Hockey

Mikael Granlund‘s career might be measured in just how much it never quite was.

When Granlund came up with the Wild in 2013, it was assumed that Mikko Koivu was only keeping the #1 center role warm for him. Here we are nearly seven years later, and Koivu is somehow still there while Granlund is now in yellow. The best laid plains of mice and men…

It could be argued whether Granlund ever really got a chance to take over as the top center in St. Paul. He certainly got looks under different coaches, but never serious run. and Granlund’s numbers certainly weren’t bad with the Wild, far from it. He had two 65+-point seasons and was on his way to another one before being traded last year. He had put together two 20+-goal seasons and again, before the trade to Nashville was on another one. They aren’t #1 center numbers, but they’re good. Equal or better than what Koivu was doing. It says something though when the team chooses Eric Staal and his walker over you.

Granlund also found most of his success on the wing, and when tried as the #1 center things just didn’t quite mesh. The Wild had that one, Dubnyk-inspired season that saw them almost win the division in 2017…and then go quietly out of things in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe that was the beginning of the end for the Wild, as Granlund never really took a playoff series by the neck.

Then again, how good were those Wild teams anyway? And we know the braintrust was smelling foul, because they moved Granlund possibly at the height of his value for Kevin Goddamn Fiala, who’s been a healthy scratch at times. Maybe the Wild just didn’t know what they had?

Harder to make that case, because surprisingly it hasn’t been wonderful yet for Granlund as a Predator. It made sense in theory; a fast, skilled player moving to a team that wanted to get up and down the ice a whole lot more than Bruce Boudreau could with the outfit he was provided in Minnehaha. But Granlund only managed five points in 16 games with the Preds last year, and is on the same total so far this year in 18 games. And you can’t say he hasn’t been given chances, because he’s exclusively been on the top six, centered by either Matt Duchene or Treat Boy.

Granlund has run into some rotten luck in Music City, it has to be said. He shot below 4% after his trade last season, and is only at 7.9% this year, which would be the lowest mark of his career since he became an NHL regular. Granlund’s attempts are the highest of his career as well, as are his individual expected goals per game. Perhaps he’s squeezing, trying to be too perfect with the shots and chances he’s getting. There could be a binge here soon, given what the metrics say.

Which will make it a hard call for Nashville either at the deadline or in the summer. Granlund will hit unrestricted free agency after the season, and at 28 it’ll probably be his only chance, or last chance, to ink a big contract. He won’t fit into the Preds’ long-term plans if they can’t unload Kyle Turris and his “yeah but who gives a shit?” production.

How big of a market there will be outside for Granlund is debatable. There’s always a home for a player with his skillset, but he’s also the type of player teams sign just to sign someone, to try and prove to anyone listening they’re trying, and then watch that player not move the needle a whole lot. He feels like another Gustav Nyquist. A fine addition to an already built team, a contributor, but he’s not going to pivot anyone’s fortunes.

Perhaps that’s the conclusion the Wild got to with him. The Preds might not be far behind.

Everything Else

The year was 2012. The Predators had finally won their first playoff series the year before, and in 2012 were looking to make some serious noise for once. They were in a four-way battle for the Central Division with the Red Wings, Blues, and Hawks. They were poised as anyone to make some noise, and as it played out they really had a chance when they got a sweetheart second-round matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes, after they easily dispatched the Red Wings.

And part of the reason they coughed up their honey bunches of oats all over themselves in the second round, and part of the reason they did that was David Poile’s idea to boost that team was to give up a FIRST ROUND PICK for Paul Gaustad. Heavy-breathing hockey journalists couldn’t wait to proclaim what a genius move this was, because Gaustad would do VERY IMPORTANT HOCKEY THINGS like win draws and be big and smell bad.

Gaustad provided all of four assists in 14 games, and another two points in the playoffs, and spent the rest of the time getting utterly clocked in possession. Turns out winning draws and being “a big body” doesn’t do as much as, get this, scoring.

