Everything Else

In this strange world of hockey writing we are more and more forced to deal with the unhinged and downright strange. So today, we have a salvo from something called The Noogie. When you send these things out into the abyss, you can’t be made when the abyss sends something weird back. You can find it on Twitter @The_Noogie.

The Wild have pretty much brought back the same crew from last year. Why do you think this version will turn out better or worse?

It’s not so much that the Wild brought back the same crew as last season. It’s just that the biggest addition of the offseason happened in the front office when owner Craig Leipold released former GM Chuck Fletcher after nine seasons and brought in Paul Fenton who previously was the Assistant GM for the Nashville Predators. Fenton was brought in with the understanding that Leipold was not looking for a complete rebuild, but more a new set of eyes to look upon an old problem.

So, with one hand essentially tied behind his back, Fenton made few moves in the offseason, certainly nothing that was sending shockwaves across the NHL. Role players like defenseman Greg Pateryn and centers Eric Fehr and Matt Hendricks were brought in to provide depth and a little cushion for some of the younger guys coming up through the system. They are by no means game-changing additions for the Wild which has a lot of the fanbase feeling lethargic about this squad that despite making the playoffs the past six seasons, have not made it past the first round in their las three tries.

At the same time, injuries plagued the Wild last season. It didn’t matter the time of season, one of the Wild’s every-day starters was likely out of the lineup. With that in mind, one could make the argument that if this team can stay healthy, they have a great shot to make some noise. Then again, they’ve been healthy before, with much of the same core intact.

The Wild also bought out the remaining year of Tyler Ennis’ contract and shed the husk of Matt Cullen as well. But don’t worry, Nate Prosser is still floating around eating popcorn somewhere. Some things never change, and that notion very much applies to how this season will probably shake out for the Wild. Not noticeably better and not noticeably worse.

We watched Jordan Greenway crush fools in the WJC a couple years ago. He was one of the few younger players to make the Olympic squad last winter. What are the reasonable expectations for him in his first full NHL campaign?

Greenway certainly has been fun to watch as he came up through Boston University, made a few international tournaments along the way, and participating in the most recent Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang as well. His performance in the WJC in 2016-17 was the bright spot. The gold medal winning USA squad also featured another Wild prospect in Luke Kunin, both players are worthy of your attention as their careers progress in the NHL.

Hockey Wilderness runs a series every fall where we rank the teams top 25 players under 25 years old. This year Greenway finished 4th in our rankings. We are mostly excited about this kids’ potential, but he is going to need some time to figure things out at the next level. It’s not underselling it to say this guy is a monster on the ice though. Standing at 6’6” and tipping the scales at 230 lbs. he’s a big body who will be hard to dislodge from the puck, and if he lines you up for a check, watch out!

Greenway made the team right out of camp this season and has been centering the 3rd line with a couple of utility wingers in Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson-Ek. Don’t count on him making his way into the NHL lexicon this season though. It’s early in the season and he is still adjusting to the speed of the game at this level. He has been successful at every level of hockey, so there is no reason to assume he won’t find a solid NHL game over the next couple seasons.

The Wild are once again up against the cap after re-signing Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. What’s the plan to free themselves up a bit in the coming years?

The salary cap has been the rallying cry for some disgruntled Wild fans who want to see Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s heads on a spike. Until those two contracts are off the books, the Wild are on the hook for their matching 13-year, $98 million contracts signed on July 4th, 2012. If one were to retire after the season, or be bought out… let’s just say it gets really gross looking in 2022-23, and worse in 2023-24 and 2024-25. If both contracts expire after this season, X2. YAY!!!

We don’t like to talk about the salary cap in Minnesota, but if we must. Zucker’s 5-year, $27.5 million and Dumba’s 5-year, $30 million contracts are hardly the albatrosses on the roster. Both players who signed extensions this past offseason showed significant growth over the previous season, and their contracts cap hits are right in line with what Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund signed in the summer of 2017. In these four players, you will find many admirers in Minnesota. This is the young core the Wild look to be building around.

With the cap, the plan is to wing it, because what else can you do? You have a pair of the last great old school bananas contracts which the 2013 CBA (that cost half a season) was designed to put a stop to and penalize. But who knows, that CBA expires after 2021-22, they could blow it all up again and the Wild could avoid a very painful future.

What are you expecting out of the Wild this year?

