Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Wild 16-12-5   Hawks 12-15-6

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BEYOND THE WALL: Hockey Wilderness

Well, should be quite the tasty atmosphere at the United Center this evening, no?

Tonight is all about finding out if this is bottom or not. The Hawks will be in front of what has to be a cantankerous home crowd after their worst loss of the season last night (which is saying something, given the variety of defeats already on offer). And it might not be all that full, though it probably won’t be anywhere near Bulls-levels (yet). Any sign of more incompetence is going to be met with boos and a hearty amount, you would think. Have the Hawks ever faced that from their fans? Their previous seasons have mostly been met with indifference. This will not be that.

And it’s really about how the team responds to not just that. After a crushing setback and their recent form, we’ll know if they have totally quit tonight. Or do they still have some professional pride left, which can be just called fear of embarrassment, and scrape together something to at least let everyone know they aren’t in fact dead? They may hate the coach, they may think the front office has steered them wrong, but surely they don’t want to keep getting their dicks kicked in and save some face? If they can’t manage anything beyond limp for most of the contest tonight, major changes have to be made the very next day. They won’t be, but they’ll need to be. If you’ve ever wished for Jonathan Toews – Player/Coach, you just might get it Monday.

As for the Wild, this nothing squad has managed to go 14 games with only one loss in regulation, going 9-1-4 and zooming up the standings to the fringe of the playoff spots. They’ve overcome inevitability catching up with Devan Dubnyk, and then injury, and have made do with Alex Stalock and Kaapo Kahkonen. They’ve have a revitalized and healthy Parise scoring goals. Somehow Eric Staal is still a genuine #1 center, and Jason Zucker is also pouring them in.

And once again Bruce Boudreau has employed a system that is fine with giving up attempts and shots from the outside, but gives up very few quality chances. The Wild are a middling at best Corsi team, but have the second best xGA/60 in the league. They can’t create a ton, but they don’t give up much and are more than happy to collapse to the middle of their zone and let you have it on the perimeter. What an interesting idea. When the chance comes, they will get up the ice off turnovers and mistakes and have the d-men to join in as well in Suter, Dumba, Spurgeon (when healthy) and Brodin. And even if Boudreau’s “structure” at times gets loose, his charges show up every night and skate hard because they have to.

In the end, it’s not likely to go anywhere, but he usually gets the most out of what he has. The Wild can’t ask for much more, as they try to figure out how to transition their next phase.

For the Hawks, there aren’t that many lineup changes they can make. Robin Lehner will start. Alex Nylander should be thrown into a trash pile somewhere along Damen Avenue, but it seems orders from on high will dictate that he be jammed into the lineup in the faint hope that he magically turns into something. Dylan Sikura should be back in the lineup, but he’s run afoul of both coach and front office in just two games it seems.

If Colliton were really going to go down swinging, he’d promote Boqvist with Murphy and put Dach in between Saad and Kubalik. Why? Because you’re already suffering lapses defensively and missed checks and turnovers, so how much worse can the kids be than what the vets have given him? What are we hanging onto here? If it’s time to move on from what came before, and it is, why wait around? Want to make sure you’re in dead last first?

Really curious to see how the whole organization responds to this weekend. Something tells me they won’t be able to stick their head in the sand much longer.

Hockey

Earlier in the season, when the Wild couldn’t get a save and were even rooted behind the Hawks in the standings, there was a feeling that Bruce Boudreau wasn’t long for this job. And the joke going in hockey circles was, “Zach Parise kills another coach.” It’s funny because you don’t think of Parise that way. He’s never been considered a loaf, doesn’t bark in the press, and is generally thought to be a heart-on-sleeve player.

And yet Boudreau is the 10th coach Parise has played for in his 15 seasons. Which is a pretty stunning total. Some of that is attributed to Lou Lamoriello’s itchy trigger-finger in New Jersey, where he had a habit of installing himself behind the bench. Some of that is Minnesota’s general incompetence, though Boudreau has stuck longer than anyone else. It hasn’t amounted to much, no playoff series wins under Boudreau and only two first-round triumphs under Mike Yeo for Parise’s Minnesota stay. And maybe that’s the problem.

When Parise and Ryan Suter signed, at the time, those mammoth deals in St. Paul, they were thought to be franchise-turning players. Suter has arguably been that, but Parise has always felt a shade below that. His one 4o-goal season was 10 years ago now, and a consistent 30-goal guy is what his ceiling has always been. That paycheck suggests, or suggested, that he is a top line player. On a truly good team, he’s probably a second-liner, and he’d be a great second-liner to have. But partially due to that paycheck, the Wild have never been able to find another winger to slot him down to that. They wanted it to be Mikael Granlund. He never could really manage it. Jason Zucker occasionally flashes that, but you know what he is at this point. And maybe it’s that lack of truly elite production that keeps Parise’s teams from achieving much, and gets coaches fired.

