5-9-11: While I Was Away, Pt. 2...

Hello again everybody...

Allow me to begin the week with this caveat: I've got no clue what's coming after today.

So far, my return to regular blogging has been far more regular than I had anticipated. That's because I had a couple of ideas in the bank (one of which turned into this two-parter) and then a no-hitter dropped out of the sky.

But as I sit here penning this particular column, I've got no earthly idea what form the next one will take, or when it's going to get published.

So be forewarned. I hope you enjoy today's missive and have patience with me, should I fail to produce something for Wednesday... or for Friday... or for... well, you get the idea!

One other quick note before I get things going today. A lot of people wondered why I didn't include a Kentucky Derby pick on Friday. The truth is, I didn't have one. I started looking at the stats on Wednesday after the post-draw, but by Friday I still hadn't settled on a horse. By the time Saturday came around, I couldn't narrow down my choices to the point where I felt comfortable making a wager. And I'm glad I didn't.

In the end, I could've made arguments for at least half-a-dozen horses, and the winner, Animal Kingdom, wasn't any of them. Sometimes you get surprise winners because of track conditions, or because a favorite falters. In this year's Derby, we got a surprise winner because the field was just that lousy. The favorite was only a favorite by default, and the two horses whose betting lines moved the most were a very mediocre horse ridden by Calvin Borel which took action simply because he'd won three of the last four Derbys - one on a 50-1 long shot - and a decent horse ridden by a 23-year-old woman which took action because she was trying to become the first female jockey ever to win the Derby. When those factors are the ones moving the needle? Yeah, you've got a lousy race on your hands.

Truthfully, I have no clue what's going to happen in the Preakness. I assume Animal Kingdom will run in it, but as lousy as the Derby was, I'm not expecting great things.

Okay, moving on.

When we left things on Friday, the Giants had won the pennant, the Giants had won the pennant, the Giants had won the... okay, well they won the World Series actually. But I love that call of Bobby Thompson's home run as much as any other baseball rube, so there you go.

The Giants won the series, the Vikings imploded and the Badgers lost the Rose Bowl. So what else happened while I was on my blogging hiatus?

I'm so glad you asked! I've got three more topics to discuss, and I'll get to them...

Right after the quote!

“Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”
- Will Rogers (1879 - 1935), American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer and actor.

Ever forward, my friends. Ever forward! ...unless you're taking a look back at things, such as in this little column, which I like to call...

While I Was Away, Part 2...

The Big Ten came up with “Leaders” and “Legends”... and I'm still trying to figure out how much money they threw away on that dreck.

Regular readers may recall a column I wrote last July where I laid out my arguments both for Big Ten divisional alignments, and division names.

The actual alignments ended up being close, but not exactly what I'd envisioned. I don't have a huge problem with the way they worked out, but selfishly, I'm not a huge fans of the Badgers getting lumped in the same division as Ohio State.

I do, however, have an enormous problem with the concept that the Big Ten paid a consulting firm to come up with division names, and ended up with “Leaders” and “Legends”.

Really?! That's what we're going with?!

You could lock three eight-year-olds in a room with a box of crayons and a pile of candy and they'd end up with something better than “Leaders” and “Legends”!

Look, I knew that my idea of “Griffin” and “Ameche” divisions probably wasn't going to fly. Picking two former coaches or players, no matter how prominent their history, was bound to irk somebody in the conference, so I don't mind them going in another direction.

I just wish that direction wasn't “let's pick two of the most generic nouns we can find, and as long as they start with the same letter, everybody will think they're okay”.

If that's your primary criteria, then why not “Tree” and “Turkey”... or “Steel” and “Stone”... or even “Samson” and “Samsonite”?! I mean seriously, any of those have as much to do with Big Ten football as “Leaders” and “Legends” do!

I just don't feel like I can stress this point enough... the conference paid serious money to a group that came back with “Leaders” and “Legends”, and not only did the brain wizards NOT demand their money back, they held a press conference and announced the names on their own network like they were the greatest thing since sliced bread!

