Well, kind of. Let’s start with “better.”
Last season the Northwest Division was a few different types of awful. Only one team made the post-season (the Atlantic Division had four), and if I were just talking to you at the bar, I’d say “and the Flames finished second, despite being awful.” But I’m not, and I’m super objective, so…the Flames finish second, and they had their struggles last season.
Here’s how it shook out:
|1||p – Vancouver||82||51||22||9||111||43||249||198||+51||27-10-4||24-12-5||8-7||8-1-1||Won 1|
As was pointed out in my post that recapped today’s big UFA signings, the team finished 15-29-8 to close out the season, ended up seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche for third in the division (they were 12th in their conference) and managed a whopping -49 goal differential (22 worse than the Oilers, who had the second biggest negative gap – why, that’s only 100 worse than the Canucks!).
So no – you don’t add two players and suddenly become the Miami Heat in our sport (sorry for that already-annoying reference, but just the way the team came together…you’re going to hear it).
Rob Vollman is an advanced stat analyst who’s done some great work (he’s done stuff for ESPN in the past), had this to say about the signings:
Minnesota just improved their team by 30.6 goals, according to GVT, which is over 10 points in the standings according to hockey’s 311 rule.
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) July 4, 2012
I’m not advance-stat expert myself, but I’ll take his word for it that that’s the case.
That brings them to 91 points, which flirts with the playoffs. And hey, Wild fans – flirting is better than the outright rejection you’ve experienced in the past.
Of course, not everything shakes down quite as pure and simple as that. Other rosters have changed, injuries happen, prospects develop, and much more. I think they’re better than ”a few points out of playoffs” after today’s big news.
My less stat-based take on their place in the Northwest Division:
The Flames roster is a curious hodge-podge of names you sorta once knew, and some you wish you didn’t. The Avalanche have a few quality guys, but nothing about them says playoff contender. The Oilers are going to be much, much better – poised for a big jump one year – but I don’t think it’s going to be 2012-2013. And honestly, there’s little to no reason to believe the Canucks have improved (though we’ll see what happens with Luongo).
The point is, the teams they play the most are all beatable on any given night.
The injection of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will undeniably make everyone else better. If you’re Dany Heatley (hell, if you’re anyone on that team), you add an extra plate to your squat rack today. Hope is a motivating, inspiring thing, and these signings did that for a number of Wild players. Don’t kid yourself that every team enters the season thinking “this could be our year!” Guys have to say that, they’re not idiots. But these moves…they bring real hope.
All those positive things said, they’re still not “there” yet.
I see their ceiling as 2nd in the Northwest, 5th/6th in the Western Conference right now (I guess I just made their ceiling 5th), if nothing were to change. But of course, it’s the NHL off-season, so it’s likely that plenty more will.
So what’s left for them is filling in the holes. You have another NHL stud in Mikku Koivu, but beyond that, there’s nothing too far above your average player. And when your back end consists of Falk, Spurgeon, Gilbert (who I like), Stoner, and Kampfer…you’re gonna need a few. Those aren’t terrible d-men, but again “not bad” does not equal good, which is handy when you’re chasing the Cup.
Another thing to add is that the Wild have some great young prospects – Granlund, Coyle, Larsson, Brodin, Dumba, Hackett, Zucker, Phillips, Kuemper, Gustavsson (as @JarickL pointed out to me) – but what people forget is nearly every team has their share of hopefuls, so I usually poo-poo the “but look who’s on the way!” stuff. I’m an Islanders fan, after all. Prospects! /stares at the Hypnotoad for another hour
But in the case of the Wild, if one or two or three of those guys come through, you’re laughing. Look at what Adam Henrique did for the Devils last year. You could fill roster spots with talent at a cheap price, exactly what you need when you’ve got a few highly paid studs shoveling coal into the main engine.
If I’m a fan of the Wild, I’m keeping an eye on our prospects closely. This move made your team better and has you closer than the Wild have ever been. It’s the development of your prospects that could push you over the top.