COMMENTARY | On February 5, the Minnesota Wild was in sixth place in the Western Conference. A significant gap separated Minnesota (67) from the San Jose Sharks (76) and Colorado Avalanche (77), and the Los Angeles Kings (66) were not too far behind.
Still, Minnesota had created separation between themselves and the other bubble teams: the Vancouver Canucks (63), Phoenix Coyotes (62), Dallas Stars (61), and Winnipeg Jets (61). The Wild shared a significant similarity with these teams -- they had a negative point differential. Every other team in the playoff picture, except for the Canucks, had scored more goals than their opponents.
In short, it looks like the Wild are, at best, the sixth-best team in the Western Conference this year. There is just too big of a gap between Minnesota and the top five teams to think that they will move up any higher. Unless upstart Colorado collapses or a team like the Anaheim Ducks (85), Chicago Blackhawks (82), St. Louis Blues (80), or San Jose Sharks (76) has a massive losing streak, nobody else is cracking the top five in the west this season.
In the past, this would be no big deal. The sixth seed usually got a matchup with the division winner that had the least amount of points that season. Before the realignment, Anaheim (Pacific) still would be the first seed, Chicago (Central) would be second, and Colorado (Northwest) would jump St. Louis (Central).
That means that if the playoffs started on February 5, the Wild would be playing Colorado, a favorable matchup. The Avalanche got a boost when they hired former goaltender Patrick Roy to coach the team this season, but they are still a young club with minimal postseason experience. Under the current system, however, the Wild are a Wild Card team that would have to face the Blackhawks as a No. 7 seed.
How did the Wild, with the sixth-highest point total in the Western Conference, end up as a No. 7 seed? Well, it's because the seeding goes as follows: The team with the highest amount of points in the Western Conference faces the Wild Card team with the lowest amount of points: Anaheim (85) vs. Vancouver (63). Then, the second- and third-place teams in each division play each other: St. Louis (80) vs. Colorado (77) and San Jose (76) vs. Los Angeles (66).
So, yes, Minnesota (67) may have more points than L.A., but the Kings are in the Pacific and the Wild are in the Central. Because it's unlikely that Minnesota will catch Chicago, St. Louis, and Colorado, they are going to be playing for a Wild Card spot and, more likely than not, playing Chicago or Anaheim in the first round.
If the playoffs started on February 5, the Wild would face Chicago, the team that beat them in five games last season. Oddly, it's one of the worst matchups they can get, but it's just the nature of the beast. Minnesota would probably be better matched up with Anaheim, who has done well in the regular season in both 2010-11 and 2012-13, but lost in the Conference Quarterfinals during those two years. On the other hand, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013.
A lot can change between February 5 and April 13, when the Wild play their last game, but it looks like they will probably end up with a Wild Card spot. There is a chance that Colorado slips up and Minnesota gets one of the top three seeds in the Central, but they'll still be playing either Chicago or St. Louis then.
The bottom line is that the sixth seed has dramatically changed with the realignment and Minnesota may end up with an unfavorable playoff matchup because of it.
Tom Schreier writes about the Twins, Wild, and Wolves for Yahoo Contributor Network. He previously covered Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and can be heard on 105 The Ticket in the Twin Cities. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
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