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The Minnesota Wild Look Like Stanley Cup Finalists

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It might sound overly optimistic, but the Wild compare well to recent Stanley Cup contenders.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In predictive analysis, there’s a method called backcasting. It’s a reversal of forecasting in which you take current trends and factors and try to predict an outcome. Instead you take a desired end state and work back from that to figure out what actions will reach that end state. For hockey fans, the ultimate desired end state is the Stanley Cup, but I think Minnesota Wild fans would be pretty happy with an appearance in the Final.

Here are some stats of the Stanley Cup finalists of the past three years and how the Wild stack up against them. Each teams’ numbers are shown and ranks are in parentheses. The Wild’s goals scored and goals allowed numbers are shown as is and prorated for the entire season. Obviously the Wild’s numbers are unlikely to look exactly like this by the end of the season (it wouldn’t be a stats article without mentioning “numbers regressing to the mean”), but this gives us some trends from which to backcast what the Wild need to do to measure up.

Teams Goals Scored (Rank) Goals Against (Rank) Team 5v5 Shooting % (Rank) Team 5v5 Save % (Rank) Power Play (Rank) Penalty Kill (Rank)
Teams Goals Scored (Rank) Goals Against (Rank) Team 5v5 Shooting % (Rank) Team 5v5 Save % (Rank) Power Play (Rank) Penalty Kill (Rank)
2013-14 Kings 198 (26th) 168 (1st) 6.6 (29th) 0.935 (2nd) 14.8 (27th) 83.1 (11th)
2013-14 Rangers 214 (18th) 190 (4th) 6.7 (28th) 0.931 (4th) 18.2 (14th) 85.3 (3rd)
2014-15 Blackhawks 220 (17th) 186 (2nd) 6.8 (27th) .935 (2nd) 17.6 (19th) 83.4 (10th)
2014-15 Lightning 259 (1st) 206 (12th) 9.1 (1st) .919 (21st) 18.4 (14th) 83.7 (7th)
2015-16 Penguins 241 (3rd) 199 (6th) 7.6 (16th) .931 (5th) 18.4 (16th) 84.4 (5th)
2015-16 Sharks 237 (4th) 198 (5th) 7.7 (13th) .923 (21st) 22.5 (3rd) 80.5 (21st)
2016-17 Wild 122/257 (5th) 83/175 (2nd) 9.1 (2nd) .940 (3rd) 19.1 (14th) 85.8 (4th)

Taking a look at goals scored and goals against, all the teams are among the top five in one or the other category. Interestingly, only the San Jose Sharks are top five in both although last year’s Stanley Cup champions were also close with a third-ranked goals scored and sixth-ranked goals against. The Wild compare very favorably here, with the fifth-highest goals scored number and 2nd-lowest goals against number. Their prorated numbers look even better. At their current goal scoring pace, the Wild would outscore five of the last six Stanley Cup finalists; their goals allowed number would similarly beat five of the six finalists too. While it seems unlikely that the Wild will reach the prorated totals by the end of the season, they are in a great place as they approach the half season mark.

Excluding last season’s iteration of the Sharks, all Stanley Cup finalists boasted either a top five team 5v5 shooting percentage or 5v5 save percentage. In most cases, the shooting percentage was far from dominant or even downright awful while the save percentage was elite. Only the offensive juggernaut that was the 2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2015-16 Sharks who put it all together during the playoffs bucked this trend. The Wild so far this season have been lights out by both measures, leading a lot of commentators to talk about PDO and regression. While the Wild should expect their shooting and save percentages to return to earth to a degree, most of the Stanley Cup finalists did enjoy a PDO slightly above 100. Unless whatever happened to Jason Pominville’s shooting is as contagious as the mumps and the Dallas Stars abduct Devan Dubnyk, the Wild’s PDO this season will likely end up above 100 too.

An oft-quoted rule of thumb regarding special teams and the playoffs is that a successful power play won’t guarantee you wins, but a bad penalty kill lose a team the series. That does seem to bear out to a degree when looking at the Stanley Cup finalists from the past three seasons, as only one of those teams had a top ten powerplay (last season’s Sharks were third in the league with the man advantage). Four of the six teams boasted a top ten penalty kill, the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings were just outside that mark at 11th, and the Sharks are again the outlier with a penalty kill that ranked 21st in the NHL. The Wild fit this trend as well. The Wild’s power play, while unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, is about average at 14th in the league. The Wild penalty kill unit, however, is performing exceptionally well at fourth overall at 85.8. That number is actually the best among all the teams examined in this article.

Bottomline, after looking at the characteristics commonly shared by Stanley Cup finalists, the Wild look like they are going to go deep in the playoffs. Backcasting is far from perfect, and this has been a fairly rudimentary example of it.The measures used here are not the only ones worth examining. Pointedly missing from this analysis are puck possession metrics which tend to be highly correlated with playoff success. Nevertheless, the trends identified today suggest that the Wild have what it takes this season to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They aren’t the only team that can make that claim, so they shouldn’t start making room for the Campbell Bowl just yet. Still, a little optimism wouldn’t be out of place.