Sifting through the ashes of another early playoff exit for a talented team, it would be easy to give up on this current iteration of the Minnesota Wild. After all, there's a lot going against the franchise if you're looking at next year's Stanley Cup chances.
Right off the hop, this year's version of the Wild featured just one Cup winner from the past – and it was Matt Cooke. If you're looking to Matt Cooke for hockey advice, you're pretty much sunk before you start.
But this is an easy situation to remedy. You can always go out and acquire some players with experience and they don't have to be star contributors. The Chicago Blackhawks (who will come up a lot in this blog) won the 2010 Cup without any core players having previously hoisting the chalice: It was Andrew Ladd and John Madden, solid soldiers to be sure, that had championships to their name before the Hawks' run.
And then of course, there's the obvious other stream: Once you do win, all the questions of whether your group can do it magically go away. Marian Hossa had lost in the final two years in a row with Pittsburgh and Detroit before finally breaking through with Chicago. Were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane ready to lead a team to victory? Well, apparently they were.
So Minnesota's core could totally make a run next season. It's not like these guys are bereft of titles. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won gold at the world juniors – and did so at a time when Team USA didn't win there too often. Mikko Koivu has a World Championship title to his name and while that's not a best-on-best tournament, it's still hard to win.
And sure, these titles were from the past, but at least we can establish that these core players aren't jinxes or anchors; they've been to the top of the mountain and that's not easy.
Is improvement needed in Minnesota? Of course. The Wild will almost have to beat Chicago in the post-season one of these years in order to get a sniff at the Cup and depth down the middle will be a great place to start. Fortunately, they have the potential.
Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula are all still young – not one of the pivots is older than 24 – and I would not be surprised if any or all of them took the next step in their development next season. With Koivu as your savvy two-way veteran, this team would be more dangerous if Granlund and/or Coyle become even 65-point players during the regular season, with more consistent offense in the playoffs.
Then, it's the other team that would be looking at match-up problems (especially if Chicago has trouble navigating the salary cap in the summer).
And yes, these are all hypotheticals, but I don't think they're outlandish ones. While it may seem like Minnesota is spinning its wheels, I believe the window will still be open next year. Whether the Wild can push past Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville is the hanging question.