Monday, February 27, 2012

Who Was That Active GM?

by NiNY

Remember, Wild fans, we're fans of a team that once did nothing at the trade deadline. We're fans of a team whose big trade deadline activity was once Chris Simon.

Yet here we were today, right up there with the teams making the most noise. Oh sure there was Nashville - and wow, pressure's on, y'all - and the late Hodgson for Kassian trade. But Minnesota, yes Minnesota, was responsible for arguably the biggest surprise of the day - and a hockey trade, to boot!

I wrote this summer about how this was Fletcher's team. How he was free of Risebrough's moorings after his big trades with San Jose, jettisoning Sheppard, etc.

That was nothing.

Now, well if there was any question anymore it should be erased. You don't trade the longest-tenured player in franchise history and continue to be able to hide behind what the previous regime did. And, to his credit, Fletcher isn't hiding behind anything. No, he's placed himself square in the middle of the klieg lights, buck naked.

Moving Schultz, to me as a fan, is as symbolic as anything on-ice related.

Clutterbuck talked about how Schultz represented everything the franchise is. You know what, Cal? That's the problem.

I have absolutely nothing against Schultz. He was and, I'm sure will continue to be, a very steady, unspectacular 2nd pairing defenseman. No mistakes. But, not a lot of risk taking either. He's hockeys version of Barney Coopersmith in My Blue Heaven. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. He was quiet, unassuming, professional, a dream in the community - the perfect employee.

It's just that, well hockey's sort of a bad boy sport. The toothless grin of Bobby Clarke. The particulars of the Gordie Howe hat trick. Billy Smith and Ron Hextall fucking guys up for getting in their grill. There's not a lot of "nice", Minnesota or otherwise, in hockey.

That's not to say that Schultz was The Problem with the Wild.

It's just that, well maybe he typified the lack of a solution. He went out there almost every night and tried his hardest. And shucks and darn it if they didn't win, we'll get them next time. Like the Pleasantville basketball team, if they never won instead of won all the time.

And I happen to like the notion that, if Fletcher's teams are going to lose, well they better lose like HE wants them to. Too often one got the feeling that Risebrough was diffident and obtuse to the product his team put forth on the ice.

No so, with Fletcher.

I'm not even sure Tom Gilbert is The Answer. Or even a material part of it. I think the pressure on him to "replace" Schultz or at least to fill his shoes, in his home town, making big money, will be immense. Even if fans can rightly look to him to replace Zidlicky, instead of Schultz, I think Gilbert's got an uphill battle. Face it, sons of Minnesota haven't exactly thrived here with the Wild.

But I like that Fletcher has conviction. The status quo is dead, long live the status quo.

Well done today, Chuck.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fletcher Flops The Nuts

by NiNY

Not all of Chuck Fletcher's decisions have panned out as GM of the Wild.

But, when he has had to move on from a situation, he has done so convincingly and the return has been strong.

The Marek Zidlicky situation wasn't really a "mistake" on Fletcher's part. Unless you want to say that hiring Yeo set the ball in motion for Zids to become unhappy trying (or not trying, as the case may be) to assimilate to the coach's system. But no one's really going to go there, right? I mean, no one not named "Zidlicky".

Yet, Fletcher went into the trade negotiation ring with none other than Lou Lamoriello and got more than most Wild fans thought he'd be able to get out of the trade.

Keep in mind: it was public knowledge that Zidlicky A) wanted out of Minnesota and B) wanted to go to the Devils. Both of those things are leverage - for Lamoriello.

But Chuck played his hand well. Aired the "maybe I wait until the summer" line, slowly mitigated some of Lamoriello's leverage away.

The result? It's not the two veteran-but-mediocre players - it's the fact that they're both free agents after the season. So, if they don't work out, we're still net gaining a significant amount of cap space.

It's not the moderately late model 3rd rounder (himself a RFA after the season), it's his age and his opportunity to represent a Latendresse-type of player as the new breed of Wild forwards starts arriving in St. Paul next season.