Same old Wild, and with how this season has started that old looks like it’s starting to show. Mikko Koivu, Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, Suter, Fehr, Hendricks, and Zach Parise will round out your over 30 crowd. Jared Spurgeon will be joining them in a years’ time as well. Entering this season on the active roster the Wild boasted a league-leading 9,637 combined games played. These guys have been around the sun a few times. Suter is also coming off a nasty ankle injury from late last season that caused him to miss the playoffs as well as the final few regular season games, so he’s looked an extra step off to start the season.  

The Wild have looked a step behind out of the gate losing 4-1 to a speedy Colorado Avalanche squad and dropping their home-opener after giving up a late-game lead and losing in a shootout to the Vegas Golden Knights. If the Wild get their possession game going, they’re as dangerous as anyone. And it’s not as if the Wild are just a bunch of potted plants out there. Zucker can be elusive and is very speedy, Granlund and Nino are pretty quick as well, and Staal has been sneaky in his ability to get behind the defense.

So where might the Wild finish? I’m inclined to believe this team will do well in the regular season and make the playoffs once again as either a 3rd seed in the central or fighting for a wildcard spot. Unless we see some significant growth from the younger guys, especially players like Charlie Coyle who really need a good bounce back year, it’s tough to believe this team is worth much more than what their recent history has shown with them bowing out of the playoffs early. One hopes for the best, but this is Minnesota sports. Good things don’t tend to happen here. (Don’t worry, Khalil is coming to help with that for the next five years. -ED)

 

Game #4 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

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Everything Else

As the season draws nigh, we land on the team in the Central Division that I become more and more convinced are the only ones the Hawks can actually catch. The Minnesota Wild will show up to make up the numbers, because that’s really all they do. Sure, there was that weird one a couple seasons back where they almost won the division, and then surrendered meekly in the playoffs.

And that’s all the Wild ever really do. The height of their accomplishment is that they almost did something. They like, almost beat the Hawks in 2014. They almost won the division. And they almost mattered anywhere beyond that.

This is a team that if it has a true, top-line player it’s either the pretty damn old Eric Staal or the permanently crocked Zach Parise. If it has a truly top-pairing d-man it’s the pretty damn old Ryan Suter. It will once again rely and Devan Dubnyk to bail them out of just about all the things they can’t do, as he barely clings on to the platform of top-echelon goalies. Again, he’s an almost. He’ll almost get you there. But he won’t. And they won’t.

2017-2018: 45-26-11 101 points  253 GF 232 GA  47.8 CF%  53.5 xGF%  8.1 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: You know the story here. Doobie Brother is going to be in net and he’s going to be better than you ever think he is, because we don’t associate him with the Prices and Holtbys of the world, perhaps just because he’s so damn goofy looking. But last year’s .918 SV% overall was something of a small step down for him, And over the past four seasons, only Price has a better SV% than he does. He’s a tick ahead of Corey Crawford in that span as well. He’s just that good, and without him the Wild would essentially be the Canucks.

He’ll be backed up by Alex Stalock again, who was just about serviceable last year. Stalock spent three seasons being woeful or being in the AHL before last year, and he’s certainly not anyone the Wild are going to want to have to ride if Dubs were to get hurt. But he’ll do a job. This whole fucking team is guys who’ll “do a job.” It’s why they don’t do anything.

Defense: Christ, is there a team with less turnover than this bunch always seems to have? Dumba, Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon. It’s been that way for seemingly 89 years. And none of these guys are bad, and in fact all are quite good. Even if the Wild have been trying to trade Brodin for three seasons. Suter has aged better than his contemporary Duncan Keith because his game is more efficient. There’s no wasted movement. Dumba put up 50 points last year and I bet you didn’t know that. Spurgeon has been one of the best puck-movers and possession d-men in the league for years even though he’s not getting on any roller coaster. As far as top fours go, there are plenty of teams doing way worse than this (leading off with the one in town).

The third-pairing is looks to be Greg Pateryn, who is a broken toilet, and rent-a-stiff Nick Seeler. There’s a couple kids in the AHL in Menell and Belpido who could come up somewhere during the season to bolster this, but in the meantime they’ll get by with the top four they have.

