Minnesota Wild Season Grades: Defensive Corps

The Wild defense was absolutely horrid in 2009-10. When we say horrid, what we mean is that the defensemen had no idea where they were supposed to be, what their jobs were, or really... how to play hockey at all. The new system had the flabbergasted, adrift, and suffering from a strong case of aphephobia.

Enter Rick Wilson, and the 2010-11 Minnesota Wild defense was rejuvenated. Brent Burns was named an all-star before suffering an epic collapse. Nick Schultz returned to what he is good at, Greg Zanon was blocking shots, and Jared Spurgeon excelled. Too bad assistant coaches don't have an award.

This is, of course, not to say they were perfect. Far from it. Much improved, but no where near perfect. Make the jump for another math lesson with JS, and grades from the rest of us.

Editor's note: Just one grade post today. We'll get to the goalies tomorrow. Enjoy.

GRADES

JS- GRADE: B- I felt the defense this year was leagues better than it was last year, they seemed much more organized, seemed to help out the goaltenders a lot more and we discovered many young up-and-comers, giving us something to be optimistic about for the future. Brent Burns was 2nd in the league for goals for a good portion of the season, but finished 3rd, which is still great. Having a full season of Zidlicky would've been nice and I feel we've had solid play from our defensive d-men. There is certainly room for improvement however, and the biggest problem is consistency, especially for Burns, but for the younger d-men as well. I think the defense will be in pretty good shape if the new coaching staff doesn't screw too much with the vibe again.

I'll try out the same formulae as last time:

Brent Burns: 80 games, B+ = 80 x 3.3 = 264

Greg Zanon: 82 games, B = 82 x 3 = 246

Nick Schultz: 74 games, B+ = 74 x 3.3 = 244.2

Jared Spurgeon: 53 games, A- = 53 x 3.7 = 196.1

Clayton Stoner: 57 games, B = 57 x 3 = 171

Marek Zidlicky: 46 games, B- = 46 x 2.7 = 124.2

Marco Scandella: 20 games, C+ = 20 x 2.3 = 46

Justin Falk: 22 games, D+ = 22 x 1.3 = 28.6

Cam Barker: 52 games, F- = 0

Average number of games: 54

Total points: 1320.1

Players: 9

Grade: 1320.1 / 9 / 54 = 2.716 = B-

Again though, as a GROUP, they played 82 games, so: 1320.1 / 9 / 82 = 1.7887 = C-

I'll have to go with the B- here, it makes a lot more sense to me than C- does. The reason there's such a dramatic difference is because the total of points is low, thanks to the low number of players. B- seems reasonable to me for the defensemen group as they were seriously improved from last year and was the second strongest aspect of the team IMO. The only real gripe I can give is maybe a lack of intensity. There shouldn't only be one or two d-men on the team willing to clean out the crease and protect the goalie or the players. Everyone should contribute. 

Got all that? Moving on.

Elise- GRADE: C+ Pretty average in most statistical categories, but an extra bump up for the young guys in the system who impressed this season and show hope for the Wild's future.

Dan- GRADE: B The Wild have a decent top four in Burns, Schultz, Zidlicky and Zanon. However, Zidlicky suffered injuries and Burns and Zanon were defensively inconsistent, not the mention the unspectacular play of Cam Barker. However, it is good to see the surprise emergence of Wild rookie defensemen (Spurgeon, Stoner, Scandella), which help balance out the below-satisfactory grade. 

Bryan- GRADE: B- I don't mind this group, I really don't. I would put the Wild's defensive corps against any other in the league. It is well built, has a good mix of offense and defense, and plays a largely solid game. There were some weaknesses, and some exposed mistakes across the season, but the d-men were, for the most part, one of the strengths of this team. They could do a better job at limiting shots, and standing up for their goalies, but the Wild's issues are not on the blueline.

Nathan- GRADE: C+. This is an above average defensive corps, needing some help in leading the transition game, but do an adequate job in their own end (light years ahead of last season). They still need to have a couple big bodies (Justin Falk, I'm looking at you) to clear the low slot and do a better job protecting Niklas Backstrom. Also, I'd like to see a bit more active role in shot blocking. They have one guy in Zanon who can and will block shots all day long, but aside from that, the Wild simply give up too many shots on goal and just by working on shot blocking and breaking up passing lanes, could alleviate some of that pressure. Yeah, I'm really being nitpicky here, because this is a solid group, they just need to hone their game and add some offense to really step it up.

They got better this season in knowing when to pinch and when to "activate" in the new system, but now with Richards out, what does that mean? WIll they have to learn an entirely new system again? If so, will the system be developed around the personnel, or will the personnel have to squeeze into a suit that may not fit? 

Cumulative GPA: 2.60 B-

Final Thought

In another era, this defensive corps would have been blasted for being "too active," pinching too often, or getting caught trying to make a play. In the current era, they are finally starting to understand what it is the coaches wanted from them. 

It is truly disappointing to see the way the team played over the second half of the season, knowing a great deal of the blame will fall to the blue line. With the level of play and the work ethic these guys have, it would be nice to see them get some credit as a group. 

As mentioned above, it really would be nice to not see 30+ shots surrendered a game, or Niklas Backstrom get run over with no consequence, but all in all, they play a solid game. The shots they give up are generally low percentage, and the lack of standing up for your teammates, I am going to place on the coaches.

Maybe the forwards can support their fair share next year.

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