The Vikings’ biggest organizational shakeup since 2006 continued on Monday as head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman was let go after 16 seasons with the organization. Sugarman came with head coach Brad Childress from Philadelphia in 2006 and continued under Leslie Frazier and then Mike Zimmer.
That was in part because Rick Spielman was the Vikings’ general manager — he served as vice president of player personnel from 2006 to 2011 — and his presence helped provide security for Sugarman and others when Zimmer was hired in 2014. Sugarman was made the Vikings’ vice president of sports medicine in 2018.
But with Spielman and Zimmer both having been fired in January, new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell are free to make significant changes at TCO Performance Center and they are taking advantage of that opportunity.
Not just with the medical staff, but also with executives, coaches and players. The coaching staff already has been turned over, and with the NFL’s league year starting on March 16 the beginning of a roster overhaul likely will soon commence. As far as the football operations department, changes in the scouting staff and elsewhere usually don’t come until the draft is complete.
- Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell are the opposite of Spielman and Zimmer when it comes to how they operate from a public relations standpoint. That is no mistake. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf clearly had tired of how Zimmer treated the media because that is what fans saw. Spielman did his best to avoid the local media entirely. But don’t think Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell’s friendlier approach means they won’t do whatever they feel is necessary to reshape each and every part of the Vikings’ organization. Also likely playing a big role behind the scenes is chief operating officer Andrew Miller, who replaced Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in August 2019.
- The Wild have dropped eight of 10 after Sunday’s loss to Dallas at Xcel Energy Center and there are now concerns about whether this team will make the playoffs. That’s a remarkable statement considering how good the Wild looked earlier this season. What’s gone wrong? Just about everything. The power play and penalty kill are a mess, the defense has gone from strength to weakness and the team can’t win a faceoff. Most concerning, however, has to be the fact that goalies Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen look as if they can’t stop a beach ball. A month ago the question was what type of move general manager Bill Guerin might make by the March 21 trade deadline to strengthen his team for a deep playoff run? Today, the question is what moves can, or should, Guerin make to save the season?
- Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Wild’s 6-3 loss to the Stars was coach Dean Evason agreeing that his team is “fragile” right now. Fragile was the old Wild roster of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and on and on. Paul Fenton and then Guerin cleared those players out for a reason and it wasn’t to find more fragile players. One has to think the Wild would be a lot less fragile if they had any confidence their goalie was going to stop a puck.
- OK, let’s move on to the positive. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns was named the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday. The Wolves entered the day on a four-game winning streak and extended that to five by blowing out shorthanded Portland. Towns averaged 28 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the four games. He had 36 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on Saturday in a 135-121 victory over the Trail Blazers at Target Center.
- Towns, who played all 82 regular-season games in his first three NBA seasons, already has played more games this season (59) than he did in 2019-20 (35) or last season (50). In his seventh NBA season, the 26-year-old Towns appears to be a more mature player. The best way to judge that will be if Towns gets an opportunity to make an appearance in the postseason for the second time in his career.
- The Wolves can qualify for the playoffs by winning the play-in tournament, or by finishing in the top six in the Western Conference. Despite their recent hot stretch, the Wolves entered Monday 3.5 games behind fifth-seed Dallas and 2.5 games behind sixth-seed Denver. The Mavericks had won four in a row and six of seven entering their game against Utah on Monday, and the Nuggets had won eight of 10 and 10 of 12 entering their game against Golden State.
- The Wild will retire Mikko Koivu’s No. 9 on Sunday before their game against Nashville at Xcel Energy Center. Former Wild players Luke Kunin and Mikael Granlund are now with the Predators. The last player from a Minnesota NHL team to have his jersey number retired in the state was the late Bill Goldsworthy, whose No. 8 was raised to the Met Center rafters on Feb. 15, 1992. That was just over a year before the team relocated to Dallas. It also was 15-plus years after Goldsworthy was traded to the New York Rangers. Koivu’s last game with the Wild was played in August 2020 when the Wild lost in the NHL play-in tournament to Vancouver in the Edmonton bubble. The Wild did retire the No. 1 in honor of fans before the team’s first-ever game at Xcel Energy Center but that’s something we’d rather not discuss.
- Goldsworthy, who died in March 1996, was the North Stars first star and popularized what was known as the “Goldy Shuffle” for his celebration after goals. The right winger scored 267 of his 283 NHL goals during his 10 seasons with the North Stars.
- The North Stars only retired two numbers while based in Minnesota. Goldsworthy’s and Bill Masterton’s No. 19. Masterton died after suffering a head injury in a January 1968 game at Met Center. His number wasn’t issued again but it wasn’t retired until January 1987. The Dallas Stars have since retired Neal Broten’s No. 7 and Mike Modano’s No. 9.
- Sean Shapiro of The Athletic reports that NHL will bring back its reverse retro jersey program next season. The Wild’s jerseys — which had a North Stars look to them — were a hit last season but Shapiro writes that these will be new designs. In other words, there will be more new (and expensive) merchandise for fans to buy.