As a calendar year, 2015 was pretty nice for the Wild. A second-half surge a season ago started in January of 2015, helping Minnesota reach the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
That momentum at least carried forward to a reasonable amount at the start of the 2015-16 season — enough that the Wild played the first 36 games this season (the last of which being a 3-1 win at St. Louis on New Year’s Eve) at a 20-10-6 clip. That was good enough for 46 points and a 1.28 points per game pace — which translates to 105 points and a near-cinch playoff berth over a full season.
Since the calendar flipped to 2016, though, the Wild’s fortunes have turned as well. Minnesota is just 3-7-3 in 2016, including a disheartening 2-1 shootout loss to Arizona in the final game before the All-Star break Monday night. That puts Minnesota’s record at 23-17-9 at the break — more losses, overall, than victories and suddenly a much less impressive 1.12 points per game (a pace for 92 at season’s end).
What impact has the rough 2016 start had on the Wild? Here’s a quick look:
1) The Wild’s place in the Western Conference standings has taken a hit, though perhaps not as much of one as we might expect. On Jan. 1, when the Wild was 20-10-6, it was entrenched as the top wild card — just two points from jumping into the top three in its division and seven points clear of the last team out.
Now? The Wild is still the top wild card at the break, though more precariously — tied with No. 2 wild card Colorado (with one game in hand for the Wild) and just three points clear of the last team out. More notably, the Wild is nine points behind St. Louis, the No. 3 team in its division, and will have a difficult time making the playoffs as anything but a wild card.
2) Even though the Wild is still the same seed as it was on Jan. 1, the percent chance that the Wild will make the playoffs has gone down considerably. I’ve primarily used Hockey Reference for these calculations. In the final weeks of 2015, the Wild was comfortably well above 90 percent when it came to the odds it would make the playoffs. Even on Jan. 13, as the slide started, the odds were only down to 88.9 percent. But now? They’re down to 66.9 percent — still a 2 in 3 chance, but a far cry from the near-sure thing it seemed to be. A month ago, conventional wisdom was that it would take a massive collapse for the Wild to miss the playoffs. The first part of 2016, unfortunately for the Wild, has played out that way.
3) Fortunately for the Wild, it is being propped up a little by a slightly more mediocre Western Conference than the one we saw last year. Remember, the Wild is now on pace for 92 points; a year ago in the West, finishing with 92 points would mean the Wild missed the playoffs by a full seven points. Now, even with their 2016 slump, maintaining that 92-point pace would likely be good enough to make the postseason if we trust the numbers.
Sports Club Stats calculates playoff odds a little differently than Hockey Reference and has the Wild at 75 percent still right now. But most notably, the site says the Wild has an 88.1 percent chance of making it if it finishes with 92 points. Of note too, though, is how quickly those odds go down. Finish with 88 points, just four fewer than its current pace? The Wild’s chances suddenly go down to just 35.5 percent.
If that doesn’t tell you how precious a point here or there is — like the one that got away last night — I don’t know what will.