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A Christmas present for each Minnesota sports team

Christmas will have to wait for the local clubs, but it's not too early for fans to send their wish lists.
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With their last-minute shopping completed, fans of all Minnesota sports teams will gather around the tree later this weekend. But while some could get that hockey stick or autographed jersey they wanted, the actual teams they cheer for will have to wait to see what's in their stocking.

In the holiday spirit, we've arranged a list of Christmas wishes for each Minnesota sports team and discuss whether their dreams will come true in the next calendar year.

Minnesota Vikings: a pair of playoff wins

Some Vikings fans may want an extension for Kirk Cousins or Justin Jefferson. Others might just want a pink slip for Kevin O'Connell. But while an interesting offseason looms, the most immediate payoff would be a long playoff run.

The Vikings haven't had a playoff win since 2019, and they haven't won multiple playoff games in the same season since 1987. While they'll have to do it without Cousins, who suffered a torn Achilles against the Packers on Oct. 29, there's a path to a few playoff wins in a wide-open NFC.

While it would be great to see the Lombardi Trophy sitting under the tree, picking up a pair of playoff wins would be a step in the right direction.

Minnesota Twins: a starting pitcher

For the last 18 years, a playoff win would have been at the top of this list, but with the streak over, Twins fans just want to see them build off that momentum in 2024.

The Twins' offseason has been quiet so far, but there's still time to make a move. While fans saw Joey Gallo and Kyle Farmer in their stocking last Christmas, they unwrapped Carlos Correa, Pablo López and Michael A. Taylor last January.

Although Twins fans may have to exchange Max Kepler or Jorge Polanco to make it happen, adding a starting pitcher makes sense, especially after the loss of Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray.

Minnesota Timberwolves: a deep run in playoffs

The Timberwolves' Christmas wish looks a lot like the Vikings' wish, but it comes with a different set of circumstances.

With a 21-6 record entering Saturday's game against the Sacramento Kings, the Timberwolves are on track to make the playoffs a third straight season for the first time since they made it in eight straight seasons from 1996-2004.

But out of 11 all-time playoff appearances, the Timberwolves have only made it out of the first round once — when they went to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.

With a fast start, the Wolves will certainly have a path to make that happen, and it could lead to one of the greatest seasons in franchise history.

Minnesota Wild: more consistency on ice

The Wild have been a roller coaster ride this season, and it's led to a disappointing year. But while Minnesota sits seventh in the Central Division, the team has a chance to move up the ranks if it can find more consistency.

Minnesota has started to find that approach under John Hynes, who has led the Wild to a 9-3 record entering Saturday's game since taking over for Dean Evason on Nov. 28. But there are still some things to iron out.

If Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy can find the net and find health along the blue line, the Wild could make a late push toward the playoffs and have a chance to get out of the first round for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

Minnesota Lynx: another step forward for young players

The Lynx made the playoffs despite a transition year last summer but will need their young players to continue to develop next season.

Diamond Miller, who was the second overall pick in the 2023 WNBA draft, had a solid first season, finishing second among rookies in scoring. Fellow rookie Dorka Juhàsz (16th overall) ranked fourth among rookies in scoring (6.0 ppg), second in rebounding (6.5 rpg) and first in assists (2.6 apg).

With Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride likely to return, Miller and Juhász could form a solid nucleus and help Minnesota return to the top of the WNBA's hierarchy.

Minnesota United: depth on back line

The Loons were able to re-sign midfielder and captain Wil Trapp earlier this month, but they'll need to find some depth on the back end to compete in 2024.

Michael Boxall and Micky Tapias will fill the starting roles at center back, and the Loons will bring back Joseph Rosales after exercising his option this offseason. But after declining Bakaye Dibassy's option, the Loons will need to find someone to fill his role.

Minnesota made one step in the right direction by selecting Indiana defender Hugo Bacharach with the ninth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft last week, but they'll need to find some help in the transfer window over the next few months.

Gophers football: a modern offense

NIL money may be at the top of P.J. Fleck's wish list, but Gophers fans might just want a switch to a modern offense.

The Gophers ranked 11th in the Big Ten with 20.2 points per game this season after ranking fourth with 28.2 points per game a year ago. 

While the Gophers threw the ball more than they did a year ago, they also shot themselves in the foot with conservative play-calling late in games.

Next season is an opportunity, however, to switch to a more pro-style approach. While the Gophers lost quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to the transfer portal, they brought in New Hampshire transfer Max Brosmer, Fresno State transfer Logan Fife and three-star commit Drake Lindsey, who all profile as traditional pocket passers.

With Darius Taylor returning in the backfield, the Gophers could improve next season if they play to their strengths.

Gophers basketball: a tourney appearance for men's and women's teams

Both the men's and women's teams have a chance to be competitive this spring, and it could lead to a level of success that has rarely been seen at The Barn in recent years.

The women's basketball team has thrived in their first year under Dawn Plitzuweit, posting an 11-1 record and a conference win over Purdue on Dec. 10. With Mara Braun ranking second in the Big Ten to Iowa's Caitlin Clark with 20.3 points per game, the Gophers have a chance for their first winning season since the 2019-20 campaign and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018.

Meanwhile, the men's team has a 9-3 record while splitting two Big Ten games this season. With the return of Dawson Garcia (18.2 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), the Gophers could push for their first tourney bid since 2019 with a solid showing in the conference schedule.

If both teams make the tournament, it will be the first time since 2009. That would create some happy Gophers fans and build a foundation for future success.