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The Wild traded for ex-Gopher Jordan Leopold today before the deadline in a move designed to bolster their defensive group.
You could choose to believe that the seeds of the trade were planted during some conversation between execs with the Wild and Columbus, but WE CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IT WAS SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
We’re going to believe it was all thanks to a letter Leopold’s daughter sent the Wild, apparently sometime this season, basically begging them to bring her dad home.
Here’s the letter, as tweeted by KFAN:
— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) March 2, 2015
Nikola Pekovic has never played more than 65 games in a season. When the Wolves signed him to a five-year, $60 million contract extension in the summer of 2013, the motivation was two-fold:
1) They thought they were building a contender around Kevin Love, and offensively Love and Pek worked very well together. So in order to convince Love to stick around, and without other options at center, they couldn’t afford to let Pek walk.
2) They were hoping Pek would stay healthy enough — maybe missing 15 games a year — to justify the expense because, when healthy, he is a productive (albeit unique) post player.
Since signing that extension, Pek has played 81 of the Wolves’ 140 games. We would bank on that number staying at 81 for a while, now that Pekovic’s bothersome ankle problem has flared up again.
Last year, his 54 games were productive: 17.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 54.1 percent shooting from the field. You could almost live with him doing that and only playing two-thirds of the games for the life of the contract.
This year, those numbers — without Love spreading the floor and giving him more room to work down low — have dipped to 13.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg on a dismal 42.9 percent shooting. His health problems seem to be limiting his mobility, to the point that he’s a candidate to have his shot blocked on every post-up or putback.
He just turned 29, so this should be the prime of his career. But he’s also a giant man who puts a lot of pressure on those poor ankles and feet. There is a nagging suspicion that — without Love and with those injuries — this is close to the version of Pek we are destined to see for the life of the contract (another three years, at roughly $12 million per year, after this season).
And that would create a two-fold problem: First, that’s a lot of money and years left for a player who might not fit into the team’s current style and whose production has diminished. Second, it potentially puts the Wolves in an awkward spot if they get one of the top two picks in this year’s draft and have a shot at an elite college big man because that player, plus Pek, plus Gorgui Dieng would be quite a logjam at center.
Our best guess is the Wolves would still take an elite big man if they got that chance, and then try to move Pekovic to another team. To do that, though, they would probably have to take back another big contract.
Unless Pek makes a magical transformation and can return to even his 2013-14 production level, his is the one contract you look at, long-term with the Wolves, and cringe at. It won’t kill them, cap-wise, but it will weigh them down.
Lets get Nuclear!
Before we get to the weekend preview, I want to give a shout to the Vikings for putting on a cool event for soccer fans last Sunday at Brits in Minneapolis. The Vikings treated everyone to free beer, breakfast buffet, t-shirts and pint glasses. Thanks, Zygi! This was part of their continued interest in getting an MLS franchise to play in the new Vikings stadium. I have been very open on social media that I prefer the other group lands a team, but I have to give the Vikings credit for putting on a fun event. VP Lester Bagley even came — although I didn’t see him move more than a few feet from the door. Don’t be shy, Lester! Us soccer folk are good people!
Alright, it’s a lopsided slate of matches this weekend with all of the meat worth sinking your teeth into coming on Sunday. Great triple-header, though. And definitely worth getting up early for.
Onto the matches!
No. 1: Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield
When: Sunday at 6:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: This was the match where Liverpool fans believed they won their first Premier League trophy. They beat City 3-2 after blowing a 2-0 goal lead but finding a winner from Philippe Coutinho in the 78th minute. They controlled their own destiny with four matches to go but lost to Chelsea, blew a 3-goal lead at Palace and finished two points behind City. One of the biggest crotch-shots in recent sports history.
Set those alarm clocks! Earrrrrly start for this one. If 6:00am freaks you out, sleep in a bit later. I talked to Shane the manager over at Brits and he says they are showing the match on tape-delay at 7:30 with doors opening at 7:15. As always, the Liverpool fans will be out in force at Brits.
Everyone, including Wessel de Nuclear, wrote Liverpool off months ago. Thought it would be a one-and-done for them returning to Champions League and not another sustained run of top-four finishes their supporters were dreaming of. Now they haven’t lost in their last 10 league matches and sit two points out of third place.
