For the length of time we have been writing this weekly column about the NHL standings, we have always found it difficult to believe the Wild would find their way back into the hunt. The way the Western Conference works, it is just not the usual concept to accept that the 14th place team can charge into a playoff spot, especially with the way the Wild had been playing.
How were they going to go into a week facing upper echelon opponents out east and come back in any shape to call themselves a playoff team?
The old cliche is that the games are not played on paper. This is a good thing for the Wild, since on paper they were outmatched at every stop on their past road trip. Still, they came home with a 3-0-0 record, six big points in the standings, and more importantly, they were playoff team for an entire day.
Let's look at the peer groups, shall we?
In the Northwest, the Wild are one point back of the Colorado Avalanche. To sum up how confident the Avs must have been that they could not be caught by such a lowly team, we go to the words of their "objective" reporter Adrian Dater of the Denver Post.
On Dec. 24, after the Wild had beaten the Avs 3-1, Dater quoted Cal Cluterbuck saying this:
"There's some guys over there, two guys in particular, I'm shocked they're still even playing in the league. If they're going to take a penalty, take a penalty.
"We're on the road, we'll take a power play any day of the week. If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, well, guess what, we're going to beat you, and we're coming for them in the standings."
Typical Cal, talking trash, riling up his team and the opponent. Dater could have left it at that, or made it out for what it was, but no, he was on the warpath, so he made this comment about what Clutterbuck had to say:
But let's just stay in the present, and not all that previous Wild failure. The Wild have a little ways to go still before they catch Colorado and the other teams in the standings. They are still in the bottom half of the Western Conference. Fine.
Indeed, at the time, the Wild were way back. The six points looked insurmountable, even by the crack reporting staff here at SBNation. Guess what. As of this writing, the Wild are one point behind the Avs in the division, and in the playoff race.
That was nine games ago. Closing a six-point gap in nine games ago. In the past 10, the Wild are 6-3-1, while the Avs are 3-5-2. There goes the six-point lead, and Mr. Dater is now pulling up a chair right along side those of us eating the crow the Wild are serving.
Moving on to the more important picture, the Wild are tied for the eighth spot in the West, with tiebreakers going to the the Kings and the Coyotes. That puts the Wild in tenth place, with one more game played than both the Kings and Yotes.
The Wild have entered a group of teams from fourth to twelfth that are separated by just four points. Two weeks ago, I would have told you four points is too much, that the Wild could not catch up to that. Now? My mouth is full, and I really don't like the way this bird tastes.
The team currently sitting in fourth? The Nashville Predators. Who are the Wild's next opponents? The Nashville Predators. The West doesn't give you the chances you need every time, but this time, it has.
This is an exercise strictly for the entertainment purposes. The West is better than the East, except maybe at the very top of their respective leagues. Where the Wild fit in the overall standings is not critically important. What it does give you is a sense of where they would draft.
The real reason draft position matters at the midway point of the season? Because it is time to figure out if you are a serious contender or not. If not, you become a seller. If so, you become a buyer. While the Wild have moved into the playoff hunt, and they did just beat the Penguins, are they Stanley Cup contenders? I still don't see that.
If they want to go out and prove me wrong on that as well, I'll eat a double serving.
The other reason the overall position matters comes when we look at the NHL power rankings later this week. Moving from the bottom of the league into a playoff race should help them there as well. They currently sit 18th in the league, in a mess of teams that could put them as high as eighth if they keep playing the way they are.
The stars have aligned a bit for the Wild. They are playing well, and the teams above them are struggling mightily. They need to focus and make sure they do not get big heads, all while keeping the swagger they have earned.