The Bruce Boudreau era in Minnesota has gotten off to a flying start. The 61-year-old head coach has the team in the top five in goals per game (3.56) and goals against per game (2.11) and a top of the Central Division with 13 points. And yet, despite the success of the early season, some people sense a whiff of disillusionment with the Wild’s accomplishments.
The weariness revolves around the idea of sustainability. Right now the Wild are being carried by some pretty gaudy numbers, such as their NHL leading 13.73 shooting percentage. The number is fantastic for an organization that has been offensively challenged for the better part of its existence, but the problem is that it’ll be nearly impossible for the Wild to carry that kind of percentage throughout the regular reason.
In fact, since the start of the 2007-08 season there has only been four teams that have managed to have a shooting percentage above 11, with the highest being the 2009-10 Washington Capitals who finished at 11.62%. The highest mark the Minnesota Wild could muster up in that time span was 9.98% from the 2007-08 squad. Keeping their 2016-17 pace wouldn’t just be out of character for a Wild team, it’d be miraculous for any franchise.
This wouldn’t be a big issue if it weren’t for the fact that the Wild’s shooting percentage is just a small part of their sustainability issue. They are third in the NHL in goals for percentage at 5-v-5 (62.5) despite controlling just 45.7% of the shot attempts, which is the second worst mark in the NHL. Their PDO, which essentially puts a number to how lucky a team is based on their 5-v-5 save percentage and shooting percentage, is at 106.79. To put that into perspective, the league average usually hovers around 100 and the highest from last season was the New York Rangers 102.39.
The good news is that there is precedence of teams thumbing their noses at sustainability. The 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche road their 46.85 corsi for percentage straight to a Central Division title. Only problem was that regression was waiting for them the very next season, and the fall back to the mean is never a pretty sight.
Does this mean that everyone should watch the Wild with dread, waiting for the big bad regression monster to jump out from the bench? Not exactly.
What tends to get lost in the talk of sustainability is perspective. It’s easy to say that the Wild are the worst team in the NHL in controlling shot attempts at 5-v-5, but it’s also shallow. It doesn’t give any weight to the situations that the Wild have been in which is a big factor in who controls the shots.
If we look at the 5-v-5 close situation, a much better indicator of a team’s actual possession numbers, Minnesota has a corsi for percentage of 48.2. By putting the adequate amount of weight on the team’s situation it boosted them from the worst possession team in the league to the 20th.
There is also the matter of scoring chances. When adjusted with score and venue, the Wild control 53.0 of the scoring chances at 5-v-5, with the bulk of that success coming from their average scoring chances against per 60 of 6.44. Both of those numbers place them in the top 15 of the NHL, which makes you believe that things aren’t going too bad so far.
In reality this Minnesota Wild team sits somewhere in the middle between being incredibly lucky and being a good hockey team. Yes, sustainability is a real problem that has to be confronted. When the shooting percentage begins to drop, the possession numbers will have to go up. But there are also reasons to believe that the Wild are already capable of playing that game and Boudreau is still working his system into this roster. So let’s all just sit back and give it a few weeks before we succumb to the sense of inevitable dread that Minnesota sports brings us.