With Gophers men’s basketball, the disappointment is all connected

For confirmation of just how precarious sports outcomes can be – and the butterfly effect that ensues from one moment – go ahead and watch one more time, if you can stomach it, Darryl Morsell’s game-winning three-pointer for Maryland against the Gophers with 1.9 seconds left Wednesday.

The deep shot, from a couple steps behind the three-point line, rattled on enough parts of the rim that if it was just an inch to the left or an inch longer, it probably would have bounced out.

The Gophers would have preserved a 73-71 win, and even though everything else about the Gophers’ collapse in that game would have been true – the missed free throws, the bad execution – those things would have dissolved into a subplot or more likely a footnote as we instead assessed how a win over a top-10 team put Minnesota back into the NCAA tournament conversation.

But maybe it’s just as well that we’re having the harder conversations now about what went wrong in the final 20 minutes, what went wrong particularly in the final two minutes – and how it is all connected to the things that have gone wrong in the last year, the last three years and the last seven years under head coach Richard Pitino.

I don’t want that to be confused with an idea that everything has gone wrong, since this program has made it to the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years and was in good shape to compete for a bid this year as recently as four games ago.

But here are some of the main contributing factors to the micro and macro problem:


Here you find a combination of bad luck, natural college basketball attrition and insufficient player development.

The bad luck: Eric Curry’s injury left Minnesota thin in the frontcourt. The natural attrition: Amir Coffey left a year early to try his luck with a pro career – hardly a shock or something the Gophers shouldn’t have been planning for in the context of the modern game.

The insufficient player development: The Gophers have received just 87 points in 17 Big Ten games from freshmen – about five per game. That’s not nearly enough, and has placed too heavy a burden on a very good sophomore group.

This also speaks to recruiting, where Pitino has won some battles but often come up short (particularly with Minnesota players. The jarring stat in that regard, from Star Tribune Gophers beat writer Marcus Fuller: Only three in-state players out of 22 offered scholarships in the last three classes by the Gophers have stayed home.

Add it up and the Gophers have three players – Marcus Carr, Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur – who rank in the top six in minutes among Big Ten players this season. Carr is the runaway leader at 37.2 minutes per game (next-closest is 34.5) and logged all 40 minutes against Maryland.

If the Gophers have one or two more players in their rotation, maybe they breeze through the second half against Maryland. Or maybe Carr and Kalscheur aren’t gassed at the end of the game, when they missed critical free throws (a possible sign of fatigue). Maybe, even, there’s enough left in the tank to disrupt Morsell’s shot just enough.

Maybe they close out all three of their last three home losses — Iowa, Indiana and Maryland – or at least two of them.


If you’re more inclined to think the end-of-game struggles that have doomed the Gophers this year are more due to a lack of execution, the road still leads back to a lot of the same familiar places.

The Gophers this year are getting barely any production from their 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes. Michael Hurt is buried on the depth chart. Coffey left early. Curry is injured. Guards Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris transferred and are no longer with the Gophers.

Those classes would be juniors and seniors – the type of composed players familiar with a system and calm under pressure. But only some of that is luck or natural attrition. Some of it is recruiting misses, bad fits or stymied development.

Whatever the case, the Gophers often either perform like they don’t know what they’re supposed to do in the biggest moments or fail to execute. They struggle to inbound the ball and have key defensive lapses. Maryland, for instance, had a very clean look at a would-be go-ahead three — but missed — right before Kalscheur’s missed free throw that set up the winning sequence.

Whether it’s experience, fatigue or player quality doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.

Because it all adds up to a shot going in instead of rimming out – and a lot of questions about the future that don’t yet have answers.

Bad news, cord-cutters: YouTube TV is dropping Fox Sports North on Saturday

YouTube TV on Thursday announced that it is dropping all 21 regional sports networks owned by Sinclair — including, most notably to most of you, Fox Sports North — on Saturday because of an impasse over contractual terms.

