The Call Of The Wild: Still Not A Good Team

Brent Morris
August 25 2012 10:14AM

  

On July 1, 2012, the Minnesota Wild were perhaps the NHL’s most anonymous club. Having played their most recent playoff game in 2008 and lacking either the ineptitude that draws jeers from the NHL community (like the Maple Leafs and Islanders), while also not having the financial issues of the Thrashers or Panthers, the Wild were content to bob along, alone and unrecognized in the NHL pond.  

They were bad, but bad in an interesting way.

They had missed the playoffs the last four years, but the highest they picked in the draft is 7th. Sure, they’d make an incompetent move once in a while, either an ill-advised trade or unneeded free-agent splash, but the NHL community at large just forgot about Minnesota, all tucked away down there.  

Fast forward to July 4, when news broke that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter had signed identical 13 year contracts with the team. The two biggest free agents had not only picked the same team, as was rumored to be a possibility, but they picked a team without a legacy and without recent success. The Minnesota Wild were best known for ruining Dan Cloutier’s career and making Todd Bertuzzi look like a fool, and honestly, I don’t think they had that much agency in the process.  

Now the franchise will be forever linked with these two signings. How much can Suter and Parise alter the Wild’s fortunes? And honestly, who are the other players on the Minnesota Wild?

Lines:

Parise-Koivu-Setoguchi

Heatley-Cullen-Granlund

Bouchard-Brodziak-Clutterbuck

Mitchell-Konopka-Powe

Suter-Gilbert

Scandella-Spurgeon

Falk-Stoner

Backstrom

Harding

2010-11 Season Summary

Journalists crowed come late November about the upstart Wild, the ‘surprise’ team in the league. Their performance was indeed surprising - at one point in December, they were 20-7-3, with the best record in the Western Conference.  

Still, the cracks were already in the facade - even with that gaudy record, they were only +12 in goal differential, showing that their success was resting on a thin margin. Injuries and regression to the mean caught up - over the rest of the season, they were 15-29-8, a record that when drawn out to a full 82 games would result in 60 points. With a lack of depth and injuries, the Wild relied on a host of AHL callups and waiver acquisitions - they could not do the job. Arguably their best defenseman, Marek Zidlicky, bashed the coach, demanded a trade, and was sold off for spare parts - spare parts being the thing Minnesota already had an excess of.  

By the end of the season, according to timeonice.com, every player was on ice for more shots against than for. Overall, timeonice.com has the Wild as a 44.2% Corsi team. They were last in the league in Fenwick Tied. This isn’t exactly a new trend, either - let’s just look at a chart of Upper Midwest sadness since the beginning of the Corsi era (numbers courtesy of behindthenet.com):

Year Corsi Tied Rank
2007-08 48.35% 24th
2008-09 46.92% 23rd
2009-10 46.11% 28th
2010-11 42.97% Last
2011-12 44.54% Last

So what can Parise and Suter do for them?

Parise Worries:

Zach Parise is without doubt one of the best forwards in the league. Still, at age 28, he’s likely entering a decline - not sharp, but a decline nonetheless. Minnesota should be at least a little concerned about Parise’s fall both in 5v5 shots and Corsi rank among forwards this year, as represented in this chart:

Year Corsi Rank 5v5 Shots Rank
2007-08 22nd 10th
2008-09 15th T-2nd
2009-10 45th 1st
2010-11 INJ INJ
2011-12 128th 20th

 

This season Parise spent most of his time with Ilya Kovalchuk, so perhaps playing with another big-time shooting forward hurt his shooting numbers.  Kovalchuk is also not regarded as a good territorial player, so that could’ve also hurt his Corsi 

Regardless, it’s a major issue if Parise can’t manage to drive play to the extent that he was in 2008-2010, because Minnesota is in desperate need of players who can.

Suter Concerns:

Defensemen typically have a better aging arc than forwards, so we don’t have to worry about Suter’s immediate decline.  Or do we?  Suter’s decline may not be precipitated by age, but instead by circumstance - for the last 4 seasons, Ryan Suter has played almost exclusively with Shea Weber, now the most well-compensated defenseman of all time. Thanks to hockeyanalysis’s WOWYs (With or Without You), we can see how Suter and Weber each performed without one another over that time.  

Of course, the normal caveats apply - we don’t know the circumstances of their separation or the quality of the opposition they faced.  Regardless, here it is:

Weber + Suter 4477 4096 0.522
Suter w/o Weber 609 694 0.467
Weber w/o Suter 719 746 0.491

Cleary a bigger drop for Suter than his partner. Suter is still a top defenseman, but how will he fare with this forward corps and Tom Gilbert as a likely mate? It's hard to expect this twosome to be able to pull the rest of the Minnesota dross up to 50%.

Minnesota’s lone bright spot

The thing that has kept Minnesota from truly being horrendous has been their goaltending - here’s Minnesota’s rank in 5 on 5 and 4 on 5 save percentage over the last 5 years.  

 

Year Rank ES SV% Rank PK SV%
2007-08 10th 4th
2008-09 4th 1st
2009-10 22nd 23rd
2010-11 12th 14th
2011-12 10th 14th

 

Somehow they convinced Josh Harding to stay on for 3 more years at a relatively inexpensive rate, giving them a solid 1-2 tandem if Harding’s health holds up. Expect the Minnesota goalies to see lots of rubber, but they should stop their fair share of it.  

If the goaltending falters, however, it could be yet another very long season.

Hope for the future?

It’s not all Warren Peters and Kurtis Foster for the Wild. They’ve got some young defensemen who they hope should be better next year in Mario Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, and Nate Prosser. Spurgeon in particular acquitted himself well despite difficult competition previously.   

At forward, the Wild have some impressive prospects: Mikael Granlund is a player to watch - according to Gabe Desjardins’ NHL equivalencies, he put up the equivalent of 47.9 NHL points in the Finnish League last year. Fellow 2010 draftee Charlie Coyle had the equivalent of 41 NHL points for St. John’s in the QMJHL, so he should compete for a spot on the parent club as well.  

According to Parise’s agents, the future of the Minnesota Wild was considered when he decided where to spend the remainder of his career - he must've taken this into account, because little could be worse than the present Wild club.

Prediction

The Wild have certainly improved with the addition of two All-Star level players in Parise and Suter, and the youngster Granlund could impress. Still, there’s a long way up to go from last in league in possession, and it's hard to see how they make it to 50% in Year 1 of Parise and Suter.

Without that, it's hard to pencil them in as a playoff team. There will be a stretch this season where the Wild reel off a bunch of wins and people think they’re for real - don’t believe them. There’s just too many holes on this team for them to get into the playoffs without a superb season from the goaltenders or a high dose of shooting luck.

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