So the Wild, you know that trapping team that Lemaire coaches, who play in the great State of Hockey, Minneapolis...they went out and blew $200 million on a couple of free agents. Why? Why would a team that was last in the league in goal scoring (actually the worst scoring team in the last nine years), go all in on a pair of free agents? Just so they could go from bad to mediocre?
|$196M and all I got were these two jerseys|
First off for the newcomers, let’s start with the basics:
The Wild play in the city of St Paul, which is next to the city of Minneapolis. They are two cities that form the larger metro area. That’s where “Twin Cities” comes from. The state is Minnesota. Just to be clear. Mat Dumba can be forgiven.
Jacques Lemaire was a great coach for the Wild, but he left the team in 2009. He even coached the Devils a couple of times since! Since then we had Todd Richards, who’s a terrible, terrible coach and Mike Yeo, who actually took the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, to the Calder Cup finals in 2011 and then helped the Wild lead the league in December of last year before injuries took their toll.
|Still not the Wild's coach.|
Neither Richards nor Yeo implemented the passive 1-2-2 system known as the “neutral zone trap.” Well, technically, any kind of structured team defense could be construed as a trap, in which case, yes, Mike Yeo “traps”, but he sends in two forecheckers and coaches a very aggressive forecheck. Todd Richards had no discernible system from what I can tell, which is amazing considering the amount of tape he claimed to watch.
Okay, let’s address some of the criticisms of the Wild, by two of our favorite bloggers, Ryan Lambert and Gabriel Desjardins.
Lambert has written a number of troll pieces, and here he lives up to expectations in his “Trending Topics.”
"To me, chasing down this kind of big game seems very much to be the pie-in-the-sky romanticizing of a team that vastly outperformed its abilities in the first half of last season and surged to the top of the league, only to have the terribly convenient excuse of "Injuries!!!" to lean upon when it went 15-24-8 after Dec. 10.
Parise is now the lone hope of a team offense that saw just two players score 20 goals last year (Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak), though Devin Setoguchi would have joined that group if he'd played the full 82, as he finished with 19 in 69."
Parise is the lone hope? What about Koivu, Heatley, Setoguchi, Granlund, and Bouchard? He conveniently left Latendresse out of that 20 goal group as well.
Yes, the Wild offense was terrible last year. Because they were injured! The top six lost a combined 151 games between Koivu, Setoguchi, Latendresse, and Bouchard. This all mostly happened between December and February, when the team dropped from first to almost last. How can injuries only be an excuse and not an explanation?
Look at the opening night lineup for the Wild, where they beat Columbus 4-2 despite being outshot 31-26:
Heatley - Koivu - Setoguchi
Latendresse - Cullen - Bouchard
Bulmer - Brodziak - Clutterbuck
Bulmer - Powe - Gillies
Schultz - Zidlicky
Scandella - Spurgeon
Zanon - Stoner
Backstrom / Harding
Now let’s look at the lineup for a magical game where Detroit killed Minnesota 6-0 and outshot them 35-19:
Heatley - Brodziak - Johnson
Clutterbuck - Cullen - Setoguchi
Veilleux - Powe - Palmieri
Ortmeyer - Peters - Kassian
Scandella - Gilbert
Spurgeon - Falk
Prosser - Foster
Harding / Hackett
Koivu’s not in the lineup. Neither is Bouchard. Neither is Latendresse. Zidlicky was gone. Zanon was gone. Schultz was gone. Backstrom was out. The top six had two third liners and a waiver wire pickup. The bottom six had five AHL players. The defense had three AHL players and four rookies.
THIS WAS NOT THE SAME TEAM THAT STARTED THE SEASON.
The writers that laugh off the “injuries” explanation as just an excuse clearly are not familiar with the team and had no idea of the extent of the injuries. Probably because they didn’t watch the team. Probably because they already had passed judgment on the team as being a boring bunch of trappers who play terrible hockey.
|This guy was actually the Wild's top line center for a bit. Very nice guy though and signed autographs for kids. But not a top line center, not even in the minors.|
Meanwhile, let's not forget that Suter anchors a largely-anonymous defensive corps, with his top-pairing partner being Tom Gilbert...Michael Russo...projects the second pairing will be Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, combined age: 45.Largely anonymous because you don’t watch the team or bother to learn anything about them. Let’s introduce the contenders for next year’s defensive lineup:
Ryan Suter - the new acquisition. A high end shutdown defenseman who also has puck skills and the ability to contribute offensively. Some say he could be a #1 defenseman, some say he is overrated and riding on Shea Weber’s coattails. Regardless, he seems to be highly esteemed because Detroit chased after him to fill the hole left by Nick Lidstrom’s retirement.
Tom Gilbert - a quality offensive-minded defenseman who showed the ability to play over 30 minutes a night towards the end of last season, even as he had to quickly familiarize himself with Yeo’s system.
Marco Scandella - second round draft pick of the Wild in 2008. He’s 6’2 and 210 pounds, shoots left handed, and has shown both a smart defensive and physical game in his end while having the skills to pass or rush the puck up the ice. He likely would have played in Houston exclusively the last two years if it weren’t for injuries but ended up playing over 30 minutes a night with Gilbert.
Jared Spurgeon - free agent signing by the Wild in 2010. A generous 5’9 and 175 pounds, shoots right handed, and has been a surprisingly reliable two-way defenseman despite his size. He is a smart puck mover who makes good decisions and can chip in offensively. He was an early call-up due to injuries in 2010 who never left the team.
|JARED Spurgeon. Yes, he needs an ID to buy cough syrup.|
Clayton Stoner - drafted by the Wild way back in 2004. 6’3 and 205 pounds, left handed, and a veteran at the AHL level. He has shown the ability to play a physical, shutdown role but struggled with injuries at the NHL level. He also has been a plus player at the NHL level every year despite playing on a low-scoring team.
