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.

Hockey

There are few teams around that I can definitely say the Hawks will finish ahead of. And there’s only one in the division I can be certain of, and it’s this outfit. Or. to put it more accurately, if the Hawks don’t finish ahead of this collection of used rags and grill scrapings, everyone is fired. Let’s look in on this fine mess…

20180-2019

37-36-9  83 (!) points

2.56 GF/G (27th)  2.84 GA/G (12th)  -23 GD

50.9 CF% (11th)   54.1 xGF% (5th)

20.3 PP% (14th)  81.7 PK% (7th)

Goalies: So here’s a thing that Minnesota can’t seem to wrap their frozen brains around — their goalies were bad last year, and Devan Dubnyk has been kinda bad for a while now. Sure, .913 doesn’t look all that bad from Doobie on the surface. Except he had the best expected SV% in the league thanks to Bruce Boudreau trying to do everything he can to shield him. And he had the third worst difference at evens between his expected save-percentage and actual, behind Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones. That’s not a neighborhood you want to be putting down roots. It was the same the season before, and Dubnyk is 33 so he’s probably not going to jump forward at this point. The Wild got the best out of him, and now they’re going to have to smoke the resin.

Stalock wasn’t any better, and if the Wild are hoping for a .915-.920 that he’s spasmed out a couple times as a backup in Minny and San Jose, they might be looking down the tracks for a very long time. What’s so weird about the Wild is that even with this roster, Boudreau was able to keep them getting the majority of attempts and chances and severely limit what their goalies had to do. And they couldn’t do it. And there’s little reason to think they will now. Combine that with a distinct lack of finish and you get…well, make your own whoopee cushion sound.

Defense: It’s the same crew as it’s been, though they will get Matt Dumba back after he missed more than half the season last year. That’s not insignificant, and along with Jared Spurgeon that’s all the Wild’s get-up-and-go from the back. Dumba was on pace for his second-straight 50+ point season before a torn pectoral ended things prematurely. Spurgeon’s influence started to slip a bit last season. He was still ahead of the team rate on his metrics, but not by the wide margins he used to be. Perhaps having to cover for Dumba hurt him and they can set that right now. Ryan Suter is getting up there but can still economize his game to remain effective. Once again, Jonas Brodin will be solid but not much more. The third pairing will be some concoction they pull out of a steaming cauldron of Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt and whatever other eye of newt they find on the ground.

Forwards: And here’s your big problem. There isn’t a first-liner anywhere to be found, so they’ll have to shove Eric Staal, the eight minutes Zach Parise‘s back isn’t a puppet show, and Mats Zuccarello up there. Or Jason Zucker and however he’s decided to pronounce his name this season. Or they’ll have to force-feed Kevin Fiala, the first version of Eli Tolvanen, trying to prove the Preds wrong in that he can be a genuine top six forward in the league. Can they conjure another miracle out of Ryan Donato? His 16 points in 22 games after being acquired for Charlie Coyle suggest there might be something there. But doing it in 20 games that don’t matter and over a full 82 are different matters. Mikko Koivu is 187 years old and wasn’t good enough when he was 27 to do the things the Wild needed him to. Ryan Hartman somehow has ended up here, though St. Paul tends to be the last stop for the bewildered and lost. No matter what kind of magic and voodoo Gabby cooks up to keep the Wild in the right end of the ice, there’s not nearly enough here to make it really count unless a couple players get some spirits to conjure shooting-percentage spikes.

Prediction: It’s funny how the Hawks season is being viewed as some springboard to better and the Wild seem truly and deeply boned, and there was one point between them. Yet the Hawks do have some youth and growth on the roster and in the system. The Wild have lottery tickets like Fiala or Donato. With the goaltending heading south, there just isn’t enough scoring, or close to it, for the Wild to get around a playoff spot. Maybe if it’s truly awful they can start over, which they’ve needed to do for about two seasons.

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 19-24-9   Wild 26-22-3

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBC (WHAT?!)

GOIN’ CRAZY OUT DERE BY DA LAKE: Zone Coverage MN

Whatever it is the Hawks are now, and it’s certainly been entertaining the past couple weeks if hardly artful, heads into St. Paul this evening to back up the what-have-ya in Buffalo last night. They’ll meet a Wild team that has an even more ridiculous back-to-back, coming home from losing in Dallas last night and only having to traverse essentially the length of the country in a night. Again, artful is not something you’d count on tonight from either side. So what a wonderful piece of programming for NBC to put across from Lakers-Warriors, huh?

