One of the first significant Minnesota sports moments of 2016 came when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal wiiiiide left in a 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle, setting the tone for what would come to be a pretty forgettable year in local sports.
As we look ahead to 2017, then, we can use that moment to decide whether we want to be optimistic or pessimistic about the future:
The pessimist would say that kick cast a shadow on the whole year and particularly the Vikings, leading to an 8-8 finish and a less-certain path forward.
The optimist would say that if there is one thing we know about 2017, it is this: It will not start with a Vikings kicker missing a short field goal to cost the team a playoff win.
(Wait, maybe that’s pessimistic, too, since the reason we know that is that the Vikings aren’t in the playoffs.)
More than likely, 2017 will be another mixed bag of outcomes and surprises when it comes to local sports. The past can provide us clues but not a complete map. With that in mind, here are some guesses about what might happen and some reminders about things that are sure to come in the next year:
1) The Vikings are heading into an interesting and important offseason that will lead to a similarly described season. Was 2016 an injury-filled bump on a path to sustained success or are there more cracks in the foundation of a team built by Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer than we realized?
There is plenty of evidence to support both options, but the tiebreaker could be the chance to simply hit the reset button after a 2016 season that started with so much promise despite adversity but ended with disappointment.
2) The year’s first big news is likely to come from the Gophers football program. A meeting this week between athletic director Mark Coyle and head coach Tracy Claeys will precede a decision on the coach’s long-term future.
An adequate regular season on the field plus a nice bowl victory pushed Minnesota to 9-4, but the suspension of 10 players for their roles in an alleged sexual assault cast a mighty shadow over the program.
3) New coach. New energy. Now: Can the Wild avoid a winter swoon? Their 23-9-4 record (50 points) heading into 2017 is great, but we only need to take a quick look back at a year ago to guard against overconfidence. Under coach Mike Yeo, Minnesota was 20-10-6 (46 points) when the calendar turned to 2016. By February, Yeo was fired.
Bruce Boudreau’s group seems equipped to keep piling up points, giving the Wild a legitimate chance to make a deep playoff run and give people something to cheer about in the cold months.
4) Every year there are whispers that the Lynx could be fading as their veteran core ages. And every year for the past six, Minnesota has been a title contender. The Lynx have netted three championships in that span and came oh-so-close to a fourth in 2016. What will 2017 — a season spent in their temporary home across the river at Xcel Energy Center during Target Center renovations — bring for this group?
5) Major League Soccer is coming, and it’s in a hurry. Minnesota United’s first preseason match is barely a month away (Feb. 9), the first regular-season match is two months away (March 3 at Portland) and the home opener is March 12 vs. Atlanta at TCF Bank Stadium. This is no longer a concept. This is a reality.
6) New Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have said the right things about not taking shortcuts when improving the team while also noting there is more talent on the roster than on other losing clubs. Fans seem to be taking a patient approach as the duo attempts to remake the organization.
That said, 2017 should still give us a good idea of how parts of this rebuild will play out. Will a fresh approach and early roster moves show up in the standings — and will fans remain patient if improvement isn’t apparent on the field?
7) The Timberwolves sputtered to a 6-18 start under new coach/president Tom Thibodeau this season. They’ve looked better lately, but they’ve also reset the ceiling on this season at a much lower point than many had hoped. There’s no reason Minnesota shouldn’t play better than .500 basketball the rest of this season, making the start of 2017 critical for the franchise.
8) If you didn’t get to a Gophers volleyball match in 2016, make it a 2017 resolution to get to at least one in the fall. This was a Final Four program, and there is plenty of talent coming back.
9) Expect the unexpected. Most of what is mentioned above relates to what we can guess about or what we know. But sports is not scripted, and the biggest stories are often the biggest surprises. This time last year, we thought the Vikings and Twins were on an upswing. A couple of months later, we thought the Wild might never win another game.
10) Don’t forget: It’s not technically in 2017, but the Super Bowl is coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in early 2018 to conclude the next NFL season. Will the Vikings be the first team in NFL history to play in their home stadium for a Super Bowl? Check back here in a year for a better shot at an answer.