The Wild is at an interesting crossroads, caused by a combination of its own doing and unlucky circumstance.
The team is constructed in a way that has allowed it to make the postseason each of the past three seasons and win one series each of the past two, yet it is also constructed in a way that 1) makes it hard to get much better because so many veterans are locked into long-term contracts and 2) makes you wonder if the Wild is good enough to improve without shaking things up.
That latter sentiment is compounded by the way the NHL’s playoffs are structured, combined with the strength of teams in its division (namely Chicago, the foe that has eliminated the Wild in three consecutive years).
So the question facing the Wild this offseason is, essentially, what can be done to improve on what has already been accomplished? And the only viable answer might be a high-risk, high-reward type of all-in trade (or trades) aimed at acquiring the type of elite natural scorer (or scorers) missing on the roster.
The Wild and its fans should also remember, though, that there is a “be careful what you wish for” element to this type of bold strategy, and both edges of the sword have been felt by other top pro teams in town in recent years.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Wolves were stuck in that middle ground of making the playoffs routinely but exiting quickly. For seven straight years from 1997-2003, they were one-and-done. Then they went all-in and acquired Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell; for one glorious season, they had the complementary pieces around Kevin Garnett to truly contend.
They made it as far as the Western Conference finals before losing … and then the noble experiment disintegrated the next season. And we’re still waiting for the next Wolves playoff appearance.
The Vikings of recent vintage were in the same category. They were 8-8 in 2007 with awful quarterback play but an amazing run defense and a rookie Adrian Peterson. By 2008, they were a playoff team but still lacked a quarterback. So they went all-in for Brett Favre in 2009, made it within a whisper of the Super Bowl … and they’re 31-48-1 in the regular season since then.
The Twins went at least close to all-in in 2010, loading up on veteran hitters (Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome) and making a late trade for Matt Capps. It helped them win the last of six division titles in nine seasons, but they were still swept in the playoffs and have lost at least 92 games every year since.
That’s not to say the Wild — if it even gets the opportunity — should shy away from a make-or-break deal. Just know that shaking up the status quo can work in both directions.