Team placement really confuses me sometimes. I mean, how does a small market get a team back after losing a first team because it wasn't doing well? How the hell is the Minnesota Wild created when there's a giant legion of NHL fans who believe Minnesota's rightful hockey team is still the North Stars?
As any hockey fan worth his salt can tell you, the Minneapolis/St. Paul area once had a hockey team called the Minnesota North Stars. Although they did manage to make the Stanley Cup Finals twice, they were generally terrible, but they were an established institution of the area. They were founded in 1967, and Minnesota is right where they stayed! Until 1993, that is, when they moved and became the Dallas Stars! Although the team moved in large part because the owners' weren't exactly deep, this wasn't sitting well among the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul, so St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman began a campaign to bring hockey back to Minnesota. It may be the only thing the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have ever agreed on. On June 25, 1997, the NHL said it was time to create four new teams: The Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, and a team for Minnesota.
The team was named in one of those ever-popular fan contests. The six candidates were Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears, and Wild. If you ask me, they're all fucking awful, but while I would have personally leaned toward the Northern Lights, Wild was the name picked out. Doug Risebrough was named the team's first general manager, and the first head coach was Jacques Lemaire. The Wild's first pick in the 2000 entry draft was Marian Gaborik, a solid pick who, except for a couple of stints in Europe, was a 30-goal guy for years in Minnesota. While the team actually showed a little bit of promise, it still didn't do especially well, though one nice highlight in the inaugural season was a visit from the Dallas Stars in which the Wild shut out the defending Western Conference Champions 6-0.
The Wild's second season started out strong, and the Wild picked up a point in all of the first seven games. That didn't keep them from finishing in last place again, though, with a record of 26-35-12-9. Or the way people SHOULD look at it, 26-44-12, since overtime losses are losses and the NHL was REALLY FUCKING STUPID about its standings back then. The next year, though, the Wild broke out. Gaborik spent a good chunk of the year in the fight for the scoring title. The Wild climbed into playoff position as the sixth seed, which only earned them a date with the then-powerful Colorado Avalanche. As heavy underdogs, the Wild let themselves fall into a 3-1 hole before pulling the mighty flip lever. They came back to win the series in seven games, which not only ejected the Avs but also prematurely sent their legendary goalie, Patrick Roy, into retirement without that triumphant Stanley Cup skate-off. In the second round, the Wild faced the Vancouver Canucks. Since their little game of spotting their opponent a 3-1 lead in the series before coming back to win in seven games had worked so well against the Avalanche, the Wild decided to try it against the Canucks too! And it worked! This put them in the Western Conference Finals against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Wild was now REALLY rolling on the spot-the-opponent-a-3-1-series-lead-and-win-in-seven-games strategy, so they naturally went out against the Mighty Ducks thinking it would work pretty easily against them, too. In fact, Minnesota wanted to challenge themselves this time, so they were even nice enough to let Anaheim go up 3-0 before coming back! Except this time, it didn't work. It was clear very early in the series that Mighty Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere was keeping a tight lock on the cage. He allowed one goal to the Wild for the entire series - a series which, by the way, went only four games.
Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis made sure the Wild began the next year short-handed. Why? They wanted more money and decided to hold out. So the Wild struggled for the first month of the season, but even after getting their two holdouts signed, Gaborik and Dupuis still hadn't spent a lot of their time during their holdouts working out. They were sorely out of hockey shape. After struggling through November, it was clear last year's Cinderella run wasn't a sign of things to come, so the Wild started planning for their future. They spent the year trading away many of their veteran players on the way to a record of 30-29-20-3, or as I put it, 30-32-20. (God, that's a ridiculous number of ties.) During the next year's lockout, the Wild faced a tragedy when one of their players, Sergei Zholtok, died from a heart condition during a game in the European leagues. He had had incidents with his heart in the past, and with five minutes left in one game, he left the game, returned to the locker room, and collapsed and died of heart failure in the arms of Darby Hendrickson, his former teammate.
The end of the lockout began a goalie controversy between Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson. That ended when Roloson was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild didn't reach the playoffs again until 2007. They were defeated in the first round by the same team that beat them in their last trip to the playoffs: The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who by this time had finally shed their embarrassing Disney connection and taken on the new official name Anaheim Ducks. In both years, the Ducks had gone on to win the Western Conference Championship, and this year the Ducks took home the Stanley Cup as well. It was in 2008, though, that the Wild finally figured out they couldn't get away with trying to play the Neutral Zone Trap anymore, and that new knowledge did them wonders. They won their division for the first time and easily slid into the playoffs as the third seed, this time to face the Avalanche again. They lost in six games.