Due to last night’s loss, the Wild handed the last automatic playoff spot in the Central back to the Stars, which they’ve been passing back and forth to each other like a handmade bowl, and slipped into the first wildcard spot. They have a three-point clearance on the Canucks, who are the first outside the cutting line. It’s been a  roller-coaster season for the Wild, who lost five in a row around Christmas to drop out of the playoffs altogether, then won four of five, and then have gone .500 in the 10 games since. Which is probably exactly what they are.

It’s not what you’d normally expect from a Boudreau-led outfit, as this is the best defensive team in the league in terms of chances and shots they surrender. As always with the Wild, they just don’t have enough front-line talent to bag in the goals. They’re 26th in goals per game, and 25th in shooting-percentage.This is never going to be a team that outshoots its percentage, not until it gets some more firepower. Missing Matt Dumba is huge, both on the power play and at evens, as he gets them up the ice better than anyone and can score from the blue line, which they don’t have anyone else to do.

Not that it seems like new GM Paul Fenton gets it, with the recent bewildering trade of Nino Neiderreiter for Victor Rask. Neiderreiter may not have put up the hard numbers to get anyone tumescent, but he was one of the best possession players in the league for years and had an acute case of snakebite this year. If you’re going to move him, you move him for someone who actually dents twine on occasion. Rask sets off toxic alarms everywhere he goes, and that’s all he does. Other additions around the edges like Pontus Aberg and Brad Hunt don’t really move the needle. The addition of Rask jumbled the lineup as well, moving Charlie Coyle back to a wing when he finally looked somewhat comfortable at center, and bestowing upon Parise the honor of looking at Rask confusedly, trying to figure out what in the actual fuck he’s doing. At least Coyle and Jordan Greenway have meshed nicely with Eric Staal on the top line.

The Hawks will get Alex Stalock tonight, after Dubnyk went last night. The latter really hasn’t been all that good this year, and has benefitted far more from the defensive work of the team in front of him than vice versa. Stalock hasn’t done either.

Speaking of goalies needing help. Collin Delia will get the start, and since his initial splash he’s been just this side of rancid. Sure, he’s getting no help, as the Hawks routinely are giving up shot totals that start with a “4.” But the last time Delia gave up less than three was December 29th, and you can’t hope that Patrick Kane is going to outscore that kind of surrender (even though he has of late). Delia has had a nice long break to reset, not playing since January 20th. This is still an audition for Delia to vault himself onto the roster for sure next year, whether as backup or not, but he’s not going to do that looking behind him four times a game.

Any other changes will be small. Maybe Koekkoek in for Dahlstrom or Forsling, though unlikely. Maybe Perlini in for Kunitz or Hayden, though unlikely.

Given how free-scoring the Hawks have been of late, this is a challenge. The Wild don’t give up much at all, and the Hawks’ two wins over them were basically goalie wins. The Islanders were able to keep the Hawks down in a way that the Caps and Sabres were not, and it’s a similar style. Mikko Koivu has been a particular annoyance to Jonathan Toews for his entire career, and were that to continue that quiets the big gun of the Hawks in Kane. Probably where most lies tonight.

The idea the Hawks can get back into it all is still ridiculous, but if they’re going to go on a run it’s right here. The Wild are nothing impressive, and the Oilers less so. The Canucks again are not anything special, and the Red Wings are worse than the Hawks. The Devils, Senators, and Ducks all appear on the slate in February, as do the Avalanche and Stars, teams the Hawks have handled earlier in the year. If they’re going to do something stupid, it’ll happen now.

 

Game #53 Preview Suite

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Ben Remington covers the Wild for ZoneCoverage.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. 

