Minnesota Wild spend $200M to remain below-average

Hawerchuk
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.

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Gabriel Desjardins (aka Hawerchuk) grew up a huge Jets fan in Winnipeg. He runs the hockey stats website Behindthenet.ca and has written for the Wall St. Journal, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, ESPN.com and MLB.com. He has also worked as an analyst for a number of teams and agents in the four major sports. In real life, he attended Queen's University and UC Berkeley, and works in Silicon Valley. Previously, he briefly worked as a lumberjack in Manitoba. Contact: info at
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#1 Chase W.
July 05 2012, 09:09AM
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Awesome.

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#2 lubricated
July 05 2012, 09:23AM
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New CBA has to eliminate this BS. Maximum term should be +/- 8 years so that incompetent GM's couldn't screw their franchises for years (hello Islanders).

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#3 RM
July 05 2012, 09:43AM
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Keep on fooling yourself.

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#4 Argonbeast0034
July 05 2012, 09:58AM
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This team led the league for 2 months last year. Injuries to 3 top 6 players is what caused the fall, as Houston had no top 6 players available for call up, so 3rd and 4th line guys were counted on to play 2nd line minutes. No forward depth was the biggest weakness, and it reared its head.

What your not accounting for in this article, is the addition of Granlud to the top line (nhl scouts say he was the best player (or top 5 at least) outside the nhl last year). Brodin, or Dumba have a chance to make the team as well, if one of them impresses in camp.

It also doesn't account for the huge group of high level, top 2 line calibre prospects playing in Houston next year. So when injuries occur, instead of calling up Warren Peters, we are calling up Coyle, Phillips, or Larson instead.... That is a heck of a difference.

Yes free agent signings don't turn a team around by themselves, but you forgot to add in the influx of new talent, and the reasons why the Wild didn't make the playoffs last year in your equation.

Just a flawed article imo...

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#5 dan
July 05 2012, 10:20AM
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At best Parise scores 30 goals (-5 for replacement player) net result +25 g. Sutter adds and prevents 18 goals? (a stretch?) but tha'ts 42 goals. 6 goals =1 win. So, the very best case scenario I get 7 wins.

But the real concern is there is also the question of what kind of player Suter will be 'without' Weber'. A 5 year look at his Poss. and GoalD show Suter drops off without Weber.(see below) I feel the evidence shows Suter would have been better off joining a contending team to play with another top D. Minnesota just doesn't have one (Gilbert the best?) to maximize Suter's abilities. In this way IMO Suter simply not worth 9 m. Yes, he can play against top QofC and big minutes on PK and PP BUT can he drive possession. If not, then not worth the big contract.

Corsi 5 year WOW:

http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=272&withagainst=true&season=2007-12&sit=f10&type=corsi

Goal 5 year WOW :

http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=272&withagainst=true&season=2007-12&sit=f10&type=goals

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#6 Argonbeast0034
July 05 2012, 10:36AM
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Ok, I have to chime in for one more..... Maybe I've been watching the wild for too long (very possible) but a replacement player would be an nhl average player if I'm not mistaken.

25 goals is "average"? Is this accurate? I would think 18-20 would be a more accurate average level, but maybe I'm mistaken....

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#7 Argonbeast0034
July 05 2012, 10:39AM
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Scratch that last post.... Mis read.... My bad.....

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#8 Kent Wilson
July 05 2012, 10:56AM
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@Argonbeast0034

No. A replacement level player is a guy freely available for nothing in the general pool of pro players. So think a fringe NHL/AHLer type.

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#9 Derek Zona
July 05 2012, 10:58AM
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@Argonbeast0034

"This team led the league for 2 months last year. Injuries to 3 top 6 players is what caused the fall,"

This is incorrect.

http://www.coppernblue.com/2011/11/30/2600595/how-good-are-the-minnesota-wild

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#10 dawgbone
July 05 2012, 11:13AM
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@Argonbeast0034

Lots of "Best Player Not in the NHL" guys come in and don't do much of anything.

The other part of 1st place in November that gets over looked is that both Backstrom and Harding had just otherworldly save percentages.

At the height of the Wild's start, they were on pace to have the 1st and 3rd best post lockout save percentages (with Tim Thomas's remarkable 2010-11 season sandwhiched between them).

