Hello again everybody...
We've fooled them again! Another work week in the books. Another weekend looms before us. Okay, so the weather isn't slated to be as perfect as it was last weekend, but it's Spring (meteorologically speaking) in the upper Midwest. This is about as good as you could ask for.
Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow marks the beginning of the “one week til Phoenix” countdown? Just thought you'd want to know.
I'm starting to come out of my viral fog. At least I hope that's what all these pretty colors dancing before my eyes mean. It's either that, or somebody slipped some LSD into my orange juice. One of the two. Either way, it's a nice break in the daily routine, right?
Speaking of routine, you're used to your weekly dose of Updating on Friday, and I'm not about to disappoint you today!
Let's get to it!
”Humility is the embarrassment you feel when people tell you how wonderful you are.”
- Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988), educator and “hierarchiologist”
Despite the embarrassment, we still can't ever hear those things enough, right?
«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»
With that, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...
Dan's Favorite Teams Update
Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 31-27-4 (hello .500!), good for 66 points. They're 4th in the Northwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference, four points out of the 8th and final playoff spot.
Welcome back Wild!
The Wild came off their two-week Olympic break firing on all cylinders. Apparently the curse of the Saddle Dome in Calgary is a thing of the past, as the Wild have now won two in a row at that former house of horrors.
Niklas Backstrom pitched a 29-save shutout Wednesday night, only his second of the season, while Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette led the scoring with a goal and an assist apiece.
Who needs Eric Belanger anyway?
Okay, that's not exactly fair. But the Wild clearly didn't miss a beat after sending Belanger to the Washington Capitals for a second-round draft pick prior to Wednesday's trade deadline. It's tough to see a valuable piece like Belanger leave, but second round draft picks aren't anything to sneeze at. Plus, it's not like Eric was going to be the difference between a deep playoff run or missing the playoffs all together this year anyway. So I don't mind the deal, even though I'm sorry to see him go.
Looking at the Wild's moves leading up to the deadline, I'm not sure you can really label them a “buyer” or a “seller”. The move to bring in Cam Barker can be viewed as a “buyer” move, while shipping Belanger out east was clearly a “seller” move.
All in all, I think GM Chuck Fletcher did a nice job keeping his club competitive while making some moves to build towards the future. That's not an easy balancing act. Only time will tell for sure, but so far it looks like he's balancing it nicely.
As for this season? Wednesday night was a nice start, but the Wild have a long uphill slog ahead if they're going to make the playoffs. Four points out doesn't sound insurmountable. But as I've said repeatedly, it's not the point differential, it's the number of teams you have to climb over. And right now, the Wild would have to pass five teams to make the playoffs.
Think back to the past Twins season. As they came down the stretch they had a 7-game deficit they needed to erase to make the playoffs. But they only needed one team to go cold down the stretch (thank you Detroit). The Wild will need to be hotter than St. Louis, Anaheim, Dallas, Calgary, and Detroit in order to claim the right to face the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That's not impossible, but it's a lot to ask.
All they can do is focus on the games in front of them. When they have games against any of those five teams, those become must-wins. By my count, there are 7 of those left. Those are crucial, but really, the Wild can't afford to give away any points down the stretch. I'm not saying they've got to run the table - that's unrealistic. But they probably do have to win 13 or 14 of their final 20 at least to have a solid shot.
Again, not impossible, but not easy either.
Next up for the Wild is a game at Edmonton tonight, face-off is at 8pm central. Then it's back to the X for two - a must-win against Calgary on Sunday, and a should-win against Florida on Tuesday. After that, they head back on the road for a pair starting Thursday in Detroit (another must-win).
Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 22-7 (12-5 in the Big Ten). They're currently 4th in the conference, and ranked 15th in the country.
Wisconsin has bounced back nicely after that god-awful loss at Minnesota. Three straight wins has them back in the top tier of the Big Ten and positioned nicely for a run at the Big Ten title as well as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Two keys to the recent turn-around: 1. Jon Leuer has worked his way back into the starting lineup and the rest of the team has adjusted to his presence. 2. Improved defense.
Leuer's last three games: 11 points, 4 rebounds against Northwestern; 13 points, 7 rebounds vs. Indiana; and 18 points with 5 rebounds against Iowa.
Granted, those aren't top-tier Big Ten teams. But it's nice to see Leuer back in there if for no other reason than to take the pressure off some of the outside shooters.
