This will be the 55th season for both the Twins and the Vikings. Generally, the only time that the middle of a decade gets any attention in the sports anniversary business is the 25th. Beyond that, we stick with the even numbers: 10th, 20th … and upward.
There is a landmark in time being played out on the local sports scene that has received little attention: This is the 40th season of Minnesota’s presence in the modern National Hockey League.
The calculation is more complicated than simply going back to 1961, when both the Twins and the Vikings arrived to play in the splendid erector set on the Bloomington prairie.
The Met Center was hastily built across the parking lot and was ready for the North Stars to join the expansion West Division of the NHL in the fall of 1967. Late in the 1992-93 season, the dastardly owner, Norm Green, announced he was moving his team to Dallas.
That was 26 seasons for the North Stars.
The NHL returned with a new arena in St. Paul and the expansion Wild for the fall of 2000. There was a full season lost to an owners’ lockout of the players in 2004-05.
That makes this the Wild’s 14th season. Add 14 to 26 and what do you get? The 40th season of the modern NHL in the Twin Cities, that’s what.
Sportswriters are obligated to come up with lists for a 40th season. Here, in reverse order, are Minnesota’s five best NHL teams for overall excellence:
5. 1971-72 North Stars. Expansion to Vancouver and Buffalo in 1970 put the “Original Six’’ Blackhawks in the West. The North Stars finished second with 86 points in ’72, well behind the Blackhawks (107) and well ahead of St. Louis (67) and four other teams from 1967 expansion.
Heartbreak came when the Blues upset the North Stars in the first round on Kevin O’Shea’s Game 7 overtime goal.
The 1971-72 team had six forwards with 18 or more goals: Bill Goldsworthy, Murray Oliver, Lou Nanne, J.P. Parise, Dean Prentice and Danny Grant. It also had Cesare Maniago and ageless Gump Worsley in goal.
4. 2002-03 Wild. This team won 42 games and had 95 points in the era before you could get an extra point in a shootout. The Wild was a No. 6 seed in the West, and yes, the playoff comebacks vs. Colorado and Vancouver were a surprise, but it actually played a No. 7 seed (Anaheim) in the conference finals.
Marian Gaborik had 30 goals and played in 81 games. Pascal Dupuis, Andrew Brunette, Wes Walz, Willie Mitchell … Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez in goal; that club definitely had it under the left nipple (as Norm Van Brocklin once said), but there also were some real assets.
3. 1980-81 North Stars. We remember this as a collection of upstarts that made a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final. In actuality, those North Stars had 87 points (when that meant something) and they were the No. 9 seed entering the playoffs.
The format was to seed the teams 1 through 16. That’s how Glen Sonmor’s North Stars wound up with Boston (the eighth seed) in the first round and swept the Bruins in three games.
The Stars had added Neal Broten from the Gophers with three games left in the regular season. He played in the 19 playoff games and added depth to an impressive collection of forwards: Bobby Smith, Tim Young, Al MacAdam, Steve Payne, Tom McCarthy, Steve Christoff and rookie Dino Ciccarelli.
They also had Don Beaupre and Gilles Meloche in net, and the great Craig Hartsburg leading the defense.
That team was very good.
2. 2014-15 Wild. This is by far the deepest Wild club and now that Devan Dubnyk, hockey’s version of Joe Hardy, is in the nets, a long spring on West Seventh is out there for the taking.
Eleven in a row on the road. That’s enough for me to be convinced.
1. 1981-82 North Stars. The five-game loss to the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final in May 1981 was followed up with a promotion campaign in the fall with the slogan, “So Close We Can Taste It.”
Al Shaver, the grand radio voice, bemoaned this as a slogan that could put a hex on a season. The North Stars won the division with 94 points, scored a club-record 346 goals and were more fun to watch than any Minnesota NHL team before or since.
And then they were upset by the 72-point Blackhawks 3-1 in a best-of-five opening playoff series.
Nanne put together that offensive machine, and you still can put a bad taste in his mouth by mentioning the finish to the season.