, emotional player who obviously loves the game. He shed tears of joy when he was drafted by the Twins, who looked past his control issues to draft him with the 32nd overall pick in 2012 because of his electric stuff. If you watched Berríos struggle to an 8.02 ERA over 58.1 innings his rookie year after dominating every level of the minors, you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. With so much natural movement on his pitches -- even his four-seam fastball -- it’s understandable that throwing them all where he wants -- especially his curveball -- is a lot easier said than done, as indicated by his first season in the bigs. After allowing 5.4 walks per nine innings his rookie year -- at 22 years old -- he almost cut that in half the following season. He walked just one Baltimore batter over his first nine innings of the season, and would have had a perfect game going into the ninth inning had Eddie Rosario caught a ball he usually would. While Berríos has been both victimized and vindicated by his passion and emotion, in Baltimore he showed that he’s more mature, both mentally and physically. He worked out of trouble in the ninth inning in Baltimore to earn his first career complete game and shutout because of that mental and physical maturation. The experience he gained playing most of an MLB season with Ervin Santana as a mentor has certainly contributed to Berríos’s confidence to attack the strike zone with all his pitches. And his dedication in the offseason, culminating in a video of him pushing a full-sized van 22 days before Spring Training, certainly indicates his legs are firmly underneath him, but more importantly, that his dedication is unwavering. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berríos dominates the Cleveland lineup backed by the Twins’ superb defense and a raucous Puerto Rican crowd. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he allows some early runs, overthrowing some fastballs and leaving them up in the zone because he’s so amped. Regardless, as an American, and Puerto Ricans are Americans, it’s hard to root against anyone so dedicated to and passionate about what they do for a living. While Berríos will be joined on the field by fellow Puerto Ricans Rosario and Francisco Lindor, Berríos will be the center of attention. It is a home game for the Twins and should feel like it. Lindor’s first at-bat against Berríos should be interesting, though, as both played for the runner-up Puerto Rican team in last year’s World Baseball Classic. Lindor performed better than Berríos in the WBC, so there will undoubtedly be some friendly competition between the two.
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, 8:30 p.m. on TNT

Friday, April 20

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 6:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 21

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 5:10 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 3: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN

Sunday, April 22

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 12:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC @ Seattle Sounders FC, 3 p.m. on FSN
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD

Monday, April 23

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 6:05 p.m. on ESPN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m. on TNT

Wednesday, April 25

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 5:35 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, TBD on TBD
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD
    • Seven games are necessary in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because the margin of victory is so small. Even baseball has a better argument than basketball for making its first playoff round a seven-game series. Most teams play outdoors, where wind, heat, humidity, precipitation, sunlight and shadows can affect the outcome of a game. And if they don’t play outdoors, the different dimensions of every playing field can affect the outcome. I would happily cut the MLB regular season back down to 154 games if it meant making the Divisional Round of the playoffs a seven-game series. I’d be even happier to cut the first round of the NBA Playoffs down to five games, but more on that later.

Friday, April 27

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 6 and 9:30 p.m. on ESPN or ESPNEWS

Saturday, April 28

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 7 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 29

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 12 and 2:30 p.m. on ABC
    • With two Game 7s already penciled in for Sunday, April 29, the Wolves’ first-round matchup could take two whole weeks to complete, and like the NHL, that’s not out of the ordinary. The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers went to seven games in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs last year. They started play on April 15 and completed the series on April 30, with nine of those 16 days being off days. Worse yet, the result of the series would have been the same had they played five games. But that’s another opinion piece for when the NBA Playoffs become uninteresting, which will be whenever the Wolves, if they in fact qualify for the postseason, are eliminated. Even with those five bodies playing all those minutes all season long, the Timberwolves might have a better chance to advance in the postseason than the Minnesota Wild. The Wolves are getting their leader back in Butler; the Wild just lost one of theirs in Ryan Suter (broken fibula) for the season. Regardless, it’s apparent that the best days of the Minnesota sports year are here. Let’s hope we stay busy watching four Minnesota sports teams into May.

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As we enter the stretch run of the National Hockey League season, more games are being broadcasted nationally and many of them are being played in playoff atmospheres due to their playoff implications. That’s especially the case for the NHL’s Western Conference, where the fourth-ranked Minnesota Wild and 11th-ranked Colorado Avalanche are separated by just eight points.