They’ll welcome a City team with renewed confidence in their bid for the title after picking up two points on Chelsea by embarrassing Newcastle 5-0 last Saturday. A win over Liverpool would cut their deficit to two points against Chelsea and put all the pressure on the Blues to win the game-in-hand they’ll have due to the League Cup final on Sunday.
This one has the stench of a draw lingering all over it but a win for either side is important enough that hopefully we see that back-and-forth frantic action we all love and crave.
No. 2: Arsenal vs Everton at Emirates Stadium
When: Sunday at 8:05AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These two played to a 1-1 draw last December at Emirates Stadium with both goals coming after the 80th minute. You might not believe this (just kidding, you should absolutely believe this), Arsenal blew the 1-0 lead.
Arsenal sit alone in the race for the third place trophy with 48 points. They might have just cinched the thing up already had it not been for losses to other top-four contenders Southampton and Tottenham in the last month.
Everton continue to embarrass the idiots like myself who made them their sneaky pick to finish in a Champions League spot. Tim Howard continues to look like the kid that gets thrown in to play goalie that doesn’t want to in a U-12 match instead of the Captain America he was last summer vs Belgium. The man is entitled to a rough season but it just makes me sad to watch whenever they are on TV.
Arsenal suffered a horrible 3-1 loss to Monaco at home in the first leg of the Round of 16 in Champions League. They have now been outscored 12-2 in their last four Round of 16 first leg matches. Oof. It appears to be another one-and-done for Arsenal in the knockout round.
They will be the favorites to take three points against Everton, but it is fair to wonder what kind of effect the Monaco match will have the rest of the way. Arsene Wenger has always done a great (and underappreciated) job keeping Arsenal in the top four. They haven’t finished better than third since 2005 but they have always kept their head above Champions League water- sometimes by margins as small as the zipper on Wenger’s sleeping bag jacket. But maybe this — one of the most competitive races in recent memory — is when they finally slip up. Then the Gunner fans that called for Wenger’s head during the years of top-four finishes and Champions League will really have something to whine about.
No. 1: Chelsea vs Tottenham at Wembley Stadium in the League Cup Final
When: Sunday at 10:00AM on beIN Sports
Last time: Chelsea and Spurs last met in a Cup Final in 2008. Spurs hoisted the trophy after Spurs went up 2-1 late in added time and Chelsea couldn’t equalize. The last time they met in an FA Cup semi-final? 2012 when Chelsea won 5-1. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing, really. I just wanted to type it.
The League Cup is an odd thing. Of the four trophies an English side can win each year, it is by far the least significant. Top Premier League teams field mostly youth sides in the early going to get bench players some run. Nobody — fans, players, managers — really sheds a tear if they get knocked out. But if your team keeps winning, you get to a point where everyone just sorta says We came this far, might as well win the thing.
This year’s final is spicier than usual and actually appeals to neutrals for the first time in a while. Does anyone remember when Swansea City beat Bradford 5-0 a few years back? Does anyone even remember who played in the final last year? I’ll be honest, I had to look it up. City beat Sunderland 3-1. Woo!
The Chelsea/Spurs London rivalry is certainly not as big as it’s Spurs/Arsenal counterpart but it is still juicy. It had been very one-sided for years before Spurs poured some gasoline on the fire to renew things with a 5-3 win on New Year’s Day — their first win over Chelsea since 2010.
A trophy, 100,000 pounds (no idea how to do the cool pound sign on a keyboard) and a spot in Europa League are all on the line. But none of that really matters to either side all that much.
What’s really on the line here is pride and the thrill of defeating your rival at Wembley. Spurs catch a break with Nemanja Matic being suspended for pushing a man who tried to end his career last Saturday against Burnley. Matic is a key cog to this Chelsea squad and, somehow, underrated by folks who point to Chelsea’s big knockers when talking about the team’s success. But the Blues have quality replacements so don’t go inscribing Tottenham on the cup yet. Also, it’s a final. You never really know with these things.
Alright, everyone. Talk more next week. Only 11 matches to go. Keep your socks taped and your oranges sliced.
Roger I. Abrams, a law professor writing for Huffington Post, takes quite a bit of issue with Judge David Doty’s ruling in Federal Court on Thursday that reversed — at least temporarily, until the NFL appealed later in the day — Adrian Peterson’s suspension.