Fast forward to this year. The Preds are in their third year of being Cup contenders, and the ticks from the clock are getting louder. They appear to only have one line, and could really use some secondary scoring. What did Poile do? Gave up a SECOND ROUND PICK for Brian Fucking Boyle.

Brian Boyle sucks. He’s sucked for years. He’s somehow made a name for himself by winning faceoffs and being a big, dumb goofus. He’s ultra-slow in a league that’s getting ultra-fast. He’s a nice story in being a cancer-survivor, but that doesn’t make him a must have. It’s Gaustad all over again.

To boot, Poile paid less for Wayne Simmonds, who’s less of a goofus than Boyle but even dumber, and quite possibly even slower. He’s provided exactly one goal since coming over, and shows no sign of being able to keep up when the Preds come up against the Jets or Avalanche or Flames or Sharks or Knights. David Poile gave up two draft picks and at least a useful bottom-sixer in Ryan Hartman for two-thirds of a fourth line.

But they’ll keep throwing bouquets at Poile, because hockey writers don’t want to jeopardize their free dinner at Jack’s or whatever.

Poile also sought to bolster his top-six with the pick-up for Mikael Granlund for the never-impressive Kevin Fiala. And that looked a good trade when it happened. Granlund has contributed one goal since showing up. Maybe Poile can’t help that, but here you are.

The question for Poile, or at least it should be, is how much longer does he get? In his tenure, the Predators have seen one conference final and beyond, and that seems to be enough for everyone. And while this team looks poised to take a few more cracks at it, this might be their best chance. The Jets can’t play defense. The Flames and Sharks don’t have goalies, and the Knights might not have the magic again. It’s all there for them.

Because next year, it won’t be as clear. If the Flames ever get a goalie, they’ll be West favorites. The Avalanche look set to be a real beast with the addition of Cale Makar and Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko next season. The Jets might sort out their defense.

And the Preds don’t have a lot of wiggle room to improve. They’ll have about $7M in space in the summer, and may require another top-six forward. That will eat up just about all of it. There won’t be a huge margin for error.

But he’s got a lifetime subscription there. He seemingly can’t be moved. Ask yourself what other GM gets 20 years on the job with only one Final appearance to show for it?

 

 

Game #82 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Giles Ferrell covers the Wild for ZoneCoverage.com. He’s also a Red, which means he’s thoroughly charming and smart. Follow him @GilesFerrell.

The Wild are currently splitting the Preds and Jets in the standings. They’ve won six of seven. Are they really this good or just on a hot streak and will settle in?

Given how badly the Wild were waxed last season by Winnipeg, I still think the Jets will make up ground and jump the Wild in the standings. But it is unreal how well the Wild are playing right now and the pessimist in me tends to think at some point these guys will come down back to life a bit. Mikko Koivu is defying his age — 35 — and is averaging nearly a point per game this season. Zach Parise is also almost at a point per game pace and we were openly wondering just how much hockey this guy had left in him a year ago because of his crippling injury. Mikael Granlund is shooting an unsustainable 27% right now because everyone is respecting the [redacted] out of his pass-first tendencies. If these guys were to cool off or miss time with injury, it is very possible — because Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter have struggled just about all season — the Wild will come back down to earth.

