The Wild will wrap up a successful regular season with two games this week and then head into the playoffs feeling as if they actually have a chance. That’s thanks in large part to the presence of rookie superstar Kirill Kaprizov.
The Vikings, meanwhile, came out of the NFL draft appearing to have addressed at least a couple immediate needs, the Timberwolves are showing signs of late-season life under new coach Chris Finch and the Twins … well, it stands to be a long summer for them at this rate.
Now seems like a good time to do the rankings for the local MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL teams in town. Safe to say, there have been some changes since the last time we did this exercise.
NO. 1 WILD
Kaprizov is the biggest reason for the Wild’s rise to the top, but don’t sell short general manager Bill Guerin and coach Dean Evason for the job they have done turning this team into a winner on the ice and changing things off of it.
The Wild long was known as a dysfunctional bunch with some talent, but the dysfunction has been replaced by the additions of Stanley Cup winning veterans such as Nick Bonino and Ian Cole. The feeling entering this 56-game season was that the Wild would have a chance to grab the fourth playoff spot in the West Division behind Colorado, St. Louis and Vegas.
Instead, the Wild entered Monday’s games a point behind the Avalanche in third place in the division and 18 points ahead of fourth-place St. Louis. Guerin spent the offseason upgrading the Wild’s goaltending and his early-season trade for Cole has proven to be one of the best in-season additions the Wild have ever made.
Kaprizov leads NHL rookies with 27 goals and 51 points in 54 games and will win the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. Among the most obvious signs of change for the Wild is the fact that veteran winger Zach Parise appears to be in line to be a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
The Wild won’t be a favorite in the first round, but with Kaprizov leading the way they also can’t be dismissed for this season or many more to come.
NO. 2 VIKINGS
Coming off a disappointing 7-9 season that means the pressure will be on general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings appear to have put themselves in a position to bounce back.
The defense, coming off a horrible season, has been retooled and Spielman used his first-round pick to address the left tackle position by taking 6-foot-5, 313-pound Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech. Wyatt Davis, a third-round pick from Ohio State, could find himself starting at guard.
The Vikings have plenty of top skill position talent for quarterback Kirk Cousins to utilize and an improved offensive line means Cousins should have more time and opportunity to throw the ball this season.
Are the Vikings a Super Bowl contender? That seems like a stretch, but they definitely should be a playoff team in 2021. That would continue the trend of Zimmer-coached teams making the playoffs every other season since his arrival in 2014.
NO. 3 TIMBERWOLVES
Probably the hottest take on this list is to put the Wolves third.
Minnesota was long ago eliminated from the playoff race, but is 6-4 in its past 10 games and 14-23 since Finch was hired to replaced the fired Ryan Saunders in late February.
Despite the fact the Wolves might lose their first-round pick to Golden State from the Andrew Wiggins-D’Angelo Russell trade, the pick is only top-three protected, there still is reason for hope. It begins with Anthony Edwards, the first-overall pick in the 2020 draft, and how much the 19-year-old’s game has grown this season.
Edwards is the likely NBA Rookie of the Year — his 18.9 points per game leads the team — and his presence on and off the court is impressive. Karl-Anthony Towns is a star talent, but Edwards is more of a leader and appears comfortable in that role.
Russell underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in mid-February, but returned after missing 27 games. He has been coming off the bench but that isn’t the plan for next season. Malik Beasley has been out because of a hamstring injury, but Finch is hopeful for a late-season return so he can get some time with Towns, Edwards and Russell.
What will be most interesting to see is what the Wolves look like after a full training camp under Finch. He appears to have a definite plan, but it won’t be implemented until after the offseason.
This might appear odd to read, but there’s no reason the Wolves shouldn’t compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference next season.
NO. 4 TWINS
It’s shocking to put the Twins last but it’s where they belong.
They are currently the third-worst team in the Major Leagues at 12-20 and the only reason they are not in last place in the AL Central is because the Detroit Tigers (10-24) are in their division. The Tigers beat the Twins on Saturday before Sunday’s game was (thankfully) rained out.
How did the back-to-back AL Central champions get so bad, so fast? That’s an excellent question. It begins with a bullpen that’s been a huge disappointment and is almost guaranteed to allow inherited runners to score. There also are issues with the lineup, including the fact Miguel Sano has spent the season lost at the plate and Byron Buxton is out again because of an injury (hip strain).
Yes, the Twins are only 32 games into the season and there is time to turn around things but watching this club you get the sense that Derek Falvey and Co., are more likely to end up trading veterans than they are to see the current crew lead a resurgence.