The streaming service, which boasts north of 2 million subscribes, said via Twitter: “Despite our best efforts, we’ve been unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair. As a result, we will no longer offer FOX Regional Sports Networks, including YES Network, beginning February 29th. We do not take this decision lightly. This is a reflection of the rising cost of sports content. You may have noticed several other TV services have also decided to remove FOX Regional Sports Networks from their lineups.”

Subscribers vented on Twitter almost immediately, with those affected across markets basically saying they will cancel their subscriptions.

While it’s hard to know exactly how many YouTube TV subscribers there are in Minnesota, it stands to reason the number is at least in the tens of thousands. One local response read: “Figure it out. I will not keep this trash service if I can’t watch the Wild on FSN.”

Indeed, if that sounds familiar it’s because a similar story played out last year when both Sling TV (another streaming service) and Dish Network (a larger satellite provider) both dropped the RSNs from their menu of offerings — angering plenty of Minnesota sports fans.

Fox issued a statement last summer expressing optimism: We know fans are looking forward to the broadcasts of their hometown teams during the stretch run of the baseball season, and we hope DISH and Sling act to return this programming to their customers.

But those channels have not returned to Sling or Dish. While there are still plenty of places to get Fox Sports North, including traditional cable systems and the satellite giant DirecTV, options for “cord-cutters” are getting smaller.

FuboTV, a smaller streaming service with 250,000 subscribers as of about a year ago, similarly dropped the Sinclair-owned RSNs in January.

Services like YouTube TV and Sling — which you run through your TV with a device like a Roku, Chromecast or Fire Stick and which can also be streamed to devices like smart phones, tablets and laptops —  gained traction by hitting a sweet spot with younger TV watchers. With a lower monthly price (YouTube TV is $49.99, while a similar Sling package is $45 per month) than cable or satellite and no more than a month-to-month commitment without a long-term contract or cancellation fees, they give viewers choices and let them be nimble while keeping costs down.

But part of the appeal locally — at least in my view and that of plenty of other people I know — was that they offered Fox Sports North, which has a huge presence in the local sports scene. FSN carries virtually every Twins, Wild and Wolves game (either on the regular or plus channel) in addition to the majority of Minnesota United and Lynx games, plus a good number of college hockey games.

Though far more people still subscribe to traditional cable or satellite than use streaming services — Dish, for instance, still had 10 million subscribers heading into 2019 while Hulu + Live TV is the largest streaming service at 3.2 million subscribers, with Sling and You Tube TV not far behind — the gap has been narrowing.

Hulu, by the way, is the subscription service I switched to last year after being a Sling subscriber before the FSN disappearance. Both streaming services were an escape from the $100-plus I was paying with other traditional services.

Hulu still has Fox Sports North, and in fact has been adding more Sinclair channels lately. If you’re inclined to switch to another streaming device and you’re a big local sports fan, I would recommend looking into Hulu. The price point is a little higher ($54.99 a month) than other streaming services, but there are no contracts and it’s still cheaper than most other options. Plus, you can watch The Handmaid’s Tale and let a Dystopian reality wash over you.

Perhaps Hulu will realize the value of regional sports networks — and the advantage it now has over other similarly sized streaming services — and keep the channels long-term. If not, cord-cutting sports fans will be in an even bigger bind.

As Twins talk of World Series, should you get your hopes up?

(Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune

From 2011-2019, the question going into the season regarding the Twins was essentially, “Are they good?” (For a few years in the earlier part of last decade, you probably had to dial that back to, “Are the Twins decent?”)

What makes 2020 particularly interesting is that we are starting from a different place and asking a different question. After a 101-win season and several notable offseason acquisitions, we know the Twins are good. The question instead is this: “How good are they?”

The baseline expectation is that the Twins will win the AL Central as prohibitive favorites — even factoring in Cleveland still being relevant and the White Sox theoretically being on the rise. Over-under wagering numbers have the Twins sitting at 92.5 wins — with Cleveland at seven fewer and the White Sox at eight fewer. The Royals and Tigers should once again be terrible.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections tell a similar story: 93.3 wins for the Twins, 86.6 for Cleveland and 82.8 for the White Sox — putting Minnesota at a healthy 75% likelihood to repeat as AL Central champs for the first time since 2009-10.

