On Friday, Minnesota United FC started their MLS journey, which you can read about over at our sister site E Pluribus Loonum. While the Loons’ season opener was anything but ideal, this is as good an opportunity as any to revisit how the Minnesota Wild got started in the NHL.
The Wild weren’t Minnesota’s first NHL team, which fans are regularly reminded of. That distinction would go to the former Minnesota North Stars, currently the Dallas Stars, who were moved to Texas in 1993 by the team’s owner at the time, Norm Green. The move left Minnesota without a NHL team and many fans are still bitter years later.
Before the league announced it was expanding from 26 to 30 teams, the original Winnipeg Jets were bought and almost found a home in Minnesota before a stadium deal fell through, sending the team to Phoenix, Arizona.
A year later in 1997, the NHL announced that a team was awarded to Minnesota that would start play in the 2000-2001. The team obviously went with the name Wild, but the other five finalist team names were the Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, and White Bears. Within the next few years, Doug Riseborough was named as the team’s first General Manager and the Xcel Energy Center was completed in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition, Jacques Lemaire was named as the team’s first head coach.
The Wild joined the league along with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 2000-2001 season that began with the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. Of the 26 players the Wild selected in the expansion draft, Scott Pelerin, Filip Kuba, and Darby Hendrickson were likely the most notable. Pelerin lead the team in points in the Wild’s first season despite being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes after playing 58 games. Meanwhile, Kuba had the second most points of Wild defensemen with 30. Lastly, Darby Hendrickson never scored much for the Wild, but since retiring, he’s served as a commentator for the Wild on Fox Sports North and is currently in his fifth year as an Assistant Coach for the Wild.
Only a day after the Expansion Draft, the 2000 NHL Entry Draft began. Through eight rounds, the Wild drafted three notable players. Marian Gaborik was selected with the third overall pick and to this day, still holds the Wild’s records for the franchise’s most goals, most points in a season, and most goals in a season. Nick Shultz was drafted thirty-third overall in the second round and played with the Wild until the 2011-2012 season. Up until last season, Shultz still held the franchise record for most games played before Mikko Koivu overtook him. Lastly, Lubomir Sekeras was drafted in the eighth round, but he still went on to lead the Wild’s defense in scoring with 34 points. That point total wouldn’t be surpassed by another Wild defenseman until Brent Burns scored 43 points in the 2007-2008 season. Sekeras only played two more seasons with the Wild, and after only four games with the Dallas Stars in the 2003-2004 season, Sekeras moved over to Europe to play hockey.
A few months later, the Wild’s first season started in Anaheim, and while they would lose their first game to the Ducks, Gaborik would score the Wild’s first goal to prevent a shutout. A couple games later, the Wild tied their first home game 3-3 against the Philedelphia Flyers. When the Wild finally faced the Dallas Stars for the first time at home, they would shutout Minnesota’s former team 6-0 in front of a sold out crowd. The Wild finished the season in last place of the Northwest Division but only second to last in the Western Conference.
The Wild hasn’t been around long compared to most other NHL teams, but it still has an interesting history for fans to look back on.