The Minnesota Wild are currently on the outside looking in for the playoff picture, falling a single point behind the second wild card spot in the standings. With games in hand on the majority of teams in the Western Conference, their position isn’t terrible. Yet Corsica predicts the Wild will not make the playoffs, narrowly missing out alongside the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche while the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, and the Dallas Stars all advance to the coveted “second season”. After comparing some key team stats across the Central Division, that prediction seems more reasonable than Wild fans would care to admit.
Stats are courtesy of Corsica and the NHL. Stats (except PP% and PK%) are at 5v5.
The Wild are below 50% in both Corsi For % (which measure relative puck possession) and Goals For % (which measures relative goal scoring) and both stats are the worst in the Central. While their team save percentage is middle-of-the-pack, their shooting percentage is second worst in the division. The special teams stats are strong (although still middle-of-the-pack relative to the division), but their penalty differential of -23 means that the Wild are unlikely to make up much ground overall on the merits of their special teams.
Fortunately, there are a few reasons for optimism. First, the Wild are currently getting more than 90 seconds more of PIM per game than their previous three season average. Even with the tighter officiating this season, it is reasonable to expect the Wild will take fewer penalties as the season wears on and trend closer to their usual line.
Second, the upcoming return of Zach Parise to the lineup will give the Wild a stronger offensive attack and one of its better shooters with a career shooting percentage of 11.3. The eventual return of Nino Niederreiter should also boost the team’s offensive capabilities and puck possession. These two additions alone should help the Wild improve the frequency with which they are putting tallies in the “W” collumn moving forward.
Lastly, despite the Wild’s mediocre performance overall so far this season they aren’t out of the race. A team performing below their usual standard that is still in a position to challenge for the playoffs is a good team. Moreover, the Wild are no strangers to going on big hot streaks that have the potential to vault them up the standings, whether it’s a 12 game win streak like last season or a scorching hot spring to make the playoffs. There’s no reason the Wild can’t go on a similar tear this season.
All that being considered, it is looking more and more like the Wild will have to conjure up a hot streak to make the playoffs. The Pacific Division now has a fourth playoff calibre team in the Vegas Golden Knights to go along with the California trio, so there’s no guarantee a second wild card spot will be available for a Central Division team to grab as has frequently been the case these past few seasons. Winnipeg and Dallas have both taken a step forward, Nashville is every bit the Stanley Cup finalist we saw last season, and St. Louis and Chicago are no slouches either. Even Colorado seems to (finally) be finding some resemblence of a game. The Wild can compete in a tough group, but their performance up to now hasn’t been good enough to do so. Change is needed.
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