RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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The Wild's unfamiliar playoff position: no doubt who the goalie is, no doubt who has the best one

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 29th at 3:27pm 301727201

dubnyk2The Wild has gone into a playoff series before with an edge at the goalie position. I helped cover the 2002-03 playoff series against Vancouver, and it didn’t matter if Minnesota was throwing out Manny Fernandez or Dwayne Roloson. Either one was going to be better than the Canucks’ Dan Cloutier, who ultimately gave many gifts to an offensively challenged Wild team that scored 16 goals in the final three games of the series.

The Wild has gone into playoff series before with a clearly defined No. 1 goalie. Niklas Backstrom was that guy in the 2008 postseason, starting the vast majority of regular season games and all six playoff games in a series loss to the Avs.

But in the majority of the playoff series the Wild has been a part of (an admittedly small sample size within a short franchise history), Minnesota either had no clear No. 1 goalie, lacked the edge in the goalie matchup or (many times) both.

And I dare say until this year, the Wild had never gone into a series with the clear-cut best goalie of the two teams playing AND a clear-cut number one guy in net.

The Wild most certainly enjoyed that edge against St. Louis, which picked between Jake Allen and Brian Elliott and watched Allen give up back-breaking soft goals in both Games 5 and 6.

The same holds true in this upcoming series against the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford has been awfully good in the past against the Wild, but he was lit up in the opening round by Nashville and yielded four starts in the series to Scott Darling. Crawford is getting the Game 1 nod against the Wild, but he’s also probably going to be looking nervously at the bench if even a moderately soft goal goes in.

When Mike Yeo is asked (jokingly) who he’s going with, he just laughs. It’s a nice feeling for a coach — and a feeling a Wild coach has never had before.

Sucked in again by Tim Duncan and the Spurs

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 29th at 12:10pm 301690601

duncanIt was late Tuesday. I had watched the Twins and Mike Pelfrey win a crisply played game — a sentence that has not been written often — and then taken care of some late-night tasks, including some prep for Thursday’s big Vikings-focused Star Tribune NFL draft show, which will air live on the website starting at 7 p.m.

It was approaching midnight, and I did a quick scan of scores on my phone, thinking I was about to go to bed. But there it was: Spurs 82, Clippers 82, end of the third quarter.

Sports fans know this dilemma well: Do you pass on the finish, knowing that you could very well miss something great … or do you just give in, knowing full well the final quarter of a pivotal Game 5 in a tied series between two very good teams will be, at the very least, good — and might very well be much better than that.

You can imagine what happened next.

The TV went back on, and sleep became the secondary priority. The reward was, of course, 12 great minutes of basketball. The Spurs forged ahead by seven points late, but the Clippers roared back. Then, on a pivotal possession, Tim Duncan stuffed Blake Griffin so cleanly and embarrassingly that you would swear Griffin was the 39-year-old in the fourth year of his alleged decline and Duncan was the 26-year-old up-and-comer with springs in his legs.

In the final seconds, the Clippers had a potential go-ahead bucket negated by offensive basket interference (a good call and easy call). The Spurs never gave them another sniff, grabbing a critical offensive rebound to seal the deal.

At that moment, Duncan smiled broadly (image via a TNT screen grab). It was the smile of a man who knows that someday, somehow, this dynasty is going to end. He will not play forever, even if at this point nobody can be sure where the finish line is, exactly. It was the smile of a man who doesn’t often smile, but who knew that at the moment that rebound came down, his team had secured the win that exponentially increased its odds of moving on to the second round.

In the postgame interview, Duncan gushed — as much as Duncan can gush — about what a great game it was to be a part of.

If a future Hall of Famer — more than that, I suppose: arguably one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history — felt that way about playing in it, nobody who stayed up into Wednesday morning to watch the end should feel cheated. Tired, yes, but no regrets.

Here's my best guess on the Vikings' first round draft strategy and Peterson

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 29th at 7:32am 301594271

spielmanVikings General Manager Rick Spielman just concluded his pre-draft media availability. Not much he said was terribly surprising, some of it was pretty interesting and none of it really changed my opinion of what the Vikings are likely to do in the first round Thursday and with Adrian Peterson going forward.

On Peterson: Spielman said, “Our position has not changed since all of the statements we’ve made at the owners meetings. …. I think (head coach Mike) Zimmer made it clear we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson, and we don’t.”

But Spielman was asked flat-out if he is NOT going to trade Peterson, and he would not say that. As such, it remains important to note the semantic distinction between saying “no interest” in trading Peterson and “not” trading Peterson. He answered questions about Peterson very carefully and showered praise on his agent, Ben Dogra, when asked specifically about him.

All of it feels like a calculated smokescreen at this point, and I remain convinced that the Vikings will trade Peterson this offseason. This is based on my gut and on how similar situations (Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Percy Harvin) have played out in the past. Spielman did nothing to dissuade that opinion Tuesday.

On the first round: Spielman flat-out said he doesn’t want to trade up and that he would like to trade down and accumulate picks. In this case, I think we should believe him.

He said he thinks the value of players in the 7-20 range in this draft is fairly close together and made a good point about an extra trade enticement the Vikings have with the No. 11 pick: every first-round pick gets a four-year contract with a fifth-year option, but for picks 1-10 that option year is potentially more expensive. Pick 11 is the first one for which the price drops (this MMQB piece explains it). A team with an eye on a future salary cap and a specific need at No. 11 could be more motivated to deal with the Vikings than a team in the top 10.

