This post brought to you by the number 5!
I'd like to start off by saying that I was wrong about Ryan Suter. I didn't think the Wild had a good chance to sign him. How very wrong of me. On the other hand, I have never been happier to be wrong!
With that out of the way, I would like to address something else that has been bugging me. When it was announced that the Wild had signed Parise and Suter, the "Blogosphere" and "Twitterverse" where abuzz with reactions - excitement from Wild fans, and frustration, grumbling, and downplaying from other fans. One reaction in particular that surprised me was written by Gabriel Desjardins over at nhlnumbers.com (here's the link). Gabe thinks that the Wild will have only improved 8-12 points over last year's finish, and are still not a playoff team. Clearly this feeling is held by many around the league, as evidence by our own Bryan Reynolds' recent roundtable.
Shout out to the excellent blog First Round Bust, which has already covered this issue here and here. That said, I wanted to add a few details I have been thinking about that are easy to overlook. So here it goes - 5 reasons the Wild will have more than 5 more wins than last year, in descending order:
NHL Defensemen take a notoriously long time to develop. Zdeno Chara wasn't nominated for his first Norris trophy until his sixth NHL season, at age 26. Spurgeon and Scandella are both currently 22. It's easy to forget, but just last year Scandella was sent back to the minors to work on his game, and Spurgeon had his first season as a full-time NHLer. The experience should serve them well, and I expect them both to build on last season.
4. The new players better fit the up-tempo system, and have had time to adjust.
In addition to cheering for the Wild, I also cheer for the Penguins. (I was born in Pittsburgh, but live in Minneapolis now. Sue me.) Anyway, when the Wild traded former Gopher Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, Neal went 20 games with 1 goal, and Niskanen looked like a bust. The next season, Neal scored 40 goals and Niskanen seems to be carving a place for himself in the Pens' Top 4 Defense. It takes time for players to get used to new surroundings and a new system.
Even though trading deadline acquisition Tom Gilbert is "Not Nick Schultz" (a crime I can hardly hold against him, as I am not Nick Schultz either), he and Suter both have good vision and a solid first pass out of the zone. Departed Wild defense Zanon and Schultz were solid on D, but lacking in this crucial ability. I expect Gilbert to be significantly improved from last season as a result of spending time with his partners and learning the Wild's system.
3. This year's Wild roster has more NHL depth, and much better call-ups than last year.
Look at last year's opening day forward lineup:
Heatley - Koivu - Setoguchi
Latendresse - Cullen - Bouchard
Bulmer - Brodziak - Clutterbuck
Johnson - Powe - Gillies
Extra: Staubitz, Nystrom
And compare to Mike Russo's projected depth chart for this year:
Extra: Kassian, Vellieux
What's the difference? Last year the Wild were relying on Bouchard and Latendresse to stay healthy and had little ability for guys to move up in case of injury. At one point Brodziak, normally the third line center, played with Heatley and Johnson (a waiver wire pickup who was not even signed this year). This year the Wild have enough depth to start Cullen, a capable if not great 2nd line center, on the third line. Someone in the Top 6 gets injured? Bump Cullen up to the 2nd line, Mitchell to the 3rd and give Vellieux a start. Someone else gets hurt? Bring up one of the highly-touted prospects - give Coyle, Bulmer or Larsson a few games. No one is playing too much above their pay grade. Last year if that happened there were career minor leaguers on the 3rd and 4th lines.
Similar with the Defense. Last year's starting defense:
Nick Schultz - Marek Zidlicky,
Greg Zanon - Jared Spurgeon,
This year's projected defense from Russo:
Suter is a marked improvement over Zidlicky, and Scandella / Gilbert should prove capable of providing more offense than Zanon/Spurgeon did last year. The third pairing is not exceptional, so the depth on D is still not great, but Jonas Brodin should also be available as a call-up this year should someone go down.
2. Mikael Granlund
Judged by some to be the best prospect not currently in the NHL, Mikael Granlund is set to join the NHL Club next year, as the Wild's best prospect since Marian Gaborik. Using some league equivalency ratios (ooh math!) created by, you guessed it: Gabriel Desjardins, one point in the SM-Liiga is equal to about .54 points in the NHL. So a reasonable projection for Granlund's rookie season, based on his last season in the SM-Liiga (45 GP, 20 G, 31 A) is 19 Goals, 30 Assists, and 49 Points. The point is not that Granlund will be a star (though he should be, even if not this year), but that he will be a big upgrade over whoever the crap was playing in the Top 6 last year.
1. Parise and Suter alone are worth more wins than 5 wins alone
First of all, Gabe's argument that the Wild bought themselves about 5 wins when they signed Suter and Parise is based on this statement:
In general, unrestricted free agents get paid $3M per win.
So, all hockey players get paid $3 million per win? Gabe gives no indication of where this number comes from in his post. When asked about it in the comments, he still declines to give an explanation of how this number was derived. It is clear that this assumption is not always true. How many wins did Chris Pronger give the Flyers last year at his $4.9 million cap hit? Oh, he only played 13 games? In less extreme examples, any fan can see that some signings are good values and some are bad values (paging Scott Howson...).
It seems a more reasonable way to extrapolate a players impact would be to look at his statistics. I'll leave the advanced stats to the Pros, though I'm reasonably confident both players have good advanced stats. Just looking at the boxcars, last season Parise had 31G and 38A, and Suter had 7G and 39A while sharing the toughest minutes of the Nashville blueline with Weber. How are you going to tell me that adding 40 goals without subtracting anything signicant is only worth 5 wins? Five wins with 8 goals each, maybe?! This is not even counting their excellent defensive play.
And finally, the entire analysis is only based on the addition of Parise and Suter to the Wild. Going back to JS' excellent post a few days ago, the Wild will also add Granlund plus some depth in Konopka, Mitchell and Dowell. Not bad eh? They lost:
D Mike Lundin (Ottawa)
F Guillaume Latendresse (Ottawa)
F Warren Peters (Pittsburgh)
F Nick Johnson (Phoenix)
F Erik Christensen (KHL)
If that isn't the saddest group of AHLers, a KHLer, and injuries waiting to happen, I'll eat my hat.
In sum, Gabe, you are wrong.