It is the 2nd round pick, which is a solid return, representing potential to land another solid prospect. The conditional 3rd is remote enough that I'm not counting on it, at this point. If it comes to fruition, that's just gravy.

Add it all together and the sum is amazing. I frankly would have been okay with the 2nd round pick all by itself.

But, this latest only supports Fletcher's pattern of deciciveness. He inhereted a team riddled with tumors and has done a great job cleaning house. While some of those moves are of the "one step back, two steps forward" variety, that's still better than leaving those tumors intact.

We don't know if the Wild is a better team today for the Zidlicky trade. But they're a better team tomorrow, for sure.

Remind me never to play poker with Chuck Fletcher.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quantifying Mikko

by NiNY

You want to get Minnesota Wild fans really riled up? Utter any combination of the words "Mikko", "Koivu", "over-rated", "captain", "trade" and "value" in a sentence.

Wild fans polemicize about Mikko more than any other player on the team.

He's the captain. He's the most-talented player on the team. He makes the 2nd most money on the team (Heatley) and he's the face of the franchise. That's a pretty powerful argument the pro-Mikko faction has at its disposal.

Yet, no Wild team under Mikko has found success, say the anti-Mikko crowd. Worse, Wild teams under Mikko's captaincy have wilted, quitting on the season in each of his three seasons as full-time captain. If he's the leader - and he's paid like it and gets minutes like it - then why isn't he leading?

Back on the pro-Mikko side, they say 'Mikko can't make up for a lack of talent on his line or throughout the rest of the lineup'. Another very good point.

To which the anti-Mikko peeps respond 'But isn't that an excuse?' Which is also true.

My personal feeling is that Mikko's a second-tier top line center in the NHL. His dedication to defense, while admirable, means he's simply not offensive enough to be considered among the elite top line centers. While he might have top 3 defensive skills among NHL centers, you need offense from your top line. I think Mikko is a very good player, of whom the Wild asks too much.

But, that's pretty hard to prove. So I decided to try to take a look at it from a statistical perspective.

I surveyed for each teams' full salary cap hit, highest salary cap (HSC) forward, and that HSC's cap hit as a percentage of the team's overall cap hit.

Then I went over to and collected the total number of games each team has played, the total number of games each of those respective HSC forwards has played, the team's total points (goals and assists), the HSCs' total points, the HSCs' points ranking on the team, their points per game, and then their total points as a percentage of the team's total points.

Here's an example for Eric Staal:

CAR total cap hit: $50.508M
Staal cap hit: $8.25M
Staal % CAR cap hit: 16.33%
CAR total GP: 59
Staal total GP: 59 (100%)
CAR total pts (G+A): 375
Staal total pts: 46
Staal % CAR pts: 12.27%
Staal points rank: 1st (on team)
Staal pts/gm: 0.78

Some teams (ANH, CHI, NAS, PIT, VAN) had two forwards tied for HSC. They were each added to the list. There were a total of 36 players in the data.

The average player on this list looks like this:

cap hit: $6.39M
% team cap hit: 10.80%
team total GP: 58.028
total GP: 52.361
team total pts (G+A): 423.36
total pts: 42.55
% team pts: 10.07%
points rank: 3.44th
pts/gm: 0.818

Mikko's line looks like this:

Mikko cap hit: $6.75M
Mikko % team MIN hit: 11.93%
MIN total GP: 58
Mikko total GP: 45
MIN total pts (G+A): 337
Mikko total pts: 37
Mikko % team pts: 10.98%
Mikko points rank: 2nd
Mikko pts/gm: 0.82

Here's where Mikko ranked relative to the other players on the list for the individual categories, out of 36 total players:

cap hit: 15th highest
% team cap hit: 10th
total GP: 33rd
total pts: 27th
% team pts: 19th
points rank: T17th
pts/gm: 16th

It's hard to ding Mikko for the total points, given how low he ranks in total GP. You can't hold his injuries against him, in other words. However, the points per game stat accounts for that, and he's 44th percentile there.

