Much has been made about the NHL’s Western Conference superiority over the hapless Eastern Conference throughout the first half of the season. Caught almost directly in the middle of the meat grinder is the Minnesota Wild, who is currently caught in between the 7th and 8th seed with their former division rival, the Vancouver Canucks. With the home stretch off in the distance and the wear and tear of an NHL season beginning to show for some teams, playoff seeding and matchup predictions will begin popping up soon after the completion of the Olympics in Sochi.
The Wild are currently sitting in a position eerily similar to last year. At this time last year, they were slotted in the 8th seed and had only 4 points less than they have now. Fans are beginning to wonder if this year will be any different than last year or if they will face another quick first round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The reality is frustrating as they simply can’t compete with the top teams in the Western Conference. Teams such as St. Louis and Chicago have too much depth for the Wild to compete with in a seven game series.
One issue that is necessary for any playoff run is the need for stellar goaltending. With that position in flux because of Josh Harding’s complications with MS and Niklas Backstrom’s inconsistent play and rash of injuries, there is almost no chance for an upset of one of the top seeds. Darcy Kuemper has played fantastic in relief of both goalies, but he is untested in the playoffs and simply too young. Both of those concerns spell disaster when it comes to the intensity of an NHL playoff series.
The second and possibly most pressing issue is their lack of depth in comparison to the cream of the crop in the Western Conference. The skill players on the Wild’s roster are very capable of matching up with the premier teams, but the problems begin when you look at the third and fourth lines. For example, if you watch any of the top teams, it’s evident that every line has the ability to constantly create havoc in the offensive zone which leads to turnovers and prime scoring chances. They have a plethora of puck moving defensemen who get the puck out of the defensive zone quickly and aren’t afraid to sacrifice defensive responsibilities to create scoring chances. The Wild lack elite speed and grit in their bottom 6 forwards and rarely do you see the defense jump ahead into the play looking for a late trail play which is becoming commonplace in the NHL.
The beauty of the NHL playoffs is that nothing is set in stone. Seeds are simply a number and upsets can be expected. Unexpected heroes emerge to carry teams to unimaginable heights. It’s nearly impossible to predict which team will play beyond their capabilities and there is no reason that it can’t be the Wild. But the fact of the matter is that thus far this year, they have yet to show anything that would lead someone to believe they are this year’s Cinderella story.
Read more Wild rumors, news and opinion on our Minnesota Wild page