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Fans gone wild: Anger over the Simon deal

Bashing the Minnesota Wild for acquiring multi-suspended goon Chris Simon at the trade deadline instead of an actual skilled player is too easy. Besides, their fans are doing it so well, why try to outshout them?

Bashing the Minnesota Wild for acquiring multi-suspended goon Chris Simon at the trade deadline instead of an actual skilled player is too easy. Besides, their fans are doing it so well, why try to outshout them?

Just check the message board on the team’s own website, where comments ran about 3-to-1 against the trade in the 2008 Trade Deadline Forum thread. Some were beauts, too.

A sampling:

“A….true head case who will probably kill someone next. GREAT PICKUP DR!” (DR is message-board shorthand for Wild general manager Doug Risebrough; the ellipses replace a vulgarity.)

“The foot-stomping thug? Great.”

“Who would intentionally trade for Simon? The guys a horrible suspension waiting to happen. Wow. Wretched.”

“Obviously DR is just trading for someone to protect him after not being able to do anything.”

“Are the Wild trying to make a real life edition of Slapshot?”

“This move did nothing more than guarantee I will not be forking over cash for the short-lived playoff appearance. This whole thing is a friggin joke.”

As of Friday morning, the debate had gone on for 18 pages. My favorite, from page 5: A fictitious conversation between Risebrough and Islander GM Garth Snow that ends with a gag about a dropped phone call.

Stunned and angry

The reaction clearly stunned and angered Risebrough, the former Montreal Canadiens star who isn’t used to having any of his moves questioned. Forget for a moment that Simon is the third set of muscles Risebrough has had to bring in to protect the Wild’s legion of small, soft players. And forget for a moment that Risebrough failed to address the Wild’s two biggest needs — more scoring, and somebody to win faceoffs — after rumors of potential acquisitions floated around for weeks.

It’s no secret the Wild aren’t gritty enough, and last year’s playoff pummeling by chippy Anaheim still resonates. That had to be addressed. And, in fairness, offense is tough to acquire, especially if you’re in love with your own prospects.

But Risebrough is one of those Wild executives who believes the team is entitled to the fan devotion and fawning media coverage they’ve had over the years. So Risebrough reacted to the criticism the way arrogant people do, by accusing fans and reporters of not doing their homework on Simon.

Here‘s how the Star Tribune reported it Friday morning. And here‘s the blowoff email the Wild sent to complaining fans, also from the Strib.

Risebrough might have been better off gathering fans in Mickey’s Diner and singing this ditty from West Side Story.

Honeymoon’s over
The I’m-smarter-than-you gambit is a bad card to play when you’re in the eighth year of a building program (yes, we include the lockout year since some Wild prospects spent it in Houston and other places) and your “Team of 18,000” has been forking over big bucks for tickets, patiently waiting for a payoff.

It’s taken this long for the new-car lust of Minnesota’s return to the NHL to wear off for a variety of good reasons. No Twin Cities pro team marketed itself as successfully as the Wild. This “State of Hockey” business was genius, tapping into Minnesota’s pride and deep-seeded insecurity at the same time. Selling out every game going on seven years is a remarkable achievement in any sport, especially for a team that has only made the playoffs twice, and only once advanced out of the first round.

But you don’t get a pass forever. The Simon backlash shows Wild fans are finally demanding results. They aren’t interested in excuses or stories about GMs trying hard and coming up empty, especially when other teams land players and improve. (See: Ryan, Terry, July 2007.)

Risebrough, knowing Simon’s lengthy rap sheet and the Wild’s other needs, should have seen this coming. Instead of getting someone to win faceoffs, he got one who knocks faces off.  (Full disclosure: I Baracked that line from my wife.)

But trying to sell it as an insider-genius move that the rabble couldn’t possibly understand is an exceptionally poor call when the owner who hired you and has had your back all these years, Bob Naegele, is selling the team. Never forget that new owners like to bring in their own people. Though Craig Leopold says the organization doesn’t need fixing, who’s to say he won’t rethink that if the Wild get bounced in the first round again?

Here’s the great thing about hockey: One hot goaltender can carry a team of plumbers and grinders deep into the playoffs. The enigmatic Jon Casey did that for the 1991 North Stars, who reached the Stanley Cup finals before losing to superior Pittsburgh. Risebrough better hope Josh Harding is that guy for the Wild, and that Simon scores some goals, or this won’t be the last time he’ll have an uprising on his hands.