The Wild have had an ugly December that have seen them tumble down the standings. What’s been the problem?
From an eye-test perspective, the scoring has dried up something fierce, and the loss of Matt Dumba recently has definitely exacerbated that. On paper, the stats back that up. Since December 1, the Wild are 30th in the league in Shooting% at a paltry 7.1%, and have scored the least amount of goals in the NHL (23 in 10 games…woof).
Devan Dubnyk struggled mightily in November with an unsightly .882 SV%, but seems to have turned a corner, and is sitting at .916 in December. The defense is playing pretty solid, but they’re giving Dubnyk no margin for error, and he’s not quite up to the task of standing on his head every night. Wild fans have long lamented the Wild’s inability to finish, and this time, it’s popping up in the regular season with regularity, rather than only happening in the playoffs.
The Wild don’t score a ton. Eric Staal has 12 goals. The Wild weren’t counting on anywhere near 42 again like last year, were they?
I don’t think so, but they were certainly expecting a good season, which I think he’s close to. Staal is a really interesting topic for Wild fans, partly because of those 42 goals last season, there’s a decent sized crowd that want to see him re-signed. There’s also plenty of folks who think when you win in roulette like you did with his contract, you don’t place an even bigger bet on the exact same number on the next roll.
That being said, the Wild are woefully, woefully thin at center, and Staal is the the only true first line center this franchise may have ever had. Take a look at the panic that ensued after Mikko Koivu missed a few games to get an idea of how important Eric Staal is to this team right now. Charlie Coyle has again been hokey-pokeyed into playing center, but he’s not exactly flourishing at the position, not that he was at wing, and he could very well be playing in a new sweater soon.
Ryan Suter is on pace for a career-high in points. How has he remained so effective into his 30s and could he send some notes to Duncan Keith?
Suter has really changed his game a bit, as my friend Tony Abbott from The Athletic wrote about last week. Suter’s been a tad more aggressive on offense lately, but it has caused a handful of defensive breakdowns, which is uncharacteristic. It could be his pairing with Dumba for most of the season that has him so offense-happy, or it could be a change of heart in relation to what’s fun about playing hockey after his ankle basically exploded late last season and almost ended his career.
So I guess if you want Duncan Keith to see the light, maybe a ‘Misery’-type lower body injury? If it doesn’t get him playing better after he recovers, it would be cathartic for some Hawks fans, at the very least.
If the Wild can’t pull out of this spin and miss the playoffs, will Bruce Boudreau face some heat? It’ll be three years without a playoff series win, and a new GM in town who might be tempted to find his own guy…
That’s a very real possibility. We Twins fans just saw Paul Molitor canned more or less because he wasn’t the current GM’s hire, and that could very well be Bruce’s fate if things don’t turn around. It’s really unfortunate, because I think Boudreau is a good coach, and his time with a lackluster Wild roster has somewhat tarnished his reputation, but that could very well be a chicken and egg situation.
But Paul Fenton seems fairly happy with Bruce, and I think he’d be more apt, and probably better off, making some worthwhile changes to the roster first before he gets rid of Bruce. That could just be the Bruce fan in me talking though. He’s a great coach to cover, especially contrasted with Mike ‘Cold, Wet Blanket’ Yeo. Bruce might just need an ‘NHL 24/7’ type rant on the Wild to turn things around, if he hasn’t given them one every game yet.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Wild 12-6-2   Hawks 7-8-5

PUCK DROP: 5pm

TV: WGN, NHL Network for those outside the 606

ANIMALS STRIKING CURIOUS POSES: Hockey Wilderness

After playing two games that would be considered a war crime if you made any prisoner watch them, the Hawks will get a chance to open up things a little tonight. Or this afternoon. 5pm exists in that nebulous area where it depends on the time of year whether it’s night or afternoon. Let’s go with evening. Anyway, they’ll face one of the hotter teams in the league in the Minnesota Wild.

This is where other people would tell you that the Wild mean business this time. That their faster ways are indicative of a team that knows it’s on the precipice of being blown up and has maybe one more chance and is finally going to take it. And I’m supposed to tell you as long as Devan Dubnyk is healthy (and ugly) and doing Doobie Brother things, the Wild have a puncher’s chance. That’s what I’m supposed to say.

But you know what I’m going to say. This is just more of the same from Bruce “Are You Gonna Finish That?” Boudreau and his charges. His “GO GO GO BURRITO DORITO FIESTA ANTIPASTO” method of coaching works great in the regular season, especially one like this that’s been so open. And his team will play harder than most everyone who couldn’t locate a fuck to give come February. And then his lack of any structure or Plan B (or even Plan A) will doom the Wild to getting it upside the head by the Jets or Predators or Sharks. That’s how this goes. You know how this goes. You’ve seen this before.

This version features a Mikael Granlund shooting 27%, which has him making an assault on his career-high in goals already. It’s 26 if you must know. Zach Parise has returned from whatever bionic implant procedure he had to have most recently and is averaging close to a point per game. Mikko Koivu drank the mermaid’s tear and is also near a point per game on a line with Parise. All of this sure sounds sustainable!