Relative to the rest of MLB, though, the question of “how good are the Twins” becomes more interesting in the context of PECOTA.

At 93.3 wins, they have the fourth-highest projected total behind the usual suspects: Yankees (98.8), Astros (98.4) and the overall front-runner Dodgers in the NL (102.4).

The closest team below the Twins? Tampa Bay at 87.4 — with seven other teams clustered closely with at least 84 projected wins.

That means the Twins are kind of in a class of their own, at least according to the projections, with no team within five games of them in either direction.

The 93.3 projection already represents a regression from last year’s 101-win team, but more importantly it sets up the story of 2020:

Are the Twins even a few losses worse than that, which would put them in danger of losing the division while still being a good team?

Are they properly pegged as a low-to-mid-90 win team — very good, but not quite among the best?

Or are they going to surge again toward 100 wins, cementing a place alongside the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers as the prohibitive favorites to reach and/or win the World Series?

The confidence exuded in Fort Myers, which Phil Miller and I discussed Wednesday on a new Twins Insider podcast, indicates the Twins think they are legit World Series contenders and aren’t shy about uttering those words.

But should you get your hopes up? I’ll say this: It’s plausible for the Twins to win the World Series — more so than it’s been, at least at the start of a season, for a decade or more. The Yankees have starting pitching issues beyond the top of their rotation and just lost Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery. The Astros could be motivated by everyone’s hate, or they could have a really weird and unsatisfying season.

It’s more fun to hope for the best than to expect the worst. The difference this year is that even a relatively bad Twins season still has the chance to be pretty good.

From Lindsay Whalen to Rachel Banham: A once-a-decade Lynx trade

Once every decade, the Lynx acquire a legendary former Gophers women’s basketball guard entering the prime of her career – and they get her from Connecticut a handful of years after the Sun made her the No. 4 overall pick in the WNBA Draft.

They did it in January of 2010 with Lindsay Whalen.

And now February of 2020 with Rachel Banham.

They are two players whose styles are so distinct from one another that it really doesn’t make much sense to compare them. But their paths make them inextricably linked to one another, with the latest uncanny twist coming Tuesday when Banham joined the Lynx via a sign-and-trade acquisition.

If you’re a cynical type who thinks this was just a ploy to sell tickets to fans eager to see another homegrown player with the Lynx, here are two attempts to dispel that:

First, for all of Whalen’s appeal and for as long as Lynx fans had hoped for her return to Minnesota, average attendance only increased by 85 fans per game from 2009 to 2010 after she arrived. The Lynx missed the playoffs again that year, then won the draft lottery for Maya Moore. The real boost in crowds came in 2011 and beyond, when the Lynx started winning championships. That’s generally what puts butts in seats on a consistent basis across all levels of sports.

Second, Banham can play. We know that from her time with the Gophers when she set the all-time program record with 3,093 points – including 28.6 ppg as a senior, a year that included a 60-point game.

We also know it from her 2018 WNBA season. She played just 12.8 minutes per game for Connecticut that season, but Banham made 37% of her three-pointers and put up huge advanced stats – including an offensive rating of 121.0 that was good for seventh in the entire league, just below Sue Bird and just above Diana Taurasi.

She followed that up with a disappointing 2019 season, which is likely part of the reason she was available – similar, again, to how Whalen had her best year with the Sun in 2008, dipped a little in 2009 and was traded that offseason to the Lynx.

The Lynx need the skills that Banham can provide, and she could use a fresh start with an increased role.

We shouldn’t expect Banham to have the same impact as Whalen since winning four WNBA titles and a pair of Olympic gold medals is an unfair standard for anyone.

Then again, Whalen hardly did all those things by herself. And Banham had as good a view as anyone of all that transpired with the Lynx while growing up in suburban Lakeville and later playing for the Gophers during the Lynx dynasty.

“I always wanted to play for the Lynx one day,’’ Banham said. “I always watched them. I watched them become a huge franchise. It has always been on my mind.’’

