Wild Potential Should Give Minnesota Sports Fans Hope


If you were to ask a Minnesota sports fan which teams he or she cheers for there is a likely chance he or she would respond in a not-so-excited tone. And really who could blame them? They have good reason to be embarrassed to be fans of their state’s professional sports franchises. In the last few months alone, they have seen the face of the Minnesota Vikings and arguably the state’s most popular athlete, Adrian Peterson, be indicted for child abuse and later suspended indefinitely, watched the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ franchise player, Kevin Love, be traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and struggled through, what will likely be, the Minnesota Twins‘ fourth 90-plus loss season in as many years. While three of the four professional Minnesota sports franchises are, to put it nicely, going through rebuilding phases, the fourth may actually have sustainable championship potential. After missing the NHL playoffs from 2008 to 2012, the Minnesota Wild has now strung together consecutive playoff appearances for the second time in the team’s relatively short history.

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During the 48-game, strike-shortened 2012-2013 season, the Wild compiled 26 victories and 55 points, reaching the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history. Much to the dismay of their fans, the team would ultimately be eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Coming off of a confidence-building 2012-2013 season, the Wild set higher goals for the 2013-2014 season. In an ultra-competitive Western Conference, the Wild managed to qualify for the top wild card spot with 43 wins and 98 points, which is tied for the second most in franchise history. Matched up with a young and explosive Colorado Avalanche team that compiled 112 points and finished first in the central division, the Wild was faced with a difficult first-round challenge. After losing the first two games of the series, the Wild would eventually win the series in seven games on an overtime goal by 21-year-old F Nino Niederreiter. While the Wild would ultimately be eliminated in six games by the Blackhawks (again) in the second-round of the Western Conference playoffs, the team showed improvement and potential.

The Wild enjoyed a very successful offseason, highlighted by the free agent signings of former Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey stars F Thomas Vanek and F Jordan Schroeder. Also, key young players F Jason Zucker, F Justin Fontaine, G Darcy Kuemper and Niederreiter were signed to contract extensions, which should help the Wild remain competitive for the foreseeable future.

“Former Gopher hockey star Thomas Vanek has recorded 40 goals in a season twice in his career. His career high of 43 came with the Buffalo Sabres during the 2006-2007 season”

The addition of Vanek gives the Wild more offensive firepower, completes a second strong offensive line and returns the man most responsible for the Gophers’ last college hockey championship in 2003. Throughout his nine-year NHL career, Vanek has averaged 28.2 goals-per-season, scoring, at least, 20 goals in each of his nine professional seasons. Even in his 2012-2013 season with the Buffalo Sabres, when he managed to appear in only 38 games, Vanek was still able to record 20 goals and 41 points.

In F Zach Parise, D Ryan Suter, F Mikko Koivu, F Jason Pominville and now Vanek, Minnesota boasts plenty of sustainable star power, as all five Wild skaters are signed through the 2016-2017 season. On top of this established group of veterans, the Wild also roster multiple budding young stars, led by F Mikael Granlund and D Jonas Brodin. Assuming the Wild is able to receive above-average goaltender play, this is a team that may have Stanley Cup potential.

Minnesota professional sports teams, especially as of late, have a well-documented history of losing. This NHL season, however, the Wild have a very real chance of winning the state’s first professional major-sport championship since the Twins won the World Series over two decades ago in 1991. Minnesota’s professional sports teams also have a history of disappointing their fans, coming up short when expectations are high. There is no guarantee the Wild will be different than any other Minnesota franchise, but there is certainly reason to be optimistic about this coming season and the foreseeable future.

The Wild open the 2014-2015 regular season at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday Oct. 9th against the Avalanche.