He's also expensive, coming in at the 27th percentile for cap hit as a percentage of team total cap hit.

As with total points, it's hard to ding him for his 52nd percentile ranking for points as a percentage of team points due to his injuries. Anecdotally, the Wild primarily getting offense from Mikko's line recently is telling, but on both sides of the argument: yes, Mikko produces when he plays, but not enough to get the team over the hump in the Win/Loss columns. (Enter the "he needs secondary scoring help" argument - which, again, is valid.)

After typing that out, I went back an added in plus/minus. While that's an imperfect stat, it does give some indication of defensive acumen. The average player is at a +2.13. Mikko's plus +10.

So what did I learn? Nothing definitive. From the stats I think it's fair to say that Mikko is a relatively high-paid player among the highest paid forwards in the NHL. He ranks lower among the group in scoring, however some of that is due to his injuries this season, so not definitive. His defensive value is profound.

I can't say my theory was disproven, but I can't say it was proven, either.

The bottom line is the Wild is not moving Mikko Koivu. I just can't see that happening. And he is a very good player. If the Wild could find a player to slot in above him on the depth chart - in an offensive capacity if nothing else - that would be great. But every team in the league would like to have Mikko Koivu centering the second line. We'll never be able to prove or disprove anything that questions his leadership ability or lack thereof.

So let's have it Wild fans. Where do you fall on the Mikko spectrum?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wild A Special Kind of Bad

by NiNY

Because I believe in equal time, I'm now going to return to trashing the Wild.

I'm not sure I can recall a single other team that has to work so hard just to get a shot on goal, much less score. I thought the Wild played pretty well last night, overall, but at the end of the second period, their paltry shot total was right there, staring us in the eye like a dead fish. Again.

It's time to sit Cullen down for a game or ten. He's a disaster. Count the times he gets the puck in the offensive zone that don't end up with him lying on the ice and play going the other way, the puck in the other team's control. Big, big minority. My buddy GreenStar asked on Twitter last night why Cullen's habitually the last guy back on the backcheck. It's because he's the softest guy on the puck since PMB a couple seasons ago. You only need a feather duster to defend against him.

I actually thought Bax was okay in the shootout last night. In the first place he stopped a couple shots. In the second place, he got beat on one just sick shot (Kane). In the third place, we only scored one the other way for him. Losing shootouts is both because the goalie didn't stop enough AND the shooters didn't score enough.

I did like the willingness of the guys - ex-Cullen - to battle and stick up for one another. I really like Powe. Someone pointed out that he's an offensively deficient version of Nystrom. But I think that's unfair. Powe's a defensive forward on the 3rd or 4th line. Offense from him is gravy. And I love how he is willing to throw down for his team mates.

But this team is pathetically unable to score. I did not like Yeo's decision to break up the Brodziak-Heatley-Johnson line when Mikko came back. I thought it was myopic if the goal was to get more than one scoring line, since that line was already producing.

Well, the Mikko-Heatley-Setoguchi line is producing, can't argue with that. But Brodziak and Johnson have stopped - as with everyone else. Again with the coddling of Mikko, and not to the team's overall benefit.

I was glad Yeo sat Zidlicky down. That is all about Yeo's credibility with the rest of the team, in my opinion. He HAS to scratch him last night. Maybe forever.

Look, Wild fans, we've seen this movie. They will continue to stink, "improving" in the smallest increments, until it's too late, and then they'll get hot once the pressure's off and win just enough games to fuck up their draft position, finishing in 10th and picking around 10th overall - well out of the money picks.

If that's inevitable (and it says here it is) then what's the rationale for Fletcher to delay selling UFAs? Get what you can. Lead the market - make the market. What could Brodziak bring if Dominic Moore brought a second? If Grossman's worth a second, then Zanon, Lundin and Zidlicky have to be worth a 4th, 5th and 2nd, respectively, right? *Zidlicky for his offensive capability, not his current-season production. That one's a bit of a reach, I'll admit.

