Wild need to do something to spark some interest
ST. PAUL — The Wild left Monday, Dec. 4, for the West Coast to play three games that even some of their biggest fans won't see. There are times the Wild inspire Minnesotans to stay up and watch a late puck drop; this isn't one of them.
After a morning practice at St. Thomas Academy, the Wild took their .500 record (13-10-3) to California for games against the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. They start their trip a point out of a Western Conference playoff spot but, you know, it's early, right?
But it's not that the Wild don't have a shot. It's not that they're a terrible hockey team. It's just that they're, I don't know, blaaaaahhhhhhh ... the same guys trying to be hard to play against with the same competence.
General manager Chuck Fletcher has built a fine team in St. Paul, but this year's start makes one wonder if it will ever be anything more than fine. The Wild have played in seven postseason series since 2012-13, which has been good for owner Craig Leipold's bottom line but has done little for maybe the best hockey market in the United States.
Disappointment and frustration are easy to find in the pro sports landscape. So are $150 replica jerseys and $30 team caps. This is where last season really comes back to bite the Local 6. If the Wild continue apace, how many hearts will they capture this winter?
If the Wild are guilty of anything this early in an 82-game season, it's not giving fans a single reason to be excited. They know this plot right down to serious injury problems for star forward Zach Parise and the exciting potential of Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.
Only Zucker, with a team-leading 13 goals among 22 points, has been able raise anyone's heart rate through a couple of dozen games.
Last year at this time, the Wild were starting a 12-game win streak that would vault them to the top of the conference standings. Finally, it appeared, Fletcher had found the right coach to get the best out of a young team growing into its immense potential.
Then a handful of players, including Parise, got the mumps and the Wild went 4-10-2 in March before ultimately getting smoked in Round 1 of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues and coach Mike Yeo, who about 15 months earlier had been diagnosed as the Wild's primary problem.
That is the takeaway from last season.
It's a particularly bad time to slink out of town for a road trip few will see. The Wild have had winters mostly to themselves the past several years, but the Timberwolves have stopped being terrible and the Twins are threatening to add a big-time starter to the team that just made the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Worse, the Vikings are one of the NFL's best teams, and the Super Bowl will be here at the end of January with or without them. That's a bigger deal than even Crashed Ice.
The NHL is different from other sports leagues. Parity is real. Ninety-eight percent of games are tight. Many are decided by a lucky bounce. It's exhausting, which is why the Wild need to do something exciting here, because right now fans are staring at essentially the same team they'll be staring at through 2019.
Investing in an NHL season takes real effort. Heck, just watching a game requires an appreciation for details other than, say, scoring. As opposed to watching Karl-Anthony Towns and Co. run some opponent out of the gym, which right now is much more entertaining and on pace to happen in the playoffs.
So, good luck in California, Minnesota Wild. Better bring back some wins.