It’s been incredibly hard to characterize this season for the Minnesota Wild. Now just a month away from the conclusion of the regular season, no one can really put a finger on just what the identity of this team actually is.
Are they good?
Are 9they bad?
Are they even trying to win a Cup?
Or is this team just dealing with raised expectations after over-achieving the year before?
Last season’s 106 points was a shock to a lot of people, not to mention the Wild leading the Western Conference for much of the season. Who could forget the the 12-game winning streak in December? Ultimately, many things broke right for Minnesota in terms of other teams in the division not living up to the hype, the Wild’s depth scoring at rates we haven’t seen before, and health. The Wild were extremely healthy, outside of Zach Parise, and it allowed them to claim the 2nd best record in the Conference.
This season has been far less ups, far more infrequent downs, but overall the team has been decent especially since Christmas where they’ve tallied the second most points in the NHL.
In years past, we saw huge hills and valleys in the Wild’s play. From great starts, to mid-season swoons, to late season surges to gain a playoff berth. Bruce Boudreau was not immune to this trend last year, though, inversely. Instead, the Wild started slow, got hot in the middle, and swooned to the end of the season.
In Boudreau’s second season behind the Wild bench, we’ve witnessed more stable results. While often the trademark of a mediocre team, this Wild team hasn’t swooned, and the highest point of the season was a recently snapped 5-game winning streak.
The odd thing is, I think that if this season was flip-flopped with last year’s campaign, I think there’d be less consternation among Wild fans. This season fits the mold a of team finding its identity under a new head coach. I made this season prediction heading into the 2016-17 season:
The Minnesota Wild, with an offseason of change behind the bench, will likely get off to a slower start. It’s a learning curve as the team adapts to life with a new voice and new system of doing things. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wild scuffles around .500 for the month of October.
However, I feel that this team will ramp up towards the second half of the season. This team, like a thoroughbred horse specifically bred to close in the stretch run, will make its initial move around December and January (no more swoons) and will pass the wire in a 2 length lead over the second Wild Card team. The Wild will be in the playoffs yet again. It won’t be for another season that they finally bust into the top 3 of the Central division, but all the ground work gets laid now.
Wild finish with 96 points.
Looking back at that prediction, I foresaw almost exactly how this season has played out with the final stretch run yet to take place.
Many people think that growth is linear in fashion. You hear it among sports broadcasters and writers all the time. They often expect that if the team had gone 10-6 one year, they should go to 11-5 or 12-4 the next. If the Wild went 106 points in year one of Boudreau, they should go 107, or 110 points the year following. Unless there’s an outlier.
Much like the Minnesota Twins’ seasons recently. In the rise back to relevancy, the Twins, managed by Paul Molitor, went 83-79 in 2015. The 2016 season was an utter disaster in which the Twins suffered through a long summer of 103 losses when all was said and done. Last year, the Twins made it to the Wild Card play-in game. If the Twins can build on that success for this season, they can prove that the 2016 season was the outlier in the team’s overall growth.
That can work the opposite way too. Rather than losing a boatload of games, the team can have seemingly immediate success, even though it’s not been planned, nor achieved before. Like the Wild finishing with 106 points, it can come crashing down to where the Wild are really supposed to be at given their roster.
I certainly won’t blame anyone who had higher expectations from this Wild squad. I think most of us did. That said, I think we’ll find out, that fun 106 point season from yesteryear could very well be the outlier as the Wild are a team that is good, maybe even better than mediocre. We may find out that this year is more in-line with the growth of the team. This team did change coaches prior to last year, has had two coaches for defensemen, and experienced a bit of roster churn. As the Wild make little additions and subtractions this offseason, the hope will be that they continue to improve.
But how different would the attitude toward the Minnesota Wild be if this year and last year were flipped? I think there’d be a lot less consternation surrounding the Wild fanbase.