Through 80 games, the Minnesota Wild sit at 87 points for the season.
In most seasons, that's a point total that would leave a team on the outside-looking in come playoff time. Even if the Wild played in the Eastern Conference, they would be all but playing out the string, hoping for two wins and some convoluted scenarios to ascend to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But out West, they probably don't even have to win another game. If Minnesota goes 0-2 for the rest of the week, they're in the playoffs, so long as Colorado loses one of three games to playoff teams scratching and clawing for positioning. So long as they don't capture all four points in their next two games, they're a virtual lock to become the worst Western Conference playoff team since ties were a thing.
This is probably not anything that will be celebrated by, say, the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, or Detroit Red Wings, who are at risk of missing the playoffs and will almost certainly end up with a higher point total than Minnesota. In a tournament whose aim is to feature the 16 best teams in the league, it looks like it will instead feature the 15 best teams in the NHL, and the 17-th place Minnesota Wild.
This won't be the first time that the Conference/Divisional format the NHL uses has screwed over a team like this, or even the most egregious. For example, in the 2006-07 season, the Avalanche missed the playoffs despite having the league's 9th-largest point total. But the 15-16 season will be notable for being the first time this has happened under the league's new Divisional format.
So, what should be done about it? Anything?
I mean, this hasn't exactly been a "fair" system in some time, and it hasn't affected the sport in a drastically negative way. But since when is "This is how we've always done it?" been a good reason to keep things the same? If the regular season's goal is to determine the best 16 teams, then there should be no reason for the 16th best team to make it into the playoffs over the 17th best. Are Wild fans going to be happy that they got into the playoffs on what was basically a technicality? Should something as historic as Detroit's 25-year playoff streak really be put in jeopardy by something like geographical location- something that's totally out of the Red Wings' control?
No? Awesome! The playoffs are now a meritocracy where the best 16 teams make the playoffs, with the best team matching up with the 16th seed, the 2nd with 15, and so on. Let's get ready for some exciting playoff match-ups! Which of these are you going to tune into?
St. Louis (3) vs. Philadelphia (14)
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Nashville (13)
Chicago (5) vs. New York Islanders (12)
I mean, I'm sure those would be good series in their own right, but here's where we run into the reason for keeping things the way as-is: The Divisional Playoff format is going to do way more to generate ratings than a random East-West mashup. Sure, Jonathan Toews meeting John Tavares in the playoffs isn't a bad thing, but wouldn't you rather see a more intense match-up with the hated St. Louis Blues? And why have Pittsburgh go to Nashville for the first-round when you can have them face a team from New York? That's a no-brainer.
So, there's your choice, NHL fans: Do you want a meritocracy, or do you want a more compelling first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
And perhaps more interestingly: Does your answer change if your favorite team misses the playoffs because of these rules?