The underlying numbers suggest the Wild don’t generate more attempts than their opponents, but they do generate more good chances. Is that what you see?
This is very true. Chances have been few and far between for the Wild early on this season, but they have made the most of those chances. Something besides Granlund realizing his stick was also for shooting in addition to passing is that the Wild have done really well at getting into the dirty areas this season and creating more garbage goals, with Parise leading the charge on that. The guy has returned to a form that not even has been seen in a Wild uniform. But they are also getting ridiculous contributions from their bottom six, as they really do outwork their opponents to draw penalties and/or create scoring opportunities.
Our dear boy Nino Niederreiter only has one goal. Something amiss here or just rotten luck with his 3% shooting percentage?
It has been most painful to watch Nino Niederreiter this season as you can hear him on the television grind his stick into sawdust every freaking shift. He just needs a goal or two to come out of this — and he got one Thursday night on a redirection — but good lord this is not the kind of start he needed with a new boss looking on to make “tweaks” to this roster. So many missed empty nets/golden chances on his part this season. If I had a dollar for every time he has looked up into the rafters after missing a glorious chance I could afford to buy the Timberwolves and fire Tom Thibodeau into the sun. For Nino’s sake, and for Wild fans’ sake, he needs to get it together real soon.
Devan Dubnyk has played in 14 of the Wild’s 18 games. Any fear it may be too heavy of a workload for a goalie in his 30s now?
As the most noted listeners of the Giles and the Goalie podcast would point out, I have been banging this drum for a few years now. The Wild have been so crunched to the cap year after year they can not afford a decent backup goalie to give Dubnyk some extra nights off. Alex Stalock has been alright this year, but I don’t think his body of work inspires Boudreau to give him any extra nights in goal as of yet. Credit to Dubnyk is that he continues to perform at a high caliber level despite the heavy work load. But at some point, this too will be catching up with the Wild. Paul Fenton better hope it is not this year.

 

Game #21 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 24-22-8   Wild 29-19-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network outside the 606

NONE OF THEM LOOK LIKE MARY WINSTEAD IN FARGO: Zone Coverage MN

I suppose the Hawks themselves won’t feel this way. But now that it seemingly doesn’t matter, now that the playoffs are nothing more than a fuzzy concept to them, now that the pressure would seemingly be off, can the Hawks actually play enjoyable hockey again? Just say, “Fuck it, it’s free cake” and go out there and do shit?

Because that’s what’s probably been so dispiriting about this latest stretch. I don’t know that the Hawks have played badly, but you could easily see how tight they were as soon as things weren’t going their way. It wasn’t even leading goals. When they didn’t take two or three-goal leads that their play at times warranted, you could see anus-puckering. Well, not literally. That’d be gross. But you get it. They’ve looked like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, which in some ways it was. Or is. Not sure which.

Which is unlike the Hawks. This is most of the same core group that has stared down playoff deficits and kind of just giggled at the hysteria around it. Maybe something broke in their mentality when they didn’t quite come back from 3-1 down against the Blues two years ago. Maybe it broke last spring. Maybe the vets sense they don’t have it any more. Whatever it is, it’s been a hard watch.

So tonight, and in the next three, away from the expectant and increasingly bitter (and less and less full) United Center, maybe the Hawks can escape some of that malaise. Maybe the juice of another building, where every turnover or missed power play doesn’t elicit groans and jeers, they can be a just a touch freer. They could certainly use it.

They’ll find another pretty angsty team in the Wild, as they’re coming off blowing a three-goal lead at home to the dead-on-arrival Coyotes on Thursday. They did get a point out of it, but when you don’t get two against Arizona that’s bad, and when you blow a three-goal lead to them to cost yourself that point that’s criminal. They’ll have the cayenne pepper on their balls tonight, you would figure, as their hold on the last playoff spot is tenuous at best with all of the Flames, Ducks, and Avs nipping at their heels.

The Wild haven’t been able to get healthy all season, and will be without Jonas Brodin tonight and the next couple weeks to continue that theme. But they’re finally fully healthy at forward, and sport a good three lines that can hurt you. Mikko Koivu may be reserving space in a Twin Cities retirement home soon, but he still keeps the puck in the right areas and has been a nuisance to the Hawks for longer than I’d care to remember. Neiderreiter and Staal are the biggest threats on the team on the line behind that, and Mortimer Parise and Charlie Coyle are skating on the third line right now. We’d laugh, but we’d also kill for depth resembling anything like that on the Hawks.

Behind that it’s been something of a coming out party for Matthew Dumba lately. He’s got 19 points in his last 29 games, and finally appears free to be aggressive and kick it on up the ice with his speed and try and make stuff happen. That gives the Wild two dynamic puck-movers along with Jared Spurgeon, who’s been quietly excellent as he always is. Dumba is better buttressed by Brodin but will have to make do with Olofsson for the immediate future.