During the offseason, Minnesota brought back one of their old anchors, Andrew Brunette, and they also signed Owen Nolan. But the next year brought new obstacles when Marian Gaborik suffered a rash of injuries, GM Doug Risebrough was fired at the end of the year, and Jacques Lemaire resigned. Gaborik ended up signing with the New York Rangers, but to soften the blow, the team signed Martin Havlat, fresh off a nice and productive tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks. During the first month of the 2010 season, the team announced their first-ever Captain: Mikko Koivu.
The Wild chugged along, continuing to disappoint, not making the playoffs. In 2011, Havlat was traded for Dany Heatley. In the 2012 offseason, the team picked up some high-priced, shiny new toys by famously signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year contracts worth $98 million. Prior to this season's trade deadline, they added more firepower by trading a couple of prospects and draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for their Captain, Jason Pominville. They're currently seventh overall in the Western Conference with a record of 25-18-3, so I'm not sure how much good all that firepower is doing them. Yes, the Western Conference this year isn't a place for sissies, but hell, the Wild are loaded by ANY standard. Seventh place between Parise, Heatley, Suter, and Pominville ain't gonna cut it.
Number one is retired in the Wild's hierarchy for the team's fans, and 24 is unofficially retired for Derek Boogaard. Even without Marian Gaborik and Martin Havlat, the race to acquire every current player in the NHL is on between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins! Pens grab Jarome Iginla? Wild will raise you Jason Pominville! Pens trade for Brenden Morrow? Come on, we ALL know that was just a response to Heatley! And Parise and Suter are there for management to shake their fists at Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin! And just what the hell is Pascal Dupuis doing in Pittsburgh now, anyway?!
Rivalries…. Rivalries…. Okay, who do the Minnesota Wild hate more than any other team? What makes their blood boil? Christ, do I REALLY have to try to think up and research rivalries for a team that's barely made the ten-year waypoint? They haven't had the time to develop any! But, according to some blog I'm just reading right now on NHL.com: The Vancouver Canucks; Anaheim Ducks; Calgary Flames; Dallas Stars; and New York Rangers for some reason. I can virtually guarantee that, with the possible exception of the Stars, these rivalries are almost always mainly on Minnesota's end. As for their defining moments, the 2003 playoff run to the Western Conference Finals. In two of those rounds, the Wild was down 3-1 and came back to win. Now, we make a huge deal of teams that win series after being down 3-0, but that's because teams that do that are extremely rare - I think we're still at the point where teams who win after being down 3-0 can be counted on one hand. Winning after being down 3-1 isn't unheard of. It's still very far from common, though, which is why it's a big deal that the Wild did it twice in one playoff. They're the only team to ever do it that many times in one year.
The logo of the Minnesota Wild is one of the coolest in all of sports: A silhouette of either a bear or a wild cat (the bear is the most accepted theory) which is painted to make the animal's features look like a frost scene at dusk: A deep yellow sun as the ear, a shooting star as the eye. This logo has met with a lot of criticism too, but I personally think it's very original.
Unfortunately, I can't give the Minnesota Wild a high rating yet. Fans outside Minnesota still keep them on the backburners at best. Fans in the Eastern Conference can still afford to completely forget they exist at all. I hope all the money the team is shelling out to Parise and Suter turns out to be worth it. Otherwise, this team is going to be risking what seems to be more stability than the Minnesota North Stars ever had.
And that's all, folks. I've now officially completed the biggest project I've ever created for myself on a consumer website: I've reviewed every team in the big three sports leagues in the United States, plus the NHL! There are groups for football, baseball, basketball, and hockey that you can find all of them in. (I started the hockey group myself.) But does this mean I'm entirely done reviewing sports teams? Hell, no! There's the Premier League in England, which I'm becoming a big fan of. There are the women's leagues, college teams, minor leagues…. Way too many to count. So I'll still be coming by with the occasional sports review, although they won't be written nearly as often, as I go back to the designated roles which brought me to Lunch in the first place: Media! You can always catch me writing about a good movie, book, video game, or music album. At any rate, thanks for reading!