ESPN's Mike and Mike this morning noted interestingly that of the cities with each of the four major sports, Washington D.C. and the Twin Cities metropolitan area face the longest title drought now that the city of Philadelphia can claim the Phillies victory.
Each city noted above has tied for the longest drought with 17 years respectively since their last victory. That leads me to wonder, which team in each market has the best chance to end their region's drought?
Minnesota can claim
Minnesota Twins (MLB)
Minnesota Vikings (NFL)
Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA)
Minnesota Wild (NHL)
here is how I'd rank them based on their chances: Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves.
The Vikings,(NFL) by NFL standards, are considered a big market team. This is not because of the market they play in, rather it is because of their owner, New Jersey-based real estate mongol Zigmund (Zygi) Wilf and the fact that he spends what it takes to win.
On ESPN Monday Night Football's season opener versus the Green Bay Packers, ESPN commentator Tony Kornheiser called him "the George Stienbrenner of the NFL" which is accurate since the Vikings are typically one of the biggest free agent spenders. For more on this see the massive deals they perpetually give to players like Mandieu Williams, Jared Allen this year, and Antoine Winfield, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Steve "Poison Pill" Hutchinson, and Bryant McKinnie just to name a few.
Wilf proves its not the market you live in, but rather the owner of your team that determines the real size of your market. Because of this fact, their relatively weak division, NFL parity in general, and since the Vikings have historically been one of the most respected teams in the league despite their lack of Super Bowl success (0-4) one has to consider them always to have a legitimate chance to win year in and year out.
The Twins, (MLB) while traditionally a small-market often have a penchant for overachiving despite their annual small payroll and increasingly more competitive division and superior league.
The Twins don't have nearly as good franchise winning record but it improved dramatically since their move to Minnesota from Washington D.C. (known as the Senators) in 1961. In addition to that, they brought the state its only two major sports titles since the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles and took their history with them.
Additionally the Twins are set to open up a brand-new state of the art ballpark in 2010 and with that, revenues are expected to rise with a good percentage being placed directly back into the team whether that be keeping existing players, or giving them the uncharacteristic ability to sign a free agent or two that they normally wouldn't or make a bold trade and worry about the pocketbook ramifications later.
Finally, they are respected similarily to the Vikings in a way that they are known for having one of the best, if not the best farm system in the league which is noted by key drafting and developing of a wide range of players. They also make smart, fiscal moves and have a young core consisting of the 8th youngest team in the majors, many of whom are locked up to long-term deals already.
The Wild (NHL) are one of the most promising teams in the NHL year-in-and-year out. While they are considered small market and play the same "cheap" mantra to their fans that the Twins do, of their nine year existence, this team has managed to make the playoffs three times which is more than two recent expansion teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets (0) and Atlanta Thrashers, (1) combined.
They also spend right up to the NHL's new salary cap each season of its existence, so much like the Vikings, they have shown they are trying to win by being financially competitive and making reasonable offers even if they are occasionally rejected by stars such as Marian Hossa who last off season supposedly rejected an $8.4M (U.S) 5 year deal from the Wild to sign with the Detroit Red Wings and be a glorified 3rd liner.
Furthermore, when you dub yourself "the state of hockey" and your high schools and college teams boast an array of talent that litters NHL rosters as a virtual and literal breeding ground, one has to believe that its only a matter of time until they routinely vie for Lord Stanley's Cup.
While the Wolves(NBA) play in an undeniably tough conference, their actual division isn't as tough as some may be led to believe. We don't know what the Blazers are going to do chemistry-wise or if Greg Oden can ever stay healthy, mix in the fact they are young (like the Wolves) and you might have to wait several seasons to see this teams' full potential.
The Jazz are the team to beat now, but by the time the Wolves reach their peak (2-3 years) who will be on the Jazz roster? The Nuggets are overrated, declining, and a 6th seed at best, and the Son-I mean, Thunder, are an enigma that should take a few yeas to really establish themselves both in a new market, and in their division.
Next, the Wolves are young, and recently cleared a lot of salary cap space with their shrewd O.J. Mayo draft-day trade with the Grizzles that not only netted them sharpshooter and regional product Mike Miller (South Dakota) but also a raw big man in Kevin Love who should be a perennial 13-10 player (at worst) and who will only get better as he develops. He wanted to play there next to idol big man Kevin McHale and has the chance to be the next kid phenom once shared by one Kevin Garnett.
The Wolves have been bothered throughout their twenty year historyof being one of the worst franchises in league history with little reason for optimism. With only a handful of playoff series to boast, the fact remains they are clearly rhe regions most clueless team when it comes to success and contending.
Considering Washington I'd rank their chances this way: Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, and Nationals and here is why:
Redskins(NFL)-winners of 3 recent Super Bowls, and current holders of a 6-2 record and a trendy pick to make a run in this years' playoffs, provided they make it first. They have a great new coach, a mix of good young players for once (gone, it appears-- are the days of ridiculous over-priced free agent contracts), and play by far the shortest schedule creating a much easier path to the playoffs perennially.
They play in the league's most difficult divison but recently have shown an ability to make the playoffs where anything is possible. The Redskins can claim a franchise winning percentage of .511 (558-505-27) and much of this success has been relatively recent going back about a generation.
The Washington Capitals(NHL) should come next because of their multi-talented winger Alexander Ovechkin, who at only 22 years old is already one of the best players in the entire league. On top of that, he is signed long, and I mean, long term, to the tune of 13 years and $124 million so he's not going anywhere and his team will only continue to blossom under his guidance. Coincidentally, Ovechkin makes his team mates better as the team won their division and had their best showing since 2002 when they similarly lost in the first round.
However, the Capitals have a long history of success, which like the Redskins, is showing signs of coming back to a once consistently-contending franchise that saw the team make the postseason from 1982-1995. Finally, the Capitals have the reigning coach of the yearin Bruce Boudreau locked up so he'll be around to guide them too.
The Wizards (NBA) seem to be similar to the old NHL's Hartford Whalers, lovingly dubbed the "forever 500's"because they seemed to peak around the .500 winning mark despite an annual gluttony of young, but developing talent which unfortunately flourished elsewhere.
If it isn't Gilbert Arenas getting hurt annually right around playoff time, its Antwaan Jamison or Caron Butler filling in the injury void. This team seems to forever be content with making the playoffs and getting bounced in one of the early rounds to the Cleveland Cavilers and LeBron James. Clearly they lack a fourth big-time player but with the salary cap structured to the "Big 3" which apparently isn't close to enough as it is, how are they supposed to get better?
Most of their success occurred in the '70sand they haven't been a serious contender since, especially since moving to the MCI Centre in 1997. With franchise marks of .461 winning percentage (1756-2055), and an even worse .401 (77-115) in the playoffs its evident their "glory days" i.e year-1977, are long over, and overdue to win.
Finally the Washington Nationals(MLB) are far and away the saddest case here. Moving into the United States from Canada where they were forgettably known as the Expos (Les Expos) hasn't changed a franchise culture that is accustomed to losing-and losing bad.
In examing their time in Washington D.C that saw only one season (2007) in which they finished above last place-4th, there is by far the smallest reason for optimism.
The team can't draft, can't develop players, has an erratic General Manager, Jim Bowden, known for turning off fellow GM's with his over-valuing of his own players and asking for the farm in return for any one of them, and is coming off the worst record in all of Major League Baseball this past season.
Apparently Bowden nixed a dealthat could have sent young (23 then) promising OF Jason Kubel and righty Scott Baker to the Nationals for rent-a-player Alfonso Soriano prior to the 2007 season. Bowden should have known that the small-time Twins couldn't and wouldn't have been able to afford him, similarly how the Nationals ultimately let Soriano walk away for nothing a year later, so why not get something for him?
While Kubel and Baker aren't stars, they are both young and both could have filled roles for a team with a perpetual plethora of gaps to fill. Baker could have brought promise to a rotation in need of one, and Kubel at the very least, could have provided depth for a team and system that lacks this ability.
What did both players do this past season? Each are coming off of career years with a team that almost made the playoffs despite pre-season projections having them finishing no higher than third, and both are only in their arbitration stages.
New ballparks are also supposed to make teams competitive but clearly the Nationals park, in all its beauty, is taking the PNC wasteland approach that has continued to dog the Pittsburgh Pirates for years. No free agents will want to come here, especially without a history of winning-or even trying.
Which market will be the next "Philly"? I don't know, but each has their respective chances, and challenges-some more than others. It could, and should, make the next few years interesting to watch. Maybe just maybe, each market can pick up a few bandwagon/sympathetic fans along the way for the ride.