Forwards: Again, you know this crew. Eric Staal somehow came up with 42 goals last year, though somehow I doubt he’ll shoot 17% again. As he hadn’t scored more than 30 since 2011 before that, you can look for 25-28 goals again. And where the Wild will make up the difference, I can’t tell you. Mikael Granlund is still here to not be a center and a top line winger with a whole lot of “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” Jason Zucker got rich and will still score 10 goals annoying goals against the Hawks, and that’s it. His 33 goals last year aren’t the anomaly that Staal’s totals were, because he’d scored at that rate before. But you see him and think, “If he was on the second line, that team would be good. But he isn’t, and they’re not.” Zach Parise is here for 50 games and then he’ll have some injury that will cause you to have to take a moment to yourself while kneeling. Charlie Coyle is a synonym for disappointment. Mikko Koivu needs his food turned into mush. Nino Neiderreiter will be undervalued by everyone, including his coach. “Joel Eriksson Ek” is something you say while booting. Marcus Foligno is always a sign that your roster needs work.

We have written this preview for them for like four straight seasons. I’m just fucking cutting and pasting next year, assuming the Hawks haven’t caused me to turn the lyrics of “High Speed Dirt” into a performance art piece.

Outlook: The thing about the Wild is that the roster isn’t anywhere near bad enough to be bad. That would at least be interesting. They’re a team full of the middle skater from the Nintendo hockey game. Just fast enough to not get killed, but not skilled enough to surge. Dubnyk gets them to the playoff platform if he performs. If he falls off or gets hurt, this is the definition of an 88-point team.

But they’re not going to do anything memorable. They’re not anywhere near the Jets or Preds. They’re nowhere near bottoming out to get a top pick to actually get a player you’d recognize one day. They’re in that limbo-hell that teams in other sports actively try and avoid (except for the Bulls). They’re not gong to win anything, they’re not going to rebuild. They’re as bland as the state they come from. Seriously, how did that place produce Prince? That seems like a crime.

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Everything Else

It used to be tradition that playoff exits were complimented by eulogies on Puck Daddy. But with Wysh off in the Connecticut hinterlands and those who remain at Yahoo! being a bunch of Canadian giblets who take things far too seriously (and Lambert being angry and definitely not a Bruins fan), we don’t need them to do what we do best. So fuck it. We’ll eulogize all 15 teams that will eventually fall. Now, a rite of spring…

Actually, that picture should probably portray Zach Parise as Death, because today he turned a new trick by expanding on getting his coaches fired by getting his GM fired, and a big reason is the contract Parise signed. Good stuff, that.

Whereas there was joy in kicking dirt all over the bloated corpses of the Ducks and Kings, sending the Wild out with a quiet word is really just a reflex of the spring. About the only thing they provided was quality #BoudreauFace during these playoffs, as it quickly became obvious to him and everyone else his team was just ridiculously overmatched. If any player turned around on the bench and saw the expression of their coach it would have been an upset if they hopped over the boards ever again.

But this is what you sign up for when you have Boudreau behind the bench. Since he left the Capitals, his Ducks and Wild teams have these great seasons that take place almost entirely in the dark. You check the standings every few weeks and your reaction is always, “Huh, how’d they get there?” Because you wouldn’t ever choose to watch them. And then you go on about your life only to repeat the process a few weeks later. Then, when the playoffs start and you really pay attention, you really wonder how they hell they finished where they did, at least you do for the six minutes the Wild are around in the playoffs.

Once again, Devan Dubnyk was the second-best goalie in a series, just as he was in ’15, and ’16, and last year. And you have to hand it to him, because he’s been the second-best goalie in a series to a wild variety of other goalies, from one of the league’s best (Crawford) to genuinely terrible goalies (Niemi and Lehtonen) to absolute basketcases (Jake Allen) and now a young one in his first playoff series (Hellebuyck). He is wonderful talent enhancement.

It was another year of writers marveling at what a defensive wizard Mikko Koivu is in the dregs of February, and then watching him get turned into dog food in the playoffs. A 41% Corsi for the series, reminding us once again he’s a million years old and the Wild have yet to produce a center that’s really any better than him. The State of Hockey is one of paralysis. If Beckett had been around now he would have written a sequel to Godot about the Wild and waiting for anything or anyone of consequence to happen.

It’s really hard to stress just how much the Wild, a 100-point team somehow, got their ass handed to them in five games. No player achieved a positive possession rating over five games, and this was to a franchise that had never won a playoff series before. This might not even count, considering the cannon fodder the Wild were. It’s like counting something in the Home Run Derby as your first major league hit.

