It was nice while it lasted. All good things must come to an end.
We've all heard (or used) a cliched phrase at some point in our lives, perhaps more than we'd care to admit. However, while they may be a bit trite, they all possess a grain of truth. For example, when we get a chance to attend a Wild game and hang out with friends, at some point we have to go home. In the case of the Minnesota Wild, some of those cliches have finally come true.
Last night, the Wild opened up their pre-season schedule at home in the usually friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center. The long-standing sellout streak that once belonged to Minnesota no longer exists. The Wild's streak ended at 409 games, which when broken down based on the kind of game, 369 regular season games, 27 pre-season games, and 13 playoff games. One could argue however, that it was only a pre-season game. The real proof of hard times yet to come will be when the regular season sellout streak ends.
It is obvious to most people, that the state of the economy is the greatest factor on whether or not a game is sold out. When people wonder how secure their job is, they tend to reconsider non-essential purchases. While we all love hockey, truth of the matter, one does not need hockey to survive (I know, it sounds a bit sacrilegious). The average cost of one hockey ticket can cover a significant portion of your monthly electric bill. Most people would argue that having power in one's house is more important than attending a game.
On top of the still slumping economy, Wild fans have had to continually watch teams with less than spectacular rosters. Under the previous regime of owner Bob Naegele, Jr. and General Manager Doug Risebrough, we've had to endure rosters either built either on the cheap (look at rosters prior to the institution of a salary floor) or teams with ridiculous contracts. Current owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher are still having to contend with poor decisions made before their respective tenures. When management feels that their hands have been tied behind their backs, there's only so much they can do. Because of the restrictive contracts, Leipold and Fletcher have founds themselves hindered from bringing in the talented (which generally means pricey) scorer or defenseman. Only a fool would refuse to admit that star talent sells tickets. Without being able to put a quality product on the ice, the Wild will most likely have a difficult time putting fans in the seats during the regular season.
There's one additional factor that I doubt many in Minnesota or around the NHL thought about prior to the first drop of the puck.. Here it is, almost October. For sport fans, the thoughts of many are turned toward the MLB playoffs. In the case of the Wild, many Minnesotans have been spending their money at the new Target Field home of the Minnesota Twins. The draw of a new ballpark on top of a team that has won their division 6 times in the last nine years has been too much for many to ignore. When you have to decide how to spend your money, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck (yes, another cliche). Right now, the Twins are the ticket in town. While I'm not a baseball fan myself, the success the Twins have found, they deserve. One simply has to remember they were a team that baseball commissioner Bud Selig tried to contract almost ten years ago due to poor attendance. Now, there's not a ticket to be found. Remember however, the Wild used to be the hot ticket, and they eventually will be once again. Of course it also helps that one of baseball's marquee players is none other than hometown boy Joe Mauer. Don't get me wrong, this is not a plea for more Minnesotans on the Wild roster. The Wild simply need a marquee player that will draw in fans and generate excitement like Mauer does for the Twins. But alas, we get back to the root of the problem, lack of salary cap space.
Wild head coach, Todd Richards doesn't feel a need for panic just yet. However, if the trend continues, one can only hope he can find a way to break free of the downward spiral sooner than he did last season. If the rough patches come early and seem rather lengthy, I highly suggest he avoids the "optional" practices we saw last season. Hard, brutal practices are often the best medicine to help one break free of mediocrity. That's usually the best way to bring about the end of the "optional" effort in games is to rid the team of "optional" practices.
And as the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Yes my friends, we may be drinking a lot of lemonade this season. However, I'd rather be drinking lemonade than drinking the Kool-Aid.