The Wild do have something of a newish weapon on defense in a fully operational Matthew Dumba. He had 50 points last year, bet you didn’t know that, but he’s already at eight goals so far this term. He’s a real weapon on the power play where his shot is quite powerful and accurate, so hopefully the Hawks d-men take notes. Ryan Suter has been happy to cede the puck-moving responsibilities to him on the top pairing, so hopefully Duncan Keith takes notes on that (he won’t). Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin remain one of the more underrated second pairings in the league, where Spurgeon’s size doesn’t preclude him from moving the puck in the right direction most of the time.

Dubnyk started last night in a loss to the Sabres, so the Hawks may benefit from the rare appearance of Alex Stalock (Alex Stalock…at this time of year…at this time of day…in this part of the country….localized in the United Center). But then again the Hawks couldn’t really solve whatever parking lot attendant was backstopping the Kings on Friday. And also Boudreau likes to turn his starters into paste by March so don’t be shocked if Gabby runs Dubs right back out there.

The statistical oddity about the Wild, and this was the case last year as well, is that they don’t get the majority of attempts but they do get the majority of good chances. They’re below water in Corsi but one of the league’s best in xGF%. They limit chances and their high-rate of speed in the top nine does get them to the net. This became a huge problem for the Hawks in their game at The X when their slow defense couldn’t protect a lead against these forwards when they were fully off the leash. Hard to see how that gets better tonight.

The Hawks will have a bit of a reshuffle, with the nuclear option of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane forming a top line and Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat dragging around the carcass of Artem Anisimov. Fortin-Kampf-Kahun will form an at least quick third line, which could be something of a checking unit if need be. It won’t score much, but it could create some havoc. We’ll see. Jan Rutta comes in from the cold to partner Gustav Forsling, with Stan Bowman in the suite with fingers and toes crosses that tonight is finally the night his vision comes to life of that pairing. Corey Crawford gets the start.

The Hawks get a schedule advantage tonight, not having played last night and waiting for the Wild who did. They get a backup possibly. They put up something of a beer fart of an effort on Friday, but the Wild are not going to sink and trap and try and keep things quiet like the Kings and Blues did. The Hawks don’t really have the creativity, especially in the back, to work their way through those kind of trenches consistently. It’ll be more open tonight. But it also might be too open for a defense that can’t really move or do well under extreme pressure.

So the Hawks struggle against real conservatism. They can’t handle high-pressure. That’s just about every team in the league covered.

Fuck me.

 

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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.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 2-0-1   Wild 0-1-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm Central

TV: WGN

SO THEY PHONED IT IN, END OF STORY: Hockey Wilderness

The current Circus Of The Western Conference rolls into St. Paul, Minnesota tonight, as the Hawks seek to continue their “points streak” against the Wild. That’s what it is, right? I mean, technically the Hawks have lost. But it was in the carnival game that the NHL calls overtime. So that doesn’t really count. Whatever. The Hawks have been fun, and they have an excellent chance of keeping it rolling tonight. And they’ll find the same thing they’ve found at the X for just about four seasons running.

Let’s start with the Westside Hockey Club. A couple changes look likely tonight. One, Alexandre Fortin, whom the Hawks have been trying to promote for about two seasons now, will make his NHL debut tonight. This is definitely in the can’t-hurt-could-help category. He’ll slot in next to Artem Anisimov and on the opposite side of Chris Kunitz, which has actually been a pretty effective line in highly-sheltered use.

That will slot David Kampf to the fourth line, which it probably could use. Marcus Kruger moves back into the middle, in yet another victory for logic. Either SuckBag Johnson or John Hayden will sit, and I would guess the former. The fourth line could certainly use the injection of speed that Kampf has and certainly Kruger’s brain in the middle. Sure, SuckBag was fast but it doesn’t really matter if you’re fast if you have no idea where you’re going. You just get nowhere faster.

Still appears that Cam Ward will play, and Brandon Davidson will continue to enjoy the popcorn. They’re going to make this Brandon Manning thing work if it kills them. Or the Jan Rutta thing. And either or both could.

Things aren’t nearly as rosy in the Land Of 10,000 Lakes, where the Wild have basically gotten pummeled in two games so far. They were able to scratch out a point against the Knights Who Say Golden thanks to Devan Dubnyk making 41 saves. They didn’t even crack a 40% share of attempts in either game, nor have they been above that mark in expected-goals percentage for those two games. It’s a whole lot of not pretty so far.

