The Minnesota Wild were the darlings of the NHL for a few weeks in the fall of 2011, after posting a white hot record of 11-4 in November, and then extending a seven-game winning streak into early December, ultimately finding themselves in first place in the entire league. Fans were understandably elated, but it was not long before it all came crashing down, when as soon as that win streak was over, the team earned just one win in their next twelve games. The club finished second-to-last in the Northwest division and 12th in the Conference.
Then, the Hockey gods did smile upon the franchise this past offseason, when prodigal sons Zach Parise of Minneapolis and Ryan Suter of Madison, WI (close enough) decided to sign identical contracts for the Wild. And there was much rejoicing! The fans, who so enjoyed the fleeting success of their club and were gut-punched by the subsequent plunge back to Earth, allowed themselves to feel optimistic again. No…that’s an understatement. They got carried away, dreaming of league domination while visions of Presidents’ trophies danced their heads. Perhaps the Wild faithful were victims of circumstance, as the news broke on the morning of July Fourth while everyone was drinking their Surly craft beers and grilling up their bratwurst. Who could blame them for being in a celebratory mood in the fist place?
But it will be important for Wild fans to manage expectations going into the 12-13 season. After all, the team was dead stinkin’ last in shots per game and goals per game (and it wasn’t close between the 29th-raked Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota,) and were among the worst in the league in power play percentage. In fact, the team has been last in the league in shots per game for the last FOUR YEARS!
The team will certainly be much improved (it would be hard not to improve given some of the numbers they have been posting) with the additions of Parise and Suter, plus some very exciting young talent coming through the system, but in the NHL, you just don’t see the same kind of one-season turnarounds that you do in the NBA or the NFL. I’ve seen predictions that the Wild will jump up to fifth in the conference, and I will be shouting from the rooftops if they do, but you have to walk before you can run, and the team has to prove that they can first make the playoffs before they can win the Conference or the Stanley Cup. The team is setting itself up to hopefully be a powerhouse in the league for the foreseeable future, but these things take time, so let’s allow them some breathing room and not crush them under the pressure of inflated and unfair expectations.