The Wild allowed Marian Gaborik, the most productive offensive player in franchise history, to leave as a free agent with nothing in return last summer. The team responded by spending roughly a half-hour of a 190-day season as a long-shot playoff contender.

The schedule finished with the St. Paul lads standing No. 13 in the 15-team Western Conference. This stretched to seven years (and six seasons) the drought since the Wild won a playoff series.

Much attention was brought to new coach Todd Richards' plan to introduce a high-tempo offensive system. The bold strategy resulted in exactly the same number of goals scored as in 2008-09, although there was a new and impressive standard established for 3-on-1s allowed.

The Wild signed Martin Havlat and offered him as a possibility to fill a good share of the Gaborik scoring gap. Havlat had 18 goals going into Saturday's finale, compared to Gaborik's 42 for the Rangers entering today's playoff showdown with Philadelphia.

You wonder how the Vikings' zealots would react if the Purple were to finish 13th in the NFC playoff race in 2010. You wonder how the Twins' fan base would react if the Twins had failed to sign Joe Mauer, then offered a Molina brother as a replacement in 2011.

Those are precisely the scenarios that have occurred with the Wild in its ninth season, and you wonder how much longer the customers are going to put up with this. And then you walk around West Seventh Street a couple of hours before the puck gets dropped and you get a hint:

They are willing to take it for much longer.

The Wiebusch brothers, Pat and Mark, were walking with their brides, Dawn and Becky, toward a restaurant. Turns out they have been in from the beginning with four season tickets in the lower level. Mark said the tab is "around 13 grand" and they have re-upped for next season.

This caused an interloper to ask: "Why?"

The Wiebusch gang was quick to mention a "nice family atmosphere" -- to which the interloper bit his tongue and didn't respond, "OK, but wouldn't it be much cheaper to make 40 trips per year to Chuck E. Cheese?"

What he did say: "How about the hockey? How about 13th place?"

Mark said, "I like the new system," and Pat added, "I don't think I could've taken another year of Jacques' trap. I hated that."

Do you realize, guys, that Jacques Lemaire's defense-first system produced as many goals as Richards' alleged high-pressure approach?

This was mulled for a moment and Mark said: "We do want to see them turn it around next season -- get back in the playoffs. Another season like this, and we would have a serious talk about whether the tickets were worth it."

As usual, the bar area at Patrick McGovern's was jammed with a pregame crowd. Shelly and Jim Danielson had staked out prime real estate at the mahogany. The season-ticket holders engaged the visitor in a debate over the significance of the 13th-place finish.

"It was a new coach, a new system," Shelly said. "You have to give the Wild a free pass for this season."

Jim nodded and said: "The fans knew when the season started they wouldn't get in the playoffs."

What if the Wild is an also-ran again in 2010-11?

"That's not going to happen," Shelly said. "They are going to be in the playoffs."

And if not? "I'm still going to be a dedicated hockey fan," she said.

Fifteen feet away, Julie Herges of Milaca announced that she had decided to forego her lower-deck season-tickets when the renewal notice came last month. Here was an invested fan deciding to make the Wild pay for its sins of this season and for those seven years without getting as far as the NHL's final eight in the playoffs.


"The reason I'm done as a Wild fan is because there was a quote from Derek Boogaard in the program saying that he would 'puke' if the U.S. won the gold medal in hockey," Herges said. "I wrote a letter to the Wild saying I thought it was terrible. Even though Boogaard's a Canadian, they shouldn't have that in a program.

"I'm so upset at the Wild I'm going to get my tattoo [of its logo] removed. It's right here."

Herges tugged slightly on her jeans and showed the doomed tattoo. The interest some younger males in the vicinity took in this might have provided a partial answer for the ongoing interest in Wild games.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •