There isn’t a whole lot of positivity built into being a Minnesota sports fan, especially a Minnesota Wild fan. Nearly two decades of failure have ground fans’ happiness into a fine dust, like a mortar and pestle being operated by Dwayne Johnson.
Fans have predictably reacted by giving up hope, feeling defeated or lashing out in anger.
The latter there is, and should be, the most baffling. Since the end of the Wild season, borderline bizarre behavior has echoed off the thawed lakes of Minnesota and you end up with crap like this:
I think we can all agree that things like this are way out of line, and obviously not representative of the entire Wild fanbase. But in a way, this piece of flaming human garbage is a symptom of the negativity of the fanbase. Sure, he was probably a godforsaken scumbag to begin with, but his anger and frustration with the Wild have boiled over to the point where he thinks that an interaction like this is worth his time.
This is a very, very extreme example, obviously, but again, it’s a little indicative. Sadly, it hasn’t stopped with amateur keyboard warriors. We’ve got columnists writing ledes like this.
The vitriol for Ryan Suter allegedly being asked about the team’s confidence in Chuck Fletcher has been a real hot button this spring, and for some odd reason, something for the negative types to latch onto as if it’s some kind of fatal flaw with the team. Because an owner consulting a player on any kind of decision involving the team is forbidden in the realm of sports, or something.
Except when Zach Parise’s buddy Chris Porter gets a job here, that’s ok.
And when Jared Spurgeon’s childhood best friend Tyler Ennis gets traded for, that’s fine too.
But I’m sure those players were never consulted on those matters, nor has any player ever been consulted on anything involving a team that he is a part of. NHL front offices need to use every resource at their disposal, just not that one.
Remember a few years ago when Parise was labeled as some kind of prima donna malcontent who insisted on certain practice activities, line combinations, etc.? Yeah, I don’t remember that either.
It never happened.
The point is that negativity is a funny thing. What was fine, or even encouraged before, when this team was losing but it was alright because Wild fans still had hope, is not fine anymore, now that the team is losing and Wild fans don’t have any hope left. Are fans upset about Fletcher being fired? No, they damn near threw a parade. But then Suter’s involvement gets mentioned, and suddenly he’s public enemy No. 1 for maybe possibly saying something supporting something everyone wanted.
And of course, all of this gets reflected back on Wild owner Craig Leipold, who is now firmly in the crosshairs of Minnesota Wild fans.
Has he done a great job as the owner?
Depends on who you ask. If you believe in the separation of powers that front offices should have, he has had literally nothing to do with the Wild’s lack of success over the past few years.
In fact, the only thing he can do, writing checks, he’s been great at, sparing no expense when bringing in marquee names like Parise and Suter, and also Bruce Boudreau. Imagine how Wild fans would feel about Leipold right now had he gone Scrouge McDuck on the team, and suddenly tightened his purse strings during the Parise and Suter offseason? Would the team be better off?
It’s perhaps possible, but the opinion of him as a competent owner would be irreparably damaged.
There isn’t any real evidence that Leipold has been involved in any personnel decisions, but for some reason, Wild fans are being led to believe he’s to blame. Granted, his constant talk of the Wild winning a Stanley Cup has cried wolf probably 3-4 too many times, but as team owner, what exactly should he say? Had he gotten behind a podium and proclaimed the Wild are “Just tickled pink to make the playoffs!” the conversation would be very, very different.
There certainly hasn’t been any kind of evidence that he presided over the expansion draft that the Wild seemingly misplayed, another recent source of fan infuriation.
His contribution to that fiasco was being a part of setting the rules for the expansion draft, and while they were advantageous to Vegas in hindsight, no one certainly saw them as a death sentence to the other 30 NHL teams at the time. Besides, if Wild fans are unhappy about losing Erik Haula and Alex Tuch, great news: The guy that was responsible got fired!
Swift justice is the best kind of justice, isn’t it?
Perhaps the most inexplicable negativity is that directed at GM Paul Fenton’s hire, probably because Leipold was the one that hired him — which automatically means bad, I guess? — when he hadn’t been on the job for more than a few hours. While there are some glaring exceptions (Tim Brewster), expecting failure out of a freshly hired, high-profile sports figure based on nothing more than the pain the team they are hired by is a little unfair.
While many folks will try to tell you they didn’t like this hire or that hire from day one, it should also go without saying that no one really knows for certain from day one, either.
So what can Wild fans be mad at, you may ask. Great question. Here’s a suggestion:
I know, I know. This seems outlandish. And believe me, I’m not here to give a [local radio personality] type “sell” job on all of the positive things about the Wild. In my honest opinion, they won’t win a Stanley Cup in this particular era of the team.
Also in my opinion, it is still actually possible. That’s the beauty of sports, right? Look no further than the Vegas Golden Knights, a team of relative cast-offs on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup in their first year. That’s the kind of underdog story that makes sports fun.
The kind of underdog story the Wild could be, someday.
Anything can happen, and sports should be fun. It might seem silly when put so plainly, but so many people lose sight of it because of how deeply we invest ourselves with these teams. I’m here to tell you, from experience, that you can be deeply invested in a team, and still not lash out at the world when they ultimately lose, as 29 other NHL teams will this season.
Sports are entertainment, and being driven to messaging player’s wives, scouring the words of the beat writers for an excuse to be upset, or berating those with different opinions about the team doesn’t make you a great, passionate fan.
It makes you wrong.
In the end, we all have very different definitions of what a sports fan should be, or is. That’s fine, and that’s not going to change any of this, at least it shouldn’t. Something that we all should agree on, however, is that anything can happen, and sports should be fun. It doesn’t require a nauseating amount of positivity, because let’s be honest, that’s not really fun either, but it does require checking over the top negativity at the door.
Now who wants to have fun?