No team emanates mediocrity, on balance, like the Minnesota Wild.

Canucks Fans Worst In The NHL

by NiNY

It's not even the relatively few morons. It's the rest of them, sitting there in their ivory towers telling anyone who dares to suggest that they, as a group, are an embarrassment to civilization that it's unfair.

You know what? Silence condones.

Don't try to get all high and mighty when your city literally burns because your team couldn't close the deal against the Bruins. YOUR CITY IS ON FIRE! Take responsibility for your city. It's not about cleaning it up afterward. It's about sending a clear message that that kind of behavior is not acceptable. It's about outing the guy you hear in the bar afterward bragging about turning over a cop car or something.

Don't pretend yours is a higher station than the absolutely reprehensible asshole who defiled Lucic's church in Burnaby. YOU let your society accept this kind of behavior, so now it gets to define your society.

Like when Gunnery Sgt. Hartman finds the jelly donut in Private Pyle's footlocker, and decrees that, from then on out, he will not punish Pyle when Pyle fucks up, he will punish the rest of them instead because the rest of them did not properly motivate Private Pyle. It's time for the high brow Vancouverites (Vancouverians?) to wrap their soap bars in their towels and beat the shit out of the Private Pyles among them. Figuratively, literally, either way.

Unless....unless of course the high brow Vancouverites really secretly, deep down inside sort of a little bit WANT the hooligans to continue to hooliganize. Because maybe they're just as full of repressed frustration because their team has gone 40 years without a Cup, and habitually breaks their heart every year, as the few among them for whom the only difference is that they don't have that one synapse in their brain that inhibits idiotic behavior. Maybe the high brows are just cowards, compared to the hooligans? No. Can't be that, right? That's not how civil society works. Lord of the Flies was fictional, right? The natural order of humans is order, right? Right.

This is very simple: why is it okay to continue to tacitly allow this kind of behavior? What if Milan Lucic - not a Bruins fan, Lucic himself - tagged some Vancouver church with anti-Canucks messaging? What would Canucks fans do? They'd go ape shit is what they'd do.

But if a Canucks player had been the one who tagged Lucic's church, what would the faithful do? I'm not sure I can answer that question - and I think that, if they really asked themselves to respond truthfully, Canucks fans can't answer it either. "Would we say 'Enough is enough'? Would we march down to the church and scrub it clean ourselves? Would we demand that player be released from the team?" You don't know, do you?

And, because you (Canucks fans) don't know how you'd react, that tells you just how far around the bend you are as a fanbase.

Canucks fans manage to get themselves appointed as theoretically impartial bloggers for league-wide sites and go out of their way to trash teams like the Wild when the Wild was winning (and the Canucks weren't). Now that the Canucks have regained their God-given place above the Wild in the standings, those same bloggers are silent about the Wild. And, at the same time continue to go on about how there's no rivalry between the Wild and the Canucks. How pathetic is that? You need to beat up another team just to feel better about the fact that your team was struggling? That's disgusting. I'm a Wild fan, I'm not trying to obfuscate that. And, as such, I view the Canucks as a rival. At least I admit it.

Canucks fans are an embarrassment to sports. They're a black eye on the NHL. They're a blight on society. This isn't a one-off of ill-behavior. It's a pattern, doubtless committed by a minority of Canucks fans. But it's also a pattern of acceptance and tacit approval by the majority of Canucks fans. One is not more right - or wrong - than the other.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Zidlicky Mess

by NiNY

You know, the one thing this star crossed Wild season was missing was a proper player drama.

Unquestionably the way Zidlicky and his agent have handled his desire to be freed from the chains of the Wild was not the optimal way to either curry favor with Wild fans or make Chuck Fletcher's job in accomodating him easy. Not that that matters to Zidlicky.

