Dane Mizutani: Wild should welcome loss to Canucks if it means shot at Alexis Lafreniere

Maybe winning is no longer the best option for the Wild. At least not in the traditional sense.

As the NHL continues to move forward with its Return To Play Plan, the most chaotic scenario imaginable played out over the weekend when deputy commissioner Bill Daly revealed the No. 1 draft pick would go to a team currently in the postseason, to be awarded at a later date.

Yes, that means the Wild are still very much in contention to draft dynamic left winger Alexis Lafreniere, an 18-year-old who some analysts say can be the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid.

As a part of the 24-team format, which was agreed upon last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, a total of 16 teams will meet up in the preliminary round of the postseason.

The winners advance to the playoffs, continuing their chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup. The losers will now be entered into a separate draft lottery with each team having a 12.5 percent chance at adding a generational talent to their roster.

Not a bad consolation prize. Especially considering that’s much better odds than most teams have at actually winning the Stanley Cup.

As fun as the Wild were a few months ago — no doubt Kevin Fiala’s emergence as a star in the making played a major role — it’s hard to consider them a legitimate contender right now. They still have too many holes to compete with some of the top-tier teams in the league.

Thus, it might actually behoove them to lose to the Vancouver Canucks in the preliminary round, cross their fingers and toes, and hope the No. 1 pick falls into their lap.

If the Wild beat the Canucks, they would have a 1-in-16 chance at winning the Stanley Cup, and that’s assuming every team is exactly the same. That’s obviously not the case because some teams are much better than other teams.

Look at if the Wild manage to get past the Canucks, for example, which is by no means a guarantee. They would have to play the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights or Dallas Stars in the next round. In no scenario would the Wild be favored.

Do fans really want to see another early playoff exit?

If the Wild lose to the Canucks, they would have a 1-in-8 chance at drafting a player who could instantly alter the landscape of the franchise. To say Lafreniere would expedite the rebuilding process in the Twin Cities would be putting it lightly.

He finished with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games this past season, becoming the first player since Crosby to be named the best player in the Canadian Hockey League in back-to-back season. Not only would Lafreniere give the Wild a foundational piece for the future, he would serve as a perfect counter punch to Russian sniper Kirill Kaprizov, 23, who plays the same positions and is expected to sign with the Wild at some point this offseason.

Imagine if the Wild were able to add both prospects in the same offseason and Fiala continued his rise. In a matter of months, the Wild could sneakily emerge as a force to be reckoned moving forward despite what some might say about their aging roster.

Obviously the Wild won’t throw games when play resumes. These players are professionals and have too much pride to do that. Plus, the playoffs can be a crap shoot with the NHL consistently showcasing more parity than most other leagues.

That said, if the Wild give way to another early exit, this time at the hands of the Canucks, they can take some solace in knowing that it could lead to them landing a generational talent.

They might actually be better off for it.


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