It’s a defense-heavy review of Rob Vollman and Friends’ 2017 edition of The Hockey Abstract as the breakdown of their thirteen metrics for judging teams continues. Parts one through four have done little to assuage the concerns surrounding the 2017-18 Minnesota Wild despite management assuring that they were winners on July 1st with a bevvy of depth signings.
First, just a quick re-cap of those thirteen criteria:
1. Puck Possession (18th, “top lines are great, their depth lines are not”)
2. Shootout (18th, “have the shooters, but Dubnyk is weak in the shootout”)
3. Goaltending (7th, Dubnyk has great upside, but is without a proven backup”)
4. Penalty Kill (15th, “nothing to write home about, but it does the trick”)
5. Power Play (15th, average again)
6. Scoring Line (“Staal really helped bring the scoring line back to life”)
7. Shutdown Line (“Koivu was a Selke finalist, and Granlund could be next”)
8. Forward Depth (“They have strong third line, but not much after that”)
9. Top Pairing
10. Second Pairing
11. Defensive Depth
If you missed out on the craziness that was the 2017 off-season, let me catch you up real quick.
Leading up to Vegas’ expansion draft, the name that was out swirling about the rumor mill was Jonas Brodin being the likely candidate for a trade that never happened. He ended up being added to the Wild’s “protected list” and we saw Dumba and Scandella exposed to Vegas.
Neither left as Vegas plucked Haula and exchanged an conditional third rounder for next summer for top prospect, Alex Tuch.
The day before the Free Agent Frenzy began, Fletcher & Co. sent Marco Scandella (a top four guy) and the Mayor (a 40 pt producer) to Buffalo for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis in what appeared to be a very lopsided trade. I wouldn’t say that Fletcher fleeced new GM Jason Botterill, but Scandella didn’t take part in any pre-season games and is currently day-to-day following hip surgery this summer.
In the end, the off-season roster shake-up on the defensive end looked like this:
And now to Minnesota’s top six.
In Vollman’s summation of Minnesota’s top defensive unit, the awards list comes out: “Suter finished top-10 in the Norris race for the sixth straight season, and Spurgeon finished 13th”.
Counting this season, Ryan Suter is locked in for the next eight years, with the assumption that he will retire as a member of the Minnesota Wild. He’s earned the “A”, he’s an Olympian, he was a 40 point producer from the blueline last season.
But in the goal-hungry NHL of the present/future, he was 22nd in point production last season, tied for 30th in goals, and tied for 25th in assists among defensemen.
Comparatively, Jared Spurgeon had two less points (38), but one more goal (10) than his partner is 2016-17. All in all, the two combined for 78 points for Minnesota, just two points ahead of Norris-winner (and former member of the Wild) Brent Burns alone. Burns did, however, have ten more goals than the Suter-Spurgeon combo combined.
What we’re looking at here is the leading defensive scorers in the league along with their most consistent partner.
In looking in that right column, you’ll notice a few things. Not only is the Suter-Spurgeon pairing one of the more productive pairs together, but they’re the most balanced out of any of these tandems. They’re also in a position to be as, if not more, productive than the Zach Werenski- Seth Jones pairing in Columbus.
With guys like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, the defensive partnership is lopsided when it comes to scoring. This does afford teams like Ottawa and San Jose the luxury of putting a pylon in the offensive zone, but leaves them susceptible to trading in a playoff spot for golf clubs if their workhorse goes down.
With Karlsson’s bionic ankle, that scoring differential of 59 is a lot to take in, even with Methot leaving this past summer. At least Paul Martin is almost a 30 point guy to Brent Burns’ Hurculean 76.
In the Central Division, Minnesota has the most dominant top defensive pairing (offensively speaking). Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis may have combined for 87 points for Nashville last season, but Ellis is out 4-6 months on a bum knee. John Klingberg did score 49 points for Dallas last season and Esa Lindell added 18 of his own, but again: lopsided.
Joel Quenneville will press the “on” button fervently for his line-up blender as Duncan Keith can play with just about anyone. Alex Pietrangelo was paired with Jay Bouwmeester consistently, and the prospect of Colton Parayko being in that second pairing makes St. Louis look daunting.