Strange for the Wild as they’ve been hot of late despite Dubnyk being only ok. They’re 9-3-3 since the turn of the calendar while Dubs is only carrying a .914 SV% in that time. It’s been pretty simple, either they score three goals or more, or they lose. Given that the forwards are all healthy again, while they don’t have what you think of as a premier scorer, they get it from enough places to get by for now. Though Staal is making a fist of being that frontline scoring, with 16 points in his last 15 games. Granlund has been coming right along with him on that line. So they’re the ones to watch tonight.

For the Hawks, Carl Dahlstrom looks to be making his NHL debut tonight, paired with Connor Murphy ahead of Michal Kempny. I’d get upset about this because both Gustafsson and Seabrook have been defensive sinkholes, but at this point the emotion seems like a waste. Let’s just see what Dahlstrom can do because what can it hurt? Glass Jeff gets the start, and Patrick Sharp looks to be the forward scratch so Lance Bouma can come out of mothballs and that’s a sentence I just typed and now I want to hurl things around my room and out of my digestive track and good lord there’s 27 more games of this!

The Hawks have generally played well against the Wild this year. beating them twice and losing twice in games they outplayed the Wild. They could use more of that tonight for sure. We’re not going to ask for any higher meaning out of this one. We’d just like to not want to numb ourselves after this one is over. Doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Game #55 Preview

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Being a GM in this league isn’t easy. You have exactly no margin for error, and you have to take that and balance the desires of owner, coaches, fans, press, and try and craft a hockey team out of it. You can do all that, and then there just might be two teams in your division better than you anyway and it’s all for naught. And then once you come up empty, the league does not make it easy to start over. Flexibility is a daft concept in the NHL.

And that’s where Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher finds himself. Perhaps it was his idea to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise until the sun swallows us all for a dump truck of money. Perhaps it was a directive from the owner after having nondescript, unsuccessful teams forever under Jacques Lemaire. Whatever it was, Fletcher is pretty much fucked right now. Which might see him let go this summer when his contract runs out as well.

The Wild aren’t going anywhere. They’re locked into competing for the last wild card spot at best this year. Maybe, if things bounce right, they sneak in, Dubnyk gets hot, and they can win a round or two. But that’s all built on hope, and Dubnyk has never shined in the playoffs. The difference between him and Jay Gallon last year is the biggest reason they didn’t move to the second round then.

And really, Fletcher is locked into bringing this team back next year. There’s no significant money coming off the books. Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, and Daniel Winnik are the only forwards whose deals are up after this season, for just north of $3 million. There are no d-men who are up. And to make it even better, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are restricted free agents this summer. Because they’re RFAs they won’t break the bank, but they’ll be due more than the $4.5 million combined they make now (Dumba could reasonably ask for that himself).

So what do you do? This Wild team still needs a #1 center before it can even think of going anywhere, and those cost north of $8 million or more. No one is going to trade for those Parise or Suter deals, and Parise might be permanently broken after back surgery and just five points in 15 games so far. Nino Neiderreiter or Mikael Granlund would certainly drum up interest around the league, but if you trade them for a forward aren’t you just running in place? You’re supposed to build around guys like that.

You could hope that someone takes Mikko Koivu off your hands, but no one wants to pay near $6 million for two more years for what is essentially a checking center now. The window to trade Jonas Brodin has probably passed. Maybe Luke Kunin is a kid who can do something for you, but if he were something special we’d probably know by now. Dmitri Sokolov is lighting up the OHL, but everyone lights up the OHL. And because the Wild have floated around the bottom of the playoff picture for so long, it’s really hard to find help in the draft in the 15-20 range as they’ve been.

If it wasn’t so punitive, buyouts would be an option here. But because they’re spread out for so long, it’s not an option for Parise or Koivu, and wouldn’t provide that much relief. It should be something that the player doesn’t have to agree to but doesn’t punish the team so harshly if they agree. But that’s not the world we live in.