Maybe Banham, 26, can write a new chapter in her career and Lynx history.

Once a decade, it’s worth making a trade to find out.

Actually, there are many reasons to anticipate a possible Stefon Diggs trade

Making too much of history can be, at times, as dangerous as failing to heed its warnings.

That is to say: Presuming that something will happen again just because it has happened before is fraught with peril — just as is is believing that something that has never happened before will continue to stay dormant.

Framed within the context of what Vikings GM Rick Spielman had to say about wide receiver Stefon Diggs at the Scouting Combine on Tuesday, this provides some warning not to be to carried away about the past informing the future.

Yet still: Spielman’s money quote, whereby he told reporters that “there’s no reason to anticipate [Diggs] is not going to be a Minnesota Viking,” is complicated by an immediate rebuttal.

Actually, there are many reasons to anticipate a possible trade involving Diggs. And one of them involves a chain of events that contained a very similar Spielman quote seven years ago and culminated in the trade of disgruntled wide receiver Percy Harvin.

It was mid-February 2013 when Spielman said, “We have no intent of trading Percy Harvin.” Less than a month later, on the eve of the new NFL league year beginning, news broke that Spielman had in fact traded Harvin.

It was all speculation up until that point — just as Spielman tried to paint the Diggs situation on Tuesday.

No disrespect to your profession, but there are a lot of things that get reported that get sensationalized that maybe shouldn’t be,” he told reporters in Indianapolis. “Regardless, we’re going to handle anything we have internally.

No two situations are completely alike. It’s quite possible Harvin’s level of frustration was as tsunami compared to the brief but noticeable rocking of the boat that cost Diggs $200,000 last year.

But the fact that Spielman has already traded a star wide receiver, coming off a 10-6 playoff season (as the Vikings were after 2012 and are again now) and is using a very similar playbook of denial now as he did then … well that’s the first of many reasons a trade is possible.

The others are more practical and less fun. There’s the aforementioned six-figure fine, which came — per the words and reporting of our Ben Goessling — for “skipping two days of meetings and practices following the team’s Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears. His absence, sources told the Star Tribune at the time, stemmed from frustrations that had been building since the spring over the direction of the offense and his role in it.”

The frustration of a star player, like it or not, is always a reason a trade might happen.

And that role in the offense doesn’t figure to change much this season, with the Vikings again committed to the run game and Diggs likely returning to a co-starring role alongside a presumably healthy Adam Thielen. Does a cap-strapped team built that way on offense really need two high-priced, albeit very good receivers?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s certainly possible Diggs stays, for reasons Spielman also laid out Tuesday: “Stefon, last year, had probably his most productive year, and he’s a young receiver we just extended. He’s not only a major part of our offense and a major part of our organization winning games, but he also does a lot of things for this organization off the field.”

The issue here is mainly Spielman’s attempt to make this a non-issue. No disrespect to his profession. That’s his job, I suppose — just like it’s ours to point out that history and context suggest otherwise.

The arrival of D’Angelo Russell has meant the return of mid-range jumpers

The mid-range jumper, once a staple of the NBA and in particular the Timberwolves, has become a rare and vilified shot in today’s game.

Properly decried for its general inefficiency – compared, say, to a three-pointer just a couple steps back, or a two-pointer near the basket – it has been all but eradicated from the Wolves’ repertoire during this season of shot value maximization.

Only 4.3% of Wolves field goal attempts this season had come from between 16 feet and the three-point line entering play Monday, per Basketball Reference. Only the similarly analytically driven Rockets and Nets (both 3.9%) have attempted fewer long twos this season.

Compare that to four years ago, when the Wolves led the NBA by attempting a full 23.9% of their shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line, and it’s a pretty startling change.

This year, it’s so rare to see a Wolves player pull up or spot up from that distance and shoot that my face contorts and I immediately find myself saying “bad shot” when it happens.

All of this, though, makes the Wolves’ prized trade deadline acquisition all the more interesting.

The trade for D’Angelo Russell has meant the return of the mid-range jumper for the 2019-20 Wolves.

