I have been reading, and reading, and watching, and reading about this team. Life has done its usual maneuver of getting in the way of regularly contributing to this site that nate, budda, marthaler, joe and handler have made very good. Luckily, I have a minute, and here I have a chance to throw something out there.
Nate and I have discussed this many times in person, or over IM, but I am curious to see what the community here at Hockey Wilderness has to say...
The Wild are skating closer and closer to losing the fan-base they love. For these first years of existence, the Wild have been given the free pass because they are a new team. Well, Doug, Craig and Jacques, in case you haven't noticed...you are no longer a new team. In two seasons, (or is it one?) the Wild will be a ten-year old franchise. A ten-year old franchise who has not displayed a consistent progression towards being a force in the league. Lets dispel a few rumors shall we? Rumors about why this progression may not be occurring.
1) Mpls/St. Paul is a small market - Truth be told, for most sports it is. But not hockey. The wild have enough revenue to be able to spend to the upper limits of the cap, if they so chose, so this excuse is out.
2) The players don't care about winning - This is bogus. I have complained that the effort hasn't been there on nights, but all-in-all, these guys want to win. The problem is, the other team also wants to win. Players want to lift that hunk of metal above their heads; lift it with pride, its the cup...the hardest trophy to obtain. Eighty-Two games is a long time, then a potential for twenty-eight more games in the playoffs makes me not buy that the players are content to give the fans a few extra games. They want to go deep, but the better question is can this team as it stands?
3) Players don't like Minnesota - Nobody wants to play here. This has been said, and there may be a sliver of truth. But it has nothing to do with the city, its people nor the facility. Name me a player who wouldn't want to play in front of a sell-out crowd, in a facility which is a beautiful as the X? It isn’t the fans, the city or the venue...perhaps, it could be something else.
So, if these situations aren't the issue, what is? My take is this...the management team was a good start-up crew, but they don't know how to take a team to the next level. I am not confident that this group of people know what it takes to take a promising young, and new team, and turn it into a consistent threat for the cup. Don't get me wrong, I don't buy that the ownership/management doesn't want to go deep into the playoffs either. The ultimate goal is to earn more revenue, and more games sells more ads, more beer, more foam fingers, etc. But again, similarly to the point at the end of point "#2," can they take this team deep?
My hypothesis is no, they cannot. The team has drafted very poorly, the team makes very strange fiscal decisions when it comes to personnel and the team policies regarding contract negotiations during the season have created more issues then they have quelled.
These policies, and this style of management works very well when establishing a new franchise in a community. But what I don't think anyone is asking is...what happens when the newness wears off? What does the turnout look like, when mediocre seasons pile-up over and over, in a state that known for its knowledge and passion for the sport of hockey? In all honestly folks, there wasn't a huge uproar when the North Stars went south. Why? Cause there was still hockey to be seen. Quality solid hockey, played with passion was(and still is) being enjoyed everywhere. This mindset may be suppressed in the minds of hockey fans, but eventually, the desire to spend $75+ dollars on a wild ticket will be replaced with cheering on the kids from your community at the Friday night High School Games, or driving to your closest D-1 WCHA game.
So what happens to a pro hockey team, in the state of hockey, when the newness is gone, and the team fails to compete for dominance in the league? The wild management need look no further than their colleagues in the Target Center. For years, the T-Wolves were building, and then they were doing well enough to make the playoffs now and again. Hell, they even made it to the conference finals...they were new, we forgive all. And then...nothing. No winning, not reason to believe...and fan support plummeted. Players starting leaving town, and potential free agents, ignored offers from the Wolves.
In a similar fashion, could this be why players aren't anxious to sign with the Wild? Maybe it isn't the venue, the fans or the city. Maybe, the free agents of the NHL see the Wild as a destination to be watched, and loved by fans, in a large hockey market, all the while, on a team, which isn't prepared to take its organizational game to the next level. Thus leaving players who want to win, overlooking a contract from St. Paul. (Do these tie in with the rumors from earlier? hmm.)
A new team can afford to play on the cheap, but an established market team can't. At year eight, a team needs to realize it is quickly approaching established-hood. I don't know how this message can be conveyed any other way than this...progression and winning keeps fans happy and keeps dollars coming in..."doing it how we have always done it" yields complacency and a lack of interest.
If this management team can't take the Wild to the next level...then doesn't ownership want to change the management staff? Again, why sell 41 games worth of beer, when you can sell 50+ games worth? Why settle for an occasional free agent, when you can create a culture where players are willing to take less to be part of "that?" Why do something half-assed, when you have the means to go all out?
Something needs to change, and preferably soon. A state like MN deserves a better product on the ice than we have seen the past two-four years. I hate to think about the Wild in the basement of the league, but sometimes I wonder, if that is where they need to go, before the message is received by the "powers that be."
If the Wild management/ownership doesn't start thinking of new ways to succeed, their former "new" team will become yesterday's news.