One game in Finland notwithstanding, the Wild '10-11 preseason has (mercifully) come to an end. The headlines read as a garish 0-4-2, doubtless in Iron Range Red - although, in such ugly circumstances, I submit there's little difference between Iron Range Red and Streetwalker Scarlet.
Normally I don't expend a lot of energy on the outcome of preseason games. I'm more interested in the intra-personnel battles for jobs, how the kids are coming along and the injured list.
Normally, most hockey fans I know feel the same way.
But, there was just something about this particular camp and preseason that drew people (myself included) to the games, sort of like how it's impossible to not sniff at the air when someone in the car says "Oh man! Skunk!" Even the weathered, veteran MSM punditry seemed to be putting more emphasis on preseason game outcomes than normal. Maybe it was because of that 0-4-2. Obviously such a record makes for easy headline hunting when you're covering something as normally staid and blah as the preseason. Certainly that sort of record opens the door to increased scrutiny. But Russo, anyway, isn't normally given to taking the easy way out and even HE seemed to be assigning a higher degree of meaning to the outcomes of the games.
But, clearly, it's more than that. It's the premium that Fletcher and Richards and Leipold put on this camp. It was the reflection of how poorly last year's camp went (granted: new coach, lots of injuries) that helped put that premium on this camp. It was how players underachieved. Maybe it was injuries (Gui Latendresse), maybe it was something else (Robbie Earl). Maybe it was the shellshock of seeing Harding go down like that. Maybe it's the easy mark of a head coach whose maiden season didn't exactly satisfy, combined with the addition of a veteran coach and a former coach (who's tight with the GM, to boot) to at least create the optics that the wolves are gathering outside Richards' door. And then you add in a few seconds on Google translator to come up with some juicy quotes from the old assistant coach that only serve to throw more gas on that particular fire...I mean, yeah, that's easy reporting (even as a "report it as a denial, but you're still farting and then walking away from it" tactic) but where there's smoke, right?
And, that's the problem.
Too many maybes.
This was supposed to be a camp/preseason where the Wild took its own measure. That's true for every team in every camp/preseason. But, for the Wild, one year into their version of The Big Dig, this was a seminal checkpoint.
Well, the calipers are back in their box. The data has been analyzed. We have the measure of the team.
And it ain't pretty.
No, it's a whole lot of maybes. The problem is: that's pretty much where we were this time LAST season. And the season before that. And the season before that. And the season before that....(I could go on.)
The question is: what is the internal goal for this season? From Leipold to Fletcher to Richards (for now, anyway), how have they decided to measure "success" for the 2010-2011 season? Making the playoffs? Winning a round? Finishing higher than last season? Not finishing DFL? We may never know that. They're certainly not obligated to share that with us. But I think we'll get some key indicators of whether or not they're on track to meet those goals along the way this season, even if they're only obvious in hindsight, ultimately.
For now, we gird ourselves for mid-day regular season hockey. We fight the urge to give in to the TMZ-esque "thrill" of whether or not Richards' head is on the chopping block and how firmly. We look at the Blues and the Avalanches and the Kings of the league with wistful jealousy of their impressive stable of young bucks. And we wait. Like good Minnesotans and fans of Minnesota sports teams, always, we wait.