He’s attempted 13 shots from between 16 feet and the three point line in just four games with Minnesota, out of 71 total attempts – 18.3% of his total shots. Russell connected on just 1 of the first 7 of those before trying six more in Monday’s loss at Dallas – making three.

That 18.3% small sample size mark is higher than it was pre-trade with Golden State (14.3%) and his career mark (13.2%), but both those numbers would still be more than triple the Wolves’ team rate this season. All would also be far higher than the number posted with the Wolves this year by Andrew Wiggins (8.5%), the man Russell was traded for and a frequent long two hoister in previous seasons.

Asked about his shot selection a few days back leading into the Wolves’ first game post-break, Russell didn’t sound like someone who would be backing down from shooting long twos anytime soon.

“There’s a fine line of making those shots you take, trying to relieve the pressure off coach eliminating those shots from me,” Russell said. “But once you make them, and he feels confident with you making them, I think you can’t put guys in a box when that’s their thing.”

Russell has a point there because he made an absurd 54.9% of his long twos with Golden State this season. His career mark is a more down-to-earth 42.1% — still better than this year’s league average from 16 feet to the three-point line attempts (40.4%).

But 42.1% career makes on long twos would yield .842 points per shot; Russell’s 35.7% career mark on three-pointers yields 1.07 points per attempt.

How comfortable the Wolves are with Russell shooting from that distance will be an interesting push-pull between keeping him comfortable, acknowledging that he makes his share … but still understanding that’s not the way Minnesota wants to play. If they Wolves want him to evolve into their version of James Harden, a player who is attempting just one long two out of every 200 field goals this season after routinely being around the 12-13% mark earlier in his career, something will have to give.

“It’s going to take time to break some of those habits, and when guys do play open gym, it’s their time,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said during the preseason in response to a question about shot values. “We’ve noticed a number of guys have a midrange shot, but they understand that’s not the shot we’re striving to get.”

From here forever to almost gone: Zach Parise’s journey continues with Wild

On July 3, 2012, I was part of a Star Tribune stakeout of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in hopes of tracking down Zach Parise.

I was stationed near baggage claim, ready to accost one the Minnesota native and one of the NHL’s hottest free agents, with the obvious question: So, are you going to sign here?

About 25 minutes into the quest, Parise and his wife Alisha – at the time his fiancé – descended an escalator. I peppered him with questions, which he graciously answered (twice, in fact, for a couple of them after I botched a very shaky phone video the first time and asked him for a second go-round in which my thumb appears in the corner but which was still picked up nationally).

The upshot was that he said he hadn’t made a decision yet, but it sure seemed like momentum was building. A day later, Parise and Ryan Suter signed those twin 13-year, $98 million contracts that have come to define the Wild for about 7.5 years – a fitting number since that’s also roughly the cap hit for both players in each of those 13 seasons.

The goal that day was clear: Return the Wild beyond relevancy and bring the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey for more than just those ceremonial one-day visits opposing native players have in the summers after they win it.

If the dual signings represented a swing for the fences, to borrow a baseball term often broadly applied to other topics and sports, the acquisitions of Parise and Ryan Suter have amounted more to a medium-deep fly ball caught just short of the warning track.

An impressive sellout streak and six consecutive trips to the playoffs … but just two playoff series wins to show for it, and a trophy case has never come close to housing the Cup. Now a backslide, and maybe a rebuild.

With that as a backdrop, it was interesting to watch Wild fans react in real-time to credible reports that Parise could be on the move Monday in a trade to the Islanders.

The overriding sentiment I saw: Most were eager to see Parise’s salary cleared off the books, and there was very little sentimentality involved in the potential move.

And then when it didn’t happen, as the 2 p.m. trade deadline passed with no deal? It strangely felt like one of the greatest players in franchise history staying in a Wild sweater was a bit of a letdown.

That things even got this far down the road – considering Parise’s cap number, his five years remaining after this one and his full no-move clause – is still both surprising and informative.

It was the biggest sign to date that Parise’s “forever” contract might not be forever in Minnesota, even though he and Alisha have had three children born here since his arrival. The lure of playing for a team – the right team – far closer to chasing a Cup appears to be appealing to Parise.

