Hockey

If you’ve been following the NHL closely for the past few years, and especially the analytics of the league, you’ve known that the Carolina Hurricanes have been at the front of most of the rankings for a while. They’ve been a great possession team since Bill Peters took over as coach, and that hasn’t stopped under Rod Brind’Amour. They’ve been one of the better expected-goal teams too through that time. They just couldn’t get the results to match, because A. they didn’t have any goaltending whatsoever as Scott Darling flamed out and B. they didn’t have a lot of finish. So while they may never give up any chances and get a lot, at the end of the day you still have to make all that count. The Canes didn’t have the sharp end of the stick at either point.

But if you were to design what a perfect Cane player would look like, you’d come up with a fast forward with good hands who was busy at both ends of the ice. They would be smart and under-appreciated by their own team, not realizing all the good work they did and only noticing the neanderthal, outdated things they didn’t that said dunderheaded organization was fixated on.

We give you Nino Neiderreiter an the Minnesota Wild.

For years, Nino has been an analytic darling, and a darling of this blog. He has routinely put up Corsi-shares in the 55% range, and was routinely around five or more points higher than his teammates in attempts-share or expected goals. Nino simply always had the puck in the right end of the ice, and when there he was creating chances better than whatever the opposition could come up with.

And yet Mike Yeo hated him because…well, we don’t know. Didn’t hit or something? Bruce Boudreau only had marginally more use for him, even though he seemed to be perfectly suited for Gabby’s ways.

Nino has never been a prolific scorer, maxing out at 25 two years ago but consistently putting up 20-25 goals. You don’t find those kinds of players just hanging out in the drug store parking lot. Nino was bugged early last year by some rotten luck where he couldn’t get anything to go in. That was the last straw for the Wild, who moved him to Carolina before the deadline for clinically dead Victor Rask. It was a lopsided trade to anyone who was paying attention, which definitely wasn’t Chuck Fletcher in the GM chair.

You can guess where it went from there…he definitely fixed the cable.

Nino popped off for 30 points in 36 games in Raleigh, playing for a coach and team that knew exactly what they had. His attempts per game went up nearly 50%. His expected goals per game doubled. Along with that his shooting-percentage went up 50% as well with the better chances he was getting. That might have something to do with Brind’Amour immediately realizing his skill-set belonged with Sebastien Aho instead of some plug on Minny’s third line. The results are the results. It’s what Nino has always been capable of.

Something has gone off the boil so far this year. Nino and Aho have not been the dominant force they were, with their combined metrics down a ton. It continues a pattern for Nino, who wasn’t very effective in the playoffs as he was in the regular season, though that might have something to do with shooting just 3.8% in the Canes’ run to the conference final. Still, that line’s possession marks are still exemplary, and it should be expected that Nino’s individual marks will round back to where they were.

And like a lot of Canes, Nino has a perfect contract for them. His $5.25M hit is hardly unjust for a player who does the things that Nino does, and it takes him until he’s 31 when you’d expect him to decline and the Canes to move on. They’ve got the rest of his prime years.

It’s the kind of shrewd move that the Canes always seem to make to now be competitive with a limited budget (which could be self-imposed or not). Erik Haula is another one, and he’s got seven goals as he also fits perfectly into what the Canes do. Must be nice.

Everything Else

Giles Ferrell covers the Wild for ZoneCoverage.com. He also hosts Giles And The Goalie Podcast. Follow him @GilesFerrell.

Explain this Neiderreiter-for-Rask trade, because we don’t get it at all…
Paul Fenton has roughly 10 players on the roster who can play center or wing, yet he felt compelled to bring another center. In doing so, he dislodged Charlie Coyle — who had been playing pretty well alongside Zach Parise — from center shoving him back to wing and then pissing off Parise because Coyle has been the only center Parise has cared to play with this year. Rumor has it Fenton left a flaming bag of shit outside his analytics team’s office just minutes prior to making this trade (this did not actually happen but we can imagine it did because that’s what it feels like). Honestly, this trade makes no sense to Wild folks. They saved minimal cap space and added a 26-year-old center who can’t score and can’t skate. Makes perfect sense.
How big of a deal is it to lose Matthew Dumba for the year?
It’s been huge. The Wild power play has suffered heavily from his loss — just three or four power play goals since his departure — and it’s just had an impact on the offense in general. The Wild are now in the bottom third of the league in scoring, as Dumba was leading all NHL defenseman at his time of injury in goals scored. Now Dumba’s loss doesn’t entirely leave guys like Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, or Eric Staal completely blameless for their drop in offense, but having him in the lineup added a dynamic that this team does not have without him.
The Wild are in a playoff spot, aren’t really structured in a way to blow it up, so do they have to make more moves before the deadline?
If you have seen Fenton’s moves recently, it makes one cringe thinking he could make more before the deadline. Everything depends on what his philosophy for the season is, and right now no one really seems to know what the hell that is. The owner obviously wants playoffs. But moves — see Niederreiter for Rask — leaves one wondering if he is trying to blow up the team and maybe just retool for the future. They won’t be buyers for sure, and with Staal being a UFA they very well could be sellers despite sitting in a playoff spot coming out of their break.
Are the Wild stuck in neutral a bit until after next season, when Koivu, Spurgeon, and Granlund will all be free agents and the team will finally have some payroll flexibility?
Jared Spurgeon has been invaluable to the Wild just about since the day he walked through the door from the Islanders back in 2010, so it is hard to see the Wild moving on from him. Granlund and Koivu, on the other hand, could very well be jettisoned — with Granlund perhaps being a hot name in trade rumors this upcoming summer depending on his next contract demands. With the lack of centers the Wild have coming it would not surprise me if Koivu did return after next season but it would have to be at a discount. The guys that Fenton might also try and cut loose from in order to free up some payroll could be Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker if he feels they are not performing up to par.