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#12 Hockeydad
July 05 2012, 12:11PM
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In addition to Koivu, Bouchard, Latendresse and Setoguchi all missed long stretches (Bouchard and Latendresse, basically the year) beginning in early/mid-December. That's when the wheels fell off. Yes, they were playing over their heads prior to then and would not have maintained the same pace even without the injuries. However, wihtout those injuries, especially the extent of them, they would have been a playoff team.

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#13 ghostface
July 05 2012, 12:15PM
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I'm sorry, but converting two human elements into a straight mathematical equation is ludicrous. If you want to make an actual analysis based around their forward and defensive depth or lack thereof, that would mean something. But this is bunk. Hockey is not played on a calculator.

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#14 dawgbone
July 05 2012, 12:30PM
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@ghostface

Of course the game is played on the ice... but the results from that game fit remarkably well into a calculator.

Lack of forward and/or defensive depth translates into the numbers that are being talking about. That's what separates a team like the Penguins who can win without their best players and the Wild who completely fall apart.

In the end, hockey is a pretty simple game. Get the puck, shoot it at the other teams net and score. All the numbers do is analyze who does that well.

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#16 ubermiguel
July 05 2012, 01:35PM
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Best Nation headline ever.

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#17 ghostface
July 05 2012, 03:27PM
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@dawgbone

of course, results and statistics fit well into a calculator. what doesn't is basing vague predictions on those numbers, it completely discounts the human (ie random, emotional) element of the game, which is pretty funny considering last time i checked, there were pretty much no automatons playing professional hockey. it also completely discounts the effect of good or bad coaching. i wonder what the magic calculator said about ottawa's surprising bounceback year last season. or how profoundly the ken hitchcock hiring affected the blues. the penguins did not play well without crosby and letang because of equations. they played well because of good coaching in a solid system, and a bunch of role players eager to step up and pick up the slack (dupuis, for example). this "analysis" has no basis in reality.

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#18 Eric T.
July 05 2012, 03:59PM
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@ghostface

Emotions might be a factor, but the players' results still end up looking an awful lot like what emotionless models predict.

Goalies aren't any more streaky or consistent than random number generators: http://nhlnumbers.com/2012/5/11/the-myth-of-the-hot-goalie-consistent-goaltenders-vs-inconsistent-goaltenders

Shooters are pretty much the same way: http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2011/02/02/why-future-performance-not-consistency-matters/

Turning to your examples, Ottawa's "surprising" bounceback is from being an average team with terrible shooting luck last year (http://behindthenet.ca/fenwick_2010.php?sort=6&section=close) to being an average team with average shooting luck this year (http://behindthenet.ca/fenwick_2011.php?sort=6&section=close).

On November 15 Rob Vollman wrote based on the magic calculator "Ken Hitchcock is lucky enough to step into an otherwise highly successful team, and will no doubt accept a lot of credit for the playoff berth when the Blues' fortunes inevitably changes." http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1175

Did the Penguins really play well because their role players stepped up to pick up the slack? Or was it because the team just had a really good roster and even without Crosby still had several elite players and role players who are better at driving possession than is revealed in conventional statistics? And even if you think it's coaching and emotion, well, then I guess you'd say that last year revealed that the Wild don't have the coaching or the emotional fortitude to avoid turning into the worst team in the league when they hit a little misfortune; doesn't that bode poorly for the upcoming season?

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#19 WildFan
July 05 2012, 06:11PM
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It sounds as if we have a bunch of sore losers on this thread. All of them who wished their team would have signed the two best free agents this year. ZP stated that if he didnt sign in Minnesota, he would have went back to NJ and Suter would have followed him. So Detroit, Philly, Chicago, and Pittsburg fans can keep their weeping to themselves. You were not even in the running. I wouldnt want to live in any of those places either.

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#22 Ralph
July 05 2012, 11:07PM
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@ghostface

"it completely discounts the human (ie random, emotional) element of the game"

It's funny that you say "random" there because, well, by definition, you can't control which way it goes. If the human element of the game can break either way, I don't think you can say it'll just improve. I mean, I think it's fair to assume that over a span of a few years something like that would break even for a team, and Minnesota was still not very good with average luck in that regard.

