23 February 2012

The State of Hockey shouldn't give up yet...

It's hard. The Wild have won just five of their last 20 games. I get it.

I've seen a lot of pieces like this one at First Round Bust being written saying its time to "pull the plug," as they put it.  I do agree with many of the reasons why.  But I guess I'm just stubborn.  I don't want to give up yet, and I think I have some good reasons why you shouldn't either.

There are a couple reasons I see pop up in the blogosphere now about the desire for fans to give up.  One, it provides cover for Fletcher if he wants to make trades for the future. Two, fans, just simply don't want to feel obligated to watch what has seemed to be incredibly atrocious hockey night in and night. (For what it's worth, I tend to get this in personal conversation and looking at comment sections more than in actual blog posts.)

To the first reason, I mostly agree.  At the trade deadline everyone wants to divide teams in terms of buyers and sellers.  Those that buy have a goal to reach (make the playoffs, deep run, win it all, etc...).  Those that sell have given up.  The odd thing about the Wild, is the high expectations didn't hit until after the season started.  It's been frequently reported that Fletcher is not entertaining trades for core prospects (Grandlund et al).  And if you really think about it, Fletcher is making available many of the players he probably would have at this point in the season anyway, especially concerning players coming to the end of their deals anyway.  The only difference is just disappointing performance won't yield as much in return for these trades.

(more after the jump)

But I think the Wild are unique.  They can play brilliant games (even though outplayed) against the likes of Boston, despite all the injuries and bad breaks.  Even if they're trading players that aren't long term pieces at the deadline, does that make them sellers?  If they were trading the same players in the middle of a better season, would they look more like buyers?  Just because the Wild are sellers, does it mean they have to give up on making the playoffs?  They are keeping the important pieces, and whoever is in the lineup a good game is always possible. The Wild don't appear to have a huge deficit to overcome in the standings. (More on that in the next argument.)

The second reason I stated is fans that just want to give up.  This means many things to many people, perhaps not buying tickets, not watching games, or just ripping on the team for the fun of it.  Whatever it is, it baffles me.  If you don't care one wit about the trade deadline (in terms of buyers and sellers), and you just want to rip on the team, I'd like to point the standings out.

The Wild are legitimately close, trailing Calgary and Los Angeles by 3 for 8th in the Points Behind Standings*, and could be as close as 2 tonight with a victory and a Calgary loss.

*In traditional standings-speak, the Wild are 5 behind with 2 games in hand on Calgary.  See how much more efficient Points Behind-speak is?

I do put stock in metrics like this at SportsClubStats.com, that calculate playoff chances and changes based on each result.  Currently the Wild are at just 10%, but the Wild can improve a great deal if they start winning more of the "higher leverage" games.

Friday's game against Dallas for instance, is worth about half a percentage point  an increase of about 5.7 percentage points alone. (UPDATED 2/24: I misread this column on SportsClubStats.com, the half a point was in terms of being worth half a position higher in the standings, the percentage of the playoff increase with a win at Dallas is worth 5.7 percentage points as of the morning of 2/24).

Other remaining games that figure to be of high leverage
2 v Colorado (home and away)
2 v Dallas (Friday away, and later home)
2 v Calgary (home and away)
2 v Los Angeles (both home)
2 v Phoenix (home and away)

And the best news of all, zero games left against the suddenly hot Anaheim Ducks.

There are 23 games left and 10 against opponents currently in 7th through 13th places.  The games will have higher leverage the closer it is to the end of the season.  If you looked further down the Minnesota Wild page at SportsClubStats.com it looks like 91 points is the lowest total that gives a 50% or better chance of making the playoffs.  The Wild need 30 in 23 games, 7 better than "50/50."

I watch games like Sunday's and I am seeing what I believe, despite all the hard luck, injuries, etc..., there is still a good Wild team in there somewhere.  They will usually get out played against the likes of the Bruins, and they may outplay the Jets.  But the harder they work, the more they can steal wins they shouldn't, and the more they save points despite bad luck.

Yes the Wild are a 9:1 shot as the numbers lie right now with SportsClubStats.  In a race that's essentially six teams for one spots, that's not as bad as it looks (for example, current #8 seed LA is only about 3.5:1 to get in right now).  We need to see more games like Sunday's, and with a quarter season to go and a rather small deficit, it's too soon to give up simply out of frustration.

I'm still watching hoping to see victory.  I think too many fans are giving in to frustration too soon.  In five games perhaps this post will be a laugher, or the Wild could find themselves bearing down on the playoff bubble again.  Most likely it will be something in between, but even with the chances as quantified, I don't want to give up just yet.

Either way these last 23 games are the playoff push.  You can enjoy the excitement in brings, or feel sorry for the team and give up.  State of Hockey, the choice is yours.

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