Here is where Judge Doty went wrong. He overturned the decision based on his own view of what (arbitrator Harold) Henderson should have done. Henderson, Judge Doty said, should have followed the “law of the shop” as Doty saw that law.
Furthermore, Abrams writes:
There are more problems with Judge Doty’s decision. He criticizes Mr. Henderson’s failure to apply the “well-recognized bar against retroactivity.” Where exactly in the collective bargaining agreement is this “well-recognized bar?” Once again, the Judge applies his own personal view, marching down the wrong path.
That said, Abrams concedes that the result of the ruling might be the correct one:
The irony of Judge Doty’s decision is that the outcome he ultimately reached might be correct but for the wrong reasons. The decision by Mr. Henderson was not that of an arbitrator. It was a management decision taken pursuant to the grant of power under the collective bargaining agreement.
But Abrams concludes that the NFL should win its appeal. Long story short: Peterson is right back where he started and figures, at least in the opinion of one legal expert, to stay there.
Wednesday was one of those all-too-rare feel-good days in Minnesota sports, with Kevin Garnett not just coming back and playing with the Wolves but also helping them win by 20 in front of a raucous Target Center crowd.
Thursday, then, had the feeling of a classic letdown. We’re not used to having nice things around here, so with the Wild at Nashville … the Gophers men’s basketball team at Michigan State … and the Gophers men’s hockey team at home against Michigan State … well, one win out of three would have been the expectation.
Instead, improbably, it was a clean Minnesota sweep — with all three teams providing impressive responses to adversity in their own ways.
The Wild was center-of-the-sun hot coming out of the All-Star break, but a bad home loss to Edmonton threatened to undo some of that good work and potentially start a cold stretch the team can ill afford. Playing at NHL-leading Nashville did not figure to be the antidote to stop the bleeding, but in a strange way maybe it was the perfect opponent. Whereas another soft opponent at home wouldn’t have forced the Wild to focus like it did Thursday, Nashville gets everyone’s attention. The Wild gave a classic road performance in dispatching the Predators and reaffirming that it is a legitimate threat to not just make the playoffs but do damage once there.
The Gophers men’s basketball team is at the point of its season where you learn about character. Minnesota was 5-10 in the Big Ten going into East Lansing, where the Gophers hadn’t won since 1997. This season, through a combination of some poor luck, some close losses, some bad chemistry and some underachieving, hasn’t met anyone’s expectations. It would have been very easy for the Gophers to sleepwalk through a 15-point loss. That, frankly, is what we expected. Instead, of course, they pulled out an overtime victory that while probably too little, too late when it comes to the NCAA tournament, at least shows the team has not quit on second-year coach Richard Pitino.
The Gophers men’s hockey team, meanwhile, fell behind 3-0 at home to Michigan State in a game it could ill-afford to lose … only to come storming back for a 5-3 victory to keep pace in the Big Ten (and more importantly avoid a damaging loss in the PairWise Rankings).
It’s hard to know, really, what to make of all these positive developments heaped atop the KG game on Wednesday. The pessimistic Minnesota sports fan would fear a massive comeuppance over the weekend.
Maybe we should just make like a cliche and take this one game at a time?
|Fla Southern||2||Bottom 7th Inning|
|FIU||2||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Golden State||6:30 PM|
|LA Clippers||7:00 PM|
|New Orleans||7:30 PM|
|Norfolk State||6:30 PM|
|SE Louisiana||6:30 PM|
|Central Arkansas||6:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|NC Central||7:00 PM|
|Incarnate Word||7:00 PM|
|Stephen F Austin|
|Texas Southern||7:30 PM|
|Prairie View||7:30 PM|
|Jackson State||7:30 PM|
|Grambling St||8:00 PM|
|Miss Valley St|
|Boston College||8:00 PM|
|Norfolk State||4:30 PM|
|NC Central||5:00 PM|
|Texas Southern||5:30 PM|
|Prairie View||5:30 PM|
|Jackson State||5:30 PM|
|Miss Valley St|
|(1) Connecticut||6:00 PM|
|Central Conn St||6:00 PM|
|Sacred Heart||6:00 PM|
|St Francis-NY||6:00 PM|
|Mount St Marys||6:00 PM|
|Texas Tech||7:00 PM|
|Iowa State||7:00 PM|