I have been on this newspaper for 70 years, and I can’t remember at any time when four of the main local teams were doing as poorly as the Gophers men’s basketball team, the Gophers men’s hockey team, the Wild and the Timberwolves.
The Vikings improved over last year with their 7-9 record, but they still didn’t beat a single winning team during the season and found ways to lose to Detroit, Buffalo, and Miami in the final minutes of close games.
Then there is the Twins, who have had four consecutive 90-loss seasons, though they appear to be at least trying to improve with several free agents signed by General Manager Terry Ryan.
The only impressive teams right now are the Gophers women’s basketball and women’s hockey teams. The women’s basketball team lost superstar guard Rachel Banham because of a knee injury in mid-December, yet lost just their second game Sunday, a heartbreaking 77-73 loss to Maryland and former coach Brenda Frese, who has built one of the best records of any woman’s coach in the country. The Gophers women’s hockey team, with a 19-1-3 record and an overtime shootout victory over Wisconsin on Sunday, likely will continue their winning ways.
It’s hard to understand why the Wild are having such a hard time after owner Craig Leipold spent a ton of money to sign left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter in 2012 for matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, and left winger Thomas Vanek this year for three years and $19.5 million.
The mystery is that last year they had four goaltenders who played well enough to win a seven-game playoff series against Colorado and forced the Chicago Blackhawks to six games before bowing out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. With most of those same goaltenders back, they are complete flops this year.
Coach Mike Yeo’s job seems to be safe, but he can’t tend goal for this team. If the Wild doesn’t get a respectable goaltender or if the current goalies don’t improve, they aren’t going to come close to making the playoffs.
The Gophers men’s hockey team is probably a bigger flop than the Wild. The Gophers — who have 13 players on the roster who have been drafted by NHL teams, including No. 1 selection Brady Skjei — were ranked No. 1 for the first month of the season and among the favorites to win the NCAA championship. Now they are ranked ninth in the country and will fall lower next week.
Adam Wilcox was the best goaltender in college circles last year, and all of a sudden he’s slumped. He was pulled in a 7-5 loss to Michigan on Saturday after giving up five goals in less than 25 minutes, and the Gophers were swept by the Wolverines.
Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino was highly optimistic about this team, with Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, Mo Walker, Charles Buggs, Joey King and Elliott Eliason all back from last year’s NIT championship-winning team.
Pitino also picked up some pretty good recruits in Nate Mason, Carlos Morris and Gaston Diedhiou. Diedhiou, after being declared eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse, was not allowed to play at the start of the season for some reason and hasn’t seen a minute on the floor this semester.
The Gophers lost four consecutive games to start the Big Ten season. They had a chance in each contest, but they can’t finish, and one of the reasons for their failure might be the poor preseason schedule they played. The Gophers simply were not tested at all, except for games with Louisville, Wake Forest and St. John’s.
Finally you have the Timberwolves, who have now lost 15 in a row and could easily lose their next eight games before facing Boston at home on Jan. 28. This is no doubt one of the worst starts in the history of the franchise at 5-31.
However, there is some reason for their failure, because they lost three of their five starters in Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin because of injuries.
The hope for them, with a good coach in Flip Saunders, should come when they get those three players back and team them with Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, who has looked like the best Wolves rookie since Kevin Garnett.
What’s hard to understand is that the Gophers men’s hockey and basketball teams continue to draw big crowds, and so do the Wild, even though they are running ads in the paper saying single-game and season tickets are available. Until the Wolves start to win, they are going to break every record for fewest fans drawn to Target Center.
We had a great columnist by the name of Dick Cullum, who gave me my first job. He had a saying about teams losing and fans loving it, and we certainly have our share of losing teams right now. Let’s hope things turn around.
• Ex-Bears coach Marc Trestman’s reputation as a good football coach is indicated by the number of NFL teams trying to hire him as an offensive coordinator. However, the Bears have to pay Trestman for the next two years, so he can be selective if he wants to continue to coach.
• Richard Coffey, the former Gophers basketball player and father of Hopkins junior guard Amir Coffey, who is ranked as the 44th-best basketball prospect in the country, told Gophers Illustrated that Amir is recovering well from ACL surgery. “It should be about six to eight more months before he is playing again, so he will be doing the rehab and then get back on the floor,” he said. Richard added that Amir could make his college decision before spring.
• Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has suggested that conference football teams toughen their preseason schedules, so the Gophers are opening with TCU next year and Wisconsin is opening next season with Alabama, then the following year by playing LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
• Brady Hoke, who was fired at Michigan, wound up earning $14.4 million in salary and a buyout during his four years as the Wolverine football coach. Now Jim Harbaugh, Hoke’s successor, will be paid $5 million per season plus incentives that can earn him millions more. The Wolverines, with nearly 110,000 capacity football for Michigan Stadium, can afford to pay the former and current coach.
• ProFootballTalk reported Sunday that the Buccaneers are looking to hire Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, but that would be surprising because former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is the current defensive coordinator, and Tampa Bay’s defense showed improvements throughout the season. Frazier also is close with head coach Lovie Smith.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org