Let’s return to the blog on a pleasant note

I’m back from vacation today. I haven’t been to work in 10 days, and during that time the Minnesota Twins have not won a game. So there’s plenty to talk about there, but let’s leave the nine-game losing streak alive for a moment and talk some puck.

As entertaining as the NHL playoffs can be, the lack of Versus on my provider’s basic package has kept me from watching all but a few of the playoff games that popped up on NBC.

I’ve become much more interested in Winnipeg’s pursuit of an NHL franchise. That would give the Fargo-Moorhead market two NHL teams within about a three-hour drive. So I think it was pretty big news when it was reported that the Atlanta Thrashers owners are talking with a group that’s very interested in buying the team and bringing it to Winnipeg.

The NHL – as of yet – has not interfered with this deal in the same way that it has in other potential moves of franchises, so it appears this could definitely happen. A very motivated seller with a very motivated buyer. Not much is in the way right now.

And it’s been reported that the NHL is working on a schedule for Winnipeg should this happen quick enough to bring a team back as early as next season.

I think this is pretty exciting news for our area. From an F-M perspective, this is almost as big of news as the NHL returning to the Twin Cities. I’m curious to know how many of you out there would go to Winnipeg to see an NHL team play. If Manitoba got a team, would it impact you in any way? Less Wild games for you? Leave a comment.

Richards’ firing shows Wild could be feeling sense of urgency

I got to say – as a sometimes casual observor of the Minnesota Wild – that I didn’t expect to see the coach get fired one day after the season ended.

But that’s what happened today. The Minnesota Wild fired head coach Todd Richards, less than 24 hours after the Wild won their season finale 5-3 against Dallas to eliminate the Stars from playoff contention.

That was the only thing the Wild were playing for yesterday, having been eliminated from the playoff chase a while back.

Richards coached the team for only two seasons. And in all honesty, they were a pretty forgettable two years. He was given the task of turning the defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire clubs into more potent offensively driven teams. But the Wild finished 26th among 30 NHL teams in goals scored this season.

The Wild just wrapped up their 11th season. They have sold out the Xcel Energy Center in seemingly every game of their existence. Despite the lackluster on-ice results, fans love going to the “X”.

At work last week, I said, “It’s really amazing what’s going on with the Wild. When the Wolves stink, people just don’t go. The Wild have done nothing, yet fans around here love them. I don’t get it.”

Some of it has to do with the arena. Comparing the “X” to the Target Center is like comparing Target Field to the Metrodome, or comparing Joe Mauer to catchers of Twins past, like Marcus Jensen or Matt Walbeck. One is top-of-line, while the other is merely big league.

I just wonder if giving Richards only two years is a sign that Wild management might be wondering if the honeymoon with fans could end soon. Or will it ever end? Will fans eventually grow frustrated with having seen just three playoff appearances in 11 years despite generating huge amounts of revenue for the franchise and quit going to the “X” or turn off their TVs? I really don’t know.

NHL would benefit greatly from TV deal with ESPN

ESPN is reportedly prepared to make a run at the National Hockey League’s TV rights, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Here’s a link to the Mediaweek report.

Like a lot of sports fans, I live in one of those 35 million households that gets ESPN but not Versus, which is where the NHL currently has its games broadcast. That means for the last five years, if it wasn’t a Minnesota Wild game, I probably wasn’t watching it (except for the occasional weekend broadcast on NBC later in the season).

But an NHL deal with ESPN goes beyond just getting their games broadcast in 50 percent more homes than they already do.

ESPN is the worldwide leader. Whether you like it or you hate it, a partnership with the network automatically adds more credibility to the product. The NFL knows it. MLB knows it. Heck, Major League Soccer knows it.

More exposure. More relevance. What’s not to like for the NHL?

I really hope ESPN is able to get this done. I used to be a pretty loyal NHL fan, but I’ve been boxed out from watching any games that don’t involve the local market, unless I want to pony up the money to move up a tier on my current cable/satellite package, which I do not.

Canucks player likely to be suspended after altercation with Wild fan

For those of you who didn’t see last night’s Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks game, there was an incident involving a Wild fan and Vancouver’s Rick Rypien.

Rypien was heading down the tunnel toward the locker room after getting ejected when he reached into the stands and shoved a Wild fan, who from the video looks like he was merely applauding. Maybe something was said by the fan, but it looked pretty harmless. And it appears the Wild fan and his friend were ejected from the game, which also seemed undeserved. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

Here’s the video:

Twins locked in familiar October setting, and a must-see video

October in these parts means a lot of things. The air is cooling (though not lately for some reason). The leaves are falling. And the Minnesota Twins are losing.

For the 12th consecutive playoff game, the Twins lost. That’s one short of the big league record. And Saturday’s loss not only extended an incredible streak, but it ended a season so full of anticipation.

A season that started with a new stadium and a payroll reaching new heights ended much like many previous seasons for the Twins, and that’s by losing a first-round playoff series to the hated New York Yankees.

