Playoffs? Playoffs!?!

Pessimism.  Fans of sports around the state of Minnesota share this one trait.  It’s in our blood.   Whether you’re a fan of the Vikings, Twins, Gophers, Wild, or Timberwolves; being prepared to be let down is built into our preseason expectations.  That's what happens when many of us were too young to remember, if even born, the '87 and '91 Twins championships, but have the ’98 Vikings (damn!), permanently ingrained in our brains.
By David Case & Michael Becker

One only needs to look back one year to recall one of the largest downfalls in Minnesota sports history- The Minnesota Wild.  The Wild exploded out of the gates, and surged to the top of the NHL’s standings 30 games in to the season.  Fittingly, the Wild became the first team in NHL history to go from first in the league near Thanksgiving to completely missing the playoffs altogether.  Injuries aside, fans do not forget a collapse like this. 

Queue the Wild’s current season.  With 9 games remaining, the Wild, whom have lost four of five, sit in 7th place in the Western Conference, only five points ahead of the 9th place Dallas “Norm Green” Stars.  The aforementioned Minnesota sports pessimism in all of us, myself included, is causing sheer panic. 

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a rare beast for Wild fans.  In it’s short, twelve-year existence, Minnesota has only made the playoffs three times, in 2003, 2007, and 2008.  While their '07 and '08 runs were forgettable, losing in the Conference Quarterfinals (first round) both seasons to the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche, respectively.  The 2003 Cinderella run set unreasonable expectations for the new franchise comprised of an 18 year old Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marian Gaborik, Wes Walz, Andrew Brunette, and a rag-tag team of NHL journeymen.  They surprised the hockey universe by coming back from 1-3 series deficits against the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks, thanks to head coach and defensive specialist Jacques Lemaire.  While this team was nowhere near the best Wild team put on the ice, they beat all odds by advancing to the Western Conference Finals, only to be swept by the Anaheim Ducks (then the Mighty Ducks).

With this in mind, the 2013 version of the Minnesota Wild is arguably the best team ever iced.  Following the free agent acquisitions of stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, expectations were sky high.  The emergence of future-star prodigy defenseman Jonas Brodin and the trade deadline acquisition of all-star Jason Pominville have only reinforced these mind-boggling expectations.  This only makes the Wild’s current slide from 3rd in the Western Conference to 7th more troubling.  Re-enter: Pessimism.

Rest assured, the Wild should still make the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with ease.  Here’s why:  As stated previously, the Wild sit 7th in the Conference standings, five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and the Columbus Bluejackets, six points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes, and seven points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers.  While the disparity may seem miniscule, the way the schedule is set up with Western Conference teams only playing Western Conference teams makes it improbable that one of these teams will pass us.

Enter: stats.  Counting overtime losses as a loss, Minnesota is 17-5-1 against teams with a record below .500, and 5-10-1 against teams with a record above .500.  Thus, the Wild are beating teams they should be beating, but continue to struggle against the elite teams.  In their final nine games of the season, they play six teams with records below .500-the Bluejackets, the Flames twice, the Oilers twice, and the Avalanche.  Based on past records, we can expect to win at least four of these games.  The Wild play three games with records above .500 in the Blues, Kings, and Sharks.  We can expect at least one win out of these, leaving us with a record of 5-4 in the final nine and a final record of 27-19-2 with 56 total points.

To stress how great our chances of making the playoffs are, let’s be conservative with our predictions.  If we continue to stumble and finish the final nine with a record of 2-5-2, our playoff chances are still high.  That would leave us with 52 points and 20 regulation or overtime wins, the first tiebreaker for the playoffs.  In order for the Stars to pass us, they would need to finish their final nine games with a record of 5-2-2, the Bluejackets at 5-1-2, the Coyotes at 6-2-1, and Edmonton at 6-2-2.  While this is possible, it's highly unlikely due to those teams past and current performance coupled with their remaining schedules.   Rest easy Wild fans, the long-awaited playoffs are coming (with that said, I’m still knocking on wood ;)).

One final thought and reminder for the diehard Wild fans out there: This isn’t our year.  That isn’t to say we can’t make a run in the playoffs and win a series or two, however.  We need to remember that we are in it for the long haul.  Parise and Suter weren’t signed for one year, we have them for twelve more!  The Wild’s blue-chip prospects, such as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba have barely dipped their toes in the water that is the NHL.  The best years have yet to come.  While it’s nearly impossible for a Minnesota sports fan to be optimistic, the Wild’s future has the best chance at reducing our high-blood pressure, and most importantly, ridding us of that darn pessimism that Minnesota teams have graced us with over the years.

Post by David Case & Michael Becker - Bulldog Country's Minnesota Wild Experts


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