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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#1 Dustin
August 25 2012, 01:54PM
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I'm a Wings fan, and one thing that I think is being overlooked for the Wild this year is their depth. Goaltending will be good, as even theird 3rd goalie - Hackett - has had success the past two years playing pro. On D they get a full year out of Gilbert - an improvement over Schultz. Suter is leaps and bounds better than Zidlicky. Spurgeon, Scandella, and Falk all look to be improving. Then one out of Brodin, Stoner, Kampfer or Prosser could easily impress in a NHL role this year. And as long as one of Granlund, Coyle, or Zucker is top 6 ready this year, then they have unprecedented (for them) forward depth. Having Dowell, or one of the aforementioned rookies ready to step in when someone gets injured is a huge improvement over recent years of Warren Peters and Jed Ortmeyer.

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#2 Sunshine
August 25 2012, 11:06PM
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Ya, the west is way to competitive for this team to get near the playoffs. To some degree, I feel bad for re-building teams in the West. There's no hope for a long time.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure what their GM was thinking handing out two 28 yr olds 13 yr contracts with $7.5M cap hits. It's pure craziness. If both those guys wanted to 'play at home' and play for the Wild so badly, why didn't they take a home town discount? When they're trying to re-up some of the young guys, these contracts will be very bad.

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#5 Dustin
August 26 2012, 10:10AM
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@Brent Morris

I think you've got to consider Spurgeon at this point as a top four NHL defenseman. He's had tough minutes, and has done pretty well.

The Wild only need one of Scandella/Brodin/Kampfer/Prosser/Falk/Stoner to be good solid in order to have a solid top four. And likely, that fourth guy will change depending on normal player streaks throughout the year. Their D is thin though, as like you said, most of those guys are third pairing, low minute types.

At forward though, I really think it's a different ball game. You've got Parise/Koivu/Heatley which should be as good as any top line. Bouchard/Granlund/Setoguchi should be fine as a second line... keep in mind Bouchard was so rusty last year after missing so much time. Cullen/Brodziak/Clutterbuck have been playing as a second line but are now where they belong - line three. Mitchell/Konopka/Dowell/Powe/Kassian are decent names to have on the fourth line. And then you can call up the likes of Coyle, Zucker, Bulmer, Larsson, Phillips: most of whom after some game action will probably be good possession players. Apart from defense, I really do think the Wild's depth may surprise a lot of people this year.

Granted, I still would be shocked to see them finish higher than seventh, but I definitely think finishing anywhere from 7-12 is possible for this team.

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#6 Buetane
August 26 2012, 10:51AM
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I don't see how the Wild aren't a playoff team next year. I get it, I buy that they have a long road to climb and I buy Yeo's comments that they still have work to do. I don't buy that they only have depth at goaltender. I think their newfound depth at forward will propel them to a playoff spot, although some of the young guys will likely have to step up at some point during the year since absolutely no team goes through a season without spending at least some time without a player of significance. And how many teams have a guy coming up from the AHL who could have supposedly scored 41 NHL points like Coyle, assuming he doesn't make the big squad from the get go.

I predict a finish between 4-9. I don't see how you can say 7-12. We finished 12th last year and that was only due to an epic collapse which was mostly due to significant man-games lost. And even if one argues we didn't improve "that much" like Morris does, you can't make the arguement that we will finish the same as last year. You just can't!

To some degree, I also wondered what the GM was thinking handing out those contracts. But that's the way it worked, if the Wild weren't going to somebody would have and we would instead have to worry about stopping Parise shots rather than cheer for them.

The D does scare me though. Stoner will be there all year, barring injury. At least I hope he is, he's the grit the Wild need back there that nobody else brings. Falk should also be there, not as much grit but size which brings a certain amount of grit with it. Scandella I think also was served well with a reality check in the AHL last year. That makes six bona fide NHL d-men. Now, nobody get hurt!

Disclaimer: I am a Wild fan, which brings an inevitable amount of biasness. Not sure if biasness is a word, but sounds good.

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#8 Sunshine
August 26 2012, 06:51PM
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@Brent Morris

Nashville and Phx are good clubs. They are defense first teams - which were the only ones left in the conference finals. You don't need superstars in todays hockey you need a good coach, and good systems.

Nashville lost Suter so it's hard to say how they'll do next yr, but they'll be playoff bound. SanJose will dominate next yr. They went to round three for 2 straight yrs in the playoffs, it's not surprising it's taken it's toll on the team. After being eliminated in the 1st round and a full summer to train/relax - they'll have a strong yr. Their d-core is beastly. Vancouver is the same team that won 2 straight Presidents trophies. They also have a full summer to train and recover from injuries that plagued them last yr. They'll also dominate. Hawks have no goalie or d-core, but will stills core a lot of goals.

There is no drop off in the Western conference. Teams only get stronger, non got significantly weaker. I can guarantee The Wild will get no where near the playoffs.

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#9 Ralph
August 27 2012, 04:23AM
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Gilbert beat toughs in Edmonton and I expect the same in Minnesota. Suter is much better than Smid. If you look at Tampa Bay as another team with a top heavy roster, it missed the playoffs with over minus 40 in differential, but goaltending alone comprised most of that. Minnesota should have a better top line by possession and a better second and third pair.

I like the Wild roster but I think they need to play differently to actually reach the next level, like the Rangers. I think the Wild make the playoffs, but I don't see them passing Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver, San Jose, or LA. Dallas and Colorado should push for the playoffs as well.

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#10 Ralph
August 27 2012, 04:46AM
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@Sunshine

On Nashville, not sold on their success last season. Half of their goal differential was from the power play. It didn't change much by shots for (which is actually a better predictor of future PP% than earlier PP%), personnel (merely adding Ryan Ellis, and later Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov) or system, as far as I know. On the goaltending side, Rinne is good but Nashville inflates shot counts, which inflates Rinne's save percentage. By the end of the year Nashville all things considered was a good team, yes, but not one that had any business making it out of the first round (the bloggers counting scoring chances had Detroit dominating the first four games. Jimmy Howard wasn't good in that series).

On Phoenix, it was largely built on goaltending, as usual, but asking any goalie to repeat the types of numbers Smith put up is not a good bet (every "top" goalie has had a mediocre season in his last three, for example). He even led the league in GVT. While Tippett may have discovered a way to actually keep shots to the outside and inflate his goalie's numbers, like Hitchcock and Lemaire, I think someone here looked at his track record and found that only two of his goalies have gotten this perceived save percentage inflation. If we assume his system hasn't changed a whole lot then his system doesn't inflate numbers. He just got lucky to find guys having rebound seasons.

Also, while I think Maloney and Poile are great GMs, they've both lost a lot of talent. In terms of top-six forwards Phoenix is down to Hanzal, Vrbata, Vermette, and hoping Boddker develops and Doan re-signs. On the Nashville blueline only Gill and Weber are top-four, and while Elkholm - Ellis - Josi-Blum is a nice group of future top-fours, they aren't there yet.

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