For now: He’s here, as is Suter. Both players make the Wild better even now that they’re on the second half of those long contracts and the down slope of their career arcs.

Parise has had some monster playoff games – including two goals, two assists in a Game 6 win over Colorado that preceded Nino Niederreiter’s Game 7 winner … and two goals in the series clincher over St. Louis a year later – and overall has delivered 31 points in 36 Wild playoff games.

He now has a chance to gear up for at least one more Wild playoff push, as long as the odds might be. (Hockey Reference gives Minnesota a 31% chance of making the playoffs. From there, anyone has a chance but the top of the West is a steep hill to climb).

That’s a far cry from the hopes for Parise as he descended that airport escalator so many summers ago, but that’s the present reality.

A flurry of long-tenured farewells: Seimone Augustus, Jason Zucker, Gorgui Dieng and …

This is what happens in sports, right?

Players get older. Their value changes. Their skills diminish. They have options.

They leave, and are replaced by new players — and everyone else slides up the pecking order.

It’s natural. And yet when it happens all at once, across so many teams — as it has lately in Minnesota sports — it feels jarring.

Many of the longest-tenured athletes in major Minnesota pro sports that were here when February started are now gone.

The latest? Seimone Augustus, easily the longest-tenured Lynx player (14 seasons) and second-longest tenured athlete in any major pro sport in the state, agreed Thursday to a free agent deal with the rival L.A. Sparks.

That same day started with Everson Griffen — the longest-tenured Viking — voiding the final three years of his contract, making him a free agent. While he could wind up staying with Minnesota, he certainly could go elsewhere once the new league year starts next month.

Earlier this month, the Wild traded Jason Zucker — the third-longest-tenured member of that organization — to Pittsburgh.

That was just a week or so after the Wolves traded just about everyone on their roster — including Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, Nos. 1 and 2 on their seniority list.

In some ways, even the retirement of Joe Mauer — at the time the longest-tenured athlete in any sport — feels fresh even though it came at the end of the 2018 season.

The longest-tenured mantle now belongs to the Wild’s Mikko Koivu, who made his debut on Nov. 5, 2005 — less than a year before Augustus. Koivu has a full no-move clause in his contract, so it would take some doing before Monday’s trade deadline for him to be next. But you never know.

What we know is this: All those mainstays are bridges to the past, a different era, usually better times. And their departures feel like a significant turning of the page.

Think about Griffen: He’s been with the Vikings since 2010, long enough ago that he played with Antoine Winfield Sr. If he manages to stick around in 2020 with the Vikings, he could play with Antoine Winfield Jr. – projected in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft to go to the Vikings with the No. 25 pick.

Augustus, though, feels like the most jarring departure. She was the last of the “Big Four” Lynx players who were on all four WNBA title teams — along with Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson — who played for the Lynx in 2019. With Moore again sitting out while Whalen and Brunson are retired, Augustus’ departure leaves that number at zero in 2020.

What we also know is this, though: Gone doesn’t mean forgotten. Whalen, when asked Friday about Augustus during her media availability as Gophers women’s basketball coach, put that sentiment into meaningful words.

“She changed the Lynx. But she also changed the state. She’s been a figure here for 14 years,” Whalen said, as relayed to me by the Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood. “Yes, of course, everybody wishes she was going to play here, finish her career here. But that doesn’t take away 14 years of having the impact that she’s had.”

Finally getting my wish: Big3 hoops is coming to Minneapolis

The Big3, a professional three-on-three basketball league featuring name-brand former NBA players, was co-founded by Ice Cube on Jan. 11, 2017. About five minutes after I learned about it, my hope was this: Please bring this thing to the Twin Cities.

For the first three seasons, though, the league stayed away. The closest it got was Chicago, and I was so fascinated by it that I tried to convince an editor that I should fly down to cover it. (He politely declined).

But a little over three years later, as the league prepares for its fourth season, I have finally received the initial wish.

