Travis Yost published an article at TSN on Tuesday this week, “Which teams appear to be 12 forwards deep?”, comparing each NHL team’s top six and bottom six. It’s an interesting read. Yost states that elite 5v5 teams will see the top six dominate play to the tune of 55% of the shot attempts when the top-six is on the ice and the bottom six forwards should be able to hold their own at 5v5 at 50%. He also suggests that teams with a strong bottom six tend to see better results once the playoffs come around.
Yost points out the teams wherein the top-six and the bottom-six forwards are both earning more than 50% of the share of shots at 5v5. There are nine and four of them could be Stanley Cup contenders, according to Yost. The Wild are included in the second tier as being top-heavy of which there are 12 teams and Yost concludes that these are the teams that “should be prioritizing depth player acquisition from now until the trade deadline”. The remaining teams are probably in trouble this year.
In September, I took a shot at analyzing the Minnesota Wild’s bottom six using Super WOWY, because I thought that the Wild’s lack of depth at forward really hurt the team’s chances last season. My angle was a little different from Yost’s, so I thought it might be interesting to see how the Wild’s bottom six look from this perspective.
Yost differentiated between top-six and bottom-six forwards by looking at average time on ice per game with a minimum of eight games played. According to Hockey Reference, the top Wild forwards by ATOI are Koivu, Granlund, Staal, Parise, Coyle and Pominville and the bottom six consists of Haula, Niederreiter, Zucker, Stewart, Eriksson Ek and Graovac.
Of course the Wild put Joel Easy-E on a slow boat to Europe, probably for the rest of the season,
due to salary cap concerns because the Wild decided that playing in Sweden would be the best for JEE and his development as a hockey player. So, I wasn’t sure who to include as the 12th Wild forward. Zack Mitchell is currently centering the fourth line, but he only has six games (This was written after the Stars game, but before the Jets game last night.). Schroeder and Bertschy don’t have eight games between them. Dalpe is out with a knee injury. And Pulkkinen is in Iowa. Ultimately, I included Pulkkinen in the bottom six, because he has played eight games this season with the Wild, he isn’t hurt or banished to Europe, and maybe he can help out on the 4th line with a recall.
If we average the 5v5 CF% of the top-six forwards identified above we see that these forwards barely control the run of play with 50.1% of shots attempted. If we do the same for the bottom six, we see a CF% of 48.4%. As you can see, there is a difference of less than 2% between the top six and the bottom six. That number isn’t insignificant, but it doesn’t line up with the chart from Yost’s article. There seems to be less of a difference between the Wild’s top six and bottom six, and neither group is really controlling play like you might like to see.
Obviously, I don’t know who Yost included in his top-six for the Wild, but the reason why there is such a discrepancy is because Haula and Nino are the 7th and 8th forwards in average time on ice and 2nd and 1st in CF%, respectively. In my piece from September, I pointed out that GMCF had replaced a weak possession player in Vanek with a strong possession player in Staal and surmised that the Wild GM had set up the top nine for good things this season. But the only addition to the bottom six was Stewart, who hasn’t moved the needle at all this season. The 4th line is still a big weakness.
So, let’s deviate from Yost’s analysis and take a look at the top-nine versus the bottom-three by including Nino and Haula, and add the 9th highest forward in ATOI in Zucker. The average CF% of Koivu, Granlund, Staal, Parise, Coyle, Pominville, Haula, Niederreiter and Zucker is 51.3%. The average CF% of Stewart, Graovac and Pulkkinen is 43.0. Woof!
The free-agent addition, internal call-ups and waiver-wire moves haven’t moved the needle enough to round out the bottom of the forward roster. And BB knows it. He often talks post-game about going from four lines to three in the third period. And his usage of the 4th line is hilarious at times. Against Dallas, on the road without the benefit of last change, Zucker, Mitchell and Stewart were the only Wild players with fewer than 10 minutes of ice time in all situations, not just 5v5. The three of them also led the team in O-zone faceoff percentage at 71.4%!
So Bruce is starting his worst line in the offensive zone more frequently than any of the other forwards on the team. Why? Because he can’t start them in the defensive zone due to a lack of trust. And which Stars forwards played the most minutes against the Wild’s 4th line? Eakin, Seguin and Benn, due to the Stars’ last change.
Bruce Boudreau: Woof! These guys can’t play. I can’t trust them anywhere near my goaltender with first change, so I guess I’m forced to give them offensive zone draws.
Lindy Ruff: Woof! Those guys can’t play. I’m going to put my horses out in the d-zone. Hey, Bruce, take a picture as they blow by your players’ bench.
In a little less than five minutes of time on ice together, the Eakin line had nine shot attempts for against two for the Mitchell line.
Again, it’s still early. The Wild are one of the few teams that hasn’t even played its 20th game, so we aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season. And I think we all can agree that the Wild is probably going to take additional time to work through the change in staff to Coach Double-B. But the Wild is probably going to have to look at other options to fill out the bottom of the forward group.
Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com, hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com
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