Before the start of the season I had what was, admittedly, an overly harsh assessment of the Minnesota Wild (No. 5 on the list here) that talked about how they just kind of exist as a franchise, and how I don’t really have any overwhelmingly strong opinions, positively or negatively, about them as a team. Mostly because for as good as they tend to be, they just never really go anywhere.
Every year you know exactly what they will do, where they will finish in the standings, when they will exit the playoffs.
They have a lot of really good players, but they don’t really have any true superstars.
They are a consistently good team (sometimes really good!), but no matter how good they are, there always seems to be that one team they inevitably meet in the first round that is just always a little bit better than them.
The result is a team that consistently finishes with 100 points, is usually in the top-10 in the overall league standings (top-eight the past two years; top-three this season as of Monday), but can never make a serious postseason run. You know they are going to be there in the playoffs and probably near the top of the standings, but deep down you just know they have no legitimate shot of winning the Stanley Cup. At least that is the way it seems.
Look at it this way: During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 the Wild were 10th in the NHL in games won. That is a pretty good team. You would think with that much regular season success, and that many trips to the playoffs (all five years), that something might have come together for at least one decent run deep in the playoffs.
For most teams, it does.
For most teams, it did.
For the Wild, it didn’t.
They were one of just two teams in the top-12 in total wins during that stretch that did not make at least one Conference Finals appearance (the Boston Bruins, sixth in wins during that stretch, were the other).
Eight of the teams in the top-12 made at least one Stanley Cup Final appearance (St. Louis, Boston, Anaheim, and Minnesota were the ones that did not).
This season, the Wild are once again a good team. A really good team. A really good team with a great coach in Bruce Boudreau that is doing what he has done for every team he has coached — win. They dominate five-on-five goal-scoring. They dominate five-on-five scoring chances. They have a great penalty kill and an outstanding goalie.
If you are a Wild fan there should be every reason to look at this team and think “maybe we have a chance!”
For everyone outside of Minnesota, you can’t help but look at the situation and the division and the potential path through the playoffs and simply say, “there is no way they are beating both Nashville and Winnipeg in the first two rounds. It just doesn’t seem probable.”
This is the story of the Minnesota Wild in a nutshell. In any given year there may only be two or three teams in their conference that are better than them, and those teams will almost always — always! — be in their division, and be their likely first-or second-round opponents.
The same is true this season.
For years that team was always the Chicago Blackhawks during their mini-dynasty run.
This year — just like last year — it is Nashville and Winnipeg. The two teams they will almost certainly have to go through to go on a run and get out of the Central Division bracket.
It takes a lot of luck and good fortune to win a Stanley Cup. That luck can be anything and everything from getting the right bounce in the right moment, to having all of your key players healthy at the same time, to getting the right matchups along the way.
When it comes to the Wild, they almost never seem to get the latter. Every year it is a brutally tough draw in their division. That does not seem to be changing.
1. Nashville Predators — Just an incredibly deep team that is dominating everybody. They have only allowed seven goals on their current five-game winning streak. In four of those games they allowed either one goal or zero goals.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Ryan McDonagh seems to have found the fountain of youth in Tampa Bay, and as if they weren’t already good enough, Victor Hedman is now back in the lineup. The Atlantic Division should be theirs for the taking once again.
3. Minnesota Wild — Once again stuck in the wrong division.
They are who we thought they were
4. Boston Bruins — Jaroslav Halak has been a huge surprise this season. What has not been a surprise has been the domination of their top line. It is almost like a cheat code when they are on the ice. I don’t mean to exaggerate here, but splitting that trio up should be a fireable offense.
5. Winnipeg Jets — After recording a pair of points in their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night, Blake Wheeler is now on a 10-game point streak. He has 19 points during that streak.
[Related: It is time to stop labeling Blake Wheeler as underrated]
6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are still picking up wins even without Auston Matthews and William Nylander, but their loss over the weekend to Boston should concern them from a big picture outlook. They still have no answer for the Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line and if the Maple Leafs are going to be anything other than a team that loses in the first-round they are probably going to have to get through Boston this season. Are you convinced they can do that?
Exceeding expectations, but the jury should still be out
7. Vancouver Canucks — This team still strikes me as a house of cards (that defense and goaltending … woof!), but Elias Petterson is a legit top-line talent and one of the league’s must-see players right now. I give them credit for winning early, because that matters, but I am still not ready to buy this team, this season. Yet.
