Minnesota teams don’t always win, but they’re seldom boring. Even in the worst (or most mediocre) seasons, it always seems like a firing, a hiring, a draft or a new stadium is just around the corner. In some ways, that’s just modern sports.
But it feels particularly apt in a local sports market with teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA NHL and MLS — not to mention a major Division I university and multiple other successful teams of varying sizes.
With that in mind, here is a look ahead to 2019 and the 10 biggest story lines heading into the year. We can only guess what surprises are in store that will make the end-of-the-year list different from this one.
10. Will the Lynx get back on a championship track?
A confluence of events ended the Lynx’s seven-year run of dominance in 2018. They were still good enough to make the playoffs at 18-16 but made a quick exit. With Whalen retired and such core players as Rebekkah Brunson (37) and Seimone Augustus (35 when the season starts) getting older, it will be interesting to see if Cheryl Reeve can remake this team around former league MVPs Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles.
9. Can U make a big Year 3 leap under P.J. Fleck?
The third year in a program is a big one for any coach, who by then will have had enough time to establish a culture and bring in difference-makers who will get on the field. Glen Mason and Jerry Kill both took significant steps forward in Year 3 as Gophers football coaches, and Fleck seems to have the Gophers on a similar trajectory.
8. Zero, one or two major basketball shake-ups?
This is a big winter for Timberwolves coach/basketball boss Tom Thibodeau and Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino. A strong showing in the next few months could solidify both as mainstays on the local scene, but it’s fair to say both (Thibodeau in particular) could find their coaching seats quite hot if this season ends short of expectations.
7. A huge summer for golf lovers
Minnesota is becoming an unofficial hub for major golf happenings, and 2019 offers a couple of prime examples. In June, Hazeltine National will host the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and in July the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine hosts the 3M Open and a return to a regular PGA Tour stop in Minnesota. Some golf enthusiasts might choose one or the other, but I suspect plenty will pick both.
6. Has the time come to Break up the Wild?
Even without the swoon that sent the Wild tumbling in the Western Conference standings starting around mid-November, 2019 was setting up to be a year of possible roster shake-ups. New GM Paul Fenton shouldn’t just make deals for the sake of making them, but with enough time to evaluate the roster it seems likely he will do more than tweak things next offseason if things don’t come together this year.
5. Can Whalen’s Gophers make an NCAA run?
First, the Gophers will need to navigate a Big Ten season that figures to provide more challenges than their undefeated nonconference slate. That said, Whalen inherited a team that made it to the second round of the tournament a year ago, and she already seems to have improved on some of last year’s deficiencies. Maybe the rookie coach has some March Magic in store.
4. What is the future direction of the Vikings?
This figures to be an interesting offseason for the Vikings, who face roster dilemmas created by hefty contracts and also need to make long-term decisions about coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman. The smart guess is that the Vikings don’t make a lot of dramatic moves, but even so this could be a roster and team in transition.
3. Can Buxton and Sano revive their careers?
Maybe revive is too strong a word. But maybe not, considering what a lost season 2018 was for both. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, two longtime cornerstone prospects, hit below .200 last season while both dealt with injuries and stalled progress. If the Twins are going to launch themselves forward in 2019, Buxton and Sano figure to need to have prominent roles. It will be interesting to see if new manager Rocco Baldelli can draw more production and consistency out of both.
2. United’s Allianz Field will open in St. Paul
A week after the Final Four, on April 13, Minnesota United will play its first home game in its new stadium. This is Year 3 in Major League Soccer for the team, and the opening of Allianz Field will raise expectations. Stadium curiosity could bring more casual fans into the mix, adding to an already impressive base established by United.
1. The Final Four comes to U.S. Bank Stadium
It’s going to be hard to top the Super Bowl, but you know what? Minneapolis is going to try. Not many neutral site events are this big in scope, and remember that there will be four men’s college basketball fan bases instead of two descending on Minneapolis in early April (unless the hometown Gophers are one of them). And instead of all the stories about how cold it is here in the winter, national media can report on how cold it is during early spring.