Just one point separates the fourth-ranked San Jose Sharks and fifth-ranked Dallas Stars. Just one point separates the Stars and sixth-ranked Los Angeles Kings. Just one point separates the Kings from the the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have a one-point edge on the Calgary Flames for the final Wild Card spot in the West, and the Flames have a one-point advantage on the St. Louis Blues, who have one point on Colorado. Almost every game played in the West the rest of the season will have playoff implications, and you’ll probably want to tune into the last month or so of the regular season to see how it all shakes out.

Just last night NBC Sports Network aired a doubleheader that featured a wild divisional game between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues that saw the Wild assert their dominance at home in an 8-3 win on the back of a hat trick by Eric Staal. Immediately after, the Los Angeles Kings won their second game in as many nights against the Western Conference leaders, the Vegas Golden Knights, in a preview of a possible first-round, playoff matchup. Today’s NBCSN Rivalry Night game between the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues is almost a must-win game for St. Louis as a result.

If you don’t have cable or satellite television service, watching these games and the Stanley Cup Playoffs might require you to leave the comforts of home for a nearby sports bar. While it’s not all bad to catch a game with fellow fans, visiting a sports bar two or three nights per week will take a toll on your pocketbook. Even if you drink club soda you still have to get yourself there.

The National Hockey League isn’t as popular as “the big three” sports, so basic cable networks -- the ones with the most money -- don’t tend to buy the rights to broadcast many hockey games. And even though the NBC network of channels owns the rights to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s evident that NBC wants you to pay to watch hockey. It was especially evident during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Unless you had cable, satellite or a live streaming service, you couldn’t watch Olympic hockey in the State of Hockey. Not one Olympic, hockey game -- men’s or women’s -- was broadcasted on my local NBC channel in Minneapolis.

The same mostly goes for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You might catch a game here and there on NBC using your digital antenna, but just four of the six Stanley Cup Finals games were broadcasted on basic cable last season, and just 18 of the 87 Stanley Cup Playoff games were broadcasted on NBC last year. The rest of the games were on either NBC Sports Network, CNBC or USA -- all of which require either cable, satellite or a live streaming service to view. So here are the cheapest options for cable cutters to watch playoff hockey. Hint: purchasing cable or satellite television service is not one of them.

5) Xfinity Instant TV ($40 per month to start, $50 per month after first 30 days )

The first knock against Xfinity’s live streaming service is that it’s only available to Xfinity customers. The second is that their 30-day, free trial is only on its basic channel lineup of 10+ channels, so NBCSN, CNBC and USA are not even included. They do waive the $10 fee for the basic package during your first month, though.

Xfinity’s customer service is as bad or worse than any other Internet service or cable providers. I actually had a customer representative sign me up for the wrong package because she did not understand that NBCSN and CNBC were different channels than NBC. I specifically stated the only channels I cared about were NBC Sports Network and CNBC, and she still signed me up for the basic package that includes neither.

Now if you’re contract is expiring with your current Internet service provider or mobile data service provider, you might consider switching to Xfinity to take advantage of a low, introductory rate on Internet or their always affordable Xfinity Mobile data plan that’s just $12 per month for one gigabyte of data. I’ve used Xfinity Mobile for three months now and have never gone over the one-gigabyte allowance because my phone connects to all the public Xfinity Wifi signals automatically. Purchasing either would give you access to Xfinity Instant TV, but there are better deals out there.

4) Hulu ($39.99 per month after seven-day, free trial)

If all you want is NBC Sports Network, USA and CNBC to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting April 11, Hulu is not the best answer. But it is better than paying for Xfinity’s streaming service or two years of cable or satellite service. While Hulu offers shows on demand, if the only show you intend to watch is live hockey, you can do much better than $39.99 per month. Even if you intend to watch other shows, there are cheaper options available to cable cutters.

3) YouTube TV ($35 per month after seven-day, free trial)

YouTube TV is the newest streaming service on the market making waves, and at $35 per month for more than 50 channels, it’s a reasonable deal. Maybe after Google has acquired a share of the live streaming market, it will buy fewer ads and be able to lower the price. Until then, cable cutting hockey fans have cheaper options available.