Winnipeg is no slouch when it comes to their top defensive unit as Dustin Byfuglien eclipsed 50 points and Josh Morrissey held his own with 20. Colorado is Colorado and Tyson Barrie almost got to 40 points on that dumpster fire, but he’s had quite the drop-off from his 53 point season in 2014-15.
I’m a firm believer in the defense-first philosophy, but with the ever-increasing role of the d-man contributing to offense, you’d want to see both Suter and Spurgeon lighting at least ten lamps apiece. The production balance in incredible, and if you’re looking at stats like PDO, the argument for Suter-Spurgeon as an elite pairing becomes even more concrete:
If you’ve been following HW’s Top 25 Under 25, there’s a lot to be excited about after Brodin and Dumba came in at #2 and #1 on our list, respectively. Even more exciting is that they’re going to be stepping into the full-time role of second pairing defensemen for this season. According to the Abstract, that combination is also in need of having “breakout seasons.”
Did Matt Dumba not have a breakout season in 2016-17? He set a career high in point production with 34 points (11G/23A) while playing 42% of his even strength minutes with Marco Scandella. His power-play production remained the same from 2015-16 with six goals and six apples. What is at stake as far as a “breakout season” is his contract.
A 40 point season out of Dumba would mean Colton Parayko money or more. In Parayko’s contract season, he only had one more point than Dumba at age 23. If you thought that Minnesota was struggling with cap problems now, there’s bad news awaiting fans this summer when the Regina-native becomes an RFA.
Jonas Brodin is the other side of this coin. His money is already tied up as he’s bringing in an AAV of roughly $4.17 mil for the next four seasons. Boudreau and management already gave this pairing a test-run last season as Brodin played 35.5% of his even strength minutes alongside Dumba.
He was also paired with fellow Swede, Christian Folin, who got hit hard by the injury bug (and Kevin Leblanc) towards the end of the season. Before that, Folin was Brodin’s partner for roughly 40% of his EV ice time.
Once again, did Brodin not have a “breakout season” last year? The Karlstad, Sweden-native tallied a career best, 25 points last season. His previous benchmark was 19 from his first full season with Minnesota.
What seems more to the point is uncertainty. Suter and Spurgeon aren’t likely to be split up anytime soon. The safety of Scandella and Folin as veterans is gone and it’s “sink or swim” time for Brodin and Dumba, especially after how the summer unfolded.
The positive is that both were 25+ point producers last year. Brodin scored 9 points playing with Dumba (even-strength and PP) and Dumba had 8 of his own (same circumstances).
More good news?
Of the 31 NHL teams, only three of them have defensemen that scored 25 points or more last season: Minnesota, Montreal, and the New York Rangers.
Minnesota is the only one of those three that didn’t have to go out and buy their production this summer, and that deserves some attention.
This is where things get a little dicey, but I think that Minnesota is in a decent position with the safety valve of Kyle Quincey being signed this summer as a free agent.
I’m not sure if it’s meant to be ominous, but Vollman forewarns: “just one injury, and Quincey is in the top four”.
So how terrifying can Vollman’s prognosis be? Ironman Ryan Suter played in all 82 regular season games for Minnesota last season. Spurgeon and Dumba played in 76, and Brodin appeared in 68.
Kyle Quincey was able to play a little extra last season: 83 games between New Jersey and Columbus. So even if one of those guys gets a sprain or finds themselves in the Victorian era by way of mumps, the 32-year-old journeyman should be able to provide a splint.
The problem is that he’s already going to be playing wet nurse to two, more or less, rookies: Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly.
Management let a 31-year old Nate Prosser and a “prime age” Christian Folin walk at the end of their contracts. If you’re familiar with the Wild’s cap woes, the new contracts for Reilly and Olofsson come in on a dime. However, the Swede and the former standout at the U have a combined 61 games of NHL-level hockey between the two of them.
Reilly provides offense, but has been known to be careless with the puck. After watching Olofsson perform well in Iowa, it needs to be said that this off-season was the first one he’s been healthy for in years. At 22 years old, “injury risk” isn’t something that is going to go away with age.
But the depth goes beyond the NHL level guys. Although Alex Grant put up big numbers from the blueline for the Providence Bruins last season, 49 points (17G/32A) to be exact, the 28-year-old has only seven NHL games to his name.
Next, I’ll be wrapping up my breakdown of Vollaman’s Hockey Abstract, 2017 by looking at the coaching staff and Minnesota’s prospect pool.