We’re more than halfway into a Wild season, and there have been no swoons, dips or slumps. Sure, there have been times when Minnesota hasn’t been as dominant as it has been lately, but look at the first 42 games as a whole and you see this: the longest points-less streak for the Wild this season is two. And that happened just once, with back-to-back regulation losses to Buffalo and Colorado way back in early November.
Here it is mid-January and the Wild has the most points in the Western Conference (62) while playing four fewer games (42 compared to 46) than the three teams closest to it in the standings. Minnesota is on pace for 119 points, which would easily be a franchise record.
That said, it was around this time last year (one week earlier) that Minnesota embarked on its epic losing skid that cost former head coach Mike Yeo his job. Similar skids in past seasons have made Wild fans very cautious.
Combine that with what happened to the Vikings this season — a 5-0 start that had people talking Super Bowl faded to an 8-8 finish — and there might be some reluctance as a fan to go “all-in” on the Wild.
To that end, I’d say this: Bruce Boudreau’s bunch seems far more slump-proof than Yeo’s teams ever did. It’s particularly encouraging that even though Minnesota hasn’t had the same fantastic goaltending lately that it was getting earlier this year from Devan Dubnyk, the wins and points are still coming. The Wild has allowed four goals in six of its past 10 games. While that’s not *good*, the fact that Minnesota is 4-1-1 in those games is an indication that the Wild can win either a low-scoring or high-scoring game.
The Wild is likely bound to cool off a little, but it looks like a team that will sail through the regular season with one of the conference’s best records. To that end: yes, buy into this team all the way.
The unfortunate part if you’re a Wild fan this season is that the NHL playoffs are so volatile that a great regular season can be wiped out in a matter of days.
For example: I went back and looked at the last five seasons of the NHL to find teams who finished with dominant regular seasons (defined here by at least 110 points, or in the case of the shortened 2012-13 season teams who were on pace for 110 points when the 48-game season ended). There were 12 teams total who fit the criteria.
Of those 12 teams, only one of them reached the Stanley Cup Finals (Chicago in 2012-13, which won the Cup). Two others reached the conference finals. Four of them were knocked out in the second round. And a whopping five of them were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wild and new head coach Bruce Boudreau are both keenly aware of this. In 2013-14, the Wild knocked out Colorado (112 points) in the first round. In 2012-13, Boudreau’s dominant Anaheim team (on pace for 113 points in the shortened season) was knocked out in the first round, while his dominant 2013-14 Ducks team (116 points) was bounced in the second round.
Chicago won the Cup in 2012-13 with the most points in the regular season. The other four most recent Cup winners? They finished 13th, 10th, 7th and 4th in regular-season points, respectively. Contrast that to the NBA, where three of the past five titles were won by the team with the best regular-season record, and the other two were won by the No. 3 and No. 4 regular-season teams.
What does it all mean? The Wild has a team worthy of your total investment — as long as you keep the volatility of the NHL playoffs in proper perspective.