We've been having a spirited discussion over text message with some of our hockey-loving friends this morning and early afternoon regarding the Minnesota Wild, which begins its playoff quest Thursday with Game 1 against Colorado. The Wild is in the playoffs for the second consecutive season; last year, Minnesota was dropped in five games by Chicago, which proved to be the better team by a fairly large stretch. The question posed over text was this: What does the Wild need to accomplish in the playoffs this year in order to give the impression that progress has been made since last season?
We will boil the discussion down to a few essential points from each participant:
*Friend A: "They need to look like they are an identifiable piece away from a serious run. If, after a round or two you say to yourself that they are a serious goalie or a Vanek away from a deep playoff run then it will be successful. If they look uncompetitive like they did last year, or if one is left with a vague unease of not knowing what is wrong with this team then it will feel like a failure. I don't think you can pinpoint a specific round they need to reach.
*Friend B: "They have a ... goaltender who won't be here next year who is the biggest key to their playoff run. If he stands on his head and they win the Cup, or if he collapses and they get swept, either way it has nothing to do with next season. ... Regardless what happens in the playoffs, the Wild need to address an injury-plagued and inconsistent goaltending situation, and need to figure out how to transform some young prospects into competent second- and third-liners and defensemen."
Friend C: "I can see how the Wild playing strong and losing can give one a better feeling for next season than seeing them play like a high school team and getting crushed."
Also, there were a lot of mom jokes sprinkled in.
To a degree, we can see where A and B are coming from. It's tough and perhaps even unfair to judge the process of building a team on a handful of games, particularly when they could very well boil down to the whims of a goalie nobody imagined would be on the roster when the season started. This was a better team in the regular season than it was a year ago, and that should count for something.
Our main point, though, is this: Fair or not, perception is in large part reality. If the Wild loses in five (or four) games and looks overmatched again, it will be harder to continue to have faith in the path they are on. It also could start a chain reaction whereby high-ranking members of the organization lose jobs, since we believe our line of thinking is consistent with that of owner Craig Leipold.
Losing more competitively than they lost last season is the baseline for judging progress this year. So the Wild needs to pass the eye test and at least look like a serious obstacle instead of a speed bump. Doing so and actually winning the first-round series would undoubtedly elevate this to a season of progress. Anything beyond that just adds to the hope for the future.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.