2) Sling TV ($25 per month after seven-day, free trial)

Sling TV isn’t comparable to Hulu when it comes to on demand options, and it’s DVR service is an extra $10. It too offers just a seven-day, free trial, but hockey fans can save almost $15 per month going with Sling to stream NBCSN, USA and CNBC during the playoffs. You’d need to purchase the Sling Blue package of channels, which is $5 more expensive than Sling’s basic package, but you can cancel as soon as your team is eliminated. This is the best option for cable cutters who don’t have friends with cable or satellite television service on whom they can piggyback.

1) Piggybacking on the cable and satellite subscriptions of family and friends

The cheapest option for cable cutters to watch playoff hockey is to piggyback on the cable and satellite subscriptions of family and friends. Ask for their login information and save it somewhere. As long as you’re logged in with their credentials and declare their service provider as your own, you should be able to live stream whatever channels they get that are made available to stream live by the provider.


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The Minnesota Wild have already weathered multiple storms in their 2017-18 National Hockey League season, and NHL teams should be afraid -- very afraid -- because the Wild are finally healthy.

Wild Weathering Storms

Minnesota opened the season playing a schedule that didn’t allow players to get their legs under them. Playing once every four or five days to start the season not only stunted the Wild’s collective rhythm on both sides of the puck, but likely contributed to injuries.

Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Marcus Foligno all sustained injuries on Oct. 12 in Chicago. Minnesota came into its third game of the season on four days of rest, so it wasn’t as if the Wild were in rhythm or comfortable on their skates or in their schemes. The Blackhawks didn’t seem to be either, as the Wild found a way to get five goals past Corey Crawford for their first win of the year. But Minnesota lost Foligno for a game, Niederreiter for six and Coyle for 16. The Wild went on to win eight of those 16 games and earned a point in another -- weathering the storm.

Minnesota managed to survive another storm when its workhorse goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, was shut down for six games with a lower body injury sustained on Dec. 12. But backup netminder Alex Stalock preserved the Wild win over Calgary that day, making 17 saves and allowing just one goal. Stalock played well enough for the Wild to win half of their games in Dubnyk’s absence -- again, weathering the storm.

The Wild managed to remain in the Western Conference playoff picture despite losing Jared Spurgeon for nine games and Niederreiter for another five -- a testament to the improved depth of this season’s club. Both Ryan Murphy and Joel Eriksson Ek showed improvement upon last season’s performances to fill the big skates left by Spurgeon and Niederreiter.

Wild Prospects Improving Immensely

Ek’s relative Corsi and relative Fenwick were -12 and -11.3 last season. He’s posted a relative Corsi of -1.3 and relative Fenwick of .6 thus far this season. He still struggles in the faceoff circle, but that seems to be the case for many of the Wild players. The new faceoff rule changes saw Wild players booted from the circles regularly for the first few months of the season, but it’s occurring less and less. Minnesota is 15th in the league with a 50.4 faceoff win percentage but were sixth last season, winning 51.9 percent of faceoffs. Those faceoff numbers should improve as the season progresses, though.

Murphy was and remains an under-the-radar free agent signing. While he’s played just nine games with the NHL club, he’s lifted his 2016-17 relative Corsi from -5.3 to 3.3 and his relative Fenwick from -6 to 5.8. So far, his roughly 18 minutes of ice time per game has been much better than fellow defenseman Marco Scandella’s 18-minute average ice time last season. Scandella’s 2016-17 relative Corsi and relative Fenwick were -1.1 and -2.1, respectively.

And finally, Matt Dumba is starting to look like a keeper. Dumba’s strong slapshot is finding the net more often, and he’s been especially effective in overtime. Dumba’s just four goals shy of his total from last year because he’s taking more shots in the 2:24 of increased ice time he’s averaging this season.

Dumba’s shooting percentage is 10.6 this season -- 2.2 points higher than last year and a career high for Dumba. “Put the puck on net and good things will happen” is how the hockey cliché goes, and it’s especially true for powerful slapshots like Dumba’s. A 100-mile-an-hour puck is hard for goalies to see let alone catch, so most of Dumba’s shots are going to result in fat rebounds. That’s likely why he’s tied for third on the team with fellow defenseman Ryan Suter in point shares at 3.9. And while he still leads the team with 23 giveaways on the season, his relative Corsi is up to .3 after posting a -1.4 last year, and his relative Fenwick is also up from -2.7 to -.9.

