It’s strange to compare seasons in different sports, but we can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen this Minnesota Wild season before. Sure, it bears some similarity to last year’s Wild campaign. But for the closest local comparison, we’re tempted to leave hockey altogether and draw parallels to the 2003 Twins.
The 2003 Twins, like the 2014-15 Wild, were coming off their first taste of postseason success in a long time the previous year (the 2002 Twins upset the A’s in the playoffs; the 2013-14 Wild upset the Avs in the playoffs).
The 2003 Twins started off the season in fine fashion, sitting at 38-27 and up five games in the AL Central through 65 contests. Roughly a third of the way into its season, the Wild was 15-10-1 — on pace for close to 100 points and a looking to be a good bet to make the postseason once again.
But then the 2003 Twins hit a terrible patch, going 6-22 in their final 28 games before the All-Star Break to sit at 44-49, 7.5 games back in the division. This year’s Wild, too, stumbled into the All-Star break, winning just five of its final 20 games into the break (going 5-10-5) to fall far out of contention.
A key mid-year acquisition, though, jolted the 2003 Twins back to life. Shannon Stewart, acquired from Toronto, took over the leadoff spot and hit .322 with a .384 OBP the rest of the season for Minnesota. He was just one piece of the puzzle, but he helped everything fall into place. The Twins went 46-23 after the break and won the division easily.
For the Wild, that jolt seems to have come from goalie Devan Dubnyk. He’s now 8-1 with a 1.49 GAA and a .940 save percentage since being acquired from Arizona. The Wild is a perfect 6-0 since the break, vaulting from buried in the standings to close to a 50-50 chance of making the postseason — while looking, again, like one of the best teams in the NHL.
Those 2003 Twins, of course, didn’t make much noise in the playoffs — losing to the Yankees in four games, the start of a pattern of postseason futility against the Bronx Bombers. This year’s Wild still has a hill to climb to get to the postseason. If it does, we wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the Wild’s path diverges from the 2003 Twins and Minnesota is able to advance again in the playoffs.
We’ll assume everyone agrees that the Super Bowl might be a good barometer for whether a guy can or can’t play at the NFL level. Yeah, I know, no one ran a 40-yard dash in his shorts. No one touched a barbell with 225 pounds on it. And I didn’t see a single cone drill, let along a three-cone one.
We’ll then take it a step further and suggest that the fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl — a record comeback for the Patriots over the Seahawks – also was a good measuring stick for NFL-caliber talent. Although we will concede that nary a vertical or broad jump was measured in that wild 15-minute period.
Keep that in mind as you pour over the list of 300-plus names invited to next week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Here are some of the names the draftniks wouldn’t have seen as they prepped for past combines:
Malcolm Butler: Combine invites in 2014 for the Division II West Alabama cornerback: 0. Game-saving interceptions of Russell Wilson on the goal line with 26 seconds left to give Tom Brady and Bill Belichick their fourth Super Bowl title together and cement them in football history forever and ever: 1.
Julian Edelman: When his combine rolled around, Edelman was a small nothing of a quarterback from Kent State. When Brady needed a record fourth-quarter combeback, Edelman was one of the best receivers in Super Bowl history. And, by the way, the guy Edelman replaced in the Patriots lineup before last season, Wes Welker, also didn’t get a combine invite.
If you want to go back another year, here’s another name to keep in mind:
Malcolm Smith: The Seahawks linebacker basically was a no-name player, overshadowed by Seattle’s superstar secondary, until Super Bowl XLVIII. Number of combine invites for Smith: 0. Number of Super Bowl XLVIII MVP trophies for helping destroy Peyton Manning: 1.
Here are some other names to remember as we continue fixating on who will be taken in the first round of the draft in late April:
Michael Bennett: The Seahawks defensive lineman might have been the best defender on the field in this year’s Super Bowl. There were times that he was unblockable. He also was undrafted in 2009.
Danny Amendola: Another part of Brady’s arsenal in the fourth quarter. Also undrafted.
Jermaine Kearse: Perhaps the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. One that wouldn’t have been believable enough to put in a movie script. Also undrafted.
Chris Matthews: If Seattle hands the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line instead of passing the ball, Seattle wins and Matthews wins MVP. Yeah, undrafted too.
If you’re focus is only on the Vikings, we got two more names to keep in mind as you watch the combine unfold next week and the draft in two months:
Cordarrelle Patterson & Charles Johnson: Patterson was a gifted athlete from Tennessee. He went to the combine and was a first-round draft pick. That same year, 2013, Johnson was a D-II player who went overlooked by the combine and was a seventh round pick of the Packers. In 2014, Patterson took a step back and his career is now at a critical crossroad while pointed in the wrong direction. Only he can determine where it goes from here. Meanwhile, Johnson was the guy the Vikings turned to when Patterson’s season went kaput. With Adrian Peterson out of the picture, Kyle Rudolph injured and Patterson mentally lost, it was Johnson to whom rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater clung to as he began to mature and form an offensive identity for the Vikings.
Each year, more than 300 players are invited to the combine. Each year, about 40 or so who aren’t invited to the combine are drafted. And each year, other players aren’t invited to the combine and aren’t drafted, yet some of them reach greater heights than the players ranked far above them.
Mo Williams is a logical trade piece for the Wolves, assuming Ricky Rubio can play the bulk of games down the stretch. Williams was a one-year stopgap who can certainly help a contending team.
As such, you’ll probably hear his name quite a bit between now and Feb. 19, which is the NBA trade deadline. One team to watch in particular, per a tweet from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski: Charlotte.
Sources: Charlotte had discussions on deal to acquire guards Mo Williams and Troy Daniels, but talks with Minnesota stalled in recent days.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 9, 2015
It makes sense. The Hornets are trying to make the playoffs in the East, but Kemba Walker is out for several weeks.