Across the league, it was noted that the Minnesota Wild navigated the expansion draft about as well as any one team could. They gave up a pending RFA and an unproven but promising prospect in Alex Tuch. They did this to keep their defensive corps intact. For the last few seasons, the strength of this team, not only in the NHL, but of the organization as a whole has been that deep defense.
But in Chuck Fletcher’s press conference following an incredibly disappointing performance in the post-season, Fletcher identified an issue with the Wild defensemen. He noted it as a trend of his squad for the last number of seasons since his time as the Wild GM - the defense aren’t doing as good a job getting the puck to the net.
Systems vary across the league. Some teams focus the offense to run through the point. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and the Florida Panthers are heavily attempting shots from the point, while other teams like the New York Rangers and the Anaheim Ducks are on the lower end of that scale.
But no matter how many shots the defense attempts, much of what matters is what happened to the puck after it left the blade of the stick. Metrics such as shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts are good statistics to help measure just what happened to the puck. Corsi, or shot attempts, counts exactly that - any shot that is attempted in the offensive zone without regard for whether or not the attempted shot missed the net, was on-goal, or blocked completely. Fenwick, or unblocked shot attempts, remove the blocked shots from the equation and have been shown to correlate with a higher number of scoring chances.
If you’re new to the enhanced stats in the NHL, those two are of the most basic and requires little to understand. It shows us more of what’s happening in the games more than what shots on goal can do in a box score.
For a shot attempt to become a shot on goal, it 1) cannot be blocked, and 2) cannot miss the net.
What’s not so simple is trying to determine if getting shots on goal from the point is a repeatable skill. Erik Karlsson has a knack for doing that. P.K. Subban seems to have a way of getting his shot on net. Brent Burns is ri-GD-diculous with the sheer amount of shots he attempts that his offense helped him be recognized with the Norris Trophy.
With Fletcher calling out his defensive group immediately after his team was eliminated, it’s worth taking a look at which players seem to be good at this skill and get them to teach the rest of the team to do just that.
I used a simple formula to determine the percentage of shot attempts by player end up on goal. I took the individual shots on goal and divided that by the total number of individual shot attempts for at 5v5. With this I developed a Corsi-to-shot ratio.
What we find shouldn’t surprise us. Jared Spurgeon is one of the top two-way defensemen this team has and seems to find a way to 1) get his shot through to the net, or 2) find a way to take a higher quality of shot. Ryan Suter is second on the team and took 13 more shot attempts than did Spurgeon and only achieved one more shot on goal.
What’s troubling is a player that can’t seem to pull the trigger in time, or hit the net with any meaningful bit of accuracy is Matt Dumba. A staggeringly low 38.34 percent (74/193) of his shot attempts made it to the net. He has a laser of a shot, and one that can cause goalies fits, but his lack of accuracy isn’t giving him a chance to score, nor his teammates battling in the crease. It’s simply inhuman to reach the 545 shot attempts that Brent Burns put up last year, so what Dumba needs to to is find more ways to tame that shot of his so it’s more effective in the long run.
As a team, the Wild could do a lot better at getting the puck on goal from its defensemen. Last season, Minnesota was below average in defensemen Corsi-to-shot ratio. Couple that with the Wild being in the lower half in total shot attempts from defensemen, and that doesn’t scream ‘greatness.’
As you can see, there’s not a ton of variance among all teams in the NHL in regards to turning attempted shots into shots on goal. The Panthers were the only team to surpass the 50th percentile.
Does that mean any of this is important in the grand scheme of things? For the Wild it could be incredibly important. The Wild are already a team that struggles with net-front presence. It was something clearly pointed out by the Wild general manager in the same presser as a need for improvement. So if the Wild are going to improve in that facet of their game, which should come first, shots from the point or players in front?
In the reaction to the press conference I wrote about the issue of this being a sort of Chicken/Egg scenario with this team:
Maybe guys don’t want to sit out front of the net and get beat up if the shots from the point don’t come, whereas the defensemen aren’t creating shooting lanes and getting puck to the net because no one is there. And that’s definitely frustrating. There are more than enough culprits on this team on the blue line that would rather send the puck down deep again if they don’t have a clear shooting lane (cough Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser cough) so I get that they don’t want to pay a price if there won’t be a reward. That said, you have to man-up and get to the front of the net and create, and don’t just expect things to happen.
Ultimately, it’s a problem that head coach Bruce Boudreau and new assistant coach Bob Woods will have to address this coming season. But for as heralded as the Wild defensemen are, offense is an area as a position group that they must to improve upon.