And the thing is, the Wild aren’t going to change. They can’t. They have to find the money to pay Dumba and Zucker, and that will be that. They won’t have any flexibility to do anything else, and they’ll roll out the exact same team next year that will amass around 100 points thanks to Gabby’s “Go get ’em, scouts!” system that sees them play really hard when no one cares. And we’ll get more and more articles of “Boudreau does it again! What a magician!”

And then April rolls around, they’ll face a good team that cares again and they’ll get walloped. We’ll get shots of Boudreau behind the bench, the definition of “out of answers,” and he’ll basically be the same shade as Grimace (and shape) by Game 4. His career playoff winning percentage is .478. But hey, he talks to the media and is kind of adorable, so let’s just ignore the fact that he’s almost certainly a moron.

There’s a lesson to the Wild. Constancy. Some teams just have to fill out the numbers, to perform the same cycle over and over to make the ones who change stand out. They’re the backup singers doing the same dance routine every night while Jagger is out front. They help hit the harmonies for the rest of the league, and then fade into the background when the important notes are sung. They are water carriers. Good things there’s a lot of it in Minnesota.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 24-22-8   Wild 29-19-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network outside the 606

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game #55 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Game #55 Preview

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Ben Remington is one half of Giles And The Goalie podcast, and ZoneCoverageMN.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington.

How big is Jonas Brodin’s injury?
I mean it’s not a small deal, but I’m not super convinced it’s a huge deal either. Brodin had been better lately, but was otherwise having a pretty bad season, after he was protected in the Expansion Draft. It means more ice time for the young offensive dynamo/defensively challenged Mike Reilly, which I’m not opposed to. Gustav Olofsson is almost a Brodin clone, and he’ll slide into the second pair, and I think it’ll be alright.

 Injuries have really hampered this team, but they really can’t use Brodin’s injury as yet another crutch, given his body of work this season.

There was some talk that Eric Staal would be on the trade block before the deadline. Where did that come from?
 No sure, exactly. Is HFboards still around?
I mean, logically it makes a little sense, if the Wild were to decide to sell. He’s got a year left on an incredible contract, and teams would be salivating over that. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any kind of push to re-sign him, because he’s hitting his mid 30’s, probably due a huge pay raise, and the Wild seem to have some in house centers they want to give more time to eventually. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dealt, but the return better curl my toes and expose my O face. It’s crazy to think about shipping out your best player without trying to re-sign him, but if you have a pretty good idea that you won’t be able to afford him anyway, there are worse courses of action, I suppose. 

Matt Dumba has 19 points in his last 29 games. Is this finally his arrival?
 I think so. He got off to a slow start but has really been solid generating offense for most of the season, which is why so many of us wanted him protected over Brodin. He’s only 23, and has shown some incredible stuff that has somewhat outweighed the occasional miscue. I think he’s just scratching the surface on offense, and with his shot could be a Burns-Lite (or even full flavor, who knows).
 What are the Wild going to do before the deadline? They have to at least push it, right?
 I think so, but I’m not expecting much, given their dire cap situation. The big contracts aren’t going anywhere, so anything beyond getting a bottom 6 forward type I’d be surprised by. I’m also a little terrified of Chuck Fletcher making a blockbuster deal at the deadline, since he’s on the last year of his contract and there’s tons of uncertainty on if he’ll be back.
 There’s been talk of them unloading Foligno, which is hilarious given what they paid for him and the contract they gave him. By hilarious I mean depressing, but I’d also be almost as happy about as when they fired Kyle Quincey into the sun. 
Where do the Wild go after this season? They’re kind of contractually committed to this group but it’s getting older. Is this cycle complete?
 Ha, well, yeah, I think? I think they’ll keep taking puncher’s chances at the playoffs every year with this core, but it’s hard to see them doing any real damage unless something drastic happens. Dubnyk is the type of goalie to get red hot for a stretch and carry this team, but we just haven’t seen that in the playoffs, or really this season, aside for his three game shutout streak. If Kirill Kaprisov comes over soon, that could change the whole complexion of this team, but something something Russia something something.
All in all I think this team is very much stuck in a rut through most of the Parise/Suter contracts, barring a miracle. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to build around their corpses in 5 years.

 

Game #55 Preview

Preview

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 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.