I think the point is more than Minnesota had a lot of ground to make up to begin with, and Parise and Suter will barely be able to--if at all--make the Wild a low-end playoff team. More contributions will have to come before Minnesota is winning home ice, the division, or the West.

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#23 Ben Wendorf
July 06 2012, 04:10AM
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Be easy on the Minnesota fans, Gabe, they're still dealing with the fact that they needed to give a Badger and a Fighting Sioux $100 million apiece to make themselves better because the Gophers are nut-dirt terrible.

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#24 DLJr
July 06 2012, 05:39AM
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So this is the beginning of Wild fans versus reality 2.0?

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#25 dawgbone
July 06 2012, 10:10AM
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Take a look back at the St. Louis season and tell me again if you think Hitchcock did what you think he did.

If you still think that way, the only thing I can draw from that is that you think Hitchcock was able to transform Jaroslav Halak from a beer league calibre goaltender to an elite one.

That was essentially the difference between the Blues first dozen games and their last 70. The first 12 Halak couldn't stop the puck with a 4x6 piece of plywood strapped to his back (Elliot was able to keep them a float or it could have been disastrous for the Blues).

Dennis Payne was fired when the Blues had a 6-7 record. Halak's first 5 starts he was 1-4 with a .835 sv%. That's 4 of 7 losses directly attributed to just horrific goaltending. If Halak is merely average, they probably sneak out another win and maybe get another 1 or 2 to OT and Payne keeps his job and Hitchcock gets hired by someone else later on in the season.

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#26 dawgbone
July 06 2012, 10:55AM
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Sorry, that last one was in reply to @ghostface

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#27 kckrebs
July 07 2012, 10:38AM
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"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."

How in the heck do you figure that out? Koivu, their team captain and certainly best player, playing 27 more games himself is going going to get you more than 1 win. I'm sure there's some rock solid formula for figuring that out but wow how can you even go along with that? Add in the injuries not being their on defense and the goalie tandem staying solid and you're still only gonna give them 2 points or 1 win. Sounds completely asinine to me but maybe I'm missing something...

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#29 kckrebs
July 07 2012, 01:57PM
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@Hawerchuk

No, I can't claim to have any idea exactly how many wins having your star player back would get you and I think it's crazy to try. Maybe you've accurately been able to do so I have no idea but I'm more of an eye guy so I usually clash with the statters. My "underlying assumption" was not strictly based off of just Koivu, you listed several other factors like defense and goaltending staying healthy as well. This is where it got asinine to me, Koivu + healthy d + solid goaltending = 1 win? I did say I thought Koivu himself was worth more than 1 win, but I can't claim to know a number, whether it's 6 or 2 I haven't a clue. I still don't get the ~3 mil thing but I'll go with it. So let's be charitable and assume Pronger is worth 2 wins....I just can't do this haha.

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#30 Vin2Win
July 07 2012, 03:01PM
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Here's why this article is useless. 1) It claims to be able to predict future results based on past stats. In the world of finance we know that is foolish. It also assumes all games, shifts, plays occur in a vacuum. A frictionless environment where all things are equal. Again, foolish.

2) The writer makes no claim nor shows any proof that his equation proves accurate year in and year out. It's one thing to say because XYZ predictors imply a certain result therefore it must hold true versus saying no team who ever had XYZ Stat ever won. See Kings below.

3) What were the statistical equations saying about last years Kings team? Does the writer delude himself into thinking the nucks won b/c their goal differencial was better?

4) Why watch sports if you already know the outcome? Better off watching the History Channel.

5) (unrelated to article) The Wild did not want to make their fans endure 10 years of horrible Oliers-like seasons to rebuild and win. They built a great prospect cupboard and took a FA expressway. Thank God for that....

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#31 lol
July 08 2012, 04:51AM
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Lol.People saying Minnesotta led the league for 2 months, oooooh wow. Edmonton was near the top of the Western conference for that time frame also.....they ended up with the 1st overall pick.

It's an 82 game season, meaning you have to find some sort of consistency through 6 1/2 months. Injuries happen to every single team and they still made the playoffs (Canucks, Hawks, Philly, Pitts).

