With plenty of excitement on the MN sports scene lately (eliciting both cheers and groans), let’s take a look at each of our favorite teams.
Wild: Yes, their playoff opener in Chicago was a heartbreaking overtime loss, but it’s hard not to like how they battled on the road versus the best team in the NHL. Josh Harding—who has hardly played all season due to serious health issues—came in for an injured Nicklas Backstrom and kept his team in the game. Great goaltending is a must if the Wild are to have any chance in this series, and that is exactly what Harding gave them last night.
The real challenge for the Wild will be finding a way to generate enough offense. Their scoring fell off a cliff over the last part of the season as they lost to bad teams repeatedly. It would be great if they could rediscover their scoring touch in the playoffs, but considering the Blackhawks gave up the fewest goals in the NHL this season, any type of offensive resurgence will need to be even more potent in order to be effective.
Although I have a hard time seeing the Wild win this series, if Jason Pominville can return for Friday’s game, that will give the Wild a much needed boost. There is also the possibility that Dany Heatley may return soon, and if both of those guys are back on the ice, then the Wild have three solid lines that even Chicago may find hard to deal with.
I’d love to see the Wild advance, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Twins: While still not looking like a playoff team, the Twins have played much better than most expected coming into the season. Kevin Correia has emerged as a staff ace and the bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding. If Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey can stop being putrid and Scott Diamond can continue to improve off his solid season last year, then this rotation might approach respectability. A huge “if”, but I hope it happens.
The lineup has been decent, but not as good as was expected heading into the season. Aaron Hicks so far has made Minnie Mendoza look like Ted Williams, thus I wonder how long before the team sends him down to AAA. Joe Mauer was on a tear, but now he’s on a reverse tear as his batting average continues to plummet. If this wasn’t bad enough, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmalee, and Ryan Doumit have all been extra stinky, and if they continue to struggle so will the Twins.
In short, the Twins need their pitching and hitting to improve greatly. Other than that, they’re doing great.
Vikings: After the first day of the NFL draft, I was all smiles after Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman found a way to get three first round draft choices. Some less than bright critics claimed the Vikings gave up too much for the pick (2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th rounders), but I disagree. The 7th rounder is essentially worthless, the Vikes already had another 4th rounder, and they had to give up at least a 2nd and 3rd to move up into the first anyway. Plus, the Vikes had 11 draft choices to begin with, and there just isn’t room on the team for that many new players, so they had to get rid of something. The Vikings still drafted 9 players, 3 in the first round, and they have an extra 3rd round pick next season from the Harvin trade. This team may have some problems, but the draft isn’t one of them.
Thanks to an early run on offensive lineman, the Vikings had two solid defensive players fall into their laps at picks 23 and 25. Defensive tackle Sharif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were both projected to be picked higher and they can step in immediately and bolster the defense. With the other first rounder, the Vikes selected Cordarrelle Patterson, an insanely talented yet inexperienced wide receiver. Yes, this pick was a gamble, but if Patterson is willing to learn from Greg Jennings, then he can develop the habits and mindset that will allow him to thrive in the NFL. Even if Patterson isn’t a great receiver right off the bat, he will be a dangerous kick returner, so he will contribute.
No matter how you slice it, the Vikings got three top talent players that will likely be starters at the beginning of next season, and all three have the potential to grow into outstanding players. We’ll see how it pans out.
Timberwolves: Mercifully the season is over for the T-Pups, and the future does look brighter. Next season, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio should both be healthy for the first time in forever, and when you add in Pekovic, Kirilenko, Shved, and Williams (assuming they are all on the team), they have the talent to be a playoff team. Not a title winning team, mind you, but a team that will be fun to watch.
The major issue with the Wolves is who the coach and GM will be. Rick Adelman has yet to decide if he will return, and the rumor is that David Kahn will be fired and replaced by Flip Saunders. I would love to see Adelman stay and Saunders brought in, which would mean great coaching and much better drafting as the team moves forward. (Johnny Flynn over Steph Curry? Really, Kahn? Ugh.)