After last night's 4-0 loss to the Kings, we've now reached the unfortunate point in the season where I have to turn my allegiance, and begin rooting for the Wild to LOSE hockey games.
The combination of last night's loss, and the news that Mikko Koivu won't be back for at least two more weeks - and perhaps not at all this season - can only lead to the conclusion that the playoffs are an impossible dream.
That hurts. This will mark the fourth straight season without playoff hockey in Minnesota, and it's painful to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs when your only big rooting interest is seeing that Vancouver gets knocked out. That's particularly true this year, when the Wild in mid-December looked as though they were ready to become one of the league's elite teams.
But having said that, now is the time to start losing games. The Wild have 19 games left, and I wouldn't mind seeing about a 3-16 mark the rest of the way. Why? Draft position.
In the first few years - as an expansion team - the Wild had high draft picks, and they drafted pretty well. With their first-ever pick, they took Marian Gaborik at #3. In 2001, they took Koivu at #6, and the next year they grabbed Pierre-Marc Bouchard at #8. Then, as the team got more competitive, the first-round draft position started to slide lower and lower. From 2006 on, we've drafted at #9, #16, #23, #16, #9 and #10.
It's a sign of mediocrity: If you're a bad team, your consolation prize is a top-three draft pick. If you're drafting at #26-30, it means you went deep into the playoffs. But constantly drafting in the #10-20 range means you're just a run-of-the-mill team.
And if the Wild are not going to make the playoffs - which they're not - then I want one of those impact players that you can often find in the top five picks at the draft. Which is why I say it's time to start losing, and lose right through April 8.
If the season ended today, the Wild and their 65 points would qualify for the #9 pick, in the same neighborhood as the past two seasons. Not good enough. Or, rather, not bad enough. But losing 16 of the last 19 could do wonders to improve the draft pick. Consider:
We probably can't lose enough to get behind Columbus (43 points), Edmonton (56 points) or Montreal (58 points). But everyone else is in play. All of the other teams have at least 61 points, and there's no reason we can't let them all pass us.
One you adopt this perspective, it really changes the way you look at the rest of the league. For example, when you're trying to make the playoffs, the so-called "three point games" make you nuts. Let's say you're chasing Colorado and Calgary in the standings. On the night they play each other, you think, "Well, one of them has to lose, so we can gain some ground." Instead, the game goes to overtime or a shootout, which means that one of them gets two points, the loser gets one point, and you can't make any real progress.
But when you're trying to drop in the standings, three-point games are a blessing. For example, tonight Buffalo (62 points) plays at Anaheim (64 points). Ideally this game would go to overtime, allowing BOTH of the teams to gain ground on the Wild.
It's probably asking too much to have Anaheim, Buffalo, Carolina, the Islanders, Tampa Bay and Toronto ALL pass us in the standings, but if five of the six can leap over us - and the Wild losing about 10 games in a row would really help make that happen - we could draft at #5.
So let's call the next six weeks "The Drive for #5" and start dreaming about drafting a player who can compete for the Calder Cup in 2012-13, while putting us back in the playoffs. After that, I'd be happy to draft at #27 or lower for the next 10 years.