Over the course of this morning, speculation grew and grew that Minnesota would be the landing spot for coveted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Then it happened, leaving most Canucks fans to wake up and discover that Independence Day had been cancelled, and the Wild had stolen the show.
Parise and Suter are two players whose statistical influence matches the narrative that surrounds them; both are said to be fantastic hockey players, and the numbers back this up 100 per cent. They have played tough, tough minutes in their careers and have succeeded while doing so.
Do the additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter make the Wild the Canucks’ chief rival for Northwest Division supremacy? Let’s have a look see…
For some time, Zach Parise has been known around these parts as a player who has a very positive statistical influence on his team, and his impact on the Wild is going to be immense.
Minnesota is a team that famously – at least among the advanced stats set – defied the percentages last fall, blasting out of the gate to an excellent record. Excellent record aside, the underlying numbers indicated that the Wild’s early season success was a mirage, a hilariously unsustainable fallacy. By the end of the season, it was obvious why the Wild had taken such a massive fall; every single number that is linked to possession said they were horrible.
How horrible? Let’s put it this way, only one Wild forward had a positive Corsi0On: Pierre-Marc Bouchard (and he was only able to play 37 games!). Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen all had positive Corsi Rel, which tells you that they did have *some* talent on the roster, but on the whole, this was a team that bled shots against. For example, their most sheltered forward only started in the offensive zone 50% of the time, a clear indication that the puck lived in the Wild end during most of their games.
Zach Parise moves on from New Jersey, a team that has always had a strong defensive bent. Being a known top player, it’s also probably not surprising that Parise saw the 4th toughest minutes on the Devils (behind Zubrus, Sykora and Elias) and posted the 3rd best Corsi Rel, at 4.2 (behind Sykora – 7.6 – and Elias – 5.7). Among all Devils forwards, only Ilya Kovalchuk played more minutes at even strength than Parise.
Assuming Parise is linked up with Koivu and Heatley, the Wild will be able to ice a first line that should have a positive impact on the game – even if Heatley’s even-strength effectiveness has gone down the toilet in recent seasons. Hypothetically, that could go a long way towards tilting their horrendous possession numbers in a more positive direction.
An end-of-season analysis done over at NHL Numbers suggested that Suter and his partner Shea Weber were, if not the best, among the very best pairings in 2011-12. Playing very tough minutes and starting the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone, Suter and Weber still put up huge point totals and excellent possession numbers.
Suter’s 7.3 Corsi Rel was actually slightly worse than Weber’s, but Suter played slightly tougher minutes than Weber as well.
Moving from Nashville, a team that gave up more shots than it generated, to Minnesota, a team that absolutely bled shots against, Suter immediately becomes far and away their best defenceman. The biggest beneficiary for the Wild will be Tom Gilbert, probably, who put up decent enough numbers despite playing for two abysmal defensive squads in Edmonton and Minnesota. Gilbert could find himself paired with Suter, and if so, it will be interesting to see just how much Gilbert’s numbers improve. If Gilbert is put on a different pairing, that will make two other players better – both the new partner (X) for Suter and Gilbert’s partner (Y). X will benefit directly by playing with Suter, while Y will benefit from playing what you would expect to be slightly easier minutes with Gilbert, who is a high-quality rear guard in his own right.
Might players X and Y be Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella? It seems extremely likely, though don’t count out Jonas Brodin, who should make the team next season. Scandella and Spurgeon put in decent work in very tough minutes last season, whereas Brodin may be the best defenseman not currently in the NHL.
We know that both these players make Minnesota better, obviously. Positive ripple effects from these signings should be evident throughout the lineup. The fact is that both players do an outstanding job of driving possession when they are on the ice, and while they have one of the best prospect pools in the league, Minnesota desperately needed an infusion of NHL talent on their roster.
But the structural problems still remain in the Minnesota lineup, and will for a couple of years until the likes of Phillips, Granlund, Brodin, Dumba, Scandella and Spurgeon are ready to help them truly win. If the Wild are going to be a truly strong threat to the Canucks and the rest of the West, they need to actually, you know, hold onto the puck during their games. Their inability to do so sank their 2010-11 season, and even with Suter and Parise pushing them strongly in the right direction, there is still a lot of work left to do.