July 05 2012 07:39AM
The Minnesota Wild were not a good team last year. They were 29th in goal differential and 30th in shot differential. They had two more points than the New York Islanders, one more than the Toronto Maple Leafs and three less than the Winnipeg Jets. And this is hardly a new state of affairs: they missed the playoffs the last four seasons, averaging just 85 points in that time.
But that's all over, right?
Signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the two most-coveted free agents on the market, surely makes the Wild playoff contenders. Right? Well, the first question we need to ask is how much Parise and Suter are worth. There are a few ways to figure this out - first, we can look at salary. In general, unrestricted free agents get paid $3M per win. We can assume that neither one of them took much of a discount to go to Minnesota, so it's safe to say that neither player is worth more than 3 wins per year. We can also look at Tom Awad's Vukota projections - if both Parise and Suter were to play all 82 games, which doesn't seem all that likely, Tom projects them at roughly four wins. So if you want to ignore downside (eg Parise laying just 13 games), Minnesota has improved by 8-12 points. Oh, and maybe Mikko Koivu will play 82 games too, along with Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella, and the Harding/Backstrom goaltending tandem will stay as healthy and effective as they were last year; together, that'll be worth two points.
All of that optimism puts the Wild at 90-95 points; a bit of pessimism would put the downside at 85 points. Even with these additions, Minnesota is still only 50/50 to make the playoffs. Minnesota's 2011-12 season was the hockey equivalent of digging a giant pit. There are obviously big error bars on any projection, so it's possible that they'll be able to fill up that entire pit and then some. But this is not yet the kind of team that we should expect to win a playoff series and they now lack the salary flexibility to make themselves any better.