As it is with these things though, Parise’s salary has come back to the pack and now that $7.5M number seems just about right for a player who gets you 25-30 goals. Which is what Parise will do if he stays healthy, which is always the big question mark with him. That can’t be used as an excuse for the Wild anymore.

Parise is on pace for slightly more this year because of a SH% spike, as he’s up near 17%. But his attempts and chances are down from career norms, and if he can’t keep up the luck he might flatten out hardcore, which would deprive the Wild of even more scoring they don’t really have. And then finally the sword of Democles might fall upon Boudreau, and Parise will have another scalp.

Hilariously, Parise is signed for another five years, to his 40th birthday. Buying out Parise isn’t really an option, because were the Wild to do that his cap hit would stay on the books until 2030. And there would still be a cap hit of $6.7M or more for three seasons starting in 2022. There would be no relief. Until a new CBA, the Wild can’t even hope Parise retires when he becomes useless thanks to cap recapture penalties. Luckily, with his injury history, that will most likely provide an out for both parties should it come to that.

How many more coaches between now and then, though?

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.

 

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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.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Wild 17-15-3   Hawks 13-20-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

VIKING HORN SOUND: Hockey Wilderness, Zone Coverage MN

The mini-Christmas break is over, and the entire NHL is kicking out the cobwebs, stretching it out, processing a big yawn, and getting ready to get back to the grind. And thanks to the CBA and the players’ union strange request, tonight is filled with games where the road team flies in day of and never looks like it’s all working together. You’ve seen some of them get really fed on this day, but the Hawks haven’t gotten this day right much at all over the years. Last season they got an extra night before shitting it against the Canucks in Vancouver. The year before that that they were nowhere against the Jets, and the year before that they laid an egg against Carolina. So just because the Wild are in the air as we speak doesn’t guarantee much.

Let’s start with the Hawks. Collin Delia looks to be getting the start, which should be the case until there’s a back-to-back (weekend after next) or Corey Crawford comes back. Cam Ward showed his true Cam Ward colors on Sunday, or should I say is true technicolor yawn, basically gifting the Panthers a couple goals and ruining what was a decent enough start from the Hawks. While he played well in a couple wins before the break, he still has a terminal case of being Cam Ward and we all know exactly what he is. Delia at least comes shrouded in mystery and some hope, and right now that’s good enough for the Hawks.

Other lineup changes see John Hayden slot in for Chris Kunitz, who sadly wasn’t banished to a sawmill in the country during the break. Dylan Sikura is dropping to the fourth line, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I guess Brendan Perlini has played well enough for a promotion? Whatever. I don’t think it matters at this point.

To the Wild, who are only five points ahead of the Hawks but have played four games less. They have been tumbling down the standings like Martin Sheen off a roof for the past few weeks now. First it was Devan Dubnyk having a month-long sneeze in November, and while that’s corrected their scoring has gone completely agoraphobic and they can’t get anywhere near the opening between the posts. Since the middle of last month the Wild are shooting just 6.4%, fifth-worst in the league. Which betrays their metrics, as just like last year they create far more good chances than they let up even if the attempts are more or less evenly distributed. But that doesn’t really matter if you can’t bury them, and if your goalie goes through a streak where he can’t stop them.

Further dampening the Wild attack is that Matthew Dumba is basically done for the year, out three months with a pectoral problem that required surgery. He was one half of all their push from the blue line, with Jared Spurgeon the other (it’s not really what Ryan Suter does anymore). This has forced both Nate Prosser and Greg Pateryn into the lineup, which is a place you want to be in less than a bus station at 3AM. Without Dumba, you can expect the Wild’s metrics to go down.

Up front they’re juggling things again, with Charlie Coyle doing his regularly scheduled shift from wing to center where he can flatter to deceive there as well. Jordan Greenway has got himself punted to a wing where he can watch Mikko Koivu wheeze and belch as Father Time leaves another counting the lights. Zach Parise was hot there for a minute but has cooled off, and Mikael Granlund couldn’t hit an elephant from five feet at the moment. The lack of a true front-line scorer is once again biting the Wild in the ass, just as it has for the past…well, existence.

I guess in the Hawks’ mind, not yours or mine, if they’re going to push anything out of this season they have to start now. The schedule is pretty light from now until their bye in January, with only one back-to-back and three-in-four stretch with two of those at home. We’ll see what they make of it, which won’t be much.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Game #21 Preview Suite

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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.

 

Game #21 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built