For the Minnesota Wild, 2012 wasn't supposed to be this way.
The Wild and new head coach Mike Yeo had teased fans in the first months of the 2011-12 season by racing out to one of the best records in the National Hockey League, only to see the team take a faceplant by the time the rest of the league had started to play meaningful hockey.
With a roster full of players not getting the job done for Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher, something had to be done to keep fans in the "State of Hockey" from revolting and leaving the Xcel Energy Center empty on a nightly basis.
So team owner Craig Leipold did something that fans of any Minnesota sport had rarely seen: He opened up his wallet.
July 4 was supposed to be the day that changed the Wild's fortunes for the next 13 years, if not for the rest of the franchise's existence. That was the day when mega-free agents Zack Parise and Ryan Suter decided to sign matching 13-year, $98 million contracts to play together in Minnesota.
While some people had stated that the Wild had become the Miami Heat of the NHL, the reality is that the Wild had a well laid out plan that would allow the team to strike when the time was right.
WIth young players such as Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle possibly making a run to join the NHL roster, the time to get two cornerstones was right.
With the perfect mix of veteran leadership and youth, the Wild were poised to fill the "X" on a nightly basis and contend for the Stanley Cup.
Then came the lockout.
With the NHL in shambles financially, it was going to be difficult to get a deal done as is. However, the NHL Players' Association made things more difficult with the decision to hire Donald Fehr as its leader.
Fehr had long made things difficult for Major League Baseball as the leader of their players association by having annual strike threats along with forcing the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Couple that with a commissioner who may be in a hidden room reading articles on the current lockout saying, "Well, bad attention is still attention...am I right?"
Gary Bettman and Fehr have been in a staring contest since the end of September. With the players considering decertification, there appears to be no end in sight for the complete nightmare Wild fans have been experiencing.
Instead of a packed arena cheering for a team with a legitimate chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, the "X" stands as quiet as ever as some owners reap the benefits of a lockout without playing a game.
The cancellation of a second NHL season in the past eight seasons seems imminent, and Wild fans are experiencing a story that all Minnesota fans know too well: what could have been.
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