Even though the Wild is down 3-2 in its series with Colorado, former North Stars player and GM Lou Nanne said he believes the Wild is good enough to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"Right now, they're good enough to win this year, if they get the right breaks, and if everybody stays healthy," Nanne said before Thursday night's 3-2 loss. "They've got a chance to win it.

"Yeah, they're a good team; they're a team nobody wants to play. They definitely have got a chance to go to the finals.

"Because if they beat Colorado, and Dallas beats Anaheim, Calgary could beat San Jose and Nashville could beat Detroit. It's wide open. It's wide open."

Nanne said the Wild, which lost Thursday despite outshooting the Avalanche 40-17, can compete for the Stanley Cup.

"A couple of other teams might be a little better, but that doesn't mean they're going to beat them," he said. "Anaheim, San Jose and Detroit might be rated higher, but other than that they're capable of beating anybody."

Nanne is convinced that star defenseman Nick Schultz, who is sidelined after an appendix operation, will be back if the Wild advances to the next round.

"I mean if [Niklas] Backstrom keeps playing the way he's playing these guys can go a long way," Nanne said. "Don't count them out yet."

Wild superstar Marian Gaborik has not scored a goal in the series. But Nanne said that is not unusual with some of the top scorers in the playoffs.

"Look around the league, everybody. Sidney Crosby only got his second goal Wednesday night. Alex Ovechkin's only got one goal. I mean, these guys are the leading goal scorers in the league. It gets tighter in the playoffs, everybody doesn't score as much, and [Gaborik] will score. But they're winning without him scoring, and you know he's going to score, so they've got a chance to go a long ways. Don't count this team out yet."

Nanne said this is the best Wild team ever.

"Oh yeah, by far; it's not even close," Nanne said. "This is so far and away their best team."

Big money to U Five years ago somebody in the Mark Yudof administration predicted the Gophers athletic department would be $30 million in debt by the year 2010.

Well, the department has finished in the black every year since except for this past year, with the loss caused by contract buyouts of fired coaches Glen Mason and Dan Monson.

To make sure that there won't be any financial problems in the future, the Gophers just picked up $7.5 million a year for 20 years from the Big Ten Network.

The university also signed an extension with Learfield Communications for local radio and television broadcast rights and a new contract with Coca-Cola that will add $10 million more to the athletic department coffers, according to athletic director Joel Maturi.

Maturi also had good news for fans who don't have the Big Ten Network by predicting that in the near future the issues that keep so many fans from watching it would be worked out.

Falcone rates high The New York Times on Wednesday had an article on fortunes being built by hedge-fund success stories. It carried an article about Philip Falcone, new minority owner of the Wild.

"Philip Falcone founded Harbinger Partners with $25 million in June 2001, casting a winning bet against the mortgage market. He pulled in returns of 117 percent after fees in 2007 and took home $1.7 billion. The trade thrust him from relative obscurity to hedge heavyweight. He now manages $18 billion."

Harbinger recently won an agreement from the New York Times Company to add two members to the board.

Jottings According to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, it is unlikely the club will add any high-priced free agents for the 2008-09 season.

"Probably not next year because next year I'm still paying [Troy] Hudson and I'm paying [Juwan] Howard. I still have to pay those salaries somewhat, so I think next year our biggest goal will be probably the draft choices. We should get our own high one and then depending on what Miami does, maybe theirs. So I think that will be our best chance to improve next year. It's a couple years out that we have our contracts coming, they end, that we have the money for the free agents."

Vikings running back coach Eric Bieniemy is no stranger to new fullback Thomas Tapeh.

"I got to know Thomas in 2004 when I did the minority internship with the Philadelphia Eagles and Ted Williams was the running back coach," Bieniemy said. "He actually gave me an opportunity to work with Thomas, and our relationship started there. So, we knew each other, we're on familiar territory. He knows how I operate, and I have an understanding of how he operates. He is a great kid; we knock on wood when we talk about health."

Paul Ferraro, special teams coordinator for the Vikings, was on George O'Leary's Georgia Tech coaching staff in 1999 and 2000 with Ted Roof, the new Gophers defensive coordinator.

"He's very intense, very detailed," Ferraro said. "Players always play hard and run to the ball. He's an outstanding coach.

"We did well; the first year we ended up at the Gator Bowl and played Miami. The second year we played in the Peach Bowl against LSU, so we had two good years. We played good defense.

"I have a lot of respect for Ted: outstanding coach, good recruiter, always had a great relationship with the players."

Gophers tight end Jack Simmons, who is sitting out spring practice after having surgery on his toe, said he actually suffered the injury in the 2006 Ohio State game and played with the injury the rest of that year and all of last season.

"I kept playing with it, and it got progressively worse and turned into stress fractures in other parts of my foot," he said. "So, it caused me some problems across the foot, I had the surgery and I'm feeling great, the best I have in two years. I'm happy I did it. Yeah, after I hurt it it was bugging me a little bit, but I feel a lot better now. So, I'm just ready to go."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com.