Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings feel they did very well in the NFL college draft. The team picked up defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida with the 23rd pick, cornerback Xavier Rhodes of Florida State with the 25th pick and then gave up four middle-round picks in a trade with New England to take Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th pick of the first round. In a surprise move the Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round. How do you feel the team did in the draft?
-Dorr: To tell the truth, I had never heard of one of those players until after midnight the day of the draft. And then I watched the replay of WCCO-TV sports about 1 a.m. and there was sports anchor Mark Rosen, as giddy as anyone could be over the draft. He sounded like a shill for the Vikings. And the next day the same thing went on at the 1500 AM radio station. Those guys – Rosen and the radio guys – cover the Vikings on a regular basis so they must know what they’re talking about. They all seemed to think the Vikings had a great draft. So, going by their expertise, I’d say the Vikings did well. Drafting another punter? GM Chris Spielman said it was “a football move.” That means it had nothing to do with punter Chris Kluwe’s off-the-field stuff. So Kluwe’s job is safe, right? Right.
-Marxhausen: The first round was explosive for the Vikings as they filled three much-needed spots with three quality players. Many were surprised to see Floyd drop so far in the first round as they thought he would go off the board as early as the third pick. Floyd is looking to ease into the defensive tackle position that has been held for a long time by Kevin Williams. With the Vikings’ secondary being the weak point for the past several seasons, the addition of Rhodes was extremely beneficial, especially at the No. 25 spot. It was likely that Rhodes would be taken before the Vikings had a chance to swoop him up, but again another quality player slipped through the cracks all the way to the Vikings. The team originally was projected by many to take Patterson with its first pick and Manti’ Teo with its second, The Vikings showed they wanted Patterson’s raw talents and made the bold decision to trade four picks to snag him in case he didn’t fall to their pick in the second round. The Vikings did excellent in filling holes in positions they needed to so very much. Defensively, the team needed the fresh legs at the tackle and cornerback position. Getting the receiver they wanted after their first two picks was a remarkable move by the Vikings as they top the leader board with the best draft this year.
-Larson: The Vikings added three players in the first round who most experts feel are destined to become starters, if not this coming season, then in 2014. It could be argued that this draft, barring injuries, improved the team’s roster by quite a bit. Did Minnesota give up too much to obtain Patterson? We’ll find out down the road. There were good receivers taken in rounds two, three and four and the team may have found better middle linebacker prospects in those rounds than they did in the final rounds. Taking a punter in the draft is a wasted pick, unless you’ve already penciled him in on the roster, which the Vikings likely did as they prepare to give Chris Kluwe, one of the NFL’s top punters, the boot.
-Johnson: I think the Vikings had a remarkable draft. When the 23rd pick arrived, the Vikings were shocked to see Sharrif Floyd still available after many predicted him to have been drafted in the top 10. Drafting a defensive tackle in Round 1 may not have been in their original plans but Floyd was far too good to pass on. He provides a future on the defensive the line of scrimmage that is full of aging veterans. Xavier Rhodes should make an immediate impact for the Vikings at cornerback. The expectations will be high for Rhodes who we will look to in shutting down receivers such as Calvin Johnson. Quarterbacks around the league have picked apart our secondary for years now and I hope to see Rhodes help put an end to that. Cordarrelle Patterson should give the Vikings another weapon in the passing game. This pick has to make Christian Ponder smile, given the lack of production he dealt with in his receivers the last two seasons. I was very impressed with Rick Spielman’s aggressive approach in this year’s draft and it appears to be a great boost to last year’s playoff team.
•Question: The Minnesota Wild needed a 3-1 victory over Colorado in the final game of the regular season Saturday to gain a berth in the NHL Playoffs. The team opens with a best-of-seven series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. A few weeks ago it appeared that the Wild would breeze into the playoffs but the team slumped at the end of the regular season. What are the Wild’s chances against Chicago and should fans be disappointed with how the team finished the regular season?
-Dorr: I think the players, more than the fans, should be disappointed how the team finished the season. It was a pitiful effort the last couple weeks, especially for a team that midway through March looked like it had a sure playoff spot, and a good one at that, nailed down. I don’t know what happened but the team played very poorly in the final weeks. The chances against Chicago, as the old line goes, are slim and none, and Slim has already left for Texas. But the games still have to be played and if the Wild can sneak out a win in the Windy City, there would be a chance. If the team comes back to St. Paul trailing 2-0, you can pretty much forget about any chance of moving on.
-Marxhausen: The Wild was in position to make a splash in the playoffs and showed the league it could play together, especially after going 11-4 in March with a seven game win streak included. If Minnesota would have kept rolling, it would have been able to fight for home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it lost nine of 14 in April, killing its chances and leaving only the reality of grasping the eighth seed just to squeeze into the playoffs. The Wild could have faced a lower-seeded team and pushed into the second round, but the Blackhawks are a strong team and are not likely to go home early at the hands of the Wild. The team is learning to adapt and play with each other and needs to be able to build chemistry with one another and that is not going to happen over one-half season. Are the fans disappointed? Yes, but they need to keep their faith for the upcoming seasons ahead. Lebron James did not even win a championship his first year with the Miami Heat, but they had the caliber of players to do it. He only needed one more year. Just as the Wild do.
-Larson: I’ll answer the second part of the question first. Unless Minnesota upsets Chicago, Wild fans should be disappointed in their team’s overall season, especially the final weeks. Management added enough talent to an already decent team that should’ve resulted in a better season – at least five or six more victories. Thinking about the first part of the question took me to a bookshelf where I pulled out the 1990-1991 Minnesota North Stars highlights tape. The North Stars, seeded eighth, stunned the No. 1-seeded Blackhawks in the opening round, then advanced to the Stanley Cup finals where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Minnesota fans won’t see that kind of run this year. This Wild team doesn’t have the grit the North Stars had 22 years ago when their home ice was at the Metropolitan Sports Center. Chicago wins the opening series in six games.
-Johnson: As much as I have wanted the Wild to win games lately, it just didn’t happen. After the offseason acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, I expected the Wild to make a good run for the playoffs. Throughout the season, I watched two different Wild teams play. One that could make a run for the Stanley Cup and one that couldn’t even compete with Coach Bombay’s Mighty Ducks. Time and time again Minnesota had losing streaks that left me scratching my head. Not only were they losing games, they were losing games to terrible teams. I really hope it’s not the latter team that shows up against Chicago because if it does, it may be embarrassing. Chicago has one of the best teams in recent years in the NHL and is the clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup. If the Wild’s second and third lines can rally around the first line, it can compete. Maybe the state of hockey will see another Stanley Cup run like the Minnesota North Stars had in 1991 where they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the opening round of playoffs.
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