Jim Souhan: Playoffs? Get in line

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2012 - 11:08 PM

Which of the four major pro sports teams in town is closest to returning to the postseason?

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier on the sidelines against Denver last season.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Minnesota is the MySpace of sports, interesting and relevant just a few years ago, although now it seems like decades.

None of the major professional sports teams based in Minnesota has qualified for the playoffs since the Twins lost to the Yankees in 2010.

The Wild last played in the postseason in the spring of 2008. The Vikings lost in the NFC title game following the 2009 season. The Timberwolves last made the playoffs in 2004.

Today all four teams are trying to amass young talent in an attempt to return to the postseason but, as the Twins proved in the 1990s and the Wolves have proven since Kevin Garnett departed, "rebuilding" is a comforting word of dubious value.

Which of the four teams is closest to printing playoff tickets? Here's one man's assessment, with the teams listed in reverse order of optimism:

4. Twins

The plan: Nurse Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back to excellence, rely on General Manager Terry Ryan to make larcenous trades and thrifty free-agent signings, and pray that a few young pitchers can make over the rotation.

The fear: While Scott Diamond has excelled and the P.J. Walters was adequate before getting hurt since their call-ups, and Kyle Gibson remains promising, the Twins have nobody in their organization who projects to be a true ace, making it hard for them to match up with the Tigers and Justin Verlander.

The probability: In the top-heavy American League, the Twins are a long way from contending.

The pick: The Twins return to the playoffs in 2016, after Miguel Cabrera's contract with the Tigers expires and Ryan has had time to rebuild the farm system.

3. Vikings

The plan: General Manager Rick Spielman builds around a bunch of young offensive players. That plan should succeed, eventually, if Christian Ponder becomes an above-average NFL quarterback, and Leslie Frazier or a subsequent head coach or coordinator builds an above-average defense.

The fear: Playing in the NFC North leaves the Vikings with no margin for error.

The probability: Asking for patience while you rebuild is a self-serving tactic, but this makes sense. No quick fix would help the Vikings contend immediately in the NFC North, so Spielman is right to try to build from the ground up with good, young, affordable talent.

The pick: The Vikings return to the playoffs in 2015, the year before their new stadium opens.

2. Wild

The plan: To surround Mikko Koivu with young scoring talent, highlighted by Mikael Granlund, and hope Mike Yeo is the right coach to enliven one of the most boring teams in all of sports.

The fear: The prospects are slow to develop or overrated, and the Wild continues to fail to score enough goals to be competitive or interesting.

The probability: When 16 teams in the league make the playoffs, you should never be too far away from contention, and GM Chuck Fletcher's efforts to restock a black hole of a farm system and rely on young talent should start paying off this season.

The pick: The Wild returns to the playoffs in the spring of 2014, after Granlund has acclimated to the NHL and a few of the other top prospects have arrived.

1. Timberwolves

The plan: Add a competent shooting guard, hope Ricky Rubio makes a quick and full recovery from knee surgery and allow Rick Adelman to pick the kind of role players needed to improve the bench.

The fear: Rubio doesn't recover quickly or fully, Nikola Pekovic isn't as impressive over the course of a full season in which opponents are prepared for him, or the Wolves' brain trust continues to hold unsuccessful tryouts at shooting guard.

The probability: The Wolves were contending this season before Rubio went down, so a stronger roster and a schedule that better allows Adelman to teach his system easily could lead to a playoff berth.

The pick: The Wolves end their drought in 2013, grabbing the eighth seed and a matchup with Oklahoma City, allowing fans to go back to complaining about first-round playoff losses.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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