There was no doubt as to the identity of the king of the Twin Cities sports scene on May 1. The Wild finished off St. Louis in six games in the first round of the playoffs, and was getting ready to challenge the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild had contested the Blackhawks fiercely before falling in six games in the same round of the 2014 playoffs. Now, this was a Wild team that appeared to be improved against a Blackhawks collection that was not impressive down the stretch of the regular season or in the first round against the injured Nashville Predators.
So optimistic were things that a crusty old sports columnist opined that this was a Wild team prepared to bring the long-awaited Stanley Cup to Minnesota.
What a putz.
The St. Paul lads had one notable period of excellence vs. the Blackhawks — the second one in Game 1, when they rallied from three goals down to tie. And then they lost, and kept on losing, a four-game sweep that was a horrendous step backward from a year earlier.
Take an objective look at the Wild now and the greatest of Satchel Paige quotes comes to mind: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.’’
In the case of the Wild, this would be both the competition in the NHL’s Western Conference and the major entities in the Twin Cities pro sports market.
On May 1, the Timberwolves were coming off 16 wins, the fiasco of the Kevin Garnett “comeback’’ and awaiting their usual bad luck in the NBA lottery. The Twins were coming off a 10-12 start in April, playing to small crowds at Target Field and projected by an angry fan base to put up a fifth straight season of 90-plus losses.
Only the Vikings were sharing plaudits with the Wild, and that’s because they were in the middle of the draft and Viking fans always buy the rhetoric that their team had a surprisingly excellent draft.
Now take a look eight weeks later:
The Timberwolves erupted as Minnesota’s fresh winter attraction on Thursday, using their first-ever lottery luck to take Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 1, and then Flip Saunders’ maneuvering to land the Apple Valley legend, Tyus Jones.
There’s also the likelihood the Wolves will bring in Nemanji Bjelica, Europe’s “point guard’’ in a 6-10 body, to further enhance a roster that’s deep with extra-young talent of stupendous potential.
The Twins were six games over .500 with 90 games left and starting a road trip in Milwaukee on Friday night. The cynics were out again with Byron Buxton hitting the disabled list with a thumb injury, but, hey, they can pitch, and they are being well led by 58-year-old rookie manager, Paul Molitor, and Buxton will be wiser and more durable as he matures, and there’s more potential star power not that far away in the minors.
Or, already here, perhaps, with Eddie Rosario …
The Vikings have the public convinced Teddy Bridgewater is the next big thing at quarterback (even with those small hands). It’s amazing, two notable seasons in 13 years — Brett Favre in 2009, Adrian Peterson in 2012 — and yet the optimism has no bounds with a month remaining before Mankato’s 50th training camp.
Into this step the Wild, the pro sports entity that has gone from kingly to looking stale in comparison to the local competition.
After watching the dreary effort against the Blackhawks, who does the Wild have to excite you?
Jonas Brodin, he’s about to turn 22 and he’s terrific, but he doesn’t light up an arena. Matt Dumba, he’s 21 next month and can light up the arena by shooting the puck, but we’ll have to see about the two-way part of being a defenseman.
Zach Parise is outstanding and he’ll be 31 next month. Ryan Suter carries the burden on defense and he’ll be 31 during next season. Thomas Vanek is 31. Jason Pominville is 32. Mikko Koivu is 32.
None of these well-paid gents is going to get better.
Two seasons ago, it looked like Mikael Granlund was going to be a star up front, but 2014-15 left that in doubt. Charlie Coyle and Nino Neidereitter, you like ‘em, but a combined 72 points?
Maybe Jason Zucker. He’s 23, he has an intensity level, and was on the rise before an injury last season.
You look around the West — McDavid, MacKinnon, Tarasenko, etc. — and the Wild doesn’t have anyone like that on the horizon.
The Timberwolves and the Twins have four or five apiece. And the Purple Faithful is convinced that so do the Vikings, even if they don’t.
Two months, and the Twin Cities pro sports scene definitely has changed.