I've been meaning to write this article for a few weeks now but have been unable to thanks to some ill-timed technical problems with my trusty old laptop. In fact, there are several articles I was hoping to get done this offseason that now may not be feasible due to time lost, which is a damn shame. I'm borrowing my girlfriend's laptop for a little while so I can at least get this piece out to you, loyal readers.
Back on the 7th of July, in his always entertaining 'What We Learned' column on Puck Daddy, Ryan Lambert linked to an article about the Wild and commented about said article:
The article he linked to was this one by Stephen Whyno for The Surrey Leader. It's a good piece about the arms race in the Western Conference, but here is what he said about the Wild:
(Links for explanations of the metrics used in this article can be found at the bottom).
This first table is ranked by Goals/60 and also shows Shots/60 and Shooting% as well as each player's Sh% over the 3 previous seasons (if they played in all 3). The reason for this is so you can see if they shot above or below their average ability last season.
Unsurprisingly, the two Wild players have the lowest goalscoring rates. It's no secret that the Wild are a systematically stagnant offensive team, and there's more evidence of it here.
There isn't enough data on Granlund yet to say for sure whether or not he is truly a low % shooter or if this was just a down year and he will see more pucks go in in future seasons. Koivu, however, is a known entity at this point. He doesn't score a lot of goals and he shoots a low percentage. Luckily he's a good enough playmaker and defensive force to make it close to irrelevant.
This table is ranked by Primary Assists/60 and also shows Total Assists and Setup-Passes per 60, along with Teammates Sh%.
Koivu's numbers from last year show his strength as a playmaker. He ranks near the top in Primary Assists and Setup-passes per 60 minutes despite having the lowest On Ice Teammates Sh% of any of the top guys on the list.
Granlund produced Assists at a higher rate than anyone but Duchene, though a lot were secondary assists and he did benefit somewhat from his teammates being pretty lights out in the shooting department while he was on the ice.
It's clear that both of the Wild's top-6 centres are excellent playmakers based on what they did last season.
This shows Points/60 and Primary Points/60 (goals+first assists).
Overall, the even strength production from Koivu and Granlund collectively isn't that great and they are quite far behind the likes of Toews, Duchene and Seguin. Granlund ranks 9th, which is pretty good coming off an awful rookie season, while Koivu is down in 11th.
I think the Wild's system is partially to blame for their lack of scoring as the focus seems to be on playing suffocating defence, which means that the team struggles to create much offensively and makes it hard for players to post impressive individual scoring numbers.
Here's the basic 5v5 CF% and Corsi Rel for each centre.
As you can see, Koivu posted an extremely solid 56.1% Corsi last season and had the highest Corsi relative to his teammates of any of the centres above. What that means, basically, is that the Wild were getting over 56% of shot attempts with Koivu on the ice at 5v5, which means they were dominating possession and therefore were more likely to score more goals than the opposition within those minutes (more on this later).
Granlund struggled somewhat from a possession standpoint which, as you can see from Scheifele's numbers, isn't uncommon for a young player as they try to figure out the defensive side of the game at NHL level.
To give context to the raw Corsi numbers above, I'm going to use this new stat called dCorsi, which uses the various contextual factors that affect a player's CF% to generate an "Expected Corsi". dCorsi is the difference between this Expected Corsi and the player's actual number. So basically it's the amount a player exceeded (or underperformed) their expected possession results by.
I've included the contextual factors, last year's dCorsi ratings and each player's average since 2008.
Not only did Koivu post a better dCorsi number than the rest of the centres in this group last season, he has also averaged more than all of them since 2007/08, when people first began tracking Corsi. His expected Corsi based on his usage in 2013/14 was -2.10 and he trumped that by posting a raw Corsi +/- of 12.33. He is truly an elite possession driver.
Granlund, on the other hand, finished bottom of this group based on career average thanks to his awful rookie season. He did better than Scheifele but his possession game really needs to improve. Granlund will create scoring chances and score points pretty consistently (though it's still unclear just how good he will become at doing that) but there are going to be stretches where he doesn't, and he can't be a defensive liability when that happens. He needs to become more effective in the defensive zone, which should come naturally as he gets more experienced and stronger, and get better and extending plays in the offensive zone.
Here I have included each player's On-ice Goals For% and Goals For% Relative to their teammates, as well as their PDO and PDO Rel.
Some people will make the argument that all the possession in the world doesn't matter unless you are putting the puck in the net. Mikko Koivu doesn't score much, so fans might wonder if his great Corsi numbers matter at all. The point of the game is to score more goals than the opposition and when Koivu is on the ice, the Wild are very good at this.
As you can see, the Wild got 53% of 5v5 goals with Koivu on the ice last season, and he had a positive GF% rel, suggesting that he was a positive force on the team despite generally being on the ice against tough competition. In the end, that is what matters. Even if you don't score a ton of points at one end, preventing the other team from scoring is just as important.
What's really impressive about Koivu's numbers is that his PDO was in the toilet. He's the only guy near the top of that list to have a negative PDO (99.0) and yet, despite the percentages clearly not being in his favour, he still posted a good GF% because of his strong on ice shot differentials.
Granlund's raw GF% is good but, in games he played in, he was a negative player relative to his teammates. His rough possession game might be the cause and, even though his points were impressive, it's fairly clear that he has some work to do this offseason.
Just to get an idea of what each player contributes on the powerplay, this table features Goals/60, Shots/60, Sh% and 3-year Sh% at 5v4.
Once again, both Wild playmakers are near the bottom, which is no surprise. Koivu's Sh% has been amazingly low for 4 years. Maybe that speaks to how terrible the Wild's powerplay is at creating dangerous opportunities?
5v4 play is a little bit less predictable in terms of Sh% regression than even strength play, but one would not be shocked to see Backes and Stastny both come back to Earth a little bit next season based on the percentages above.
Finally, here Primary Assists/60 and Setup-Passes/60 at 5v4.
Koivu's primary assists rate was excellent last year and he created a lot of setup passes. Once again he shows that his strong suit is playmaking rather than goalscoring.
Mikael Granlund did okay overall on the powerplay within this group of centres. There's been some discussion this offseason about whether or not Granlund should take over Koivu's position as the centre on the 1st powerplay unit, but I'm not so sure that's a good idea just yet. Koivu is still a force to be reckoned with thanks to his passing and ability to create space for his teammates by using his large frame. Granlund would be best served continuing to develop behind the captain for another year.
I don't think it's out of line to suggest that the Wild's top two centres are on a slightly lower tier to compared to some of the others in the division. The Wild don't have a generational talent like Toews, or soon-to-be-superstars like Seguin or Mackinnon, but what they do have is a very solid and underrated pair. While Koivu and Granlund are easy to write-off because of their lower offensive numbers (relative to the rest of this very talented group), Koivu's phenomenal possession abilities level the playing field somewhat, and Granlund, although lacking in his two-way game, has shown incredible improvement, not only from his rookie season to his sophomore year, but from the regular season to the playoffs last year and he produced at a very good rate which one would hope improves even more next season.
I think the Wild's top two centres could hold their own statistically versus the others in the division in 2014/15 if Koivu experiences some regression to the mean with his On Ice Sh% and Sv%, as well as his personal Sh%. There's a chance he could spend the season with an out-and-out sniper on his wing, which is something he hasn't enjoyed in years. I really think he could put up elite offensive numbers if he spent 82 games with Vanek and Niederreiter either side of him.
The division is tough and the Wild might struggle, but I don't think it will be because their top-6 centres are out-matched by their divisional rivals'.
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