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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.
But what about the best possible realistic NBA team? Well, ESPN.com (Insider) took a swing at it, taking into consideration salary cap constraints and the way pieces fit together. And it was concluded that Kevin Love would be the second-best player on the that team. No. 1? LeBron James. No. 3? Joakim Noah.
Said the author of Love: Love deserves to be recognized for the expansion of his game this season. He's as lethal as ever from deep, but also has been very good on the block, in passing the ball and as an elite rebounder. As a running mate for James, it's a perfect skill set. Love's 19.8 WARP ranks behind only Durant and James. And, not for nothing, Love's price tag of $14.7 million for this season is appropriate for a second star on a championship roster.
That's not to suggest that those players are going to assemble, of course ... but it is interesting to wonder whether a roster with those three at the top could win a championship.
We have no idea what the odds are, but they are certainly better than the odds of winning a billion dollars by picking all the NCAA tournament winners.
A math class we took about 25 years ago tells us that we *think* the chances of at least lining up all 16 games properly would be one in 16! (Sorry, that's not 16 exclamation point. That's 16 factorial. Which means 16*15*14*13 and so on. So that's like 1 in 20 trillion). But the Rams play three teams twice, so that's probably not right. Also, it's quite possible we have forgotten something about the maths in all those years.
But then you also have to guess what day the game is on, whether it is home or away, plus the bye week.
In any event, it's probably a lot harder than it sounds. But if you want to try, here is the link! The Rams are happy for your patronage!
In terms of controversial HOT SPORTS TAKES that Chris Kluwe has had in his life, this one falls very close to the bottom of the food chain. Still, if you can sift through all his language dressing and naughty words (yes, that's a NSFW warning ... we learned our lesson tweeting Monday about U.S. Airways), you will find out that Mr. Kluwe believes college kickers are generally bad because their teachers are clueless.
Want to know why your team has a [redacted] kicker? Because your team has a [redacted] coach who doesn't know the first thing about the basic fundamentals of kicking and punting, but figures that a soccer castoff will do just fine so long as he gets screamed at loudly enough.
In my five years of college ball, and eight years in the NFL, I did not have a single special teams coach or head coach who had the faintest idea how it is that I did my job, and that is how it is EVERYWHERE. (I was lucky that early on in high school, I found a couple coaches who did know a thing or two so I could teach myself later). Now a lot of this is due to the fact that people just don't care about kicking, because it's only nine or 10 plays out of the game (whereas the offense and defense GLOREEEEE BOYZ get 35 to 40), but can you imagine if your linebacker coach had no idea how to teach the fundamentals of tackling and assignment responsibility?
We don't imagine Kluwe is making this up. Then again, we don't know if his situation is unique or not. And most certainly, we have no experience being taught how to kick at any level, unless you count being self-taught while taking 15-yard running starts at the ball during random football field trips in high school and college.
But if Kluwe is right, he does make a good point. Why on earth doesn't a special teams coach know how to at least instruct a punter or kicker properly?
The process of updating TCF Bank Stadium for use by the Vikings is well underway, as we watched construction crews rip out the artificial surface field on Tuesday as they prepare to put heating elements in for the pro season.
The rip-out is expected to be finished by the end of the week, but by this morning there was already substantial progress with about half the turf gone. The new heated field is expected to be ready to go by June. The original field didn't have the heating elements because the regular-season in college is over in November and postseason games are played elsewhere, of course. In the NFL, the Vikings have regular-season games in December and potentially two home playoff games in January. Anyone who watched Brett Favre get smashed to the rock-hard turf in December of 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome roof collapse knows the danger of an unheated turf field.
In any event, the field looked far different Tuesday than it did Saturday for the Gophers' spring game. Have a look-see:
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