The league announced this week that Target Center is among its eight regular-season stops in 2020. The format: All 12 teams in the league play a combined six games on Saturday, July 18, as part of a festival-style event that will include music and basketball clinics as part of the weekend.

Ticket details and specific times have not yet been released.

Think of it like a Champions Tour event in golf — only way better. While rosters aren’t crammed with former NBA superstars, they are full of solid-to-very-good former league players.

Royce White is slated to play this year. Several former Timberwolves players have been on past rosters, including Ricky Davis (pictured above), Craig Smith, Latrell Sprewell and Rashad McCants — the latter holding the distinction of being the first overall pick in the first Big3 draft in 2017.

Yes, there’s a draft. And a combine. And the players get paid. Last year they made $10,000 per game for an eight-game schedule (and two playoff rounds), plus a share of league revenue. That’s nowhere near NBA money, but it’s enough to feed your family.

Among the new wrinkles this year: If a call is challenged, players can settle it with a game of one-on-one.

“All of the cities we’re visiting this season are known to have some of the most passionate and knowledgeable sports fans in the world, and we can’t wait to bring them the BIG3,” said league co-founder Ice Cube in a press release.”

I can’t wait, either.

The one thing that could save the Wild: A vintage Devan Dubnyk run

We saw flashes Wednesday of the one thing that could rescue the Wild’s season and make Minnesota an actual threat in the playoffs if a spot can be obtained: A steady, in command stretch from goalie Devan Dubnyk.

For two periods Wednesday in Vancouver, Dubnyk formed a wall that let Minnesota build a 2-1 lead. He gave up two in the third, but the Wild regrouped to force overtime. He stood firm in that extra session, then stopped Vancouver’s final three shootout attempts for an important 4-3 win and two points.

Dubnyk made 31 saves in all, many of them high-danger looks from right in front of the net.

It’s been a frustrating year on the ice for Dubnyk and a far more serious one off the ice as he has missed time while tending to his wife Jenn’s significant medical issue. It’s impossible to know just how much those two things are connected, but anyone who has tried to do their job while also dealing with a major life crisis knows the two are both understandably and likely inextricably linked.

“I’m very competitive and I have a lot of pride in my game, and it’s been an extremely difficult year in just about every way possible,” Dubnyk said earlier this month.

None of how I feel about Dubnyk’s potential to help the Wild down the stretch on the ice should be taken as a sign that I somehow think it’s more important than the health of his wife. Rather, it is my sincere hope that they are getting clarity and good news on that front – and that among the many benefits of that is a mindset that gives Dubnyk every opportunity to succeed on the ice.

Because we have seen Dubnyk have long stretches where he performs like one of the very best goalies in the NHL. And if was able to lock into one of those runs as winter turns to spring, the Wild might be able to make a playoff push.

Alex Stalock has done good work in a role that has expanded from clear backup to getting the bulk of the action, but he is the very definition of a league average goalie.

The league average save percentage this year is .909, which is also Stalock’s number. Goalies on average deliver “quality starts” — defined as better than league average save percentage or at least .885 on nights facing fewer than 20 shots — 53% of the time. That’s Stalock’s number this season.

That’s good to have as a fallback plan, and Stalock’s contributions have kept the Wild on the fringe of the playoff race, but it’s not likely to get you very far.

Dubnyk is a three-time All-Star, with his most recent appearance coming last season. He was pretty much reasons 1-5 that the Wild saved its 2014-15 season when he posted an incredible stretch after being traded from Arizona on Jan. 15: 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 38 consecutive starts as the Wild rallied to make the playoffs.

He was 28 years old then and 33 now, so maybe such a run is far-fetched. But how about this: In his final 18 games of the 2018-19 season, starting right around this time (Feb. 21), Dubnyk had a .927 save percentage and allowed just a shade over two goals per game on average.

That sort of save percentage over an entire season would put Dubnyk in the top 10 this year.

Wednesday was a glimpse of that goalie — and just the ninth time out of 26 outings this year that Dubnyk has delivered a “quality start.” If he can deliver a bunch of those on a consistent basis, this Wild season might not be over yet.