The Minnesota Wild's Summer
As the summer draws to a close so too does the Minnesota Wild’s most exciting offseason in history. In addition to the well publicized Zach Parise, Ryan Suter Fourth of July signings, the Wild added needed depth in forwards Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. They also re-signed steady backup net minder Josh Harding to below market value.
The result has been a boost of optimism for a club that so desperately needed it.
All parties involved-ownership, management, players, and fans- watched as the team slowly came down from the high of a promising start for their franchise. In the Wild’s first ten seasons, they qualified for the postseason three times, won a division title, and played in a Conference final after one of the more stunning playoff runs in memory.
They accomplished all of this while remaining in contention every year and playing to over-capacity crowds at one of the league’s most beautiful venues. But in more recent years the sell-outs became near sell-outs as head coach Jacques Lemaire’s defensive minded system yielded fewer and fewer results.
Ownership decided to move on from the Lemaire era, which dated back to the franchise’s earliest days, in 2009. They promised to instill an up-tempo, offensive system, the antithesis of Lemaire’s style, in hopes of revitalizing an increasingly impatient fan base.
It didn’t work.
The team continued to struggle to score goals, the result of a dearth of offensive depth and oft-injured talent (see Koivu, Mikko and Bouchard, Pierre-Marc).
The fans’ frustration grew as they consistently found themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Two years and two coaches later the transitioning period appeared to be over as the Wild raced to top spot in the league in December of 2011.
Injuries and simply achieving as opposed to overachieving derailed the campaign. The collapse came at a time when the Wild were watching their contemporary franchises fall by the wayside.
The Atlanta Thrashers packed up and moved to Manitoba.
The Nashville Predators lost one all-star player and made a potentially franchise crippling move to retain another.
The Columbus Blue Jackets lost their dignity as well as their Captain and best player in a matter of months.
These franchises have proven that the fall from mediocrity to irrelevancy is a long one but a fast one. We pity them. The Wild were well on their way to a similar fall heading into the summer had they stood pat as a franchise.
In the State of Hockey, loyalties are split amongst five Division One programs, elite High School teams, and the neighboring Fighting Sioux of North Dakota. In a span of one month the Wild usurped them all.
With the singing of the former Sioux, Parise and the former Badger, Suter, the Wild had a Napoleonic July: They reconquered their own state while annexing two others.
Now fans from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Madison, Wisconsin and everywhere in between feel the buzz surrounding the Wild.
Though its status is in jeopardy, the 2012-2013 is shaping up to be the team's most memorable to date. It could be the baby steps of a dynasty.
The eyes of the entire league are now on the Wild, who suddenly have an awfully large fan base to please- and an even bigger one to disappoint.