While Wild fans may fret about what return we get for him, I think they should also consider the "addition by subtraction" of getting rid of a player who doesn't want to be on the team in the first place, as part of the "return" for trading him. If Zidlicky wants to step into the crosshairs of Wild fan discontent at the way this season has disintegrated, that's his business - again I suspect he couldn't care less what Wild fans think about him at this point.

Look, we're talking about a guy who chose to escalate this via the media in the first place. Clearly the value of public perception is lost on him.

However this works out, and whenever that resolution occurs, it likely can't come soon enough for some in the Wild organization - and it's not a reach to assume that list includes the GM and the head coach.

The question was raised about whether this makes the Wild look bad to potential free agents. My reaction was that this is a relatively unique and specific situation with Zidlicky. But, who really knows? He is not the first player to become disenfranchised with his team and want out, and he won't be the first player to get his wish. It happens. I don't think too many players will necessarily hold that against the Wild.

And, to the earlier point: if they don't want to play here, then we don't want them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fuck It

by NiNY

I can't hold out any longer. I said the Wild would be a playoff team this year and so I've been holding out hope long after most of my sane friends have already bailed.

But, after that loss to Anaheim, I'm done. I'm out.

This team is dreck.

It's time to start jettisoning the UFAs and flotsam. If Brodziak wants to sign for a reasonable amount of money, fine. Otherwise, send him packing. Zanon, Lundin, Christensen, Harding - the time for Fletch to see how fungible they are is over. It's time for him to take the best offer he can get and move on.

Stockpile picks, maybe use them to move up in the draft and get into the money positions.

Do this right. This was a stall year anyway. We got teased with a hot month's worth of play. And that was awesome. So awesome that your humble blogger got stupid and jumped on the bandwagon.

But this wasn't going to be a playoffs-or-bust season. So now that we're all back on earth....just go ahead, Chuck. Pull the trigger. Keep pulling it until the magazine is empty.

If Fletcher wants to go all the way out of the room and come back in, then getting in position to get into the top few picks in the first round would be a huge part of that. Our pick alone probably won't be enough.

We don't have the depth to go after a Rick Nash (and I can't believe we'd make his approved list in the first place).

Dumping the aforementioned UFAs isn't going to make us look more like we're rebuilding than we already are, if you're concerned with harming your position in the Parise sweepstakes - he knows what the state of our franchise is, how "close" we are. We're either in the race for him or we're not. Trading Zanon doesn't change that.

The one thing the Wild has never done, well other than win a Cup, in it's short existence is truly suck. Lemaire and, it must be said, Richards and now Yeo, kept them just competitive enough to not completely suck - which is nice from a moral victory standpoint, but not nice from a "stockpile money first-line type talent" standpoint. And I'm sick and tired of moral victories with this team.

Now, perhaps we wouldn't have wanted Risebrough at the helm even if we'd had those picks. But that's water under the bridge, too. Fletcher hasn't unearthed an AJ Thelen yet. So I'm willing to give him a swing at that pinata.

I'm not suggesting the Wild tanks the rest of the season. I'm just saying it's time to accept reality, turn the page on playoff expectations for this season and do the prudent thing: which includes moving your impending FAs for what return you can garner.

I was wrong. I was wrong to jump in bed with the Wild. I apologize for that. But I see and admit the error of my ways now. I'm willing to atone. I'm willing to walk the path of righteousness.

Fuck it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Other Systems Zidlicky Hates


"Zidlicky, who turns 35 Friday, said of Yeo's system: 'It wasn't me. It wasn't my style. I tried to explain it to him couple times, but he wants something different. I don't think I can change something when you are like 34 years old.'" - From Russo's Rants 1/31/12

Since these revelations came to light, the scientists at the Henry Sports Bureau (did you think we were just stats?) have been hard at work compiling a list of other systems Zidlicky hates.

NYC Transit (MTA)
Of A Down
Bell (credit: @gobigorgohome)
Metric (Credit: @gobigorgohome)
the Buddy
Dewey Decimal (credit: @mngunslinger)

Got any more?

PS: Yes, I'm ignoring last night's game. For now. Too painful and ugly.