Micah Blake McCurdy runs a website of helpful hockey charts (and accompanying Twitter feed), and my favorite of all his data-based visual reports is one called “Sadness.”
The Sadness report offers rolling odds, updated each day, of how likely it is for an NHL team to both miss the playoffs AND not get a top-five draft pick. Those are the teams in NHL purgatory — not good enough to make the postseason, but not bad enough to have a better chance at drafting a high-impact player who could change their fortunes down the road.
Entering play Tuesday, the Wild rank second-highest on the “sadness” list with a 48% chance, per Hockey Viz, of achieving the undesired double. And really, Minnesota is No. 1 on the list if we exclude the Sharks — the runaway sadness leaders at the moment at 75%, but mainly because they have already traded away their first-round pick in 2020 (and therefore won’t have a top-five pick even if they nab one in the lottery).
The Wild’s season is only 20 games old, but I can’t think of a better measure of the organization’s purgatory predicament than this one.
Minnesota lags near the bottom now but is probably good enough to move up some in the standings once its home/road schedule evens out — so far, 13 of 20 have been on the road, and that will increase to 20 out of its first 30 after the Wild plays on Dec. 7 at Carolina. That means 31 of its last 52 games are at Xcel Energy Center.
By then, though, will new general manager Bill Guerin have seen enough to convince him that the time to move has come? I keep circling back to this quote from last week:
“We have to do what’s right for the organization as a whole, not grasp at straws,” Guerin said. “We don’t want to talk ourselves into something that we don’t really want to do or think we’re something that we’re not. We have to be very honest with ourselves and then move accordingly.”
A wholesale rebuild is risky, but short of a revival that boosts the Wild into playoff contention — to be sure, the preferred way to get a team’s “sadness” percentage lowered is that route and not a standings free-fall — it sure seems to beat purgatory.
Tuesday’s opponent, Buffalo, is a good example of the pain and the potential of bottoming out. The Sabres used to be like the Wild, either making the playoffs or competing for a spot pretty much every season.
But the Sabres have missed the playoffs each of the last eight years, sometimes in spectacularly bad fashion.
Along the way, though, they accumulated some serious draft capital — two No. 2 overall picks and a No. 1 pick — that are paying dividends this season with the Sabres off to a respectable 10-7-3 start that has them in the playoff hunt even though they have cooled off after a hot October. Jack Eichel (13 goals), Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin, all of them top-2 picks in the last six drafts, are key contributors and part of a strong young core.
Eight years, though, is a long time to wait between playoff trips — and there’s no guarantee Buffalo has turned the corner now.
The Wild has never fully bottomed out in franchise history, as evidenced by having just drafted two players ever in the top five: Marian Gaborik (No. 3 in 2000) and Benoit Pouliot (No. 4 in 2005). One is the lone true superstar in Wild history; the other was a disappointment here who went on to have a decent NHL career. And it’s been 14 drafts since the Wild had a crack at another top-5 pick.
The Wild missed the playoffs four consecutive years from 2009-12, but none yielded a draft pick higher than No. 7.
What’s worse: Being truly awful for a long time, with a chance to either stay awful or become great? Or treading water long enough to hopefully bounce back into the playoff mix?
It all depends, I suppose, on how you define sadness.