We imagine it’s a pretty boring life being a Wild fan. They haven’t really threatened much for a very long time, as their only conference final appearance was in 2003. They spent years suffering under Jacques Lemaire’s life-sapping system. There haven’t been that many dynamic players who have donned the… red and green? Yeah, that’s it. Basically the Wild have just been… there. And there wasn’t much there there.
But we imagine that every so often, they’d take a step back and giggle about the Niederreiter for Clutterbuck trade. We know we would.
Once again, Nino Neiderreiter is perhaps the biggest analytic darling in the league. For the second straight season, he leads the league (non-Bergeron division) in relative Corsi percentage. He improves his team’s possession when he’s on the ice as much as anyone in the league. And he’s 24.
The first thought would be to look at this teammates, but you won’t find the answer there. Last year he did it while playing on Mikko Koivu’s wing. This year it’s been on Charile Coyle’s wing. So it doesn’t seem to matter who he’s playing with.
Niederreiter isn’t going to produce points and goals like that of a first liner, but he’s a solid second line player. This should be his third straight season with over 20 goals.
Which should make for an interesting negotiation this summer. Nino is a restricted free agent, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage. But any agent worth a shit would point out his analytic numbers and how they put him in the same neighborhood as Bergeron, perhaps the best two-way player in the game. There’s a handy comp in Winnipeg with Mathieu Perreault, who was a possession force while never putting up much more than second or third line points. He makes $4.1 million against the cap.
What’s most stunning about Nino’s play this year is that whereas the Wild give up a lot of attempts per game, they don’t when he’s on the ice. His attempts-against per 60 is four less than the next best on his team. He doesn’t follow the Wild model which is block a lot of shots, as he doesn’t let the shots happen in the first place. The rest of the team is focused on just not letting up prime scoring chances.
With Coyle’s emergence at center and the addition of the ever-annoying Erik Haula, the Wild actually have three lines that can hurt you. This seems to be the model of more and more teams in this cap era. You wouldn’t say there’s a lot of top line threat here, but you wouldn’t say there’s a real fourth line either. Everything is crunched toward the middle (though it sounds strange to say the Wild don’t have a real top line considering what they’re paying Parise, but that’s what age does to you).
All of it leads to the conclusion that the Wild are a little deeper than they usually get credit for, though how much of a threat that makes them in April or May is still very much up for debate. Yes, they’re Dubnyk dependent, but there are more weapons here than meets the eye. Nino is one of the bigger ones.