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Did Less TOI Help the Wild Play Better?

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The Wild have a number of great players. If they are on the ice for longer, that must be good for the Wild, right?

Jonathan Daniel

One of the things Wild fans- myself included- love about Ryan Suter is that he chews up time on ice like it's his job (ok, it kind of is). But is that in the best interest of the Wild? Mikko Koivu had an ankle basically rebuilt mid-way through the season, and by the end of it seemed like it was held together with duct tape.

The Data

Suter's regular season this year was not as stellar as most Wild fans had hoped; during the regular season, Suter's CF% was 48.6%. During the post-season, it jumped to 55.4%. Was this due to a drop in his ice time? Was he playing less, and so he could play better? No, not really, no. During the regular season, Suter's average TOI was 28.8 minutes per game. During the playoffs, it was 28.1. That is not a huge difference. During the playoffs, Suter's minutes ranged from 26 minutes to 31. There was no discernible correlation between Suter having a lot of minutes and his CF%. Similarly, Suter's CF%Rel increased .1% from the regular season to the post season.

Let's look at Koivu. Koivu was been a top-4 possession player in the regular season this year. During the regular season, Koivu's CF% increased from 56.1 to 58.7. His CF%Rel, however, decreased from about 8 to about 4. This does not, however, necessarily mean Koivu was playing worse; it merely implies that the gap between Koivu's play and the rest of the team was not as great; the team as a whole played better. From the regular season to the post season, Koivu's average TOI also dropped, from 20.5-19.8. That is the exact same amount as Suter's TOI.

Taking a look at Zach Parise's numbers, we see the exact same story: Parise's CF% rose from the regular season to the post season, his CF%Rel dropped, as did his average TOI.

The Young Guns

One of the big storylines through the playoffs was our young guns and how they stepped up their came. "Coming of age before our eyes" was a phrase that I've heard more in the past two weeks than ever before in my life. Let's take a look at their CF%, CF%Rel, and TOI for the regular season and playoffs.

Nino Niederreiter is a guy many - including myself- have been high on this season and postseason. In the regular season, Nino posted a respectable 50.3 CF%, a decent 2.1 CF%Rel, and averaged 13.8 minutes per game. During the postseason, Nino's CF% improved to 52.4%, though his CF%Rel dropped to 45.5, while his average minutes per game increased to 14.1.

But wait! His CF went up, and his Rel went down! Yes- he played worse than the team as a whole. That does not mean he played poorly, however- it just means the team played better than he did.

Mikael Granlund falls into the same category: His average TOI rose from 17.0 to 17.3 (minimal, but there it is). His CF% shot up from 48.4% to 54.1%, and yet his CF%Rel dropped from -1.1% to -2.2%.

Both of these players had good regular seasons, and better post-seasons, yet their CF%Rel fell. The team, as a whole, performed better in the postseason, which made them look worse.

What Does This Tell Us?

This data tells us a few things: some obvious, and some not. On the obvious side: less ice time correlated with some of our big guns playing better during the playoffs. More ice time for our young guns correlated with better performances also.

I doubt, however, that their better play was a result of their ice time. Certainly less time makes you less tired for the future, but when a number of people on your team start playing better, it makes it much easier for you to play better also: Imagine if a talented guy like Kessel was surrounded by mediocrity (whoops.... he is). Point being: Coyle, Granny, Knightrider, and HollaHaula stepping up made it easier for Koivu, Parise, and Suter to play better also.

Less obvious is what this tells us about the future: the fact that our young guys played better, even with more minutes, bodes well for the future. The Wild have a good group of players- not perfect- but good. Next year could be very exciting.

Of course, the caveat on all of this is: the Wild played 7 games against a very poor possession team, so all of these stats are inflated from this. When you out-Fenwick a team 61-27 (game 3 against the Lanche) your possession stats are going to look good.