[Wild About Numbers]: The Wild Are a Better Puck Possession Team Than Their Numbers Suggest

Hannah Foslien

Are the Wild's regular season possession numbers skewed by injuries to key players?

The Wild finished this season as the 21st ranked possession team in the NHL. This was very surprising given that they had been putting up elite numbers during the early part of the season. I think we've all accepted at this point that the above ranking isn't indicative of this team's skill.

This series against the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the league's elite possession teams, has provided some decent evidence that the Wild are much better than their ranking suggests:

(5v5 Close)

CF%

FF%

Game 1

51.0%

57.1%

Game 2

41.8%

35.3%

Game 3

46.8%

38.1%

Game 4

62.5%

63.4%

Game 5

39.7%

43.9%

  • In a match-up like this, you would expect the Wild would get completely destroyed in terms of Corsi and Fenwick, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.
  • The Wild dominated the Hawks in Game 1 on the road, and in Game 4 at home.
  • Games 2 and 5 were ugly, but it will be interesting to see which way it goes tonight in Game 6 a the Wild are generally much more dominant at home.
  • Either way, I don't think a bottom-10 possession team is sticking it to the Hawks the way the Wild did in a couple of playoff games. For me, the above results suggest more of a top-15 team.
*

The Wild missed their three most important puck possession players for stretches this season and their numbers went down the toilet as a result. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu are the heartbeat for the Wild and rank as two of the best puck possession players in the league this season. Jared Spurgeon was the Wild's best defenceman this season and drove possession extremely well. The 3 of them missed a combined 47 games in 2013/14.

I decided to look at the team's possession numbers with all 3 players in the line-up and then without them, as well as without 1 or 2 of them at a time. In the table below, I have shown the team's Corsi For% and Fenwick For% at 5v5 Close for each configuration.

(Remember: Dominating Corsi (shot attempts) correlates heavily with more zone time and time on attack while dominating Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts) correlates strongly with more scoring chances, goals and wins. The difference between the two is marginal, but I have shown both just to paint as big a picture as possible).

GP

FF%

CF%

Total Season

82

48.6%

48.7%

With Parise, Koivu & Spurgeon

57

50.65%

49.75%

Without Parise, Koivu &  Spurgeon

8

42.14%

43.51%

Without One Or More Of Parise, Koivu & Spurgeon

25

45.33%

45.28%

  • The key point there is that the Wild were >50% FF% team with all 3 players in the line-up, but dropped to 45.33% with one or more of them out. That's a dramatic difference.
  • If the Wild had posted 45.33% over the whole season, that would've left them ranked 27th, just above the Oilers and below the Avalanche. 50.65% over the whole season would've put them 15th, just ahead of the Ducks.
  • In the small sample of games where all 3 players were out, the Wild got totally demolished.


-Just out of curiousty, here are the numbers with and without each player:

GP

FF%

CF%

Without Parise

15

45.74%

46.15%

Without Koivu

17

44.29%

44.58%

Without Spurgeon

15

41.03%

41.16%

  • I don't know how much I would read into this as the sample size is quite small but the damage the Wild took in the 15 games Spurgeon didn't play in is remarkable. A FF% of 41.03% is only marginally better than the Sabres season total.
*

So, if those 3 key players had been healthy all year, the Wild are probably a positive possession team. But those injuries aren't the only reason why I think the Wild team that is currently playing in the post-season is much better than their regular season number suggest.

Adding Matt Moulson at the trade deadline was big. If he had been on the roster all season, I imagine the Wild would've been an even better possession team.


-Check out his individual numbers this season:

GP

CF%

CF% Rel

New York Islanders

11

45.40%

-0.99%

Buffalo Sabres

44

44.76%

+2.24%

Minnesota Wild

20

52.25%

+4.93%

Minnesota Wild (Playoffs)

9

59.84%

+26.2%

  • He was slightly negative relative to his teammates on the Islanders, but has been much better since. His numbers with the Wild in particular make for nice reading.
  • I think there's no question that he would've improved the Wild greatly had he been on the roster for 82 games.


This probably seems like a strange article to post in the middle of the playoffs, but the point I'm trying to make is that the Wild are closer in overall skill to a team like the Anaheim Ducks than you might think. Both teams are outisde of the league's elite, but can mix it up with the big boys on their day.

To compete for a Cup in the next few years, the Wild probably need to become a top-10 possession team. When you look at their low ranking this season, that seems like an impossible task, at least to accomplish in one offseason, but when the reality is that this roster, fully healthy, is closer to the top-10 than it looks, one can assume that a few smart personnel moves, the growth of the team's young talent and the veterans maintaining their level could be all it takes to put the Wild there.


Just some food for thought.

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Follow me on Twitter for more hockey talk.


Thanks to Extra Skater, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Abstract and SomeKindOfNinja for all the data.


For a quick advanced stats 101, read this. For more in-depth stuff, read this.


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