Hockey

You may not want to hear that it was over seven years ago that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise shook the hockey world, or at least tried to, by signing matching 13-year contracts, worth $98M. What’s even funnier is that they still have five more years to run, though one wonders if they’ll actually finish them out. Parise especially could be an LTIR ghost one day, given that something falls off of him getting the paper every morning. Sometimes that thing is his coach.

As these things tend to do though, what once seemed outlandish cap hits have come back to be more than reasonable. It could be argued that the first pairing minutes Suter still supplies at a $7.5M hit is something of a bargain. Sure, Suter isn’t going to score at what first pairing d-men do now, but he’s going to be in the tier right below that. And his defensive metrics are still pretty glittering. His style of game should last for as long as he wants it to, because of its efficiency. Suter only has the 11th-highest cap hit among blue liners now, and you’d certainly rather pay him that Byguflien’s bloated ass (when he’s actually playing) or Brent Burns or even OEL and you could have a lengthy debate about Subban and Trouba.

Parise is a harder case. Health was always going to be a problem for a winger that plays a power forward game with bantamweight size. Parise has missed 98 games in the eight seasons he’s spent in St. Paul, which is hard to hold against him. He’s only scored more than 30 goals once as a member of the Wild, but has produced 25 or more three times. Is $7.5M for a second-line winger justifiable? Yeah, probably now, if on the high end. Though at 35 now, it’s unclear how long he can keep putting up 25 goals. To be fair to him, he’s on pace for that this year.

The question for the Wild isn’t what they got from Parise and Suter, because they got pretty much what they paid for. It’s what having them on the roster has cost them or kept them from getting. The Wild were never able to pair Parise with a #1 center. Some of that is a failing of their system, whether it was being too infatuated with Mikko Koivu, Mikail Granlund’s inability to be anything, or Eric Staal showing up on the scene too late.

It’s not Parise’s fault that the Wild haven’t been able to draft and develop much more than Jason Zucker or under-appreciating Nino Niederreiter.

Suter on the other hand has been part of good blue lines. Most teams would swap out their top pairing for Suter and Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba has been an excellent second-pairing guy for a few years when healthy. Maybe they needed one more, but it’s not been nearly the most glaring hole on the Wild for this stretch.

And it’s neither Parise’s or Suter’s fault that Devan Dubnyk’s short spasm of brilliance either ran into the Hawks at the peak of their powers or came apart in the playoffs. And even when he was good, they didn’t have enough firepower.

It seems the Wild are definitely headed backwards now. They’re last in the division, and there isn’t really anything on the way to juice the team. After flogging Neiderreiter and Granlund last year, there isn’t much for the Wild to throw overboard now for futures. Especially as they were basically traded for nothing, depending on what you value Kevin Fiala as. And if you spend anytime thinking about Kevin Fiala, it’s probably time to have a hard look at your life.

Which makes it a question what the legacies of Suter and Parise will be. Certainly they probably did enough themselves, but the idea was that they would bring the Wild to prominence. They’ve won two games beyond the first round so far. It’s probably important to remember that at the time of the signing, the Wild were still struggling to come to terms with the post-Lemaire era. They hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons and hadn’t won a series in eight. They needed something to get back on the map again, and to give their fans some reason to watch them over the Gophers, which most of them would rather be doing anyway.

It was probably worth taking the shot. But if you don’t do anything other than that, you end up with this.

Everything Else

If it’s the Flyers, that means we have to turn to one of our creatures of the internet. We found @FlyGoalScoredBy in 2010 during the Final. He’s been stuck to our shoe ever since. 

So the Flyers have fired a coach and GM. Are we to believe they’re finally on the right path forward? Because we’ve heard that before, y’know…
There was a ton of optimism when Hextall took over, and rightfully so!  He won Cups in LA with rosters he helped build.  We thought our Canada Dry baby had come home but all we got was a very good farm system and a Finnish drug kingpin playing the penalty kill.  Hakstol was, Hextall’s “guy” but bottom line is neither of them did anything net positive with regards to building a contender in this era.  Sure, Hextall’s fingerprints may be on the next Flyers playoff team but nobody gonna remember this time as a fun one.  Chuck Fletcher comes in and by all accounts, has a mandate to change the roster around quickly and decisively.  I guess that means we’re about to lock up Milan Lucic to a max deal.
Is Carter Hart finally going to end the generations of hurt in the crease or will you monsters chew him up and spit out a husk just like always? 
The only good thing about the season has been Carter Hart.  Yeah yeah Couturier looks like a player and some nice small contributions from younger guys, but Hart is it.  Something about his calm demeanor provides stability that I honestly haven’t seen since early Hextall late 80s teams.  I will give him infinite amount of patience and time because he is a good hockey boy who needs love and protection from the likes of you. 
Shouldn’t Ivan Provorov be better than this?
I’m willing to give Provy the benefit of the doubt in a  year as shitty as this one.  I think his positives far outweigh his negatives and besides having a down year when he needs a new contract may be good for business.  As long as MacDonald is on the roster, all other defenseman will be shielded from blame and harm.  Hey, maybe THAT’S why they still give ice to AMac. He’s like a human shield for the young D core.
The Flyers have a shit-ton of cap space next year, though with Konecny, Provorov, and Sanheim to re-sign. They’re going to do something utterly hilarious, right?
I’m thinking we’re locked into a “Player-Coach Vinny Lecavalier” scenario. The Flyers are boring and slow.  They need some juice on this roster to even register in a four-sport town.  Myself and all other zombies are praying from some elite talent to get excited about….or at least sign like eight goons and embrace who we really are.  Does anyone have Colton Orr‘s phone number?

