Hockey

Maybe it took me a week to really come to terms with this breakdown of Paul Fenton’s firing in Minnesota. Maybe I needed a week to remember why I should care about the Minnesota Wild (and I still don’t). Maybe it was just the time of year and things are moving more slowly. But if you haven’t read Michael Russo’s article here, you really should. Just not for the hilarity or schadenfreude of it–and there’s plenty–but then come to realize that it’s probably hardly unique in the NHL.

I can’t decide what my favorite part was. The immediate dismissal of a pretty impressive analytics team that’s so NHL it seems too scripted to work. The never actually scouting Viktor Rask before trading one of your best players for him. The being at the Pats Super Bowl parade mere weeks before the trade deadline while the Wild were self-immolating. The constant fear of leaks. The fascination with players who suck, and have clearly proven they suck.

And it’s easy to point and laugh…but can’t you see some elements happening here? Especially the fascination with certain players, i.e. ones that have played for them before. While I don’t think the Hawks just skip the due diligence part of players they trade for…Kimmo Timonen would like a word. Yeah, that was a long time ago, and recent trades like Caggiula have worked out ok (though they seem to have soured on Perlini pretty quickly, but he was the throw-in in that deal). Still, their fascination with players they already know has a very familiar ring to it.

Also you could probably make a link to the dismissal of analytics here as well, as there’s simply no way the Hawks have paid any attention to it, otherwise you wouldn’t be trading for Olli Maatta.

What’s kind of amazing is how bad Fenton was allowed to be at his job. Can you imagine some of this going on in any other sport? I mean, maybe with the Pirates or Knicks or Raiders or something, but those are known basketcase organizations. The Wild aren’t supposed to be that. They’re not the model franchise or anything–even though they loved to tell people that–but they haven’t been moronic. They just haven’t been all that noticeable. This is noticeable.

And this was hardly Fenton’s first job, and you can easily see where he’ll get another because this is the NHL. No one ever dies in the NHL, they’re just moved to a different office…or wherever Bob Pulford is now.

I suppose the question I have to ask is where was any of this when it was actually going on? I know the answer is that people are way more willing to talk when the dude has already been canned and there’s no fear of repercussions, but surely someone or someones knew about some of this while it was happening. Wouldn’t an outing and reporting of it had a chance of stopping the idiocy to come?

The protection of information is hardly germane to the Wild and Fenton. We see it with every team in hockey, and increasingly sports. These days, when teams have their own bullhorns–website, twitter, instagram, facebook, all with their own staff and writers–there’s little need to get anything to the press unwillingly. You can spin anything how you want before anyone even knows it’s a thing. Still, you have to feel that Fenton’s trip to the Pats’ parade from his job in St. Paul is something that should have been a big deal at the moment. What happened there?

You can’t help but think of the dysfunction in the Hawks’ front office, and yet we’ve had to (get ready Fifth Feather) read tea leaves to even suss that out. It was clear that Q and Stan Bowman couldn’t get along at the end, and were only getting along before because the team in place was winning. But we had to put it all together. Somehow, they were able to keep that all in house, and only after Stan basically admitted to spiking Q with Brandon Manning did we get official confirmation of how deep the dysfunction went. Five or ten years from now, the tell-all book is going to be comedy on a Python-esque level.

We know that the consolidation and shrinking of media is bad in a lot more important areas than sports. We know that everyone having an Insta or Twitter means players or anyone else can talk directly to fans with whatever message they want (that sometimes ends up way worse). We know teams have gotten better and better about keeping everything under wraps, even with all the avenues we have now.

I guess that’s how some of this patently ridiculous shit can go on with a team like the Wild even over as short of a span as a year. But I can’t imagine this level of mismanagement is unique to St. Paul. And you wonder how goons keep getting jobs…

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

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Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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You’re supposed to get a guarantee with Bruce Boudreau behind your bench. Your team might not have any defensive structure, or really any offensive structure for that matter, he’s going to be awfully red-faced, but your team will finish with over 100 points. Oh, and you’re going to do dick in the playoffs. Those are the guarantees. So what happens when your team doesn’t get those 100 points? Or even looks bang-on to not even get 90?

Bourdreau’s record is quite remarkable, both in its consistency and uniqueness. No team he has coached for a full-season has played at less than a 100-point pace (the Ducks had 66 in the season-in-a-can of 2013). The exception, if you want, is his ’11-’12 Capitals team that 25 points through 22 games before it fired him. But that’s really the only team before this Wild one that wasn’t going to clip triple-digits. And even that Caps team was on course for 93 points which may have been enough for the playoffs.

But obviously, that’s been combined with a startling, and honestly hilarious, lack of success in the playoffs. Boudreau teams have only gotten past the second round once in his 10 attempts to ascend the mountain. And even in that one, it was the third of four-straight Game 7 capitulations at home for the Ducks. No coach is ever going to be able to claim that again, you wouldn’t think.

Which makes Boudreau a hard coach to judge. Based on the far larger sample size of the regular season, you can hardly find one better. Even Joel Quenneville can’t match Boudreau’s regular season marks, and he had superior talent for most of it. And yet in a sport that only cares about what you do after that, you can’t really find anyone much worse. At least no one who’s had the chances that Gabby has had.

While you’re tempted to make a certain level of excuses for Boudreau’s playoff face-plants, and his two Wild teams really had no business going anywhere anyway, there’s only so far you can go when a team has led 3-2 four times with a Game 7 at home and whiffed on it every time.

So this season, when the Wild don’t look to be set for the regular season success, where do they go? The Wild are on pace for 86 points, which is going to leave them open leagues from a playoff spot. In the underlying numbers, the Wild still look good, Their 12th in CF% for a team, and 5th in expected-goal percentage. What they can’t get is a save right now, 22nd in even-strength save percentage, as Dubnyk had a simply abhorrent November and has only been ok in December. They also find themselves unable to hit water if they fell out of a boat, as they’re 25th in SH% as well. Is that really on Boudreau if he can’t get a save and his team isn’t converting the chances that his “system” is creating?

Still, you get the feeling the Wild know this era, such as it is, doesn’t have much legs left. Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Dubnyk are all on the wrong side of 30, and Jared Spurgeon reaches that next season. They hired a new GM in Paul Fenton, and presumably his main charge was to find a way out of the cap hell his predecessor Chuck Fletcher got them in. That probably means younger soon, and Boudreau’s teams have rarely been that, save for his first Caps team. Which then pretty much quit on him anyway.

Boudreau’s regular season record certainly warrants more than one bad one before a shit-canning. And yet when combined with nothing close to banner-worthy playoff success, and the wick on this candle may be a lot shorter than you’d first guess. But how do you find someone to squeeze better regular season results out of this? It’s also a hellish division, where the Preds, Avalanche, and Jets aren’t going anywhere for a while and one could assume the Stars and Hawks won’t suck forever (though they might).

It’s going to be an awfully tough decision for Fenton. Boudreau’s tenures haven’t lasted too much longer than a third full season. In DC he was fired during his fourth full-season. In Anaheim it was after his fifth. It won’t be long either way, you’d think.

 

Game #40 Preview Suite

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Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built