Spielman also said the team has analyzed draft value and “sweet spots” in the draft with the help of an outside analytics consultant. That kind of predraft work could give Spielman and the Vikings the kind of specific information and game plan they would be driven to execute.

Spielman talked of the risks of moving too far down, which are fairly obvious: you risk missing out on a player or cluster of players you want. My guess is the Vikings won’t move more than 5-6 spots down, but I think Spielman will do everything in his power to trade down and get more picks. The best thing that could happen is that one of the two top QBs slides that far and that a QB-hungry team like, say, Houston at No. 16 or even the Chargers (if they trade Philip Rivers) at No. 17 want to jump in.

But there is value all over the board at No. 11, and if Spielman really believes the top-end value stretches as far as No. 20, he could make a deal with any team with any specific need.

The Vikings only have 7 picks in the draft. Spielman covets more. The best way is to make a move with that first-round pick, and I came away from Tuesday’s news conference convinced the Vikings will wind up picking somewhere between, say, 14-18 by the time Thursday’s first round is said and done, picking up another decent pick and late pick in the process. Maybe they even flip it twice, depending on who comes calling and who is left on the board.

Once the dealing is done, the Vikings will wind up with an offensive lineman or a pass rusher with their top pick.

How will the Vikings get that bonus first round-pick they’ve enjoyed in the last three seasons (seven total first-round picks in those three years)? Go ahead and let your Peterson imagination run wild …

Wild fans frustrated by delay in release of playoff schedule

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 28th at 11:12am 301553001

stanleycup2The Wild finished off the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL playoffs at about 5 p.m. Sunday. As of writing this specific sentence, it is 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. We’ve known the opponent for the second-round series (Chicago) all along. What we don’t know — and what becomes more frustrating by the minute — is when any of these games will be played.

Fans who hoped the schedule would be released Sunday after Game 6 concluded were mildly annoyed when that didn’t happen. They kept asking … and asking … and asking … but nothing changed. Sunday gave way to Monday. Surely, by Monday, the league would announce the schedule.

As Monday morning became Monday afternoon and then Monday night, annoyance turned to outright frustration. This is probably the point when a lot of fans started to realize (or remember) that they aren’t the top priority in all of this. If they were, a schedule would be out already, and fans would be able to start constructing their weeks around playoff viewing and gearing up to buy tickets. Because while the playoffs are a big deal, they are not the only thing going on in most of our lives.

Rather, there are numerous factors at play here. TV drives so much of it, and by virtue of the Lightning defeating the Red Wings on Monday — forcing a Game 7 on Wednesday and undoubtedly bringing a smile to Twins pitcher Phil Hughes’ face — there is still one series going on … giving the powers that be an excuse to keep on dragging this out while they consider how all the time slots should fit together to wring every last dollar out of these playoffs.

Arena availability is another issue, and here again the Wild and its fans got a tough break Monday. The Bucks won in Chicago, extending that NBA playoff series to a sixth game. Had the Bulls won, the series would be over — and their second-round series (with home games at United Center, the shared arena of the Bulls and Blackhawks) could start coming into focus. Instead, there is the possibility of a Game 7 back in Chicago on Saturday … plus a slate of potential second-round games still up in the air.

Also complicating matters: the NFL draft is in Chicago this year, and the glitzy first round is slated for Thursday while the rest goes on Friday and Saturday. Would the NHL really want to compete in that city with such a huge event by having Game 1 on Thursday in Chicago, even though the arena is available?

The best guess all along has been that the series will open Friday in Chicago, with Game 2 there on Sunday with home games at the X on Tuesday and Thursday.

But those are all just guesses, still, more than 40 hours after the end of the last Wild series. If you’re a fan or media member annoyed that you don’t know yet how to proceed, imagine what it’s like to be a player.

Surely we’ll all know today. (Fingers crossed).

TFD: Wild fan talks on Twitter about rescheduling wedding around Game 1

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 28th at 10:12am 301475651

The Wild/Blackhawks series schedule, as of 4:45 p.m Monday stillllllllll isn’t ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutttttt.

This is an irritant for some of us, either personally or professionally (especially Russo, who not only has to make travel plans and crank out stories but also has to field 800 questions every minute about the schedule).

But for one guy on Twitter, it appears to have bigger implications:

I asked him if he was serious, but I haven’t heard back. What I do know is this: He’d never forget Friday, May 1, 2015, when the Wild went into Chicago and took Game 1 against the Blackhawks. Best day of his life. Update: He’s not serious (for the most part):

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Miami 2 Top 8th Inning
Washington 2
NY Yankees 1 Bottom 8th Inning
Toronto 0
Philadelphia 3 Top 7th Inning
Atlanta 1
Tampa Bay 4 Top 6th Inning
Boston 1
Los Angeles 3 Bottom 6th Inning
Milwaukee 0
Chicago Cubs 6 Bottom 2nd Inning
St. Louis 4
Oakland 4 Bottom 2nd Inning
Minnesota 4
Texas 0 Top 4th Inning
Houston 1
Arizona 0 Delayed
Colorado 0
Seattle - F. Hernandez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - M. Shoemaker
San Diego - T. Ross 9:15 PM
San Francisco - M. Bumgarner
Chicago 86 4th Qtr 6:43
Cleveland 82
LA Clippers 8:30 PM
Houston
NY Rangers 0 2nd Prd 4:18
Washington 1

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