Parise’s Back is Back in Action

On Thursday, in the Wild’s 41st game of the 2017-18 season, head coach Bruce Boudreau had his entire roster available for the first time all season. With half the season in the books, the Wild are finally healthy and managed to stay in contention for a playoff spot. They currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and trail Dallas by two points in the standings, but have played one less game and already beat the Stars at home this season. So the Wild’s ability to weather the storm of injuries that has held the team back in the first half of the season takes a lot of pressure off Zach Parise.

Boudreau knew he’d be without Parise to start the season but could only speculate as to how long it would take him to recover from back surgery and what kind of player he’d be post-surgery. But Parise might be one of the hardest working skaters you’ll see. He’s not the fastest, the biggest or the strongest, and his shot isn’t elite, so he skates with a chip on his shoulder. When he’s healthy (and even when he’s not), he looks like the hardest working player on the ice every second he’s out there. Tuesday was the first time I’ve seen him take it easy, and understandably so.

Parise skated on 20 shifts totalling 13:35 in ice time and put three shots on goal against the Florida Panthers in front of his home crowd. Despite Parise pacing himself, he wasn’t a liability on the ice. His 7.3 relative Corsi was sixth on the team, and his 72.7 offensive zone start percentage was second to only Chris Stewart’s 77.8 percent, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much given the sample size. He looked like a capable, third-line forward on Tuesday without exerting maximum effort, but he showed signs of his old self on Thursday.

Parise got into the scoring barrage against Buffalo after kicking a loose puck to his stick behind the Sabres’ net. He faked right, stopped on a dime and accelerated left to create separation from a defender. Then the best part of Parise’s game -- the part injuries and age can’t take from him -- displayed why the NHL should be very afraid of the Wild.

Parise knew his defender followed him behind the net, leaving the back side wide open for Coyle. Parise pushed a backhanded, wrap-around right through the blue paint and onto Coyle’s stick, who buried it in the wide open net to give Parise his first point of the season and the Wild a 6-0 lead just before the end of the second period.

The Wild still trailed the Sabres in shots on goal despite dominating puck possession and zone time, but the quality of their chances far exceeded that of the Sabres. Minnesota picked apart the league’s third-worst defense as measured by goals allowed like a playoff team should, and they didn’t let Buffalo back in the game like the last time the two played..

The Wild were up 3-1 after one period in Buffalo on Nov. 22 but let the Sabres make a game of it despite scoring twice more in the second period. It was 5-3 entering the third, and the Wild ended up playing the final 16 minutes with just a one-goal lead. Coach Boudreau has been hoping to see his team play a full 60 minutes, and the Wild are finally doing so and should be able to continue doing so now that everyone's healthy.

The Wild have an immediate opportunity to improve their playoff chances with a nationally televised game at Chicago on Wednesday, followed by a home game against the Winnipeg Jets, the second seed in the Western Conference as of this writing. After hosting Vancouver the following day, the NHL’s best visit Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 20, as Minnesota will seek revenge against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Wild were minutes away from earning a point in Tampa Bay with backup goalie Stalock in net before falling in regulation.


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After needing a shootout to beat the Central’s worst team, Colorado, at home just over a week ago, and allowing 13 goals over their next two games, the Minnesota Wild got their two biggest wins of their wild season over two of the Western Conference’s best teams.

Wild Now vs. Then

The Wild squad on Saturday was better than the team that was eliminated by the Blues in the playoffs last season, despite Zach Parise’s absence -- and the Wild dominated almost every aspect of that series with the Blues except where it counted most. The Wild defense is considerably different than it was last year despite the return of Nate Prosser a few days ago.

The addition of Marcus Foligno to a squad that delivered so few hits last season has resulted in more takeaways closer to their opponents’ goal. The Wild were second to last in hits per game last season and have raised their average per game by more than three so far this year. Foligno had six hits on Saturday -- two more than any other player.

Wild Defense Sparks Wild Offense

The Wild were also good defensively in the neutral zone on Saturday, and it resulted in six takeaways to St. Louis’s zero. The Blues’ struggles to carry the puck into the offensive zone forced them to alter their offensive zone entry strategy. The Blues resorted to dumping pucks in and chasing more often than they’d like, but that’s what happens when you can’t retain possession of the puck through the neutral zone.