The Wild have a few problems causing that. One, Ryan Suter is not Ryan Suter. The ankle injury he suffered that ended his last season early have not cleared up yet, or at least are hampering him. And Matt Dumba just hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. A 33% CF% against the Knights would be the opposite of picking up the slack. That would be taking the slack and trying to fashion a belt-tie combo while you’re climbing partner plummets to death or serious injury.

Normally, Jared Spurgeon does some heavy lifting from the second-pairing, but that hasn’t happened either. Compounding that is the fact the Wild haven’t really upgraded their forwards in any way in like four seasons. They brought Eric Staal back, but he was there last year. They re-signed Jason Zucker, who will assuredly score tonight against the Hawks because that’s a thing that he does, but he’s not someone you build a team around. He’s also not going to shoot 15% again, or at least likely isn’t to.

Mikko Koivu is old. Joel Eriksson Ek, while sounding like a rare disease, isn’t going to pull any Atlas act. Mikael Granlund is just enough to break your heart. Nino Neiderreiter is marauding on the third line for some reason. Jordan Greenway is still figuring out how to fit his gangly frame into an NHL game. It’s not that they lack firepower at all. It’s just that they don’t have advanced weaponry.

You could get away with these forwards if you had a stellar blue line. You could carry that blue line if you had a crew of fast, skilled forwards on lines one through four. The Wild don’t have the two things that need to made up for, not either of the things that do the making up.

So basically, once again, they’re good enough to let Devan Dubnyk carry them into the playoffs if he has another .920 season. He’s more than capable of that of course, but the Wild won’t go anywhere if he doesn’t. That’s not really enough in this division which is The Unblinking Eye.

For tonight, the Hawks just need to keep running n’ gunning. The Wild can’t really do it with them, and then you’re just up to the whims of Dubnyk. You can past this blue line. You can catch back up to these forwards. Let’s have some fun.

 

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As a fan of a team with still- recent success, and a lot of it, perhaps there has come a time when you’ve been perplexed how a different fanbase could become so infatuated with a player that isn’t as good as the one you have in the same position. Perhaps you’ve been exasperated at even attempting to explain that the entrenched nature of said player is part of the reason of that particular team’s failure to progress. But you can only judge the players in front of you as a fan, and the scale you’re given is dependent on the talent around them. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Tuomo Ruutu was a beacon of hope and we tried to talk ourselves into Mark Bell, It was what was on offer, and there wasn’t anything else on the menu.

Fans will always generate affection for what is before them, but it is an organization’s job to be above that. Even if that can get a little callous at times.

If you can believe it, this is Mikko Koivu‘s 14th season, all of them in St. Paul. And he’s been very far removed from a bad player. He’s amassed 193 goals and 660 points in 927 games, or just about 50 points per season. He’s been about as all-around of a player as you can ask, with impressive underlying numbers for as long as they’ve been tracked. Certainly, he’s been a loyal servant to the Wild, and you wouldn’t be shocked if one day his #9 goes into the rafters if for nothing else being the longest-serving player in their history. In a lot of ways, Koivu is the best Wild player in their history, which tells you about as much as you need to know.

Koivu has never broken the bank, but he’s done well. His highest contract was for $6.7M  for seven years, which ended after last season. He re-upped for two more $5.5M starting this season, and you have a hunch these could be the last two. Certainly, Koivu hasn’t been a huge issue when it comes to the Wild’s cap problems.

And yet for most of his time in Minnesota, the Wild checked him off as a #1 center. And quite simply, he’s never been that. He’s been over 70 points once. He’s never broken 0.9 points-per-game. He’s never scored more than 22 goals.

Basically, those numbers along with his defensive prowess make for the resume of a very good #2 center. And yet it’s only recently that Minnesota has tried to make him that, first by moving Mikael Granlund to center and now paying for the aging Eric Staal. And perhaps it’s too late.

Chuck Fletcher rarely saw Koivu as anything but. Certainly Koivu was perfect for the Jacque Lemaire/Doug Riseborough era, as he was defensive first who wouldn’t try anything crazy on the offensive end (and why original draft pick Marian Gaborik never really fit). But that style was ushered out by the Great Lockout of ’05, and the Wild took too long to adjust.

You can see the affinity for Koivu. The second first-rounder in team history. Never rocked the boat like Gaborik. Showed up and did his job every day, and well. Connected with the community. Anything that demotes him would be given a side-eye in defense of a player who never really did anything wrong. It’s hard not to fall for a guy like that.

