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Defensive Depth: The Wild's 3rd Pairing

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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made of the Wild's defense this season, as well as in the past. Last season, Minnesota allowed the 5th-fewest shots per 60 in the NHL. This season, they've improved, only allowing 23.56 shots per 60 (at 5v5): best in the league. It's a good thing too, as Minnesota's On-Ice Sv% is 89.97 at 5v5.

During the time the Wild have been without Spurgeon or Brodin (or both), questions have been raised about the Wild's defensive depth. It's worth noting that, while the Wild's On-Ice Sv% was at it's lowest between October 30 and November 13, the Wild still only allowed 23.03 5v5 Shots per 60 during that same time.

Obviously, the Wild rely on Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and Jonas Brodin. How have the rest of the blue liners fared this season? Let's take a look at some basic statistics and find out.


Usage

Here's a basic usage chart, with a player's zone start % on the x-axis, and their relative quality of competition along the y-axis (top left=hard minutes, bottom right=easy minutes). Each player's circle color and size represents the positivity or negativity and magnitude of their CF%; big and blue is good, big and red is bad.

D-corps Usage 14-15

courtesy of Some Kind of Ninja

That's Jonathon Blum in the top right, with the ridiculously sheltered minutes, though against rather difficult opponents. Nate Prosser has had primarily defensive zone starts, though against easier competition. Justin Falk and Matt Dumba have had by far the most sheltered minutes, starting primarily in the offensive zone and against easy competition. Christian Folin and Keith Ballard have been used similarly, with similar results.

It's worth noting that Dumba is one of five defenders to produce an above-50 CF% (though just barely. It's also worth noting the black hole of possession that Justin Falk and Stu Bickel have been; producing CF%Rel of -48.4 and -37.5, respectively.


Numbers, Numbers Everywhere

All of the following stats are at 5v5 from War on Ice

Player

Games Played

CF%

ZS%

Points /60

Jonathon Blum

1

63.64

66.67

0

Jonas Brodin

12

61.34

54.81

0.26

Ryan Suter

17

59.13

57.87

1.01

Jared Spurgeon

12

56.4

54.81

1.73

Christian Folin

8

55.61

50

0

Matt Dumba

15

55.33

61.05

0.74

Marco Scandella

15

54.87

44.65

0.69

Keith Ballard

6

49.19

51.11

0.82

Nate Prosser

13

45.85

43.06

0.8

Justin Falk

3

38.6

58.33

0

Stu Bickel

1

30.77

50

0

Bearing in mind through all of this that our sample size is still tiny; Falk, Bickel, and Blum are all at 3 games or fewer. This would account for Blum having the best CF% (bearing in mind he also had the most sheltered zone starts by far). Bickel has clearly driven possession the least, with perfectly even zone starts, and Falk has only marginally done better with more favorable zone starts.

In short (based on a tiny sample size), the Wild really should just eliminate Falk and Bickel from the roster; those numbers are frankly inexcusable. Blum certainly warrants some more starts; he played sheltered minutes, but remember from the usage chart that it was against relatively difficult competition, and he played very well, from a possession point of view.

Folin has fared somewhat better than Dumba, with less sheltered minutes. Keith Ballard, in terms of minutes, is about as middle-of-the-pack as it gets. He's had very even zone starts, with slightly easier than average competition.

Outside of the obvious players: Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, and Scandella; the Wild have a lot of mediocrity to work with. Folin and Dumba haven't been awful, but could likely use some time in Iowa to develop further. That leaves the Wild with a choice of Falk, Bickel, Ballard, Prosser, and Blum. Blum is a clear choice that, for some reason, doesn't get the starts the others do. Ballard has played well enough to play a third-pairing role.

Prosser... Prosser hasn't been awful, considering how he has the toughest zone starts of any of the defenders. Unfortunately, Prosser's 45% CF% has been right around his average over the past few seasons. It seems Prosser will never be stellar, and frankly the Wild don't want him on the ice if they want to truly contend for a cup. Blum, Folin, and Dumba all appear to be better options.


Caveats and Conclusions

There are a few caveats to be added. I've already mentioned it, but it bears repeating, sample sizes this small are dangerous, and only Suter has enough games that I'm comfortable making confident decisions based on these numbers. All the others in the above table and chart should be taken with more than a few grains of salt.

Dumba and Folin both have been lukewarm at best in their debuts in the Wild. Folin has been re-assigned to Iowa, and that is good for a few reasons. Firstly, he needs some work, and that's a good place for him to play a lot of minutes. Secondly, his presence will help Iowa; they certainly can use whatever help they can get.

Dumba has been much maligned this season. While the dangers of the "eye-test" are well documented, there's certainly some validity to concern about his play. His offensive ability is something the Wild could definitely use, but he could use work in Iowa as well. The reason he was not sent down with Folin almost certainly has to do with that offensive ability. On top of that, he is a better option than Falk or Bickel.

Ultimately, the most ideal situation would be for the Wild to pick up another blue liner. They had the chance at (and passed on) David Schlemko, but there should still be a trade available. What that is, I don't know, but another solid third-pairing defenseman would be perfect for the Wild right now- especially if they can get a defenseman on a short-term contract.

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Well, Wilderness? What do you think? What should the defensive pairings look like, or who should Chuck Fletcher pursue to solidity the third pairing? Give your thoughts in the comments!