I'm afraid for the Wild. I'm afraid because I was at Tuesday night's game against Anaheim, and I got the strong sense that not enough people in the building wanted to be there. The crowd was barely awake. The teams both appeared to have other things on their mind; you could almost imagine them asking each other for mortgage advice during stoppages in play. The Wild held an early 1-0 lead until the third period, then gave up two goals and lost. I'd describe more of the game for you, but the whole thing was so boring as to be almost self-erasing; at the final horn, there were groups of fans sitting and chatting at the various arena eateries, apparently having long given up on the game and gone in search of something entertaining to do.
I'm afraid for the Wild because I've experienced this sort of thing before. This is what Timberwolves games were like for an awfully long time, and it's only now -- eight seasons, four coaches, one GM change, and scores of players later -- that the team's fun to watch again. The similarities are evident; both teams fired a longtime coach. Both teams lost the player that was really the only star the franchise had ever had. And the Wild are currently going through a stage that the Timberwolves went through a few years ago -- the stage where the team tries bringing in veterans and castoffs, in the hopes of accidentally hitting upon a combination of bad players that might magically transmogrify themselves into a winning team.
The secret, of course, isn't better chemistry or veteran leadership or anything of that ilk; the secret is better players. The Timberwolves finally have a couple in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio (and, dare we hope, in Nikola Pekovic). The Wild is going to have to find a few players like that through the draft. Their best hope is that Mikael Granlund, still playing in Europe, can be their Love, and that somehow they can be bad enough to pick up a Rubio equivalent along the way.
The scary part is that, maybe especially for a franchise that's drafted as poorly as the Wild, high draft picks bring no guarantees. The Penguins picked first or second in the draft four years in a row before they finally rebounded to become a good team. On the flip side, Edmonton has picked first two years in a row, and in the top 10 four times in five years, and the Oilers are the second-worst team in the NHL.
On with the links:
*Rob Neyer at SB Nation, and Brandon Warne at FanGraphs (the genesis of Neyer's article), both think that Scott Baker is vastly underrated. You remember Scott Baker, don't you? No? Pitches for the Twins? Starting rotation? Quiet?
*Spencer Hall compares the current Alabama football dynasty to another seemingly-unstoppable juggernaut -- the mid-1990s Nebraska Cornhuskers. Thanks to various factors, Nebraska eventually fell apart -- and Hall has a pretty good idea of the type of team that might be the one to knock Alabama off the mountaintop.
*The Economist studies Quebec's push for a new set of Nordiques, especially the underlying factors that have changed to make Quebec again a possible destination for the NHL.
*The Classical looks at the current state of Ultimate Frisbee, which has become a competitive intercollegiate sport in addition to the reason half-drunk freshmen run you over when you're trying to study on the campus quad.
*And finally: this is what ESPN has become. Oh ESPN, I remember you when you were cool, and now, look at yourself. First Skip Bayless, and now this.