The Wild will choose their 25th first-rounder on Wednesday when the NHL draft is held in Nashville. Barring maneuvers, the choice will come 21st, reflecting both another season of competent play followed by playoff disappointment for our St. Paul heroes.
The highest-ever Wild selection was the franchise's first, with Marian Gaborik being taken at No. 3 in 2000, and becoming an explosive player with injury issues.
The Wild have followed that by taking unsigned Filip Johansson and ascending star Matt Boldy as consecutive first-rounders, Jonas Brodin (741 NHL regular-season games) and Zack Phillips (zero NHL games) as 2011 first rounders, and Brent Burns at No. 20 and Tyler Cuma at No. 23 to play defense.
Burns would win the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 2017, although it was for San Jose, and Cuma would play one NHL game for the Wild.
If the selection does come at No. 21, there will be assurances he is a player of large promise. He might then become a star, or he might flop, but either way, Wild loyalists will offer either joy or forgiveness.
This remains the most remarkable Minnesota fan base of my lifetime.
Don't tell me about the Vikings. That's eight (or nine, now) home games a season to get liquored up and chant "SKOL." The Wild play 41 in a season, half of those in the dead of winter, and yet they come — and sign up to come again, even when a 2-1 series lead against Dallas (our former Stars!) disappears.
"Our season ticket renewals are in the mid-90s [percentage] again,'' said Matt Majka, president of the Wild. "It is one of the top renewal rates in the league. Our fans remain extraordinary."
Those fans have been through a season lost to an owners' lockout (2004-05), a season shrunk to 48 games by another lockout (2012-13), two seasons greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet back they came.
"That second COVID-19 season , we started off with no fans, and then a very limited number … and that was [Kirill] Kaprizov's first season," Majka said Tuesday. "He was spectacular, the rookie of the year, and our fans had to wait to see him in person.''
Sharp tool in the box that he is, Majka then offered the disclaimer that masses of people obviously went through worse than did the Wild in serving their audience.
When full houses returned in October 2021, Kaprizov was still spectacular (47 goals, 108 points), the Wild were second in the mighty Central Division with 113 points, and then out they went in six games to the Blues.
How did the hockey crowd react to that disappointment?
Filled up the X again last season, swallowed more playoff disappointment, and renewed their season tickets at a mid-90s percentile for 2023-24 (schedule announced Tuesday).
This goes back to June 25, 1997, when Minnesota received its return notice from the NHL, and to Jan. 22, 1998, when the odd name "Wild'' was revealed at Aldrich Arena, and to Oct. 11, 2000, Opening Night to a first regular season vs. the Flyers (3-3 tie).
On that night, they hung a No. 1 jersey in the rafters to honor Minnesota's hockey fans. There were occasional laughs as that jersey hung alone for 22 ½ years, until center Mikko Koivu's No. 9 was raised on March 13, 2023.
The laughs didn't change this:
In those three years from announced expansion to Game One, the organizational and marketing genius of mastermind Jac Sperling, and Tod Leiweke, the team's first president, and Majka, a young man from the business world, and numerous others, took feedback from thousands of Minnesota hockey fans and vowed to make this "their'' team.
Silly as it seems, the No. 1 is up there as a reminder that it was the pleas from the fans that brought back the NHL to Minnesota.
"That team was born out of Minnesota's love for hockey, and the need to be back in the NHL,'' said Leiweke, now the president of the Seattle Kraken, the new darlings of the Pacific Northwest sports market.
"And I'll give you a hint: Matt Majka remains the secret sauce. He truly understands the connection that we all seek between our team and the fans.''
Twenty-three years later, the symbol of that is the kid — boy or girl — skating out to plant the "State of Hockey'' flag at center ice.
Doing so to that tune. What's that tune telling you it's almost time to drop a puck?
"The late, great John Olson, from the ad agency, is responsible,'' Majka said. "He was everything in life, including a musician. John and his people brought that music to us and we all said, 'That's it.'"
That is it.
Good luck in the draft, Bill Guerin, but either way, the faithful No. 1s already have renewed their tickets.