8. Montreal Canadiens — Just about everything Marc Bergevin touched this offseason seems to be turning to gold. At least for now. How long that good fortune lasts will determine the success or failure of this year’s team.
9. Buffalo Sabres — Whether it is from Buffalo or somebody else, Jeff Skinner is putting himself in a position to collect a lot of money at some point over the next few months. He is still only 26 years old and it seems like he has been around forever.
They are who we thought they were, part 2
10. Columbus Blue Jackets — They enter the week in first place in the Metropolitan Division despite the fact their goalies, for the most part, have completely stunk this season. They need Sergei Bobrovsky to be Sergei Bobrovsky again.
11. Philadelphia Flyers — How does anyone that follows this team have a healthy blood pressure? They either look great or horrible and they seem to spend equal time on both sides of that spectrum. Lately, the great version has been here (at least offensively). Give it time, though, because the horrible version is probably lurking around the corner just waiting to appear again.
12. Dallas Stars — Middle of the pack seems to be the perfect way to describe the Stars. In any year and every year. Losing John Klingberg for a month is going to hurt, though. He is one of the game’s best blue-liners and should be in the Norris discussion once again.
13. Calgary Flames — The Flames are off to a pretty good start and one of the biggest contributors has been … David Rittich? The backup goalie is 5-1-0 with a .935 save percentage in six starts. Now if they could just get something out of James Neal…
Hey, wake up, you are better than this
14. San Jose Sharks — Erik Karlsson has been better than his box score numbers would indicate, but zero goals in 18 games to start the season is not what anybody expected.
15. Washington Capitals — The defending Stanley Cup champions have won back-to-back games once this season. They have yet to win more than two in a row. They have also yet to lose more than two in a row.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins — The general manager was right to call out his team. But he also is the one that built the team, so he has to look in the mirror a little bit, too.
[Related: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start]
17. St. Louis Blues — Three of their top-five scorers right now (Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak) were acquired over the offseason in an effort to boost one of the league’s worst offensive teams. They fixed the offense just in time for the goaltending to abandon them.
Making their move … but is it already too late?
18. Florida Panthers — Entering the week they are 5-2-0 in their past seven games, but another slow start to the season may have been enough to bury them.
19. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes did not win their eighth game of the 2017-18 season until December 22, so they are more than a month ahead of last year’s pace. There is a lot to like about this team, especially the way they play defensively and on the penalty kill. They are not an easy two points for anyone.
20. New York Rangers — Honestly, not sure I expected this team to put together a six-game point streak at any time this season, but that is exactly what they have done over the past two weeks as part of a 5-0-1 run. Only two of those five wins came in regulation (the other three were shootout wins) so it’s probably not something that is going to sustain itself, but you can’t fault the effort.
21. Detroit Red Wings –– Same story as the Rangers. The effort is there, and it’s resulted in a nice little hot streak here recently (for the Red Wings, it is wins in six out of the past seven games, including three in a row where they have had to overcome a two-goal deficit) but even bad teams get hot at some point during an 82-game season.
The mystery teams
22. Colorado Avalanche — Two of the top-three scorers in the league, a top-three offense overall, top-10 in goals against per game … and they are, at the moment, a fringe playoff team that has lost six out of eight games.
23. New York Islanders — The argument in favor of the Islanders is that they are balanced, and getting contributions from everyone, and they are the definition of a team with a good system and a good coach in place. The reality is they are 21st in the league in goals per game, 30th in shots on goal per game, and are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to possession and scoring chance differential. Unsustainable goaltending has masked all of those flaws for now.
24. Vegas Golden Knights — I still think this team is capable of putting together a run here if they get their goalies straightened out. But maybe they’re just not going to get the goaltending this season? Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t young anymore and the jury is still out Malcolm Subban.
25. Carolina Hurricanes — Such a promising start, too.
26. Edmonton Oilers — No forward depth. Bad defense. Cam Talbot is not playing well in goal. Everyone in charge of this team should remain on the hot seat.
27. Ottawa Senators — Young players like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk have been great this season. That is the important thing for this team.
28. New Jersey Devils — After starting the season with a four-game winning streak the Devils are just 2-8-1 since then.
[Related: Struggling Devils]
29. Anaheim Ducks — Their strong start was always a mirage given the way they were actually playing. They have just one regulation win in their past 11 games. This has all the makings of another team destined for an in-season coaching change.
You probably fired the wrong person
30. Chicago Blackhawks — Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster is not particularly good.
31. Los Angeles Kings — Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster stinks.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.