Big things are happening for many MN sports teams right now. Let’s drop in on each team for a quick peek and my unsolicited opinion.
Vikings: There is a lot to like if you are a Vikes fan. They have re-signed key contributors such as Phil Loadholt, Jerome Felton, and Jamarca Sanford, took low-risk flyers on potential playmakers Jerome Simpson and Erin Henderson, and cut salary fat by releasing an overpaid Antoine Winfield and restructuring the contract of “missing person” John Carlson. Not to mention they added significant draft picks by trading the perpetually disgruntled Percy Harvin.
But the last two moves by GM Rick Spielman have been the ones to raise my excitement meter. The Vikes filled a cavernous area of need by signing former Packer WR Greg Jennings to a 5 year deal. Jennings got solid money, but nothing Earth-shattering. His presence instantly brings the purple’s WR core up to respectability, for Jennings provides experience, speed, and a team-first attitude. He did have some health issues in recent seasons, but has now healed and if Ponder can get him the ball, he has big play ability. Color me pleased.
The other fantastic move was the signing of Matt Cassel. Joe Montana he is not, but Cassel has had some solid success in the NFL when healthy. He’s had a knee injury, hand surgery, and an appendectomy, all of which have dragged his effectiveness down. But when running on all cylinders, Cassel has shown he can be a legitimate starting QB, as he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008 and later made the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a member of the Chiefs. For me, the bottom line on Cassel is that should Ponder falter, which is entirely possible, he can step in an be a quality QB right away, something the Vikings did not have last season.
Ponder should already be feeling the heat. He better be hitting the filmroom and playbook harder than he ever has, because if puts together a stretch as horrid as he did midseason last year he will find himself on the bench, perhaps for a very long time.
Twins: The regular season starts in two weeks, and the Twins have plenty of reason to be optimistic that they will score ample runs, but there is an equal amount of pessimism that they will give up even more. With few established arms on the team, our Twinkies will be dependent on the development of young pitchers and the healing and sustained health of others. If some of these wild card hurlers can stay healthy and round into form, the Twins could be much better than most experts anticipate. Not division-winning good, but nipping at the heels of relevancy, which is all we can really ask after two years of living in the Central Division basement.
Wild: The Wild ripped off two more solid victories vs division opponent Colorado recently. The most promising aspect of these two wins were the combined 11 goals the Wild scored in the two games, getting a season high 5 goals in the first game and then besting that with 6 the next. Their offense continues to round into shape, as Ryan Suter is racking up points from the blueline and Devin Setoguchi has regained his sniper status.
Even though the Wild have catapulted themselves to a top 3 playoff seed, the difference between where they are and missing out on the playoffs is not that large, thus they can ill afford a midseason swoon. With the way they have been surging, I expect them to only get better and come playoff time I think they have the ability to win at least one playoff series, if not more.
Timberwolves: I believe there were Civil War battalions that had fewer casualties than the Wolves have had this year. It is a lost season, but Rubio, Love, and Pekovic form a solid nucleus that does provide hope for next season. If the injury bug can finally be exterminated, then the Wolves may be ready to commence growing into a playoff team. I so want this to happen, but this team is cursed, and I won’t believe in any sustained success until I actually see it with my own two eyes.
Gopher hoops: Although many Gopher fans were hoping to be left out of the NCAA Tourney this year, thereby sealing Tubby Smith’s fate, the Frustrating Five were awarded an 11 seed and will face 6 seed UCLA in the first round. The Gophers’ huge slide during Big Ten play cost them a higher seed and better chance at advancing. That said, this team is so insanely unpredictable that I would not be surprised if they beat UCLA by 20 or lost to them by 20. A run would be great to see, but I’m predicting an early exit for the Gophers, hopefully followed by an exit for Tubby Smith, albeit a long overdue one.
WCHA: The Gophers are in the Final Five and will enjoy a high seed in the NCAA tourney. The Bulldogs are out of the Final Five and will enjoy being able to focus on their studies, as their season is now over. There are brighter days ahead for UMD, so we might as well suck it up and root for our Maroon and Gold brethren from the Twin Cities.