Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where all OK things must come to an end. Let’s get to it:
*Whether it happens over the course of the next week, precipitated by a ghastly free-fall only propped up by the cushioned bottom of the Western Conference standings, or happens a few months from now during a busy offseason, this much seems pretty clear:
It’s the end of the Wild as we know it. (And I feel fine).
Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the Blues is far from the only piece of evidence supporting that notion, but the manner in which it happened and the quotes that followed were pretty damning.
Let’s pause here to insert the usual caveat of “be careful what you wish for,” as it does have merit. If you think the Wild is bad now, you quite possibly have not seen anything yet.
The same fans who decry various Wild mainstays as passive underachievers like to imagine those players’ values magically double on the trade market. What can happen instead are bad trades (see: Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask, which made some sense logically but doesn’t look good so far on the ice).
With the Wild’s salary constraints and lack of elite young talent, it’s easy to imagine things getting a lot worse before they get better. For that reason, I still think it might be best for the Wild to try to ride out this season and hope things get better along the way — and then, finally, get serious about making big moves in the spring and summer.
We’ve seen four other long stretches of playoff prosperity among our local teams in the last generation. The Vikings made the playoffs eight times in nine seasons from 1992-2000, then missed them six of the next seven years.
The Twins won six division titles in nine seasons from 2002-2010, but they’ve appeared in just one playoff game as a wild card since then.
The Timberwolves made the playoffs eight years in a row from 1997-2004; their next trip after that was in 2018.
The Lynx have a streak of eight straight playoff berths, with four WNBA titles in that stretch, but it’s certainly possible that 2019 — minus Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen — will bring the end of that streak.
At least all those first three teams, the closest parallels to the Wild, had the decency to get within one game or series of playing for a championship. The Wild had a couple of first-round upsets a few years back, but as a whole this six-year playoff run has felt like a barely discernible arc — no dramatic rise and fall like a great novel but instead the flat-line of a textbook on how to build the 12th-best team in the NHL.
But no matter how you remember it, no matter what comes next (and when), this feels like the end — not a sad one or an emotional one, just a factual one.
*My weather app tells me there’s more snow on the way this weekend, but my scores app tells me the Twins start spring training games on Saturday. I’m not sure why the fact that they’re playing baseball a long way from here makes me feel better, but it does.
*The Gophers men’s and women’s basketball teams both had lopsided home wins this weekend. They also both have the opportunity for statement wins Thursday: The men at home vs. Michigan and the women at Maryland.
A win for Richard Pitino’s crew would even its Big Ten record at 8-8 and give it a nice rating boost. Lindsay Whalen could upend her former coach, Brenda Frese, and give goose the Gophers’ tournament hopes. Even after six straight wins to get to 8-7 in the Big Ten, Minnesota is just 103 in the RPI because of some bad losses and a soft nonconference schedule.