We’re just days away from the first puck drop of the regular season when the Wild will play the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver Thursday night, so let’s do a quick analysis of the Wild’s schedule for the upcoming season. When do they play their division rivals and are there any games we should be concerned about?
The Wild have 26 games against their divisional rivals, book-ending their season inside the Central with Game 1 against the Avalanche and Game 82 against the Stars. Notably, half of their final 14 games are against divisional opponents, including three games against Nashville in March. Assuming the Predators are at the top of the division again this season, those three games could be critical to gain ground in the standings. The Wild also play all four games against Chicago before the calendar year changes while the games against their other divisional opponents are somewhat more spread out. Minnesota will play Dallas and Winnipeg each an extra time (five each instead of four). Given one of these teams was second place in the division last year while the other was second from the bottom, it’s a relatively fair draw.
The Wild will play back-to-back games on 15 different occasions this season. Fortunately, none of those 15 involve significant travel in between the two games. Five of the fifteen back-to-backs involve one game at the X and one game on the road, one back-to-back is both home games, and the other nine are two road games. The largest distance the team has to travel in-between games of a back-to-back series appears to be traveling to St. Paul from Philadelphia (about 1,000 miles in the air).
It does not appear that the Wild have any noticeably long travel distances to have to put up with this season. While the schedulers try to avoid forcing teams from having to go from one corner of the country to the other, sometimes it is not possible. Fortunately for the Wild, they avoid any such occasions this year. The worst two trips for the Wild are probably already mentioned here: the overnight trip from Philly mentioned above and the west coast-Midwest - West Coast - Midwest road trip discussed below.
There are at least three stretches of games that look like they could potentially be daunting for Minnesota this upcoming season. The first of these stretches happens very early in the season, games 5 through 8. It starts Monday, October 15, with a game in Nashville. The next day, they are at home against the Coyotes, then they get two days off before a game in Dallas, and then a game at home the next day against Tampa Bay. So that’s two sets of back-to-backs both with travel in between games and just two days off in between. Top it off with the first game being against the reigning Central Division champions and the last game against the Atlantic champs, it will not be an easy four games for the Wild.
Four games later, they start their longest road trip of the season. Seven games against Vancouver, Edmonton, St. Louis, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and then St. Louis again. Just seven days off plus two sets of back-to-backs (Vancouver/Edmonton and LA/Anaheim) during the trip as well. That is a decent amount of travel; start in the Pacific Northwest, come to the Midwest, go back west to Southern California, and then back to the Midwest. Throw in the fact that several of those teams will likely be very good and it makes for a potentially extremely difficult road trip for Minnesota. On top of all that, the first home game after the trip is against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals. That will make it a difficult 8 games for the team. Conveniently for the Wild, both of these stretches are early in the year, so the team should be fairly well rested going in.
The third stretch that looks like it could give the Wild a hard time is a five game stretch at the end of February and beginning of March. On February 26, the Wild play in Winnipeg and then they play Calgary, Nashville twice, and finally Tampa Bay. Only one of those games, the first of the two Nashville games, will be in St. Paul. So those are five games where four are on the road and four are against teams with at least 113 points last season. It will be a difficult test at a time when the team will be trying to lock down a playoff spot.
Some Wild fans may remember the end of the 2016-2017 season when the team had a very busy end of the season. The Wild played its final 23 games over just 41 days. It was a tough way to end the year, and it looked like the team was depleted by the time the playoffs came around. This year, in that same final 41 days, the Wild have only 18 games. This season’s schedule does look to be more evenly spread out than previous years, and hopefully this will result in a more well-rested Wild team come playoff time.
So Wild fans, do you have any thoughts on this year’s schedule? Any games you’re excited about? Nervous about?