As a Wild fan, I read far too much about the Edmonton Oilers. But I’ve found some really interesting writing about the team, dating back to the Tyler Dellow days and now Jonathan Willis. This summer, when the trade talk was apparently hot between the Oilers and the Wild on a potential RNH deal for a Wild D-man, I read this piece from woodguy, taking a look at the trade options from Edmonton’s side of the deal. It’s a really compelling read about Wild defensemen that should be intriguing from the perspective of a HW reader.
As someone who watches the Wild more than any other team, and probably a little bit of a homer bias, I felt the article sold Spurgeon, Dumba and Brodin a little short. When we look at D pairings, I think we have to take into account the Wild’s terrible bottom six forwards last season. woodguy tries to take this into account, using Koivu, Granlund and Coyle as examples of the Wild’s first, second and third lines, respectively. That’s fair, but Wild fans know that the Wild’s forward group has really been blendered over the last couple years, with Coyle spending much of that time at wing, where Granlund ultimately ended up as well. And the overall numbers looking at Wild pairings must include the Wild’s terrible bottom six.
In any event, I think it’s a solid analysis and I was reminded of it when woodguy wrote this more recently about the Edmonton defensemen 23 games into the season. So, this week, I thought we could take a look at the Wild D through 24 games, especially since when we look at straight up 5v5 CF% we see that the two worst defenders on the Wild are Spurgeon and Suter.
That doesn’t seem right. But there are some positives to take out of the early season results.
One of the ways that we’ve talked about in the past that can suppress a player’s stats like Corsi percentage is deployment. And it makes sense. If your coach is playing you against the best players on the other team and/or you’re on the ice for more draws in the D-zone than the O-zone, it’s going to make it harder for you to be effective. We saw this with the vindictive manner in which Coach Double-B is using Koivu now, taking a ton of draws in front of Dubnyk against the toughest competition.
We don’t really see the same spread when it comes to the defensemen. Reilly has the highest percentage of O-zone draws at 46.2% and we know he is being sheltered. The next highest is Dumba and we are all well aware that Boudreau has some concerns about his defense. But Suter and Spurgeon are the next highest in percentage of O-zone draws, followed by Folin, Scandella, Prosser and Brodin.
And, as far as quality of competition, I don’t know if I have access to Woodmoney, but there isn’t a huge discrepancy among Wild D as far as opponent CF% (50.5% - 50.2%) is concerned, so it looks like the top five play against similar competition.
Next, we can take a look at who is playing with the four lines on the team, as this year we have seen a consistent hierarchy under Double-B: Staal, Koivu and Haula. The fourth line center has shifted quite a bit this season, due to various reasons, but I think we can all agree that Stewart has played the fourth line and been around the most, so let’s try him instead. Well, it turns out that Brodin, Dumba, Suter, Spurgeon and Folin have all played about the same amount of time with Stewart at 5v5, between 94 and 63 minutes, this season and the results haven’t been good. But you can’t blame the low numbers from Suter and Spurgeon with being saddled with playing with a poor fourth line.
Finally, let’s take a look at pairings. Corsica has a cool tool that lets you easily take a look at how pairings have performed by going to corsica.hockey, then combos and then pairings. If we take a look at all D pairings with at least 50 minutes of 5v5 hockey this season for the Wild, the top pairing as far as shot percentage is concerned is Reilly-Dumba at 57.4%, followed by Folin-Brodin, Dumba-Brodin, Suter-Spurgeon, Scandella-Prosser, Scandella-Dumba and Suter-Dumba.
As you can see, Jonas Brodin is one half of two of the top D pairings at 5v5 on the Wild this season. He’s still suppressing shots against, as he has in the past. But the difference this season is that he has added some offense to his game. Aside from Reilly’s 90 minutes of ice time this year at 5v5, Brodin is tops among Wild defenseman so far with 55.21 shot attempts for per 60 while he is on the ice. And he’s getting it done without having to ride on the coattails of Suter, spending his time mostly alongside Dumba and Folin instead.
For Wild fans, I think that this is the most positive element of this exercise. With the caveat that the Wild has only played 24 games this season, Brodin looks like he may have demonstrated that he should be in the discussion as a legitimate member of the top four.
And Scandella? Maybe woodguy is right and he earned his contract by playing next to Spurgeon. I don’t know. I wish he could get some time on the power play, but I fear that he’s been labeled as a shutdown defensemen destined to ply his trade fending off defensive zone draws and killing penalties. I’d love to see him manning the point on the PP. But Nino can’t even earn some burn on special teams, so I fear that Scandella probably has no chance.
As for Spurgeon and Suter, the same caveat applies. I think that it’s likely we will see both of their underlying numbers improve. Suter hasn’t been a fancy stats darling since signing with the Wild, but Spurgeon’s numbers have always looked good. Spurgeon is a top pairing right-shot D who won’t ever be coveted by other teams as such because of his height and underwhelming moustache. As a Wild fan, that’s fine. Once Suter and Spurgeon get going, the Wild might be in decent shape with Brodin anchoring the second pair and Reilly (!) getting some action on a sheltered third unit. That might be fun to watch.
All stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com and corsica.hockey.