Defensively, the Badgers have held their last two opponents below 50 points. Again, that's Indiana and Iowa we're talking about, so take it with a grain of salt. But the Big Ten Tournament is a defensive battle each and every game. So it's nice to see Wisconsin carry some momentum as they head into the post-season.
One last contest before the Big Ten Tournament starts, and it should be an interesting one. Wisconsin travels to Champaign, IL, on Sunday to take on the Illini - the only Big Ten team to beat Bucky at the Kohl Center this year. Is Illinois just a bad match-up for Wisconsin? Or did Bucky learn something from that defeat? We'll find out Sunday.
Maple Grove Crimson: The Lady Crimson are 25-2 (18-0 in the Northwest Suburban). They completed an undefeated Conference season on the way to a Conference title, and they're ranked 4th in the state in Class 4A.
I've been saying for weeks that the true test for the Crimson would come in their final two games of the regular season. One game was a nail-biter, the other they handled fairly easily.
I documented the 71-70 win over Centennial last week that clinched the conference title. That brought us to last Friday night against Conference-rival Osseo.
The Crimson entered that game 1-1 against Osseo on the season. They lost 55-53 on December 30th, and won 57-54 on January 26th. So, if nothing else, we could count on a close game, right?
Mmm... not so much.
Never mind that it was on the road, the Crimson jumped out to a 14-point lead at halftime and never looked back. Junior Ellen Edison had a phenomenal night, scoring 26 points. Senior Jen Field contributed 15 and 5 boards while junior Stephanie Davison poured in 10 points to go with her 6 rebounds.
That's how you dominate a rival folks. Wow. And it's going to be quite important as we go forward. More on that in a moment.
While the domination of the Orioles capped off an undefeated Conference season, that was merely the end of one journey. The goal of a State Tournament appearance began in earnest on Wednesday night with Sectionals.
Up first for Maple Grove were the Spring Lake Park Panthers this past Wednesday night. The Panthers came in 7-17 on the season with a 4-12 record in the North Suburban Conference. Not a big test? Perhaps. But it's the smaller bumps in the road that you don't see coming which often trip you up worst.
That wasn't the case this time.
The Crimson came out with another of their gang-buster first-halves. They took a 40-24 lead into halftime, and Spring Lake Park never got close in the second half as Maple Grove cruised to a 77-40 victory.
Up next? That's right. It's the Osseo Orioles again. Maple Grove's beaten Osseo at home and on the road, but the one loss to the Orioles came at a neutral site, and that will be the situation for the Section Semi-Finals on Saturday as the two teams meet at Anoka. A game I'll finally be in attendance for!
So if you've got nothing better to do Saturday evening, head on up to Anoka. Tip-off is at 5pm. I'll be the guy sitting behind Maple Grove's bench praying he's not putting the whammy on a team that's won 18 in a row. (Oof.)
Arizona Diamondbacks: We're not going to talk about the 2009 season right now. Instead, everybody's 0-0 and looking forward to 2010.
So if there isn't any record to speak of, why the hell am I Updating the Snakes?
Because they (unlike another Favorite Team whom I won't mention, except to say that a certain player agent has arrived in Camp to hopefully wrap up negotiations) signed one of their young stars to a big contract.
OF Justin Upton was the recipient of a 6-year, $51.25 million deal which was announced on Wednesday.
Upton hit .300 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI, along with making his first All-Star Team last season. So he certainly was deserving of a raise. And oh boy, did he get one.
As is usually the case with these kinds of deals, it's really a win-win for both sides. Upton gets long-term security and a whole mess of cash. The Diamondbacks buy out all of his arbitration years and provide themselves with short-term cost certainty.
Arbitration is a messy process folks. A team has to come in and argue why a player doesn't deserve the money they ask for, and that nearly always leads to animosity between that player and management. So avoiding it is in everybody's best interest, and that's just what the Diamondbacks did with Upton.
Now we'll see if they can get something ironed out with 3B Mark Reynolds. A similar deal wouldn't be out of the question. It's just a matter of the numbers making sense to both sides. I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't the last signing we hear of before the club breaks camp.
That's going to wrap things up for this week. Sorry if it was a bit more brief than usual, but I'm still writing through something of a fog. Gotta rest up. I've got big plans for the blog over my vacation, and I can't wait to share them with you all.
I'll be back on Monday. I'm not sure what with yet. But as usual, I'll come up with something!
Until then, thanks for reading!