Two weeks ago, everybody in town was talking about the real possibility that the Wild could make a run and win the Stanley Cup, but today you would think they had the worst season of all time after losing to the Blackhawks in four games, if you read what the media has reported the past few days.
This is the type of reactionary thinking that happened when the Vikings won four NFC championships but lost all four Super Bowls. Everyone forgot about a number of great victories and focused on the losses instead.
But just because the Wild lost to Chicago in the playoffs for a third year in a row, it doesn’t mean this season was a disappointment. It just means a young squad that was 14th in average age in the NHL this season will need to improve on a 46-28-8 record for 100 points, good for the 11th-best mark in the league and the sixth-best in the Western Conference.
Lou Nanne said the Wild truly wasn’t that far off from making a special run this postseason.
“Even though it’s four straight [losses], people want to make it seem like it’s far away, but they easily could have won three [of those] games,” the former North Stars general manager said. “They gave up a bad goal in every game, which you can’t do if you’re going to win, and they didn’t get the goal scoring on the opportunities they had.
“They’re not as far away as you’d like to think. Some people want to say that, but you play that series again next month and different things could happen. If they scored that goal during the end of the second period in the first game [that the Blackhawks scored], a lot of things could have changed.”
Nanne said one of the big keys for winning the Stanley Cup is having your best players perform, something that didn’t happen against Chicago for players such as Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu, who combined for one goal in 10 playoff games.
This will be an interesting offseason for the Wild, with a solid group of young players, though some of the salary-cap constraints the team will be working with are outside of its control, Nanne said.
“They’re going to continue to build and grow, but they have a real good core of young guys,” Nanne said. “They have to make some decisions on some people and they have to sign some free agents. At this point you don’t know who is going to be a free agent and who might be available.
“You have a salary cap that in all probability is going to go down because the Canadian dollar is down about 13 percent and all the Canadian revenue from not only the six teams but from the [12-year, $5.2 billion] Rogers [Communications broadcast] contract that becomes less now because the Canadian dollar is down.
“They have to be judicious with how they move and what they move on, but they know they have to make some changes. Fortunately for them, they have some depth from which to make changes. They have an excellent management team there led by Chuck Fletcher, Brent Flahr, et cetera. I think they’ll do an outstanding job. I’m not too concerned about it.”
Nanne was asked if the Wild needed to focus on finding a way to get around the Blackhawks.
“They’re going to have to improve to win, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to face Chicago every year,” he said. “Because of the way the playoffs are set up with the crossovers and the conference playoffs, if they were standing in first place, as Anaheim did this year, they might have gotten the crossover game with Winnipeg or Calgary. It all depends on how it works out. It doesn’t mean you’re going to face St. Louis and Chicago every year.
“… You have to remember Chicago is not going to have everybody back either, they have the same problems the Wild have got. They have a number of free agents coming up this year, and they’re going to have to lose a couple of key players because they won’t be able to sign them all. [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane both go up to about $9-$10 million in salary and they have to get [Duncan] Keith up there and [Brent] Seabrook the same way, and [Marian] Hossa and [Brandon] Saad and [Patrick] Sharp — somebody is going to be leaving that team. They’re going to have some losses as well.”
Nanne added his thoughts on the one big offseason move the Wild needs to make: Either add another goal scorer, suggesting a trade for a player such as Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov, or continue to see improvement from their own draft picks such as Boston College freshman-to-be Alex Tuch, the Wild’s first-round pick last year.
Financially, being eliminated from the playoffs will mean the Wild has to refund a lot of money to fans who bought playoff ticket strips.
But regardless of how the postseason went, Fletcher should be a leading candidate for NHL GM of the Year.
• St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso will be taking his squad on a trip to Italy this summer that will feature two weeks touring across the country and culminate with a game against the Turin Jaguars, an Italian team that has been operating since 1979.
• Two-time All-America football player Bobby Bell is following several other former Gophers athletes who came back to school to get their degree after completing a professional sports career. He will celebrate his graduation from the University of Minnesota on Thursday.
• I covered every one of the six former University of Minnesota presidents who got together on campus the other day to talk about the future of college education.
• Isaac Fruechte, the former Gophers receiver from Caledonia, Minn., was invited to join the draft choices and free agents who worked out with the Vikings at Winter Park last week.
• The Twins moved their Class AA team from New Britain, Conn., to Chattanooga, Tenn., this year, and people in Chattanooga are getting a look at some top prospects playing well. The Lookouts are 8-1 this month after beating Jackson 16-3 on Sunday. Over their past 10 games, Miguel Sano is hitting .314 with three home runs, nine RBI and seven runs; Byron Buxton is hitting .349 with a home run, 13 RBI and 11 runs; Jorge Polanco is hitting .375 with five triples, two doubles, one home run, 10 RBI and five runs; Max Kepler is hitting .282 with eight runs; and Adam Brett Walker has hit .200 but has three homers, nine RBI and seven runs. On the mound, D.J. Baxendale is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA over 36⅓ innings with 34 strikeouts.
• While the study continues as to where the Gophers outdoor track will be located, I’m confident it will be somewhere on the farm campus. Athletes can practice on the present track but can’t have meets there because of water issues below the surface. Future meets will be held at Hamline until the new track is built.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com