 

Game #73 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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Ben Remington is one half of Giles And The Goalie podcast, and ZoneCoverageMN.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington.

How big is Jonas Brodin’s injury?
I mean it’s not a small deal, but I’m not super convinced it’s a huge deal either. Brodin had been better lately, but was otherwise having a pretty bad season, after he was protected in the Expansion Draft. It means more ice time for the young offensive dynamo/defensively challenged Mike Reilly, which I’m not opposed to. Gustav Olofsson is almost a Brodin clone, and he’ll slide into the second pair, and I think it’ll be alright.

 Injuries have really hampered this team, but they really can’t use Brodin’s injury as yet another crutch, given his body of work this season.

There was some talk that Eric Staal would be on the trade block before the deadline. Where did that come from?
 No sure, exactly. Is HFboards still around?
I mean, logically it makes a little sense, if the Wild were to decide to sell. He’s got a year left on an incredible contract, and teams would be salivating over that. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any kind of push to re-sign him, because he’s hitting his mid 30’s, probably due a huge pay raise, and the Wild seem to have some in house centers they want to give more time to eventually. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dealt, but the return better curl my toes and expose my O face. It’s crazy to think about shipping out your best player without trying to re-sign him, but if you have a pretty good idea that you won’t be able to afford him anyway, there are worse courses of action, I suppose. 

Matt Dumba has 19 points in his last 29 games. Is this finally his arrival?
 I think so. He got off to a slow start but has really been solid generating offense for most of the season, which is why so many of us wanted him protected over Brodin. He’s only 23, and has shown some incredible stuff that has somewhat outweighed the occasional miscue. I think he’s just scratching the surface on offense, and with his shot could be a Burns-Lite (or even full flavor, who knows).
 What are the Wild going to do before the deadline? They have to at least push it, right?
 I think so, but I’m not expecting much, given their dire cap situation. The big contracts aren’t going anywhere, so anything beyond getting a bottom 6 forward type I’d be surprised by. I’m also a little terrified of Chuck Fletcher making a blockbuster deal at the deadline, since he’s on the last year of his contract and there’s tons of uncertainty on if he’ll be back.
 There’s been talk of them unloading Foligno, which is hilarious given what they paid for him and the contract they gave him. By hilarious I mean depressing, but I’d also be almost as happy about as when they fired Kyle Quincey into the sun. 
Where do the Wild go after this season? They’re kind of contractually committed to this group but it’s getting older. Is this cycle complete?
 Ha, well, yeah, I think? I think they’ll keep taking puncher’s chances at the playoffs every year with this core, but it’s hard to see them doing any real damage unless something drastic happens. Dubnyk is the type of goalie to get red hot for a stretch and carry this team, but we just haven’t seen that in the playoffs, or really this season, aside for his three game shutout streak. If Kirill Kaprisov comes over soon, that could change the whole complexion of this team, but something something Russia something something.
All in all I think this team is very much stuck in a rut through most of the Parise/Suter contracts, barring a miracle. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to build around their corpses in 5 years.

 

Game #55 Preview

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If you’re sick of Jason Zucker, we wouldn’t blame you. First of all, he needs to decide how he wants people to pronounce his name, because it’s run the gamut. More to the point, if it feels like he kind of murders the Hawks, you wouldn’t be wrong there either. The stats say in the regular season, it’s only been eight points (five goals) in 20 games. Feels like more, right? Part of that is the Hawks were finally able to keep him quiet last year, with no points in four games. Still, he’s been a nuisance.

Zucker is on pace to have his career-best season this campaign. He already has 14 goals, his career-high is 22. He has 25 points already, his career-high is 47. Yes, he’s been awfully hot this season, and a 20% shooting-percentage isn’t going to stick around forever you wouldn’t think.

More to the point, Zucker isn’t getting the same number of attempts he has in the past few years, averaging just 11 when the past three years he’s averaged between 14-16 attempts per game. His individual expected goals are down as well per game, so he’s riding the percentages a bit. What Zucker has been able to do is maintain his possession numbers while the team’s around him has collapsed. Zucker’s relative numbers have sky-rocketed, case in point being that Zucker’s relative expected goals-percentage is +12.1 over the team-rate, fifth best in the whole league.

And if you’re GM Chuck Fletcher, you’re kind of hoping Zucker’s agent doesn’t point that out this summer.