Let’s forget about how that happened again for one second, and instead focus on what the Twins can do to change it. I mean, at some point, you start to wonder if there’s something wrong with that clubhouse. Twelve straight postseason losses.

Do you replace manager Ron Gardenhire, who might win AL Manager of the Year, yet I’ve heard a few people suggest firing him? Is it time to gut the roster pretty significantly and try to get some different pieces? What can be done?

Or are you willing to accept that the 12 straight playoff losses are coincidental? Are they simply the result of bad luck combined with teams that were overmatched?

But it’s not like the Twins are the Minnesota Timberwolves of the late-1990s. That team was frequently overmatched in its playoff series and I don’t think they ever lost a series I thought they should have won.

These Twins and the ones in 2006 got swept, and both teams had home-field advantage. The 2006 Twins were red-hot entering the playoffs only to lose three straight to an inferior Oakland A’s team.

While the 2006 loss may have been the most inexplicable, the 2010 sweep has to be the most disappointing. The bump in payroll was supposed to transform the Twins from the “Little Engine That Could” into a legitimate World Series threat. The bar was raised this year, and the team failed to rise to the occasion.

I really don’t know what can be done. To me, firing Gardy would be like when the Wolves let go of Flip Saunders. I hated that decision at the time, and look at how far that franchise has fallen since his dismissal. People can be upset, but things could be a lot worse.

But at the same time, every MLB team’s goal is to win the World Series. And if there’s a culture within the clubhouse that’s preventing that from happening, then something has to change. Because let’s face it, if  you’re going to win the World Series, you’re probably going to have to win three games against the Evil Empire. They’re not going away. Teams with $200 million payrolls rarely do.

Finally, I leave you with a must-see video. From the guy that brought you Ric Flair, I give you the intro video that Alaska-Fairbanks uses prior to its men’s hockey games. It’s epic. Check it out.

The Wild and so much more on Sports Talk

Ben Karkela and I will be on "Sports Talk" from 1-2 p.m. today on 970-AM WDAY.

Today, we’ll be talking to Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. We’ll ask him about the reasoning behind his offseason push for Moorhead’s own Matt Cullen, the chances of signing Mike Modano and a bunch of other stuff.

We’ll also talk to UND hockey beat writer Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald about the big – well, he’s only 5-foot-6, but he’s really, really good – recruit that the Sioux landed.

And Karkela and I will break down the Timberwolves’ trade of Al Jefferson, plus we’ll take a look at the top five keys to the Twins’ second half.

To take part in the show, call 293-9000 or (800) 279-9329 or e-mail talk@wday.com

Wild GM on Sports Talk on Wednesday

Still working on a guest or two for "Sports Talk" tomorrow (Wednesday) from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY.

The one guest I know that Ben Karkela and I will have is Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. We’ll talk to Fletcher about the Wild’s offseason, including the signing of Moorhead’s Matt Cullen and any interest in former North Stars forward Mike Modano.

Feel free to drop any questions you have for Fletcher in the Comments section of this post.

Check back to this blog tomorrow for more show details.

Modano talking to Wild about return to Minny

No shocker here. Mike Modano and the Minnesota Wild are discussing a contract to bring the 40-year-old back to Minnesota.

I was wondering last week whether or not the Wild would pursue this. There were rumors Modano was going to play for the Detroit Red Wings, but nothing has happened yet, so there must be some sort of a hold-up.

For a franchise that has lacked players appealing to the "Average Joe," the Wild would be making a good call in bringing the former Minnesota North Stars standout back. I just hope it doesn’t turn out like Ken Griffey Jr. with the Seattle Mariners this year.

On the radio today

I make my weekly appearance on "Sports Talk" today from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY radio.

Today, Kerry Collins and I will be talking to NHL free agent Matt Cullen, who finished last season with the Ottawa Senators. The Moorhead High School grad will discuss the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals and his offseason.

We’re also going to talk about tonight’s opener at Red River Valley Speedway, and we’ll discuss New York City/New Jersey getting the Super Bowl in 2014. Is a cold weather Super Bowl a good idea?

To take part in the show, call 293-9000 or (800) 279-9329 or e-mail talk@wday.com

On the radio today

If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to catch "Sports Talk" from 1-2 p.m. today on 970-AM WDAY radio.

I’ll be joined in studio by Forum reporter Kerry Collins.

We’ll be talking a lot of puck on today’s show. The Fargo Force will be in Green Bay for a winner-take-all Game 5 of the USHL Clark Cup Finals tonight. We’ll be talking to Force player Matt Leitner about the series.

Also on the show today is one of our neighbors of the north. Darren Ford – who has run a "Return of the Winnipeg Jets" website for the last seven years – will call in from Manitoba to talk about the possibility of the Jets getting their franchise back. The Glendale, Ariz., City Council voted last night to absorb any losses the Phoenix Coyotes – formerly the Jets – would incur this season if ownership isn’t found. That’s a blow to Winnipeg’s chances.

You can take part in the show by calling (701) 293-9000 or (800) 279-9329 or e-mail talk@wday.com.