I'll give conference commissioner, Jim Delaney, this much credit. Within weeks of the - well “tepid” is probably too kind of a term - fan response to the announcement, he'd already announced that the ideas for division names would be revisited.

Just do me one favor, Jim. While you're “revisiting” that subject, take “Leaders” and “Legends” out behind the woodshed and put them out of their misery, would you please?

For the record, I have no clue whether Wisconsin resides in the “Leaders” or “Legends” division. And if that bit of knowledge fails to ever work it's way into my brain, I'll be just fine, thank you.


The wheels came off the Wild's season & they fired their coach... not to mention they switched radio stations!

No one was expecting the Wild to compete for the Stanley Cup this year. In fact, I don't think there was a very large group of people who were shocked by the fact that they failed to make the post-season... again.

But as late as February, the team was very much in the hunt for a play-off spot and the spectacular manner in which they failed to make it was both surprising and disappointing. And in the end, it cost head coach Todd Richards his job.

It's tempting to blame the Wild's late-season downward spiral on injuries. Any club that loses two of its top scorers - in their case, Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck - to injury for a significant period of time is bound to experience a drop-off in production.

The trouble for the Wild was that Koivu and Clutterbuck were hardly elite scorers to begin with, so when they're leading your team, and they go out with injuries, that production “drop-off” is more like “falling off a cliff”.

Marty Havlat was the best player the club had left, only he doesn't seem to be able to stay interested for more than a week at a time. And even when he's at his best, he's fairly soft on the puck. On rare occasions this season, we witnessed his potential as he went into what I like to call “beast mode” and drove to the net, shedding defenders left and right, to score. Sadly, those moments were far to rare to justify the massive contract he was signed to. In the end, he ended up with an “injury” that kept him out of the final games after the Wild had already been eliminated. I'm not sayin' he was getting an early jump on the golf season, I'm just sayin'...

Guillaume Latendresse got hurt early in the year, rehabbed for most of the season, and then tried to make a comeback in the latter stages. But when you're trying to go from zero to “team scoring leader” in a situation like that, well, it's just not bound to work out terribly well.

Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom was a top-tier netminder under Jacques Lemaire's defensive system. Under the up-tempo, offensive-minded system of Todd Richards? Not as much. That's not entirely Nick's fault. When you're hung out to dry by sub-par defensive play as many times as he was this year, your stats aren't going to look as good as they otherwise could. But I think it was clear that his play dropped off a bit as well. Whether that was a confidence issue related to the system or not, I'm not sure, but he wasn't the same Nick Backstrom that we're used to seeing.

In the end, I'm not really sure Richards deserved to get fired. He was trying to implement an up-tempo system with a roster full of players who simply aren't capable of playing that style.

That being said, he was never able to adjust his style to one that suited the players he had, and he certainly deserves a fair amount of criticism for that.

He also deserves a bit of heat for the fact that the players that were left at the end of the season, clearly quit. And ultimately, that factor is why I'm not going to raise a huge stink about his firing.

While I'll contend that the primary impetus for his firing was an owner who's concerned about the erosion of his season ticket base, and thinks a new head coach might buy him some time until the roster can be made competitive, I'll go along with it, because I don't think Todd Richards was respected by his players enough to get things turned around.

So where do the Wild stand going into next season?

It's tough to say really. They seem trapped in that no-man's land, where they're just bad enough to miss the playoffs, but they're not SO bad that they end up with a high draft pick that allows them to get a Stamkos, a Crosby, an Ovechkin... or dare I say it? A Gaborik?

(Sorry folks, but he's still the most talented player this franchise has ever had, and as much as I like Koivu, it's not that close.)