Jonas Brodin - first round pick by the Wild in 2011. 6’1 and a lean 175 pounds, left handed, and a very smart two-way defenseman who models himself after Nick Lidstrom. Not only has he played two years of pro hockey, he made the Swedish WC team this past spring. Not the World JUNIOR Championship team (he made that one too), but the World Championship team. He got high marks from Niklas Kronwall and Daniel Alfredsson, who compared him to Lidstrom with his poise and defensive ability.
This is not a defensive lineup that will win the Cup this year...this is a lineup that will grow together and play for 5-10 years. And that doesn’t include 7th overall pick Mat Dumba, who will have several years to grow and develop.
So is this a sound investment for this team over the next baker's dozen-seasons? To put it bluntly, the answer almost certainly seems to be "no."What was the investment? Money? Cap space? What good is cap space if you aren’t a good team?
The Wild have $14M coming off the books with Backstrom, Cullen, and Bouchard next season. All of them are easily replaceable, unless you’re one of those people who thinks goaltending is extremely important and requires large investments and is independent of team defense (answer: no, no, and no). The following year, Heatley, Setoguchi, Gilbert, and several others come off the books freeing up another $19M in cap space. Without Suter and Parise, the Wild would be struggling to reach the cap floor, and would have to overpay several mediocre free agents to do so.
This is a team with Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Mario Lucia, Brett Bulmer, and Erik Haula (among others) waiting in the wings. This is a highly rated group of prospects. Adding high end players who are at their prime now and will provide veteran leadership for the next 13 years is not a good investment?
How many years should a team sit on their hands, rush prospects to the NHL, and flounder at the bottom of the standings before adding a quality free agent or two? Wouldn’t it make sense to add free agents at the prime of their careers without giving up young talent rather than patching holes in an aging roster with a bleak pipeline (cough, Detroit)?
Why are people surprised with Parise and Suter decided to commit to the Wild for the rest of their careers, talking about the young prospects while they do so? If they wanted to win a Cup with Pittsburgh or Detroit, they would have signed for 5 years, because that’s the window (and it may be generous, considering how quickly Chicago fell back to the pack). They wanted to compete for a Cup for the next ten years, and they will get that chance.
Over at NHLNumbers.com (a great site by the way), Gabriel Desjardins, who runs Behindthenet.ca (another great site), and one of the leaders of the advanced stats geeks, wrote a cute little hit piece that also misses the point. The delightfully-titled “Minnesota Wild Spend $200M to Remain Below-Average”:
In general, unrestricted free agents get paid $3M per win. We can assume that neither one of them took much of a discount to go to Minnesota, so it's safe to say that neither player is worth more than 3 wins per year.You could assume they didn’t take a discount, and you’d be wrong. But it’s good to know there’s a perfect correlation between salary and wins, even though he fails to back this up with any evidence whatsoever.
All of that optimism puts the Wild at 90-95 points; a bit of pessimism would put the downside at 85 points. Even with these additions, Minnesota is still only 50/50 to make the playoffs.Effectively, you argued that the Houston Aeros were a bad team. The Minnesota Wild, who were relatively healthy during their run to the top of the league, where a great team. The Aeros who filled in were not. But you don’t want to mention that, because it doesn’t fit in with Corsi and VORP and what not.
Also, a “pessimistic” view of this season would be two wins over last season? You’d have to have Koivu, Bouchard, Setoguchi, Granlund, Suter, AND Parise all injured. What team in the history of the NHL has suffered that many injuries? That’s not pessimistic, that’s just misleading.
AND IF those guys all got injured, we can look forward to replacement players named Coyle, Phillips, Zucker, Bulmer, Larsson, and Brodin. None of whom were available last year.
...this is not yet the kind of team that we should expect to win a playoff series and they now lack the salary flexibility to make themselves any better.Desjardin should click around on NHLNumbers.com a bit more, because they have $33M coming off the books over the next two years. How is that lacking salary flexibility? Yes, they lack flexibility this year. Pro tip: Parise and Suter signed 13-year deals. You might want to check out the other dozen years before blogging about the salary flexibility.
If everything went perfectly, Minnesota would have had 84 points last year.If everything went perfectly the Wild would have had 1.5 more wins? Everything perfectly? Did you miss 151 man games lost in the top six alone? Are you telling me that Koivu, Setoguchi, Bouchard, and Latendresse being in the lineup for 82 games would not even have two more wins? That’s just absurd.
And that’s why we can comfortably ignore the stats geeks. They are so adamant that they can predict success and failure by stats alone that they reject anything that does not support their hypothesis.
If you go on to read the comments, you’ll see they mention value over replacement player, but fail to mention the negative value of AHL’ers like Peters, Ortmeyer, Taffe, Almond, McMillan, Falk, Prosser, etc. Those aren’t average NHL’ers. They are AHL’ers, and they made up half the Wild’s lineup for a huge portion of the year.
To make a very long story short, it’s ridiculous to think the Wild didn’t make the right decision to sign Suter and Parise. They make the team better right away and for the next 10 years. It cost nothing other than the owner’s money (i.e. no picks, prospects, or players). It revitalized a fan base and market that had nothing to cheer for since 2003. It allows prospects to develop as players and people without having to step in and save a franchise as a teenager. It puts Minnesota back on the map nationally.
And soon enough, once these people actually sit down and watch some Wild games, maybe they’ll start writing pieces of substance rather than flimsy pot shots.