Who is the NHL coach on the hottest of hot seats? Todd Richards is a strong candidate for the "honor" as the Wild has failed to make the playoffs each of the last two seasons and is having trouble selling tickets in a market where MLB's Twins and NFL's Vikings have been successful in recent years.
"Nobody in our front office thinks we're a team that's not going to make the playoffs. Period," Wild owner Craig Leipold told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, putting the heat squarely on Richards.
The Wild started its season by going 0-1-1 against the Hurricanes in Finland last weekend. They play eight of their next ten games at home and sputtering in that stretch could cost Richards his job.
"It could happen," Richard said. "It is a thought on my mind, without a question. But that's out of my control. I mean, really, all I can try to control is what's happening on the ice. And I have to do the job the best that I can and do what I think is right. (Former Milwaukee Admirals coach) Claude Noel told me a long time ago, 'the one thing you can truly appreciate is peace of mind.' For me, peace of mind is living your life the right way, but it's also doing your work the right way. I can honestly say that I believe we're doing all the right things, so I'll just focus on what I can control."
Meanwhile, the Wild are trying to drum up more interest in the Twin Cities and COO Matt Majka says the team has had to be more creative and work harder than ever to sell tickets in a tough economy. Majka acknowledges that the Wild's season-ticket base has suffered but won't say how much it has decreased. While Majka says the Wild will still be in the top six in the league in attendance, there may be some uncustomary empty seats at the Xcel Energy Center this season.
"In a strange way, it's woken up the organization," Majka said. "But hockey in Minnesota, when we get things right, we will be in a great spot again with the fans. The team has to do its part, and probably it's true that in our 10th season, that matters more than in our first or fifth season."
Rangers Finally Have Young Core
The Rangers had a pretty quiet summer for a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. However, that happened by design.
The Rangers are putting a young group of core players together to complement superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik. That core includes forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, and defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. The best of all, though, might be Derek Stepan, who became just the fourth player to record a hat trick in his NHL debut last Saturday against the Sabres.
"By them staying together and being together and familiar with our team concept growing together, that's where your team starts getting better," coach John Tortorella said. "I know it wasn't a real active summer, but it was a summer I thought was really good for the New York Rangers because the kids are here and our core is still here and they're going to work another year together. We have our foundation."
Lundquvist became the first Rangers goaltender to start five consecutive openers since Mike Richter. The netminder believes great things are in store for the Rangers.
"After being here for five years, I have a greater understanding of the league, and what I've learned especially after missing the playoffs last year is that you can't take anything for granted because you never know how many opportunities you're going to get to win the Stanley Cup," Lundqvist told the New York Post. "You have to approach each season with the mentality that it's an opportunity to do something special. We really haven't accomplished that since I've been here. I haven't accomplished that. We've gone one round and two rounds a couple of times, but that isn't good enough. I want more. I don't know how the other teams look, but I want to believe that we can finish in the top half of the conference. It's going to be a tight race again, and it seems like it gets tighter every year from the top to the bottom, but I like this group here, I really do."
Sabres Face Tougher Schedule
The schedule maker is doing the Sabres no favors in 2010-11 as they have 22 sets of back-to-back games, the most in the NHL. It started right away for the Sabres as they opened the season last Friday with a victory over the Senators on the road in Ottawa on Friday night then came home and lost to the Rangers the next evening.
"Some teams that play fewer back-to-backs are going three hours and 3-in-the-morning type of deals," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've become accustomed to it, and some of those are quick turnovers for us. It's a lot easier than a lot of teams. Ours is an hour flight or less a lot of times. We can be back in our homes by midnight or 12:30."
The Sabres will play 44 games on consecutive nights, more than half the 82-game schedule. That could force Ruff to rest star goaltender Ryan Miller more often. Another possibility is limiting Miller's practice time.
"If I need to get a good practice in, I need to practice and do maintenance on my body and get away from the rink," Miller said. "It's not about being here three hours to get the time in to feel right. It's just about getting efficient practice time in and getting out and resting and managing. It's something that last year can definitely help because there was a lot of management when it came to my energy level, my rest and even my brain."
The Sabres were 11-18-6 during the previous two seasons on the second night of back-to-back games.
Canucks Make Cost-Cutting Moves
The Canucks needed to spend the week leading up to their opener working to get under the salary cap of $59.4 million. At least one of the players jettisoned in the cost-cutting moves believes the team may have lost its toughest because of some of the transactions.
"The Canucks will see it very quickly when they see teams like that," Darcy Hordichuk told the Vancouver Province after being traded to the Panthers for fellow enforcer Andrew Peters. "Look at the Canucks' skilled guys. If I go after them, it forces one of those guys to step up in that role that I had or be shoved into it."
The Canucks also traded rugged defenseman Shane O'Brien to the Predators for young blue liner Ryan Parent.
Hordichuk quickly had a chance to validate his point as the Panthers visited the Canucks on Monday night. Yet he did not incur any penalty minutes in the Canucks' 2-1 victory. In fact, there were just three minor penalties called, all against the Canucks.
John Perrotto is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.