The 2007-2008 season is a huge moment in the Minnesota Wild organIzation's young life.
Whether or not we wanted to, we swallowed DR's five year plan. The idea was that DR and co would build a team the core of which would ultimately compete for the Cup, as opposed to just trying to get into the playoffs, every season. I think the Senators are a good comparison for what I envision his plan evolving into. In exchange for our patience as savvy hockey consumers over the seminal years, Minnesotans and Wild fans everywhere would receive an honest effort every night, a team that didn't get blown out, and a number retired in our honor. That, more or less, we got.
An interesting by-product of this approach was that the team was just competitive enough to finish out of the running for a good shot at a top-three pick in the draft in all but our inaugural season. So our "success" to-date has actually cost us in terms of missing out on some true blue chip prospects. Other than AJ Thelen, I mean.
I think the team has delivered measured progress every year. The Cinderella run in '03 was an added bonus. And I think last year's free agent bonanza and playoff appearance was less aberration (as '03 might have been) and more because we were finally a playoff-caliber team.
So, in keeping with DR's plan, if the success from last season was a natural, sustainable progression, then it's reasonable to expect them to at least maintain that level (ie make the playoffs) if not even improve on it (ie win a series) this season.
Therefore, this is a very important season. If they do maintain or improve, then everything's cool. But if they take a step back and miss the playoffs (which they could very well do in an extremely tough division without too much going "wrong") then you could easily see the veterans they have brought in the last couple years to satellite the young nucleus jettisoned, and a new approach taken. To me, that would represent a break in the deal that DR struck with us.
There are obviously a lot of little things that make up what ends up being a successful or unsuccessful season. An injury here, a suspension there.
But regardless, the pressure is on the Minnesota Wild this season, starting from the top (DR) down. I just hope they see it that way.