Monday, April 21, 2014

Success Does Not Happen Overnight

Photo: Christian Peterson/Getty Images
Tonight, the Wild will take to the ice at Xcel Energy Center in hopes of cutting their 2-0 quarterfinal series deficit in half. They do so with previous experience in that department, as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime in Game Three of last year's quarterfinal round.

But some of you out there have already voiced your displeasure with this series. Some of you have also voiced your concern with the lack of progress this team has made in the postseason when comparing last year to this year, through two games. Well, I'm here to tell you today that if history has told us anything, its that success does not happen overnight.

The Wild are in their third year of the Mike Yeo era. In his first season, the team enjoyed the title of overachievers in the NHL as they boasted the best record in the league through mid-December before injuries exposed lack of depth and they plummeted to a draft lottery pick instead of a playoff appearance.

The second season saw a lockout shortened year have extreme highs and extreme lows with the team backing into a playoff appearance followed by a quick five game exit in the postseason.

This year, the Wild came with a more youthful roster and battled injuries to their top goaltenders all season. Depsite the flaws, the team finished with the second best record in franchise history, and locked up the top Wild Card spot in the uber-competitive Western Conference. Despite the good season, the Wild find themselves down 2-0 in their opening round series, and the fanbase is once again questioning the future of the franchise.

When you think of successful teams in the league over a long period of time, a pair of clubs come to mind. The Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks are two teams who have been ushering a model of consistency for two decades. Did their success just suddenly happen out of nowhere? Absolutely not.

The Red Wings (23 consecutive playoff appearances) enjoyed a long drought of missing the playoffs in the 60s, 70s, and parts of the 80s. Basically the team relied on the draft to rebuild their faltering franchise, and it has lead to one of the greatest streaks in professional sports. But did they have instant playoff success? Absolutely not.

Detroit began their run of playoff seasons in the 1990-91 season (a favorite of North Stars fans). That season, the Wings finished third in the Norris Division and held a 3-1 series lead in the first round before losing in seven to the St Louis Blues.

The following year (1991-92), a much improved Detroit club fell behind 2-0 in their opening round series against Minnesota before coming back to win the series in seven. They were quickly dispatched 4-0 in the following round by the eventual Campbell Conference Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

It took Detroit three more seasons before making a deep playoff run, when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Jacques Lemaire's New Jersey Devils.

Two years later, the Red Wings finally made it to the top. And then did the same the following year too.

The Wings went on to win two more Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008, and are still going strong in making the playoffs. They also are still producing high quality talent through the draft (see Nyquist, Gustav and Tatar, Tomas), a credit to their front office.

Also appearing in the conversation of the consistency model are the San Jose Sharks (11 straight appearances and 16 out of the past 17 seasons).

The Sharks were new to the league in 1991-92, and it only took them a couple of years before they finally broke into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following back to back last place finishes in 1996 and 1997, the Sharks have gone on one of the more impressive streak of playoff runs that is only rivaled by the aforementioned Red Wings.

When the Sharks went on their run of playoff appearances, it took them three years before they made it out of the first round and then another four years before they made it to the Conference Finals.

San Jose won four consecutive division championships from 2008-2011, and during that stretch they made it to the Conference Finals in consecutive years. But that is all the further San Jose has gotten in the playoffs. They are still seeking that elusive Stanley Cup (the 2014 Sharks story has yet to be finished yet though).

What these two teams have modeled for the rest of the league is drafting high end talent through the draft, making high quality trades, and signing free agents to fill key positions.

That is what the Minnesota Wild are trying to do here. They are not going to mortgage the future for just one Stanley Cup Playoff run. They want to enjoy a streak similar to what the Red Wings and Sharks have accomplished (although, they would like to go a bit further than the Sharks ever have).

So when you are taking in Game 3 tonight, remember that success does not truly happen overnight. Yes, the Wild have veteran players who are paid big time to lead this team. But they have eight players on this roster under the age of 24, who are playing in big spots. One of them is Darcy Kuemper, tonight's starting goaltender.

If the Wild go on to lose this series, there is not much more you can say than that Colorado was the superior team here (lets be honest, the Avs have been through two games). That would make it two consecutive playoff appearances for the Wild where they would lose to the superior team. Is that a concept really losing sleep over? Its not.

A first round exit would just about cause the fanbase and most of the local media to riot. But in five years, Craig Leipold, Chuck Fletcher, and co. will want to look back on this season as a building block. It may seem insignificant now, but it will be very significant down the line.

Because that is what they are trying to build here. A model of consistency.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell


  1. I get what you're saying here, Giles, but I think the concern stems from the fact that the Wild's core is all in the 29-30 age bracket meaning their best seasons in terms of production are likely behind them. That means that the Wild's window to win the cup is theoretically within the next 2-3 years before their core has declined too much. While there are talented young players coming through, right now they look more like complimentary players to the core as opposed to stars (i.e. there is no Nathan MacKinnon in the Wild's prospect pool) so the best chance to win the Cup surely is when the ageing core is still contributing and these young players are coming into their prime, which is probably within the next 3 years.

    The difference with the Red Wings and the Sharks is that they were teams loaded with generational talent. The Wild don't have a Shanahan or a Lidstrom or a Thornton or a Marleau. It's unfortunately the price to be paid for never picking in the top-5 of the draft.

    I still think this team has the talent to win a Cup in the near future, but they are going to have to accelerate the process and I think a big part of that could be changing the coach because their offensive production and special teams are just pathetic. When your comparables in terms of shot generation are teams like the Oilers and Sabres with a roster like this, then something is wrong.

  2. And if age is a concern, the point here also can be that the Wings kept producing players despite their great ones getting old and retiring. Think long term man.