TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — 2020 Visions For Long Suffering Minnesotans

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make. Promising to lose weight, give up fast food or exercise every day always feels doable when you’re working with a clean slate. Talk to us by the end of the month, and our convictions often are already waning.

The same would seem true when it comes to faith in our Minnesota sports teams. We all want to believe there’s an earth- shattering victory or unexpected championship waiting just around the corner. Trouble is, like resolutions, those expectations tend to be fragile based on the painful reputations our local squads have for heartbreak.

So what better time to make a careful analysis of hopes and dreams for 2020, than while it’s still early? As always though, we must honestly appraise each team’s chances based on reputations, current progress toward dispelling those reputations and lastly, crystal-ball prognostications.


The good news for the Purple is that they have the earliest opportunity to grab our attention, facing a win-or-go-home playoff game Sunday in New Orleans. The bad news is, almost nobody thinks they’re capable of pulling off the upset.


Can’t win the big game. Four Super Bowl losses and more recently, numerous gut-wrenching postseason defeats, have left fans afraid to become too emotionally involved. This season, optimists point to Minnesota’s 10-6 record, making them one of just 12 NFL teams still playing. Pessimists counter that only one of those wins came against a playoff team (Philadelphia) and both head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins seem to falter when the lights are the brightest.

What they’ve done to change it:

Not much, at least for the time being. Since the “Minneapolis Miracle” win over those same Saints two years ago, the Vikes were: crushed 38-7 at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, missed the playoffs altogether last season and limp into this postseason having lost three of their last five. In addition, their offensive line was pushed around by rival Green Bay and now, the somewhat aging defense will have to face Drew Brees on the road without defensive backs Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander.


At his press conference this week, Zimmer lamented that “nobody thinks we can with this one.” Using that “us against the world” strategy to motivate the troops is nothing new. Maybe it might even prove effective. Unfortunately for Zim, the lack of respect is based on the harsh reality that past performance has dictated this skepticism. The Vikings do have talent. But star playmakers Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen aren’t fully healthy. Cousins still hasn’t proven himself in a big game. And New Orleans has a Hall of Fame QB throwing to the league’s top receiver, Michael Thomas, against a depleted secondary. Saints 38, Vikings 24. Please, Vikings!! Prove me wrong!


After winning more than 100 games and blasting 307 home runs in 2019, expectations are high in 2020. They still have a formidable lineup returning and the Manager of the Year in Rocco Baldelli. So how could Minnesotans possibly be down on this franchise?


Winning the Central Division was nice. But the Twins can never beat the Yankees or other contenders without quality pitching. The Pohlads are too cheap to ever pay for an ace pitcher. Until they do, they will again be dispatched quickly in the post-season.

What they’ve done to change it:

Added a fine free agent reliever from Cleveland in Tyler Clippard, re-signed popular right-hander Sergio Romo, plus two potential starters in veterans Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. They’re also bringing back Michael Pineda, who still has time left on his 60-game suspension.

Problem is, they also fanned on every attempt to acquire any really BIG names in free agency. Gerrit Cole is a Yankee. Zack Wheeler a Phillie. Madison Bumgarner a Diamondback. Which gives the doubters more ammunition to claim this is more of the same …  nabbing the bargain basement arms and hoping they’ll stay healthy and exceed expectations. There is still a possibility the Twins land third baseman Josh Donaldson, the last big piece of the free agency market. That would appease some, but he won’t come cheap. At 34, a four-year deal worth around $100 million may not be worth doing.


I am far more optimistic about the Twins and where they are headed than their counterparts in purple. Look for the White Sox to replace the Indians as their biggest rivals in the Central this summer, but Minnesota should still win the division. Rich Hill will be 40 and won’t be available until June, but don’t undersell this addition. Homer Bailey will gobble up innings, too. Don’t dismiss the possibility of the club landing a top line pitcher in August, either. Repeating some of those record-hitting numbers from last season is unreasonable. Call me crazy though, but I like their chances to at least win a first round series in October.


Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Now in their 20th season, the Wild are just a few points away from a playoff spot. They began the year with a losing streak, followed by a winning streak and now followed by more losing.


Seldom bad enough to replenish their roster with young talent and never good enough to do anything in the playoffs. A check of the numbers in the State of Hockey over 20 years reveals zero Stanley Cups, zero conference championships, one decent playoff run and one divisional title. Their last five seasons have yielded one second-round exit, three first- round defeats and last year, a miss of the playoffs altogether. Mediocrity at its finest.

What they’ve done to change it: 

Wisely unloaded GM Paul Fenton and replaced him with Bill Guerin, a proven winner as a player and NHL executive. Owner Craig Leipold has kept Coach Bruce Boudreau around and that’s good, too. But Fenton’s blunders have left the Wild with a mixed-up roster: aging veterans with unproven youngsters. Russian sensation Kirill Kaprisov is still at least a year away from joining the club.


For their own good, the Wild need to lose now to win later. I think they will do both. Guerin has patiently surveyed the roster. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, captain Mikko Koivu and even Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are nearing the end. Forget about the playoffs, gradually infuse more youth and speed and settle on a new goalie. Be patient, Wild fans. It may take a couple years.


At least this is one local franchise that’s consistent. Consistently awful. Like the Wild, the Wolves have had one good playoff run. But unlike their crosstown skaters, this franchise is almost always at the bottom of the NBA standings. For 30 years!


Owner Glen Taylor could screw up a two-car parade. Poor draft decisions. Off the court problems. Bad luck. A franchise stuck in a star-driven league with a roster that can’t play defense, constantly changes coaches and is hard pressed to find big names who would want to come north.

What they’ve done to change it:

Keep shuffling the deck. Minnesota’s latest regime would seem to hold promise, with well-respected Latino Gersson Rosas taking over as President of Basketball Operations. Rosas is much more PR savvy than departed grinch, Tom Thibodeau. His desire to play up-tempo and shoot threes is at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the squad is still a mess. The Wolves can’t shoot. Draft choice Jarret Culver of Texas Tech has so far been a bust. Stars Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are both out, due to injuries and illness. Now there are rumors that Towns wants out and suitors are stepping up to accommodate him.


Losing always brings discontentment and more change. Sadly, coach Ryan Saunders hasn’t been given much to work with and will probably be gone, as Rosas continues to bring in his own people. Towns, for all of his offensive prowess, still can’t defend. Wiggins is maddeningly inconsistent. The team needs a point guard. With the Western Conference still looking stacked for years to come, don’t expect the Wolves to contend anytime soon.

Before feeling too depressed by my mostly dreary forecasts, consider a couple of other more promising alternatives:


Professional soccer is alive and well at gorgeous new Allianz Field in St. Paul. If you haven’t taken in a match there yet, you should. The Loons drew sellout crowds, made the playoffs last fall and continue to build a competitive roster for 2020.


While they don’t make as money or get nearly as much attention as their male counterparts, the Lynx have proven to be everything the Wolves have not. A model of consistency in the last decade, the Lynx won WNBA titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Despite losing key players to retirement, Coach Cheryl Reeve continues to field competitive squads. Evidence of that reloading is Napheesa Collier, who at just 23 scored 400 points, grabbed 200 rebounds and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2019. Expect them to be in the hunt again when a new season begins in May.

Keep the faith, Minnesota sports fans. PJ Fleck’s Golden Gopher football team is fresh off its most wins since 1904 and a shocking Outback Bowl victory over SEC power, Auburn. Maybe that “change the culture” mantra will help our pro teams row their own boats effectively, too.

I’m already motivated enough to head off to the Y now for a three-mile walk. Maybe I’ll celebrate later with a pizza.

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