 

Game #53 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

Preview

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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Ok, I know. I shouldn’t joke about this. It really isn’t funny, and I’m sure if I were going through it I would probably gut anyone making a joke about my skin literally peeling off.

So there’s a couple things this post is not going to be. One, I’m not going to try and convince any Hawks fan who thinks this is totally on the up and up that it isn’t. Nor am I going to try to convince anyone outside our bubble that is convinced this is fishy that it isn’t. I think if you want to Occam’s Razor this, it’s probably something of both. Hossa has been dealing with this for a few years, and now that the medication is A) less effective and B) possibly poisoning him to the point they have to blood test him regularly (think Iron Man 2, though we all know that Hossa is more a Steve Rodgers, organic lab experiment type thing instead of a machine but stick with me here). And now that his salary is dropping to $1M, and he’s won just about everything there is to win, and his Hall case is pretty secure, maybe he figures it’s not as worth it to torture himself and put his health at risk for it anymore.

It’s easy to sit here and say we’d do anything for a million dollars, but why is it Kevin Durant can eschew millions more to keep the Warriors together and everyone pretty much shrugs and agrees that a few million more won’t make any difference to him, but everyone outside of Chicago is crying foul on Hossa when his actual health is at risk here? Strange, no?

Everything Else

Ben Remington covers the Wild for ColdOmaha.com (I love that name). You can follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. Bryan Reynolds, on the other hand, is just some lunatic who won’t leave us alone so we toss him this bone every so often to make him go away. But it never works. Anyway, he’s on Twitter @BReynoldsMN.

We’ll get to the tough one first. The Wild are on pace for their best regular season ever. They should win the division for only the second time. Is it a mirage or is this for real?

Remington: From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to not say that it’s for real. As usual, some of the fancy stats point to regression, but others bear out that this team has been very, very good so far this season. Even the players that are ‘slumping’ are having decent seasons, and we’ve seen monumental steps up from young players that have been underachieving for most of their time here. Dubnyk is still the key, and him continuing to play well will be the difference between them winning the conference or not, but even with a noticeable regression to the mean recently, his January was just average, not bad, and he could catch fire again. 

Reynolds: I’m a Minnesota sports fan, and I’ve learned that nothing happens faster than a Minnesota sports team imploding. In this case, I’m calling them a mirage right up to the moment Mikko Koivu grabs the Cup from Commissioner Gru’s tiny Trump hands and gives Gary the steely eyed death glare and maybe mutters, “I can’t believe Pantera made a song for the Stars.” I have no idea what that last part even means, but no, I don’t trust this anymore than I trust the Oilers to select a defenseman in the draft.

Everything Else

We imagine it’s a pretty boring life being a Wild fan. They haven’t really threatened much for a very long time, as their only conference final appearance was in 2003. They spent years suffering under Jacques Lemaire’s life-sapping system. There haven’t been that many dynamic players who have donned the… red and green? Yeah, that’s it. Basically the Wild have just been… there. And there wasn’t much there there.

But we imagine that every so often, they’d take a step back and giggle about the Niederreiter for Clutterbuck trade. We know we would.

Everything Else

oldschool vs wildthings

Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, SportsNet (Anglo), TVA2 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Blood Makes The Blade Holy: Hockey Wilderness

Mark it 2-9 in road Game 3’s now. On Tuesday night the Hawks won their first road game three since 2010 in the second round against Vancouver, and even in that series it was to take a 2-1 series lead. And now for the first time in the Renaissance Era the Hawks have the opportunity to end a series unblemished on opposition ice.