I hate to say it, but I really think things are going to have to get a lot worse before they can get better. The recent history of this league shows that you don't become a Stanley Cup contender through free agency. You become one by bottoming out, drafting wisely and developing star players within your organization. While it's true that the Wild's AHL affiliate is one win away from advancing to the AHL's Western Conference Finals, there aren't any players down there that you can look at and say, “there, that guy... he'll be the difference”.

My opinion is, the Wild should deal whatever veterans they can, go young, suck the bag for a couple of years, draft wisely and hope they can construct a contender two or three years from now.

It doesn't seem like that's the way they're going to go, and I dearly hope they prove me wrong. I'm just not going to bet on it.

To add insult to my hockey injury, the Wild are moving their broadcasts up the dial to KFAN. I'm not going to say I'm floored by this move, but I am sincerely disappointed. Especially since the station I work for replaced them with the Minnesota Timberwolves (how many of you knew we still have an NBA team in this state... be honest!).

There's a long story as to how and why that all happened, but it's not for me to tell here. Suffice it to say, I understand why the move was made, and am going to do what I can to talk myself into it. I doubt I'll be terribly successful - especially with an NBA lockout looming - but for the sake of my career, I'm going to try!


The Twins got off to their worst start in ages... Yes, the one franchise it seemed we could count on to save us from the sporting gloom that seems to be hanging over this state, has only managed to further deepen said gloom so far this season.

The Twins are currently 12-20, and 9.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

I'll give you a moment or two to wrap your head around that concept: the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

I've just typed it twice, and I'm still not sure I actually believe it.

So how do I begin to explain what's going on with the Home 9?

I'm not really sure what else to say, except that literally nothing has gone right for this club so far.

They haven't hit well, they haven't pitched well, and they haven't played very good defense.

You can stay competitive if you can manage to be successful in two of those three areas, but when you go 0-for-3? Well, you end up with a 12-20 record after five weeks of games.

The Twins have two things going for them: one, the season is only five weeks old. 32 games in, means there's roughly 4/5ths of the season left to be played. And two, sooner or later, they're going to get healthy and have their full contingent of regulars with which to field a lineup.

Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have all spent time on the DL. That's a serious chunk of your offense that's been unavailable for a significant period of time.

The only problem with counting on their return is that the club wasn't exactly lighting up the ol' scoreboard before those guys went out, either. The best hope is that the reasons for their early-season struggles were the precursors to the injuries that led to their absence - i.e. Joe Mauer played like crap because his legs weren't ready to take on the burden of a full-time catcher after his off-season surgery. If that's the case, then taking time off to get healthy will hopefully lead to an offensive resurgence when they return.

If it's not the case... well, I don't want to think that way just yet.

You'll notice, however, that I didn't include any pitchers in that list of missing players. The Twins haven't had any injuries to their starting five. And while the bullpen has had a consistently-revolving door between it and the AAA-affiliate, very few of those changes have been injury-related.

Put simply, the pitching has sucked so far this season. The Twins starters have the second-worst ERA in the American League (only Kansas City's is worse) and the third worse WHIP (Kansas City and Toronto are worse in that category). Basically, the starters are putting a lot of runners on base, and far too many of them are coming around to score.

As for the bullpen? Their ERA and WHIP are both 10th out of the 14 AL teams. So relatively speaking, they haven't been as bad as the starters, but they've sucked plenty all the same.

So while there's reason to hope that the offense will come around, there aren't any easy excuses to point to with the pitching. Even if we can say that it was a mistake to let both Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier go as free agents, that doesn't explain the poor results from the starters.

When the best I can come up with is, “maybe if the boys start scoring some runs, that will take some pressure off the pitchers and they'll get back in their groove” - well, let's just say I'm not going to be selling a lot of hope with that theory.


So there you have it folks. Those are the things that stood out to me as I sat and thought about what happened during the six months that I was trying desperately to focus on the job.

What's going to happen over the next six months? I can only hope it won't be quite so depressing!

That journey starts with my next column... the subject and publication date of which are still to be determined... but it's coming... eventually... I promise!

Until next time, thanks for reading!