At the beginning of this season, and several times since then, I have said that I continue to buy into DR's "crock pot" (read: slow cooker) method of contender-building. We're midwesterners afterall - it's pretty much all about the crock pot.
The idea is that every season we get treated to a hard working, honest team that shows slow-yet-measurable evolution towards the perennial "evergreen" contender status enjoyed by the true heavyweights in the league. I would guess Detroit fits that mold. Maybe Ottawa.
This means we might not get a look at Lord Stanley's mug for a while but, when we do get to the point where we're legitimately in the running for it, we should be able to sustain that for a long time/ever.
So my expectation for this season was to see an improvement over last year's one win in the playoffs.
Seriously, though, I think the team definitely showed some improvement. I think they wrestled with trying to be more offensive and tougher all season, and with obvious growing pains along the way. They definitely stayed more healthy than in the past (Mikko's leg notwithstanding). True, they were not as defensively sound as in years past, but when you're trying to push more on offense, you're bound to give up more (and more quality) chances. This also leads to more pressure on the goalies - neither of whom is all-world at this point - and when they give up more goals (or goals at crucial times) it appears as though they are not as good as they were before.
That all being said, there are still big holes on the team. The largest, in my opinion, is the clear lack of impact leadership. I am willing to say that they are "grooming" the leaders of tomorrow - who will, presumably, blossom around the same time as the team reaches evergreen contender status. But after Walz skated off into the sunset, it was clear that they did not have a viable "grab 'em by the short hairs and demand accountability" guy in the room.
Would it have mattered in the playoffs? Maybe not. To be honest, I wasn't too disappointed with their play against Colorado. I thought they did a good job of controlling the play, certainly out-chanced the Avalanche and might have won but for Theodore's brilliance.
I did feel as though JL got outcoached by Quenneville - even in St. Paul - which is a little alarming. It just always seemed like Colorado was okay with the matchups they got. Maybe that's because they're just a good team. There is some grumbling about whether or not he lost the team this season, which is, to me, an extension of the question of whether or not JL is the coach to take this team to the next level. It is widely held that he is a master at teaching the game to the younger players, but if the idea is that the Wild is ready to take the next step towards legitimacy, then maybe that's moving outside his realm?
There will be time for breaking down the team in the days/weeks/months (sigh) to come between now and the draft. So, for now, I will close with two points.
First, and most importantly, thank you for reading this season. While I consider this to be more of a cathartic shunt than a voice for myself, it is humbling and thrilling to think that you at least take the time to pick your way through my ramblings.
Second, the Wild is going to be fine. They have a great core, and they're building in the right direction, in the right way. While it might take longer than we ALL want for that to pay dividends, only one team wins the Cup each season - and, to be honest, it probably wasn't ever going to be us this year.