This is the devil in “going for it.” The Wild thought the signing of Parise and Suter meant they were amongst the big boys. They haven’t seen a conference final or a division championship. And now the Wild can’t even tear it down if they wanted to. If they traded Granlund and/or Neiderreiter, at that point you might as well keep going. Sell off Coyle and Staal and try in include Koivu in something. But when have you seen a team do that?

Parise and Suter have been on the Wild for six seasons now. That’s about the cycle every team gets. But thanks to the system, the Wild are stuck in this one, going nowhere, with no escape. Basically, they’re living your life.

 

Game #55 Preview

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

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.
Everything Else

The Wild suck so hard that they’re the only team Bruce Boudreau hasn’t coached to a division title when he’s had a full season behind the bench. And really, if you don’t get that basically meaningless bauble out of our favorite Haagen-Dazs slathered bocce ball, then what’s the point at all? You’re still going to get a coach with both hands around his own throat in the playoffs but not to get to raise a silly banner aloft. Well, the Wild probably aren’t going to win the division this year, and they’re probably not going to get out of it in the playoffs. It’s almost if Brucey is now just in an abyss of meaninglessness. Which is how most people feel about the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota Wild

’16-’17 Record: 49-25-8  106 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round to STL)

Team Stats 5v5: 49.3 CF% (20th)  50.5 SF% (14th)  52.6 SCF% (3rd)  9.2 SH% (1st)  .925 SV% (11th)

Special Teams: 20.9 PP% (9th) 82.9 PK% (8th)

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 11:30AM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

Late season, weekend matinee games suck out loud regardless of the two teams involved. The thought process behind having them is clear, with both college and pro football shuttered for their respective seasons, and baseball yet to move north from Arizona and Florida, there is a void that can be filled by the Winter Tenants for viewership when there’s really only Law & Order: SVU reruns on elsewhere. But the vast majority of hockey games are played at night, and professional hockey players, like all athletes, enjoy their ya-ha time after a game and generally keep later hours. There is always at least a 24 hour break going into them so it’s not totally cutting into physical recuperation the way Thursday Night Football does, but circadian rhythms are still fucked with, and now past the deadline there are many teams who are just playing out the string. Couple that with the overall quality of the league due to a flat salary cap, and it’s left an absolute dogshit product on the ice on par with Thursday Night Football by any absolute or relative measure. And on top of that Daylight Savings just kicked in, so now two teams who at least on paper who are still jockeying for the top spot in the Central and the West, are effectively facing off at 10:30AM local time, all for the sake of courting viewers that the NHL is never going to grab. Nice work everyone.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 36-18-5   Wild 39-13-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm Central

TV: CSN Local, NBCSN to the “others”

IN THE WOODCHIPPER: Cold Omaha

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Hawks – 50.9 (12th)  Wild – 49.9 (21st)

ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Hawks – 48.7 (19th)  Wild – 54.2 (2nd)

POWER PLAY %: Hawks – 19.0 (16th)  Wild – 21.9 (4th)

PENALTY KILL %: Hawks – 77.1 (28th)  Wild – 82.9 (10th)

The Hawk and Wild will continue their preamble tonight to their almost assured second round meeting in the playoffs. While the Hawks will make noise about giving the Wild “something to think about,” the gap is almost certainly too much. It’s definitely too much with Doobie Brother playing as well as he is, because there’s just no way the Wild are going to drop enough points to make any Hawks nuclear streak matter. And it’s hard to envision how either of these teams trip up in the first round, whatever Bruce Boudreau’s faults, because the Blues, Preds, and whatever swamp thing emerges as the bottom wild card haven’t shown anything close to being a threat.

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA-S, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

And so it is now here, the most important regular season game in the history of the sport…at least until the next one. The Wild are still playing .900 hockey and have three games in hand on the Hawks, and a regulation win tonight should effectively salt the division away for them, and there’s nothing more that Bruce Boudreau likes than the taste of salted divisions. And the entire hockey world, such as it is, will be watching, as this is the only game on the docket tonight.