Dane Mizutani / St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL -- It’s uncanny how Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon always seems to find a way to stand out. Though the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Spurgeon is one of the smallest players on the team, he’s one of the biggest in terms of impact. You could make a legitimate case that Spurgeon has been the team’s MVP this season, netting a career-high 14 goals and dishing out 27 assists, while serving as a stabilizing force on the blue line.
ST. PAUL -- Let’s just say if the Minnesota Wild make the playoffs at the end of what figures to be a sprint to the finish line, they will have earned their spot. They entered the weekend three points behind the Arizona Coyotes and two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. In other words, the Wild had some work to do over with 11 games left in the season, including Saturday’s contest against the New York Rangers.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s a tattered piece of white tape in the bowels of Ridder Arena. It has worn out over time, and remnants of the leftover adhesive are now more visible than anything else. What’s left is a subtle reminder to the members of the Gophers women’s hockey team before they step onto the ice. “We leave all the crap that we have to deal with back in the locker room,” senior winger Taylor Williamson said. “As soon as we step over that piece of white tape, it’s about having fun and choosing joy, as (assistant coach Joel Johnson) always says.”
EAGAN, Minn. -- After what general manager Rick Spielman called a one-year vacation, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is back with the Vikings. Both sides agreed to a three-year, $12.45 million deal on the opening day of the NFL’s legal tampering period. “We used to call him ‘The Big Fundamental’ when he was here because he did everything right,” coach Mike Zimmer said, giddy about getting Stephen back in the mix. “He worked hard. He helped in the running game. He worked every single day on his craft of trying to rush the passer.”
EAGAN, Minn. -- Anthony Barr couldn’t sleep. He lay awake in bed Tuesday morning, staring at the ceiling, wondering if he had just made the biggest mistake of his life. “Just looking for a sign,” Barr said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, March 14, at the Vikings’ TCO Performance Center. “Just trying to figure something out.” The day before, Barr had verbally agreed to join the New York Jets.
ST. PAUL -- A couple of weeks ago, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau offered a bold prediction. “We are going to make the playoffs,” Boudreau said at the time . “That’s about as elaborate as I’m going to get. You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have? Not going to happen.”
EAGAN, Minn. -- Rick Dennison is probably overqualified for his NFL job. Especially when looking at the academics portion of his résumé. “Well, air pollution control is what I really wanted to do,” said Dennison, a longtime NFL assistant coach, who was recently hired by the Vikings as the team’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator. “I’ve got a master’s degree in fluid mechanics. That’s what I was going to do. I actually built a wind tunnel to test wind pollution and the content in the air. That’s what I was kind of angling towards.”
ST. PAUL -- A crazy week for former Wild winger Mikael Granlund came full circle on Sunday night, March 3. After being flipped to the Nashville Predators on Monday at the NHL trade deadline, it took only six days for Granlund to return to his former stomping grounds. He practiced at Tria Rink on Saturday afternoon before playing at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In a perfect world, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wants both free agent linebacker Anthony Barr and free agent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson back next season. If only it were that simple. “We’d love to have them both back,” Zimmer said Thursday, Feb. 28, before posing a rhetorical question that surely has been on the mind of general manager Rick Spielman. “Can we afford them? If we can afford them, we’re going to bring them back. If we can’t afford them, we’re going to have to move on, unfortunately.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Vikings general manager Rick Spielman buried the lede on Wednesday morning. Addressing beat writers Feb. 27 at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Spielman talked for more than two and a half minutes before announcing that the Vikings have exercised the team option in coach Mike Zimmer’s contract, a move that keeps him under contract through the 2020 season. “I don’t think, from our ownership through our entire organization, that we don’t believe in Coach Zimmer,” Spielman said. “He is the right head coach for us to lead us going forward.”