08 March 2012

One SOH Opinion: The real cost of the Wild's slide...

The Minnesota Wild continue to find ways to lose games horribly, outscored 15-1 in their last 3 outings.  Their playoff chances (according to SportsClubStats.com) are down to 0.2%. (On an aside, they were as high as 97% after their last game in Phoenix on December 10, a 4-1 victory.)

Even for me, who previously described myself as "probably the playoff-optimist of the Wild blogosphere," I have let my playoff hope get buired.  The 0.2% is pretty much reliant on winning all but two, maybe three, of the Wild's remaining games.  Not happening.  The last optimist has left the building.

So what's at stake for the Wild the rest of the way?  To me, it's one of two things, the Wild can either tank for a better draft position, or they can try to make the playoff race close for the sake of free agency.

(which option do I favor? below the jump)

I think Roy Mahlberg at Wild Puck Banter made a great point last week in his post debunking the idea that the Gilbert trade is about luring Suter and Parise here next summer because each were teammates with Gilbert at one point or another.  Even though I'm pretty sure Mahlberg himself has never been a in-demand free agent, I think he's got a pretty good idea of free agent priorities. From his post:
In order, here are the reasons why big-time free agents choose their new team:

1. Money.
2. Quality of Team.
3. A Great City.
4. Number of Players on the Team You Played Pee-Wees with.
For the first time in the post-Riseborough era, the Wild should have the cap space to compete money-wise for free agents like Parise and Suter this summer. (Fifteen players signed and about $19M in cap space next season).

But what if the bidding is gets big between the Wild and another club, and it comes down quality of team? The promising young talent (Grandlund, etc...) might still make Minnesota an appealing destination without a playoff appearance.  But is it still enough if the Wild tank the year and finish more than 20 points from the bubble?  Or are the chances of landing these free agents like Parise or Suter improve dramatically if the Wild can get within five or six points of the bubble?

If I can have a turn at being the armchair free agent psychologist, I believe the Wild need to get close enough this season where Parise and/or Suter can believe that they could be the difference next season if they come here.  Otherwise, it's really tough to blame them for picking another destination.

I never like the idea of tanking for draft position.*  If you believe in tanking for a draft position, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, however keep that in mind before complaining about prized free agents choosing other destinations. It seems to me rooting interest in free agency and draft position are mutually exclusive.

*(Maybe this summer I'll write a post about the perverse incentive draft order offers in sports, but that's definitely too long for this piece.)

Although I suppose if you're really cynical, you could believe the Wild (now on 44 different players dressed this year) have no chance to even make it close enough to make a difference in free agency anyway.  But personally, I don't think a move from nine points out to five or six is overly-optimistic either.  I choose to hope for a decent (or dare I say strong) finish, and hope it's enough to make the right impression this July.

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