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March 17, 2011
Team Prospectus
Minnesota Wild

by Timo Seppa

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TEAM STATS

Minnesota Wild, 2009-10
Goals For: 	219	22nd 
Goals Against: 	246	21st
GVT: 		-27	24th
Points:		84	22nd

VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 	224	22nd 
Goals Against: 	227	9th
GVT: 		-3	17th
Points:		90	17th

In Todd Richards' first season as bench boss in Minnesota, the Wild struggled in goal prevention—there seemed to be a be cause-and-effect with the departure of defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire and the plummeting save percentage of star netminder Niklas Backstrom. But VUKOTA believed in a bounceback for Backstrom…and it was right.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Cal Clutterbuck and ex-Shark Brad Staubitz give the Wild two big hitters on their forward line. Unfortunately, there's a major drawback with Staubitz: a ridiculously poor -3.0 net penalties per 60 minutes. Now that will even make Derek Boogaard look disciplined in retrospect.

Speaking of net penalties, you might be surprised to hear that the otherwise superior all-around player Mikko Koivu actually takes more penalties than he draws (-0.3).

Wild top forwards, by 2009-10 stats

Shots/60: Patrick O'Sullivan 9.0*, Mikko Koivu 8.9, Guillaume Latendresse 8.1
Hits/60: Cal Clutterbuck 18.1, Brad Staubitz 13.8*, John Scott 8.5
Blocked shots/60: Chuck Kobasew 3.0, John Madden 2.9*, John Scott 2.9
Takeaways/giveaway: Guillaume Latendresse 2.5, Eric Belanger 1.6, James Sheppard 1.6
Net penalties/60: Cal Clutterbuck +1.0, James Sheppard +0.8, Andrew Brunette +0.7
Faceoffs: Mikko Koivu 56.9%, Kyle Brodziak 48.4%

Wild top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats

Shots/60: Cam Barker 6.1*, Brent Burns 5.9, Marek Zidlicky 3.7
Hits/60: Greg Zanon 6.1, Brent Burns 5.5, Cam Barker 4.5*
Blocked shots/60: Greg Zanon 6.5, Nick Schultz 5.7, Marek Zidlicky 4.1
Takeaways/giveaway: Greg Zanon 0.6, Marek Zidlicky 0.6, Nick Schultz 0.5
Net penalties/60: Brent Burns +0.0, Greg Zanon -0.1, Marek Zidlicky -0.3

*New acquisition
Minimum 40 games played

Wild goaltenders, 2009-10 and 2010-11 stats

In four of his five NHL seasons, Niklas Backstrom has posted a superior save percentage of .920-.929. With his bounceback this season, it looks like last season (.903) was just a fluke…until further notice.

Niklas Backstrom

Overall save percentage .903 / .923
Even strength save percentage: .912 / .937
Power play save percentage: .880 / .862
Shorthanded save percentage: .800 / .886

Jose Theodore*

Overall save percentage .911 / .919
Even strength save percentage: .924 / .918
Power play save percentage: .857 / .914
Shorthanded save percentage: .897 / 1.000

*New acquisition
2009-10 statistics / 2010-11 statistics shown above

SHOOTOUT PROSPECTUS

Minnesota is a particularly deep team as far as shooters, with Brent Burns (35.7%), Antti Miettinen (33.3%), Mark Zidlicky (31.6%) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (31.2%) giving the Wild eight deep as far as legit top-three shooter types—Martin Havlat (15.0%) and Guillaume Latendresse (14.3%) need not apply. Unfortunately, they give it back in net. Number one netminder Niklas Backstrom has been surprisingly poor in the shootout—and over a pretty representative sample—which won't play in Minnesota's favor if they're looking of a key extra point or two to make the postseason. For a fine career mark, backup Jose Theodore has not been successful in stopping attempts over the past two seasons.

Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts

Mikko Koivu: 43.1% (22 for 51)
Patrick O'Sullivan: 41.9% (13 for 31)
Matt Cullen: 38.7% (12 for 31)
John Madden: 38.5% (5 for 13)

Goaltenders

Niklas Backstrom: .581 career (75 for 129), .932 in 2009-10, .529 in 2010-11
Jose Theodore: .711 career (64 for 90), .563 in 2009-10, .500 in 2010-11

THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE WILD

The quotes below are from Minnesota's 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers on March 3rd…despite their being outshot 41-19.

Big Question #1: Can Minnesota succeed without a healthy Mikko Koivu?

The talk:

Pierre-Marc Bouchard: "You don't like to see one of your top players out of the lineup. But every team has got to go through it during the season. Hopefully, he'll be back soon."

Head coach Todd Richards: "It's an adjustment every game, and the reason why is he's a guy that plays 20 minutes a night, he plays in every situation—power play, penalty kill, 4-on-4, 6-on-5, 5-on-6, whatever it is, important draws—and he's our big workhorse, playing against other team's bigger players. So we're finding ways, and it's a credit the guys, a credit to the guys up the middle. You take the piece of pie that Mikko has, and you divide that up maybe amongst four other guys and try to spread it around a little bit. We're finding ways to win games."

VUKOTA says: Mikko Koivu was expected to be Minnesota's top contributor by far, at 13.1 GVT. He's currently third, behind Niklas Backstrom and Brent Burns, at 10.4 GVT through 58 GP.

Timo says: The Wild went 4-5-2 in their captain's absence, before he returned on March 14. Minnesota's -10 Goal Differential is the worst of the teams still legitimately in the hunt for the last two seeds in the West. And no, Columbus isn't legitimately in the hunt.

Answer: The Wild probably won't make the playoffs even with Koivu back in uniform for the stretch run. Without him, they'd be a much longer shot, and a sure first round one-and-done even if they made it.

---

Big Question #2: What does Minnesota do well? Is it good enough to make them a dark horse in the playoffs? What are their weaknesses?

The talk:

Pierre-Marc Bouchard: "We're skating, we're able to establish a good forecheck, and we're making simple plays and playing solid as a team."

Jose Theodore: "We've got to be ready right off the start. Tonight, it took us maybe one period to get ready, but the way we played the second and third period, if we're ready when the pucks drops, we'll be fine."

Head coach Todd Richards: "Our execution, at times. Sometimes just getting that puck another five feet either out of your zone or into the other zone. But we compete and we play hard. So again, this wasn't an easy game, but the guys stuck together and did a lot of good things. And just like anybody, everyone can improve in a lot of areas, but for me, our execution."

VUKOTA says: We had Minnesota ranked ninth in the West.

Timo says: The Wild are 25th at 2.51 GF and 11th at 2.61 GA, but that goal prevention comes between the pipes and not on the blue line; by GVT, Minnesota is seen to have a below-average defense backstopped by exceptional goaltending. The Wild make up for below average 5-on-5 play (their 0.92 GF/GA is 20th in the NHL) with good special teams: their 19.2% PP ranks ninth and their 83.4% PK ranks 10th.

Answer: Their goaltending and a few quality players on the man advantage have kept a below-average roster in the hunt, but they're a bubble team at best. And think of what can happen if that goaltending regresses.

---

Big Question #3: What are the steps required to turn the small market Wild into a contender?

The talk:

Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: As of this past offseason, the Wild had one player in the Top 50 NHL Prospects, #16 C Mikael Granlund and #47 D Marco Scandella.

Timo says: Past their top couple of prospects, Minnesota's farm system ranks one of the weakest in the NHL, though you might be surprised to find out that the Wild are just outside of the top third of the league in salaries. GM Chuck Fletcher has been on the job for less than two years, so he deserves some more time to get the franchise turned around.

Answer: Better drafting, another star to pair up with Koivu, more quality depth and—while it's been a boon this season—less money spent on the goaltending position (after Backstrom's contract ends in 2012-13).

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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