The Wild’s first goal on Saturday was the result of a neutral zone turnover by the Blues. A seemingly unnoticeable step-up by Miko Koivu into Blues center Vladimir Sobotka at the Blues’ blue line forced a turnover to Matt Dumba at center as the Blues attempted a change. What resulted was a carry-in by Ryan Suter, who left a dropback pass to Jason Zucker. Suter then skated into his forecheck ever so innocently and was rewarded with a fat rebound off the slapshot of Zucker, which he bounced off goalie Jake Allen into the net. The ease of carrying the puck into the Blues’ zone rather than requiring the Wild a long dump-in resulted in a dropback pass and quick shot, which turned into assists for Zucker and Dumba.

In overtime, Anthony LaPanta pointed out that Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau changed his overtime strategy, starting the overtime period with two defensemen on the ice. You can always add a forward if you win the faceoff, so it’s perfectly logical. Since the Wild lost the overtime-opening faceoff, they got to defend the first Blues’ possession with two defensemen, and it paid off in an unexpected way.

The Blues got two shots on their first overtime possession, only one of which got through to Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. But having the offensive-minded defenseman Dumba on the ice sure seemed to be the difference in the game.

Dumba knew he had a chance to create an immediate scoring opportunity off the rebound of the Blues’ shot. He carried in quickly, made a pass to the charging Charlie Coyle, and buried Coyle’s pass back after Vladimir Tarasenko made a defensive mistake in failing to get inside position on Dumba. It made the 42-25 Blues lead in shots on goal and 35-21 faceoff advantage irrelevant, as did Dubnyk’s 41 saves. And the recently acquired Nate Prosser had a takeaway, a hit, three blocked shots and a shot on goal.

Wild Takeaways and Vegas Giveaways Lift Wild

The Wild’s forecheck and neutral zone defense against the surprising Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday was again key to a 4-2 win. The Wild led 9-6 in hits and overcame eight giveaways with a 29-23 edge in the faceoff circle, but three of the Wild’s four goals were the result of takeaways or Vegas giveaways.

Zucker forced a turnover behind the Vegas net that resulted in a shot on goal and an offensive zone faceoff, which the Wild won. A perfect pass from Mike Reilly led to a wide open shooting lane for Mikael Granlund, who bounced it off the post and in for the Wild’s first goal three minutes before the end of the second period.

At 2-2 with eight minutes to play, Eric Staal didn’t allow the Knights’ Pierre-Edouard Bellemare an easy clear up the boards, Dumba pinched to hold the zone, and Staal moved to the net to bury the deflection of Dumba’s slapshot.

The Wild’s empty net goal was also scored off a neutral zone turnover by the Knights. Staal intercepted a blue line entry pass and sent it slowly down the ice into the empty net.

Wild Schedule

The two wins put Minnesota seven points back of the Blues and Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference with the always tough California road trip upcoming. So instead of looking up at 10 teams in the Western Conference, the Wild are looking up at eight teams and are just a point out of the Wild Card.

After playing roughly once every five days to open the season, the Wild are entering the toughest stretch of their schedule. They entered the Vegas game having played three games in four days and will host Calgary (14-11-1), Toronto (17-10-1) and Edmonton (11-14-2) and visit Chicago (12-9-5) over the course of six days.

Wild Injuries

The Wild can do without Parise for a while, but they can’t do without Jared Spurgeon for too long. Spurgeon is out two weeks nursing a groin strain and could come back either Dec. 14 against Toronto or Dec. 16 against Edmonton. Most importantly, Spurgeon should be close to fully healthy when the Wild visit Chicago for a big, division game. The two are tied with 29 points this season.

With Parise skating in consecutive days on Thursday for the first time since having surgery to address nerve pain caused by a herniated disc in his back, the Wild are in much better position to welcome him back when he’s fully healthy. They won’t need Parise to be Parise right away, but in the playoffs, they will need his nose for the net if they’re to advance.


 

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A few months ago I wrote about how sports fans can save more than 50 percent on their cable and internet bills without missing their favorite teams’ games. Much of the savings came in the form of cutting cable and switching to online streaming services like MLB.TV and NHL.TV -- both operated by BAMTech.