Zucker is a restricted free agent after the season, which pretty much blows for him. Should he be able to keep grinding down the railing of high-percentages, he’d find himself a 30-goal scorer and 55+-point man at the age of 26. On the open market, that’s a $5 million-a-year player. But Zucker isn’t going to be on the open market.

And he’s on a team that’s going to have no space at all. The Wild are already up against the cap right now, thanks to their Monty Python-foot-like deals to Parise and Suter. They don’t get much relief after the year either, as only Chris Steward, Matt Cullen, and Daniel Winnik’s deals come off the roster. That’s only about $3 million to play with. Rumors of the cap going up must have Fletcher with some kind of Jobu-like shrine in his office, praying to whatever god can make that true. Because the Wild also have to re-up Matthew Dumba, and seeing as how they punted Marco Scandella away to elevate his role, you’d best believe they’re not going to give up on him.

If the cap went up $3 million or so, with the three they have coming off the books, the Wild might be able to play hardball and get both Dumba and Zucker in for $3 million each. It’d be a slight raise for each, but you’d have to think that both want more than just a mere percentage-point raise.

And this is where if the NHL didn’t have an unspoken, collusion-lite system of no offer sheets things would get awfully interesting. Part of the reason there are no offer sheets is that the compensation system for them is utterly insane. As stated above, Zucker might prove to be a $5 million player. But if you were to offer him that, it would cost you four first round picks. In any kind of vacuum, you’re not trading four first rounders for what is at best a second line winger. If you were to offer Zucker $4 million a year, an amount the Wild might simply not be able to match, that still costs you a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Again, for a second-line winger. You’d have to think this is something the NHLPA will revisit in a new CBA. That is, if they had a clue.

Look for some contentious negotiations this summer between the Wild and Zucker. They simply can’t give him more than $3 million, and he’s earned more than that. Would the Wild allow Zucker to bet on himself for a one-year deal and then go UFA in the summer of ’19? The Wild system is actually stocked. Jordan Greenway looks to be eying that spot as soon as next year.

Wonder if the Wild might think about a trade this season? Stay tuned.

Game #33 Preview

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Once again we dig out Ben Remington of ZoneCoverage.com from under the usual mountain of snow in Minnesota to inform us about the Wild. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. 

The Wild have won four in a row, and five of six, though four of those have come after the 60 minutes. Any big changes during this streak or just a bounce or two in overtime?
Little bit of both. They were having a hard time putting things together before that, and Kyle Quincey was somehow tanking this team singlehandedly, which is a fitting tribute to just how bad he really was. Since he was jettisoned they’ve been winning, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Part of the overtime success is a change in philosophy, directly from the analytics department, the former War on Ice folks. I was at the Devils-Wild game when they got destroyed with a slow lineup on the ice in the first minute of overtime, after that, Boudreau has prioritized putting the young faster players on the ice in OT more, and it’s paid huge dividends. They were 5-17 in 3-on-3 overtime games all time before the change and 4-0 since. So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.
How has the Matt Dumba thing going lately?
Pretty good. Two of those OT winners came from Mr. Dumba. He’s a classic risk/reward player, like a Burns Lite, so if he can get someone to cover his tuchus, he excels. Well, Boudreau has finally paired him with the painfully responsible Suter after Spurgeon’s groin injury, and it’s worked like gangbusters. He’s still going to have some frustrating moments in the neutral zone and his own end, but he can make up for it on the other end. After being the favorite whipping boy of Wild fans to start the season, his loudest critics have promptly STFU.
Jason Zucker is well on his way to a career-high in points and goals. Anything different about his game this year, other than his impending new contract?
There’s been a few analytic articles on him this year locally that have highlighted his improved playmaking ability, so that’s definitely a thing. Before he was more of a pure scorer, but he’s used his speed to set up some beauties this season now that he’s garnering a little more attention. As far as his contract situation goes, it’s a little bit of a worst-case for Chuck Fletcher that he’s really tearing it up this year as a pending RFA, and it might be yet another Fletcher failure from this summer that he didn’t give him an extension before the season started.
What’s been Devan Dubnyk’s problem?
Well, he’s dinged up with a knee issue right now, but otherwise he’s just been inconsistent, which is kind of his M.O. He strung together three straight shutouts in between some pretty bad stretches, but hasn’t looked terrible lately, and I think he was just as much of a victim of Kyle Quincey as the team on the whole was. Dubnyk usually heats up pretty good in December, .937 sv% in seasons past with the Wild, so he really got hurt at the worst time. Luckily, the Wild have a semblance of a back up this season in Alex Stalock, who’s playing well, so you’ll probably see the former Duluth Bulldog Sunday night.
What do the Wild need to add to get out of the muck in the Central?
The Wild have been as inconsistent as Dubnyk in years past, not coincidentally, so they need a hot streak something fierce. It’s easy to forget that this team won 12 games straight last December because of how horribly the season ended, but they’re capable of that kind of stretch if they get decent goaltending. Also, pin cushion Parise may return soon, which should help the overall depth of this team, and get some guys who should be playing in Iowa off the big sheet of ice. All of that and a sniper at the next Perds-Blyeos game might get us somewhere.