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In between, it might get as warm as 40.
We were over at Target Field for an announcement this morning on members of the Twins organization being named ambassadors for the All-Star Game, which is being held in a few months at Target Field when it will hopefully be a few dozen degrees warmer.
We went outside near field level right afterwards, around 10 a.m., and not long after manager Ron Gardenhire popped into the dugout, looked around and simply mouthed the word, "wow." Pitching coach Rick Anderson did the same thing. The field itself looked great; at that point, though, there was snow on top of both dugouts and plenty of wet spots along the edges and warning track.
It's somewhere between impressive and crazy that the Twins will likely pull this off today and get both games in. The unbalanced schedule means this is Toronto's only visit to Minnesota this year, so the Blue Jays clearly have an interest in getting in all three games and not having to wedge in an extra game somewhere later in the year. But we have to imagine actual butts in seats will be hard to find.
It was a season of progress and frustration, fits and starts. And it leads into an offseason with a mountain of looming questions. As such, we have compiled a five-part to-do list for the Wolves that they need to accomplish if they are going to have success in 2014-15 and beyond:
1) Find a new coach. Presuming Rick Adelman decides to walk away, which most believe he will do, this is at the top of the list. Adelman brought instant credibility when he was hired, and he brought plenty of stability for three years. But there is also a lingering sense that he wasn't a perfect fit for this roster, and it is essential that the Wolves find that match going forward.
2) Make a decision on Kevin Love. Sure, the Wolves' superstar has one more year under contract before he can opt out of his deal. But here's the reality: if Minnesota is convinced that Love is, indeed, going to opt out, then this summer is the time to make a move in order to maximize the value in return. If Minnesota believes there is at least a reasonable chance he stays, then improving the team around him becomes vital. That won't be easy, of course, with 12 players under contract for next season from a 40-win team. As such ...
3) Get creative. The Wolves can get minor help from a mid-level signing and a likely first-round pick. Beyond that, though, the 2014-15 roster will look very familiar unless the Wolves trade Love ... or come up with some other deal to bolster the team. We don't think it's crazy to see what the market would be for Nikola Pekovic, though we're not sure quite what they'd find considering his long-term deal pays $12 million a year for the next four seasons. That's the kind of creative thinking it might take to reshape the roster for the better.
4) Get Ricky Rubio in a gym hoisting shot after shot after shot. Rubio has marginally improved as a shooter since he came into the league, but he's still a massive liability in a league where most point guards can get their own points. He's young enough (23) that improvement is still very much within reach. But it must happen, and there needs to be tangible evidence next season.
5) Work on chemistry. Somehow, the whole in 2013-14 was less than the sum of the parts. Chemistry is a tough thing to define, but the Wolves need more of it.
As such, Freeman drops a compelling tale that has plenty of layers about Darren Sharper. Much of the criminal stuff -- Sharper is accused by eight women in five states of sexual assault -- has already been reported, but Freeman attempts to paint more of a whole picture of Sharper's fall and just how unexpected it was.
Per the piece: This isn’t just a story about allegations across multiple jurisdictions. It’s about one of professional football’s favorite sons, a rising media star and one of the NFL's best defensive backs of all time, being accused of truly heinous crimes. Many who claim to have known Sharper well say they never would have suspected he'd be accused of anything remotely like this.
The totality of the accusations has stunned the NFL, leading many to wonder if one of the league’s most visible personalities—a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and former analyst on the NFL Network—was leading a double life for a career that stretched 13 years, three teams and two Super Bowls.
The Sharper case remains shrouded in mystery as police continue to decipher dozens of pieces of evidence, and consider the fearsome thought that there may be other alleged Sharper victims.
It's worth a read, as is this piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The Sporting News put together a map of which states are rooting for which teams in the NHL playoffs based on Facebook "likes." As someone who grew up in North Dakota, the results aren't terribly surprising, but: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are rooting for the Wild, while border states west and south of the Dakotas are rooting for the Avs.
Generally speaking, this is how things go with pretty much every Minnesota pro team. The Dakotas have no major pro teams, and residents tend to gravitate toward those in Minnesota. The exceptions are some odd ducks who are Cubs or Braves fans (we fell into the latter category) growing up, or those in the Western part of the state who wind up going for Colorado teams -- particularly the Broncos.
If you want to go start some stuff with an Avs fan, or perhaps scoop up some oil, head west on I-94 deep into North Dakota this weekend.
There are some other interesting nuggets to be gleaned from the map of all 50 states, including the wide swath cut by the Blackhawks and the one-state isolation of the Blues.
Have a look-see at the whole thing:
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.
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