Well, Disney is now the majority owner of BAMTech. So instead of enticing cable-cutting sports fans to re-enter the cable fray, ESPN will rely upon a stand-alone streaming service it intends to launch early in 2018.

The move to streaming is a big one for the “worldwide leader in sports,” as ESPN has long depended on cable subscribers paying $9 per month for its four channels -- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. But the network has lost 10 million subscribers to cable-cutting since 2010. That’s over $1 billion in lost revenue, which resulted in the termination of around 100 online journalists and television personalities.

ESPN executives hope to maximize revenue by meeting the needs of both cable-subscribing and cable-cutting sports fans, and apparently they know who’s who.

ESPN’s acquisition of majority ownership in BAMTech gives them access to the cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost, who are generally fans of sports not often televised nationally. ESPN will now get 75 percent of revenues from MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live, the Major League Soccer streaming service.

Also available via the ESPN streaming service will be the typical collegiate games available on the WatchESPN app, but not those televised on cable channels. Grand Slam tennis matches will also be streaming live.

Monday Night Football will still require a cable subscription, though. But if you live in the market of your favorite NFL team, a $25 digital antenna will get you most of their games in HD. Watching the NBA will also require either a cable subscription or NBA League Pass.

So what does this all mean for cable-cutting sports fans? Nothing really. It just means the majority of their money is going to ESPN rather than BAMTech. And while ESPN could roll MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live into its one streaming service and require customers to pay for all three streaming services, that’s likely a recipe to lose even more subscribers.

The real potential of the streaming services to ESPN is the advertising potential. If you’ve ever watched a game on MLB.TV, NHL.TV or MLS Live, you’re likely familiar with the “Commercial break is in progress” screen. This screen will likely appear less and less given Disney’s fat Rolodex of advertisers.

So not only will ESPN take back some of the 10 million cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost since 2010 via streaming services, it will also profit from filling the plethora of commercial breaks that have gone unfilled since the advent of sports streaming services. It should be a big win for Disney, and shouldn’t cost cable-cutting sports fans a penny more -- unless they see something advertised they just have to have.

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The Minnesota Wild cleared some salary by trading veterans Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo for left-wingers Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. The Wild and Sabres also traded draft picks, with the Wild receiving a 2018 third-round pick for a fourth-rounder.

Foligno provides the size and strength Minnesota was missing against the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. He was second amongst forwards in hits last year with 279, and should serve as an effective bottom-six forward who will score a dozen goals or so. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Wild will have to work out a deal, but it should be at a rate considerably less than what Pominville ($5 million) and Scandella ($4 million) were making.

Ennis was a top-six forward in the past but has been limited by injuries the last two seasons. He’s a friend of Jared Spurgeon’s and works out with him in the offseason. While he’s played center effectively in the past, Ennis is more likely to play left wing for the Wild. He’ll make $3.65 million this year and next and count $4.6 million towards the salary cap each season.

The money general manager Chuck Fletcher saved the Wild with this deal should go to extending restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. Both are due big raises following breakout seasons. Granlund went from a -12 plus-minus in 2015-16 to a 23 last season, and Niederreiter improved his plus-minus by eight points last season.

Granlund made $3.2 million last year, and Niederreiter made $2.67 million last season. Both were extended qualifying offers, so if they sign with another team the Wild will get draft pick compensation. That’s not likely to happen, though, as the Wild will need their services if they’re going to advance in the playoffs.

With $18.4 million in cap space now, Fletcher can not only retain both Granlund and Niederreiter, but sign a free agent veteran or two. The Wild will need a backup goalie, and the free agent market for goalies is deep, so the price should be right.

The Wild could also use a a couple of bottom-six defensemen, and can now afford to make a run at Trevor Daley or even 26-year-old Dmitry Kulikov, who’s coming off a down year. Some had their hopes set on a couple of Stanley Cup champions being signed by the Wild. Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen have both likely played their final seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they aren’t a great fit now that Fletcher has added two forwards.

The deal looks like a win for both teams, as Buffalo improved its defense immensely, and Minnesota got the physicality and scoring options it will need to compete with the best in the West. The fun has only just begun, as free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1.

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