It's no fun to be pessimistic at the start of the year. The turn of the calendar is a time for renewal and optimism. It might only last a few weeks until the rigors of winter and life beat us down, but if we can't be positive now, when can we be? As such, here is your unofficial "Optimist's Guide to Minnesota Sports, 2015 Edition." Space is limited here, so we're only going to address the Wild, Timberwolves, Twins and Vikings.
• Wild: Goalie Darcy Kuemper last year had a save percentage of .932 in January and .942 in February, going a combined 10-2-2 in those months. There's no reason to think Kuemper, who entered 2015 ranked 27th in the NHL in GAA (while Nicklas Backstrom was 26th), can't get hot again and jump-start a Wild season that has been a disappointment. Because as rough as the goaltending has been, and as bad as the Wild's power play was early this season, the offense is far from broken. Minnesota went into the new year ranked 10th in goals scored per game, and the power play has been clicking at a much better rate lately. The Wild has played just 35 games; nobody in the West has played fewer. The playoffs are still well within reach, and once you're in, anything can happen.
• Timberwolves: Progress will be measured in more subtle ways for the Wolves, who will miss the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season (a sad thing to know with more than 50 games left). Still, there are reasons for optimism. Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad, in particular, have already made big strides. Once Ricky Rubio returns, we should see more evidence that the groundwork for a turnaround is there.
• Twins: Every year we say the starting pitching can't be as bad as it has been. Every year we've been wrong. But this year is different. No, really! There is legitimate hope for at least a decent outing from a starter every night. When that happens, a lot of things can fall into place quickly. Combined with an on-the-rise offense and the energy of new manager Paul Molitor, the Twins could be a surprise team in 2015 — or at least be better than they have been.
• Vikings: There is plenty of work to be done, but there is the notion that the team will go into a season, finally, with a solid future at quarterback and a defense on the rise. Holes on the offensive line and at wide receiver can be addressed via the draft or free agency. Even incremental progress on offense and defense could yield a playoff berth next year.