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Updated: March 18th, 2014 3:31pm
Wetmore: How secure is the Wild's playoff footing?

Wetmore: How secure is the Wild's playoff footing?

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by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com

If the NHL playoffs started tonight, the Wild would be a Western Conference Wild Card team and face the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.

Minnesota has an 84.6 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to the website SportsClubStats.com. More on the methodology later.

I wondered recently, how safe is that playoff spot?

I'll try to answer that question here with a look at the schedules of the three most relevant teams.

If you haven't followed the new realignment and its impact on the playoff picture, it can be confusing. With apologies to those who already understand this, here's a crack at explaining it concisely. Skip the italics if you get it.

The NHL is split into two Conferences, the East (16 teams) and the West (14 teams). We'll focus on the West, which is split into two Divisions, Central and Pacific. The top-three teams in each Division automatically make the playoffs. Then the two best records outside of those top-six teams earn a Wild Card berth.

St. Louis (101 points), Colorado (93) and Chicago (92) essentially have locked up the Central Division; the Wild (80 points) are fourth, and in a good position for one of the two Wild Cards.

Anaheim (97) and San Jose (97) have locked up the Pacific Division, and the L.A. Kings (82) hold the inside track for the third spot.

Dallas (75) trails Minnesota in the Central and Phoenix (77) trails the Kings in the Pacific. Dallas has played one fewer game than the Wild and Phoenix has played one more game than the Wild.

These are the two teams to watch.

What does the schedule look like the rest of the way? More specifically, which of these three Western Conference teams has the most difficult road until the end of the season?

--

Teams

Minnesota Wild

Phoenix Coyotes

Dallas Stars

Points

80

77

75

Remaining games

14

13

15

Point differential of opponents

+185

+37

+84

Combined record of opponents

500-326-131

449-336-102

484-331-126

--

The Wild have the hardest road the rest of the way. Their opponents through the end of the season have scored 185 more goals than they've given up and includes the Blues (+74 goal differential) twice, the Blackhawks (+52), the and Bruins (+72). Minnesota also plays the Coyotes once, in what could be an important game. The Coyotes and Stars play each other in the final game of the season for each team.

So despite the harder schedule, the Wild are in a good spot, with a 3-point lead of Phoenix in one fewer game, and a 5-point lead over Dallas with one more game played.

For the Wild to miss the playoffs, both Phoenix and the Stars would need to pass the Wild.

Strictly for reference, SportsClubStats.com gives the Stars a 60.5 percent chance of making the playoffs and the Coyotes a 53.8 percent chance. The website uses simulations, and uses home/away scores or home/away goal differential to determine the likely outcome of a game. But in one of the available simulations, it treats each outcome as a 50/50 proposition (win or lose), which of course it is not. The Wild, for example, have a better than 50 percent chance to beat the Islanders in regulation tonight. They have a worse than 50 percent chance to beat the Blues. So these percentages shouldn't be taken out of context.

The site gives 17 teams a better than 50 percent chances of making the playoffs. Statistically, that can't be true. The Coyotes are the 17th team on the list.

Other extreme longshots to consider but not fret: Winnipeg (71 points with 12 games remaining) and Vancouver (72 points with 11 games remaining).

I tried to base this on objective evidence and that proved somewhat difficult. Let's re-introduce some subjectivity to the conversation.

Do you think the Wild will make the playoffs?

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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