Are the Minnesota Wild playoff-bound in 2021?
When the Minnesota Wild dropped their Qualifying Round series to the Vancouver Canucks 3-1, it felt like just another underwhelming break for a franchise stuck firmly in the middle on the pack.
On one hand, it was nice to see Minnesota actually make the playoffs, as they missed it the previous season after a six-season streak under Mike Yeo and Bruce Boudreau, but after playing in a Conference Quarter-Finals series eight years prior, the quick Bubble-bounce left more questions than answers.
‘Are the Wild over? Is a rebuild in the team’s future? Should the team cash out on veteran players like Mathew Dumba to go all-in on a youth movement?’
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Well, in a serendipitous twist of fate, we may just be able to kick those questions down the road another year, as the Wild caught a major break with the NHL’s newly realigned divisions.
You see, with the US-Canadian border still closed for casual back-and-forth traffic, the NHL has opted to reconfigure their divisions to accommodate for a single, Canada-only division and three newly modified stateside divisions that are more geographically condensed. Why is this relevant? Because the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and the Minnesota Wild joined what’s left of the Pacific for a new West Division that’s not particularly formidable outside of its top three teams.
So, for the 2020-21 NHL season, the Western Division will feature the Anaheim Ducks, the Arizona Coyotes, the Colorado Avalanche, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota Wild, the San Jose Sharks, the St. Lois Blues, and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Now right from the jump, three of those teams are borderline locks to make the playoffs in the Blues, the Avalanche, and the Golden Knights. They each had 85-plus points in 2019-20 and could feast on the bottom three teams in the West – Ducks, Kings, and Sharks – who are equally as unlikely to make the playoffs. So really, that just leaves two teams, the Coyotes and the Wild competing for the Division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
In 2019-20, that spot would have gone to the Wild, as they finished out the abbreviated season with two more wins and three more points in a much tougher division.
Could things break the Coyotes’ way in 2021? Sure, they have much more familiarity with four of the Division’s other eight teams, but after trading away their second-line center for a 2021 second-round pick – a move that many consider an absolute steal long-term (more on that here) – it seems fairly plausible that Arizona may be in-line for a small step back towards an eventual rebuild.
Could the Wild bring their playoff streak to two basically by default? It’s really starting to look that way.
With Cam Talbot brought in to sure up the Minnesota Wild’s goaltending, Marcus Johansson acquired from the Caps for Eric Staal, and Kirill Kaprizov arriving from the KHL to provide some pop on the left side, this year’s Wild squad is certainly better than last year’s. Will they be good enough to make it out of the West? Probably not, but they’re more likely than not better than the Arizona Coyotes and thus have a chance to see what happens in a weird, intradivision playoff format.