The Minnesota Wild have been in the NHL since 2000, and we may be witnessing the best version of their team yet. They currently have 55 points, which is just two behind Chicago for the Western Conference lead, and the Wild have four games in hand. They are on pace for about 115 points, which would be 11 more than the best the franchise has ever had - and that was way back in 2007.
Last year they just squeaked into the playoffs in the final wild-card spot and lost in the first round to Dallas. Oddsmakers are certainly taking them seriously right now - at +850 on BetOnline to win the Stanley Cup they sit third behind only Pittsburgh and surprising favorites Columbus.
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So, can they make big strides forward this year? Are they as good as they have appeared lately or are they just lucky? And what does it all mean for bettors? Here are six factors to consider when looking at those questions:
Coaching: It's no fluke at all that the team is in the midst of their best-ever season the year that they hired Bruce Boudreau. The Ducks made the decision to move on from Boudreau at the end of last season because his regular-season excellence had not translated to playoff success - the same issue he had in Washington. While it remains to be seen what he can do in the postseason in this, his third head coaching gig, there is no denying that he is right up there with the finest regular-season coaches in the league. Like top two or three. Boudreau had a fair bit to work with here, and he has done wonders with it. The team plays with more discipline than ever before, and they are so consistently ready to play - a Boudreau trademark. The single biggest reason to have faith - a lot of it - in this team is because of who is behind the bench.
Goaltending: The Devan Dubnyk story is one that Disney would reject because it was too cheesy and unrealistic. Halfway through the 2014-15 season they grabbed the goalie off the scrap heap for depth. He was putting up very unforgettable numbers for Arizona at the time and had previously done the same for Edmonton for five years. He was at the point in his career where it was tough to view him as a viable NHLer anymore. Something clicked in Minnesota, though, and since his arrival he has been among the very best in the league. He has appeared in 31 of Minnesota's 39 games, and he has won 21. He leads the league in goals against average and save percentage and is the biggest reason why the team is second best in the league in goals against on the season. He is the MVP of a very good team, and his success has lasted long enough in Minnesota that there is no real reason to doubt that it will continue.
Eric Staal: The new center for the Wild is a perfect example of the impact of Boudreau. He's only 32, but for the last two seasons he had been playing like he was in the twilight of his career. Losing so much in Carolina and then not really meshing in his brief stint with the Rangers last year was clearly getting to him. He was a shadow of his best self. Now, though, he leads the team in points with 35 and is leading in both goals and assists. He's the driving force of a very balanced offensive team. He's not alone in suiting the system well, either. Charlie Coyle is having a career year, MIkael Granlund has gone from promising youngster to star, and Mikko Koivu is matching his best offensive numbers and playing with more confidence and presence than ever. It's striking that those four are the four leaders of the team in scoring, and they are all centers. Often we see one line dominating scoring for a team, but this team is far more balanced than that. That makes it easier to have faith in them long term.
The future: The Wild are setting up for this not to be a short run of success, either. At the recently-completed World Junior Championships, the team had three of their prospects in the Top 10 of tournament scoring, including the leader, and four prospects in total made major impacts. They had by far the best group of youngsters of any NHL team there. They can be patient and wait for those assets to mature into NHLers or else use them as valuable trading pieces to further strengthen what they have right now. Either way, they are sitting pretty for the long term.
Betting performance: Not surprisingly, this team has been very good to bet on - especially lately with 14 wins in their last 16 games. They are the second-most-profitable moneyline team on the season behind only Montreal. That success is likely to dim somewhat because they can't reasonably be expected to win at the rate they have for more than a month, but it is still a good bet that they will be profitable going forward. They have been less useful against the total - they have gone "under" 17 times and "over" 15.
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