Everything Else

Immeasurable ink has been spilled, in the parlance of our times, about the raging insanity of the contracts handed out to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It seems so quaint now, as it was five and a half years ago now that they were given matching 13-year deals that run through 2025. We’ll have two more presidential elections before these are off the books (and won’t those be fun for all?)

Suter has basically done what you’d expect for a top pairing d-man, and for a cap hit of $7.5 that looks pretty reasonable at the moment. Though he probably won’t be doing what he is now at age 40, of course. However, in a world where Doughty and Karlsson are going to make north of $11 or $12 million soon, and Shea Weber makes more, you won’t fold up and melt thinking about Suter’s hit.

It’s Parise’s that’s still perplexing. What NHL GMs don’t want to notice, or admit, or even know, is that most forwards peak somewhere around age 25 or 26. There are always exceptions, but that’s the general rule. The decline after that isn’t sharp, and you’ll get almost a plateau from 25 to 27 or 28 or so. It’s after 30 that things tend to go south like a spring breaker, but really what you see at ages 24-26 is generally as good as it’s going to get for a forward, who have to basically sprint all over the ice every shift. A d-man can adjust his game with better positioning, anticipation, and streamlining. This is what you’ve seen Suter do, as though he racks up some of the heaviest minutes in the league he barely looks like he’s moving at times while having everything under control. Sure, a forward, and especially a scorer like Parise, can become more of a spot-up sniper as he ages, but that changes his overall effect on proceedings.

When Parise was signed to this elephantine contract, he was 28. In most ways, he had already had his best years. And even in his simple counting stats, you can see that. Parise has only once come anywhere close to his 38 goals of ’09-’10 while donning the green of the Wild, and certainly has never approached the 45 he poured in the year before that when he was 24. 33 is the best he’s done in St. Paul. And since that three years ago he slipped to 25 and then 19 last year.

Nothing in the underlying numbers should make Wild fans feel any better. His peak years in The Swamp saw him score over a goal per 60 minutes at even strength, again at 24 and 25. The best he’s done in Minny is 0.98 in ’14-’15. His points-per-60 at evens have never gotten near the 2.3 and 2.8 he managed in his peak as a Devil. In New Jersey he would take 12-13 shots per game at evens. He’s never managed more than 11 in Minnesota, and the past two years he couldn’t even get to double-digits. You’ll find the same story with his overall attempts.

The only encouraging this is that since arriving in the Land O’ Lakes he’s managed to up the rate he gets scoring chances and high-danger chances, which speaks to a more active and anticipating mind. Of course, some of that the past two years can be explained by a switch to Bruce Boudreau, who plays a more high-tempo, if not less-organized, way than Mike Yeo did. But the difference is probably negligible.

All of this makes one wonder why you’d throw any serious years at an unrestricted free agent forward at all. A real players union, if they had any fear that NHL GMs would figure this out, would push for free agency a lot sooner. But they don’t have to fear that. Still, next summer’s big ticket is John Tavares, who is already 27. You’ll get some really good years out of any deal he signs, but you’re probably not going to get anything better than he’s already done. These are just how things go.

For more info on player aging curves, check this article out.

 

Game #43 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Giles Ferrell writes for ZoneCoverage.com and hosts the weekly Giles and The Goalie podcast. Follow him on Twitter @gilesferrell. 

The Wild find themselves kind of in the same predicament as the Hawks. Can’t seem to get off the ground for more than a game or two in a row but also don’t lose enough to fall out of it. What’s the biggest problem of late?
Finding their identity. Minnesota has none and we are over halfway in the season. They have been hurt for a large chunk of the season and now they have a full roster so there is hope they will find their stride. Now with that said, they looked to be hitting the mark last week before they went into Colorado and had the crap absolutely kicked out of them. 

Why is Zach Parise skating on what appears to be a third line? Or is Eriksson Ek the best center for him and that’s just how it goes?
More of that has to do with the fact Parise missed half the season with a back injury. Once he gets back up to full speed, it would not surprise me in the slightest to see him get bumped up to the top six. But for now, the hope is he can ignite Eriksson Ek – Minnesota’s 2015 first round pick who is on pace for two goals this year. 

