There’s something special brewing on the corner of West Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul, a reason for hope amid an otherwise desolate local sports scene.
Stuck in NHL purgatory for much of the past decade — good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to win the Stanley Cup — the Wild are exciting this season if for no other reason than they truly feel like a different team.
That was general manager Bill Guerin’s goal this offseason, revamping the roster with a few trades, then capping it all off by naming Jared Spurgeon captain over the likes of longtime alternates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It was a changing of the guard, so to speak, as the Wild ushered in a new era.
Now, it’s way too early to predict where the Wild (3-1-0, 6 points) will finish in the overall standings this season. But while they currently trail only the Vegas Golden Knights (4-0-0, 8 points) in the newly formed West Coast division, the Wild banked their points by beating up on the Los Angeles Kings (0-1-2, 2 points) and Anaheim Ducks (1-2-1, 3 points), teams that will likely be in contention for the No. 1 pick.
The next chance for the Wild to prove themselves comes in Friday’s home opener against the San Jose Sharks (2-2-0, 4 points).
The hot start has left many fans wondering: Are the Wild for real? Here’s a counterpoint to that: Who cares?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if the Wild are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season, not if they are laying the foundation to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for seasons to come.
As much as Guerin has preached that he expects the current roster to compete at a high level — something it’s proved capable of so far — it’s pretty clear he’s playing the long game here. He doesn’t even have a No. 1 center, for crying out loud.
That said, it’s pretty clear the Wild are gong to be a fun team to follow no matter what happens this season. They have a potential superstar in rookie Kirill Kaprizov, who goes by “Dolla Bill Kirill” in the locker room and already has the fan base wrapped around his finger. They also have a rising star in wing Kevin Fiala, who is among the most dynamic players in the league, capable of spontaneously combusting at any moment.
Add those foundational pieces to a solid leadership group led by Spurgeon, and a talented supporting cast that has shown it can contribute up and down the lineup, and it’s easy to see a path for success down the road. While it could be awhile before fans can see the Wild in person at the Xcel Energy Center, it might be wise to hop on the bandwagon sooner rather than later.
If things continue to trend in the right direction, it could get pretty crowded, pretty fast.
Just look at some the alternatives in the market. Who in their right mind is watching the Timberwolves for fun? They are an abomination that finds new ways to lose every night (see: Wednesday’s last-second loss to previously skidding Orlando).
As for the Twins, even though they have legitimate World Series aspirations once again, they don’t start up for a couple of months, and fans will need something to tide them over in the meantime. The same thing goes for the Vikings, who won’t be back on the field until the summer, and seem content to trot out the same core that has proven incapable of a deep playoff run.
Then there’s the Wild. They play pretty much every other night for the rest of the winter and boast what looks to be an exciting product. Why not lean all the way in right now?