But Koivu is a symbol of how it’s always been just not enough for the Wild. Koivu wasn’t Henrik Sedin when they were in the Northwest Division. He wasn’t Jonathan Toews when they were chained into the Central, though he did give the latter a fair share of headaches. He wasn’t Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton or Anze Kopitar. But you can’t help but feel that the Wild viewed him as that for too long, and didn’t bother to pursue someone who would be.

Koivu is what he is, and he doesn’t have to apologize for that. He can’t help what the team viewed him as and what they sought to put around him instead of in front of him. Sometimes a good player embodies what is good about a team. Unfortunately for some, sometimes they symbolize where a team fell short.

 

Game #4 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Time to get down again. For those who are new to our deranged family, every so often I like to delve into what the end-of-season awards would look like if everyone actually paid attention to what was really going on during the NHL season. This will always remain my wish, but hey, it’s fun to dream and hope. So let’s get to it.

Hart – This one’s pretty simple. You hand it to Nathan MacKinnon, or Nikita Kucherov if you’re feeling spicy. I don’t think either is a wrong choice. You could even make a case for Phil Kessel, who has kept the Penguins afloat while they try and figure shit out and kick through some fatigue. MVP is still kind of easy to measure. Goals are how games are won, and whoever is scoring and creating most of them, with the least help, probably should get the award.

Vezina – Easy as well. Hand it to Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s got the league’s highest save-percentage, and the second biggest difference between his actual save-percentage and his expected. So he’s not benefitting hugely from a great defense in front of him.

Calder – Again, this isn’t hard. Mathew Barzal. He’s on pace to have the greatest rookie scoring total in over a decade. He’s made the Islanders relevant, and even interesting even though they can’t play defense worth a shit.

Selke – Ok, this is where the rubber meets the road. As we’ve previously stated, this award always goes to a center that everyone knows, who wins a lot of draws and scores a lot too and has developed a reputation as a defensive center simply because everyone says so. And that center is always Patrice Bergeron. And that’s not entirely wrong. You can make a solid case for him every year. You can for this one. When we looked at this in mid-December, we were actually making a case for Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

For best defensive forward, we should really look at who is holding down attempts against and limiting chances against. When it comes to the top five in attempts against per 60, it’s still Lowry, Bergeron, Tanev, Backes, and Marchand. Strange that they all play on the same lines, eh? (except for Backes). When it comes to types of chances against, the top five in expected goals against per 60 at evens is Mikko Koivu, Lowry, Granlund, Tanev, and Jason Zucker. Again, all linemates. So let’s try and suss it out from who’s benefitting from playing on a great defensive team. Let’s get relative.

When it comes to best relative marks to their team in attempts against per 60, Lowry leads the pack again. He’s followed by Andrew Ladd, Koivu, Brandon Martinook (huh?) and Tanev. When it comes to relative xGA/60, your leaders are Lowry, Hagelin, Kase, Martinook, and Koivu. Again, it looks like Adam Lowry should be getting some votes here. As far as context, Bergeron plays much harder competition than Lowry, but Lowry starts in the offensive zone much less than Bergeron (40% to 60% for Bergeron, though that could be that the Bruins and Bergeron in particular are always driving the play into the offensive zone). Whatever, get original and give it to Lowry.

Norris – This one’s harder. You can’t just give it to the best defensive d-man because driving the play from the back has become so important in today’s game. But it’s gotta be more complicated than just handing it to the d-man with the most points, which would be John Klingberg. If you were going simply by who let up the least chances and attempts, you’d be handing this thing to Dan Hamhuis. Do you really want to do that? No, of course you don’t. If you were going by relative marks to their team in those categories, Hampus Lindholm would have that claim.

When it comes to total contribution, possession-wise, because that’s the entire job description, the leaders in CF/60 relative to their teams are HAMPUS! HAMPUS!, Giordano, Hamilton, Karlsson and Werenski. When it comes to relative xGF%, the only names you’ll see on both lists HAMPUS! HAMPUS! and Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton faces slightly tougher competition than Hampus, and both start in the donkey end the overwhelming majority of the time.

But neither are anywhere near the top of the scoring charts, so you can forget that.

 

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN National, WGN-AM 720
Strictly Leakage: Hockey Wilderness

After going above and beyond the call of duty in dispatching with the dreadful Senators last night in Kanata, the Hawks turn right back around for a RIVALRY NIGHT game against the divisional opponent Minnesota Wild, who are currently tied with the Hawks, but have played more games and have fewer regulation wins. What a time to be barely alive.