Devan Dubnyk had a .940 in December. Despite getting blasted in Colorado last Saturday, do you feel like he’s rounding back into what you’re used to seeing?
No doubt Dubnyk is coming back into form that Minnesota has known him to be. He has been inconsistent most of the year, but right before he went down with an injury he started to right the ship. Since his return he has picked up right where he left off – sans the Colorado game – and perhaps that has to do with his backup Alex Stalock pushing for more game time with his good play this year. 

Is Jason Zucker or Matt Dumba pricing themselves out of a return to Minnesota this summer? Or can they shift some things around and make it ok?
A month ago I would have said Zucker might be a guy the Wild move because he might simply cost too much, but now a month long drought has brought his next contract back down to earth. After a torrid October, Dumba has been lighting it up and will probably be a very expensive signing for the Wild this offseason, being he can score and is a right shot. Dumba’s trade value come summer might be sky high, but it would be a crippling blow to the Wild blue line if they moved him.What will the Wild be looking to do before the deadline?

Wild fans cringe at the fact that GM Chuck Fletcher has a first round pick at his disposal to use, and he is reportedly in the final year of his contract. He did so last year, and that yielded one lousy playoff win for his team. I’m not sure the Wild will do much of anything before the deadline. The prospect cupboard is getting bare, they are right on the cap, and they might have a few internal options in the AHL they would try instead of making a move. Maybe they will get a bottom six player at the deadline, but otherwise Minnesota might be more inclined to stand pat.

Everything Else

Once again we dig out Ben Remington of ZoneCoverage.com from under the usual mountain of snow in Minnesota to inform us about the Wild. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. 

The Wild have won four in a row, and five of six, though four of those have come after the 60 minutes. Any big changes during this streak or just a bounce or two in overtime?
Little bit of both. They were having a hard time putting things together before that, and Kyle Quincey was somehow tanking this team singlehandedly, which is a fitting tribute to just how bad he really was. Since he was jettisoned they’ve been winning, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Part of the overtime success is a change in philosophy, directly from the analytics department, the former War on Ice folks. I was at the Devils-Wild game when they got destroyed with a slow lineup on the ice in the first minute of overtime, after that, Boudreau has prioritized putting the young faster players on the ice in OT more, and it’s paid huge dividends. They were 5-17 in 3-on-3 overtime games all time before the change and 4-0 since. So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.
How has the Matt Dumba thing going lately?
Pretty good. Two of those OT winners came from Mr. Dumba. He’s a classic risk/reward player, like a Burns Lite, so if he can get someone to cover his tuchus, he excels. Well, Boudreau has finally paired him with the painfully responsible Suter after Spurgeon’s groin injury, and it’s worked like gangbusters. He’s still going to have some frustrating moments in the neutral zone and his own end, but he can make up for it on the other end. After being the favorite whipping boy of Wild fans to start the season, his loudest critics have promptly STFU.
Jason Zucker is well on his way to a career-high in points and goals. Anything different about his game this year, other than his impending new contract?
There’s been a few analytic articles on him this year locally that have highlighted his improved playmaking ability, so that’s definitely a thing. Before he was more of a pure scorer, but he’s used his speed to set up some beauties this season now that he’s garnering a little more attention. As far as his contract situation goes, it’s a little bit of a worst-case for Chuck Fletcher that he’s really tearing it up this year as a pending RFA, and it might be yet another Fletcher failure from this summer that he didn’t give him an extension before the season started.
What’s been Devan Dubnyk’s problem?
Well, he’s dinged up with a knee issue right now, but otherwise he’s just been inconsistent, which is kind of his M.O. He strung together three straight shutouts in between some pretty bad stretches, but hasn’t looked terrible lately, and I think he was just as much of a victim of Kyle Quincey as the team on the whole was. Dubnyk usually heats up pretty good in December, .937 sv% in seasons past with the Wild, so he really got hurt at the worst time. Luckily, the Wild have a semblance of a back up this season in Alex Stalock, who’s playing well, so you’ll probably see the former Duluth Bulldog Sunday night.
What do the Wild need to add to get out of the muck in the Central?
The Wild have been as inconsistent as Dubnyk in years past, not coincidentally, so they need a hot streak something fierce. It’s easy to forget that this team won 12 games straight last December because of how horribly the season ended, but they’re capable of that kind of stretch if they get decent goaltending. Also, pin cushion Parise may return soon, which should help the overall depth of this team, and get some guys who should be playing in Iowa off the big sheet of ice. All of that and a sniper at the next Perds-Blyeos game might get us somewhere.