It’s generally better to live your life by listening and reading what people much smarter than you have to say about a topic you’re interested in, so that’s what I’m going to do here. I don’t have the coding or mathematic expertise to really delve into what each player might do in the next 56 regular season games, or where the team will be in the standings after said games, so let’s just point at a couple of very intelligent hockey people and go, “oh yeah, I agree, that looks good, wow.”
You can certainly disagree with these predictions, after all, hockey is a weird and unpredictable sport, but there are multiple consistent factors that are taken into consideration. Let’s take a look and then start online arguments if we find anything we don’t like.
Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic
First, we’ll take a look at Dom Luszczyszyn, the designated Math Boy of The Athletic. With all of his nice-looking graphs and numbers, it’s just so pleasing to look at. He’s been going through each of his 31 predictions in immense detail and he has the Minnesota Wild sneaking into the playoffs behind the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues.
If you asked anyone on the street in St. Paul, you would probably get somewhere around the same answer for a prediction for the West Division standings.
At 55 percent, the Wild are basically a playoff coin-flip, it’s just the fact that they’re more likely than not to make the playoffs. They’re projected to be the 18th best team in the league and have higher playoff odds than three teams above them. The Rangers, the team directly below them with an almost identical expected win percentage, has a playoff probability 22 percentage points lower than the Wild.
It’s wild (sorry), and the crazy part is that the Wild making it is actually the best-case scenario in terms of equity in the division. That ignores that there’s a 45 percent chance the team doesn’t make it, meaning one of Arizona, Anaheim, San Jose or Los Angeles do instead. In the end, it all won’t matter much — any of the five will have a very difficult time making it to the second round. It’s just interesting to break down the discrepancies between divisions.
None of this is meant as a slight against the team either. They’re a fine team that would’ve been right in the playoff mix in a normal season. That they’re in the driver’s seat is what makes it all so strange.
Not the most outstanding preview of the Wild’s season, but hey, at least they get to appear in the post-season above some terrible southwestern clubs. Even if it all ends with a thunderous sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, we would have enjoyed the ride.
The one thing that makes me a little more calm inside, is knowing that the Wild will have one of the league’s best blue lines. At least Dom thinks so.
The main reason for that is the team’s defense which this model loves from top-to-bottom, ranking nearly every pair in the top five. It’s an incredibly strong group led by one elite talent, three other top pair players, and two more top-four caliber players filling in on the third pair. Only one other team, Colorado, has that much depth on the back-end.
We have seen the effect of uber-defensive teams go farther than their overall skill warrants as recent as the post-season bubble. Although the Columbus Blue Jackets were helped by outstanding goaltending, the New York Islanders were able to ride their way to the Eastern Conference Final on the back of some solid defense and ability to score timely goals.
So, hey, maybe that will be the Wild but with some cooler players.
Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz
The one analyst that (somewhat surprisingly) has the most confidence in the Wild through his own work is Micah Blake McCurdy and his Magnus prediction model. With all the pools and volcanoes you can handle, Magnus takes the deep dive into team’s overall impact at various strengths and areas of the ice in terms of shot location and danger.
For the Wild, it paints a broad picture of a very strong team at 5-on-5, especially when it comes to getting net-front dangerous scoring chances, with above-average defense and finishing ability. But when it comes to the power play, they are basically better to decline the penalty.
Taking one step back to look at the entire division, I was honestly shocked where the Wild were projected to finish according to this model. Sitting third and on top of the Blues, Minnesota sat fairly comfortably within a playoff spot.
Similar to Dom’s outlook on the Wild’s season, this team is more likely to be one of the top four teams in the division, earning themselves a spot in the post-season, than be left on the outside looking in after the 56 games have been played. Which is something most fans would be confident in saying before taking a deeper dive, but as it always comes with numbers, it feels comforting knowing that our general sense can be backed up.
Josh and Luke Younggren, Evolving-Hockey
Our local hockey analytics twins wasn’t able to realistically put the Wild as the next Presidents’ Trophy winners, so they stuck with a more logical approach and used their own tools to come up with these standings.
Here are our NHL Team Point Projections for the '20-21 season.— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) January 10, 2021
Rosters current as of 2020-01-09. Team point estimates are the median of 100,000 simulations. pic.twitter.com/APlMemsSgV
Now since they tweeted this, they have done some tweaking and will adjust some minor aspects of their prediction that can spread out some single standing points, but most of it should look the same.
Following the trend, the Younggren brothers have the Wild very safe in the fourth spot of the West Division — six points back of the Knights, but seven points above the Coyotes. Soft and cozy in their playoff spot, they might get to know who their post-season opponent is, as the Avalanche are predicted to be well above the rest of the divisional competition. Potentially a very boring conclusion to a top-heavy division, as the two other playoff teams jostle for home ice.
Some of these prediction models have shown to be very accurate in the past, but it’s also — as I mentioned before — comforting to know some basic, general knowledge and talk around the new division, is supported by this trio of mathematics.
This whole entire season will be unpredictable though. We’re already seeing multiple training camps shutdown because of COVID-19 protocols and several players missing from practices for the organizations that haven’t been completely turned off due to some positive cases. Games will be rescheduled — and already have — and players will miss some weeks throughout the season, potentially altering some division standings.
No matter what though, I trust the smart people to judge who is good and where some teams will lie after everything is said and done, given what we know.