I'm most interested to see how Weber and Suter perform without eachother. Now that is a case study.

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#32 kckrebs
July 08 2012, 07:57AM
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@lol

I don't know why that's such a big deal. Wild fans should be happy their team was up at the top of the league. It doesn't hold much weight in an 82 game season but it is something to be somewhat excited about. Especially if its a team like the wild or oilers who haven't even been in that conversation for quite some time. Having said that they should also be a bit concerned considering how far they ended up falling. Absolutely correct that every team goes through injuries, but the teams you listed are top tier teams, I'm sorry but Minnesota never has been. So it's definitely something for them to be excited about. But look at none other than the cup champion Kings. They were never close to the best record in the league and they ended up winning the cup. If it wasn't for Quick they would not even have had a chance to squeak into the playoffs and make quite possibly the best cup run ever.

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#33 Mikkohermosa
July 08 2012, 09:07AM
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This is the stupidest article I have ever read. $3M in UFA salary equals 1 win. Holy lies, damn lies, and statistics Batman.

Thanks for sharing your work on how you came up with that stupid measurement.

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#34 eric88
July 08 2012, 10:21AM
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@kckrebs

He is saying Koivu is worth 3 wins and he missed 27 games, which is 1/3 of the season hence one more win. You admit yourself that Minnesota hasn't been a top tier team, so why argue that they where in December.

The Kings are a different story despite there record they were one of the best teams in the league last year. Hiring Suter and the Carter trade made them into an elite team.

I think the Wild are a borderline playoff team next year, too. But these were still moves they had to make. The Wild have lots of good prospects and if over the next couple of years one or two of them turned into top line nhlers they still didn't have the core to be a contender now maybe they do. Though I would worry about Parise production continuing to drop off, especially for a player that realies so much on his go go gadget motor. Suter I think will be a top line defenseman for awhile.

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#35 Eric T.
July 08 2012, 03:23PM
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@Vin2Win

"3) What were the statistical equations saying about last years Kings team?"

This is a hilariously bad choice of examples of places where you think a team outperformed what the statistics said. Those who relied on statistics were noting that the Kings had been by far the best team in the league since the Carter trade. http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2012/4/9/2936018/shot-differential-score-adjusted-fenwick-nhl-playoffs

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#41 garret9
July 09 2012, 11:04AM
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hahahahahhahahahaha

I think these Minesotians(sorry if you go by something else) are just getting confused. Coming from a different side of stats (biology/chemistry) maybe I can help explain.

Yes there are things that lie outside of what statistical analystics can predict... but you have to think these things can affect both positively and negatively. In short term you can notice these variables quite evidently. This is why people who say they are more "watch-the-game" tend to hyperbolize the effects of such. In analytical chemistry this is most evident in instrument readings called "white noise". I won't go into the stats/details/theory, but you can minimalize the effects by taking multiple readings.

It may seem hard to believe that numbers and calculations can dictate what a collective of randomly acting individuals will accomplish, since there seems too be "countless variables". The thing is over a large period of time and large enough sample size, many of these variables counteract eachother and so if you build a model that limits itself to the largest variables (aka not the "white noise"), it will best predict outcomes outside of "acts of God".

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#42 Jack Weiland
July 09 2012, 02:56PM
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New here, and not a Wild fan ... but can you link the supporting documentation of both WAR and "1 UFA win = 3MM"?

I think "assuming" that neither Suter nor Parise signed for less than their true value is lazy. Indeed there was a story a couple days ago that Parise actually took LESS than the Wild's initial offer so that he and Suter could sign identical contracts. Some reports say Philly offered as much as $110MM for Parise, which is quite a significant difference. Saying "he got this so it must be exactly what he's worth" is not analytics.

Also, I mean ... Rome wasn't built in a day. I don't think the Wild are pretending like they just won the Cup, but they are much closer to being a very good team than they were last week. And the cost of acquiring the players to fill in around your core has to be much easier than acquiring the core itself. No?

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#43 Mikkohermosa
July 09 2012, 06:03PM
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Hawerchuk wrote:

This is what's known as "Minnesota nice"

That's all ya got?

I was waiting for compelling math and analysis of historical variances that would prove to me this point per $3M theorem simply HAD to be true?

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