Bob and Dan are back after a month-long hiatus! As the 2016 NHL season passes the one-quarter mark, the guys run down everything they can about the Minnesota Wild. Who has impressed, who has depressed, who needs to step up, who have been surprising, and what does the team need to do to be competitive in the Central division.
As I’ve said a lot recently, there are a lot of stats that don’t tell us anything in the early part of the year–basically any individual player’s on-ice stats, even most his counting stats–you can look at them and try to squeeze some meaning out of them, but at the end of the day, the sample size is too small and to predict anything from them would be foolish. Also, we talked on a recent podcast about how PDO is only a backward-facing stat and it has zero predictive power. More on this in a second.
One stat that I do watch closely and do put stock in from the start of the season is goal differential. The shot-based side of analytics has gotten a major boom, as people have wrapped their heads around using the larger sample of all shot attempts to measure possession than just shots on goal. However, I feel like a lot of times, the goal-based metrics are ignored or sort of taken for granted. One thing that I think most people don’t know is that despite all the time and energy we put into shot-based metrics, goals are a better predictor of future success than shots. (See: here, and here, and here.) Continue reading Predicting the NHL is a fool’s errand…or is it?
I thought I’d try this new thing called “writing more.” So here we go! I have a lot of thoughts about the election, and normally I try to keep my political stuff to my twitter. I am still deciding on whether I want to write or talk on the podcast…but I will be posting something soon. I have tended to try to keep the hockey blog and pod as a space of escapism, where political stuff and real-world stuff are purposely kept out. But, that can no longer be the case.
Back to hockey for now. The Wild are at a tipping point early in the season for what to do with young Joel Erikkson Ek. I think most of us assumed he would get a few games at the pro level and then head back to Sweden, where he could arguably develop as much if nor more than the AHL. But EE surprised us all by scoring on his first shot. He had a great first couple of games and has been pretty much invisible over the last few games. The Wild have to decide whether to burn a year off his Entry Level Contract. Meaning, they have to weigh whether his contributions this year against his contributions in 2018-19, essentially. With nine games, we certainly have a small sample to analyze–but the problem is how much weight we put into that sample. My hunch is that they will burn his ELC year…they showed last year with Dumba that they are willing to take a chance, and if it pays off, it could really help them out in a time where their window may not be open as much as it is now.
So I won’t draw too many conclusions from the stats I’ll show, but I wanted to at least take a snap shot (get it!?) of what he’s done in his initial nine games.
- He has had insane puck luck. Erikkson Ek’s personal PDO is sitting at 108.97 right now, so let’s just call it 109. As we discussed on a recent podcast, personal PDO is really not a stat you want to use to evaluate a player. But, when we break it apart, we see that his on-ice Sh% is a hefty 13.9%, while his on-ice Sv% is .951. So, he’s been very fortunate with the puck bounces. This confounds an already small sample size, because with such extreme numbers, we basically have even less reason to trust the data.
- His deployment has been a bit more even than I would have thought. EE’s zone deployment (OZ-NZ-DZ) so far have been 36.9%, 29.8%, 33.3%. He’s got a reputation so far as a 200-foot player, so it seems Boudreau has mixed up his deployment a fair bit. The Wild have a different team composition than in recent years, so I’ll be watching all year to see who garners the DZ starts.
- He has not driven possession at all. Despite slightly favorable zone starts, his CF% is at an even 40% right now, which is really bad. Yes, a player’s individual corsi is not very telling, but I only include it here to show that it’s not been a strength of his. I thought about doing some WOWY analysis, but that’s bad because you take an impossibly small sample and break it down into even impossibly smaller samples. So *shrug.*
- He hasn’t had success in the face-off circle. 20 wins and 34 losses for a 37% win pct. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a 19-year old to excel in this area in his first NHL action, but again, I include it here for posterity. As a fourth-line center this year and a potential mantle of “no. 1 center of the future,” face-offs will be a key measurement…although there is research out there that shows that face-offs aren’t as important as people think, I tend to feel that they are “never not good,” so winning face-offs could be a pathway to icetime for EE.
- He has been more physical than you might expect. Alright, I’m totally grasping at straws here. I was set to include a stat about how he’s an extreme pass-first player, but couldn’t find the data that I really needed to back that up. Plus, I didn’t want to have a list of all negative things. Erikkson Ek is tied for sixth on the team with 14 hits at even strength. He has 10 hits against, so he’s doling out more punishment than he receives. As a European player, he will undoubtedly have a reputation as a finesse player, so if he can play a bit rougher than people expect, that might lead to some increased opportunity for him. Hits are generally a terrible stat because each arena counts them differently. So, take all this with many grains of salt, but it’s at least something to watch for.
Overall, from what we’ve seen in this early season, it might make more sense for the club to send EE back to Sweden, even though it could hurt this year. He has shown great positioning and some really good instincts, but clearly he needs more seasoning. Whether that’s in the AHL or in Sweden is beyond my pay grade, but overall my gut tells me that based on the flashes we’ve seen, it may pay better dividends to have an extra year of control over a player that could be a main contributor in the next couple of years.
What do you think? Should the Wild keep Easy-E on the NHL roster, or send him overseas for more training? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @BobaFenwick. Thanks for reading!
Bob and Dan make excuses for why they didn’t do a show last week, then jump into hockey birthdays, with #GoodMinnesotaBoy Matt Cullen scoring a game winner on his 40th birthday. Then, the guys wade past the shallow end of the fancy stats in a discussion about puck luck, shooting percentages, and PDO. Should Wild fans be worried about the club’s completely unsustainable 12% team shooting percent, or is it simply a matter of a small sample size? Let us know your thoughts on twitter @HTHpod
Dan and Bob discuss the treacheries of ‘adulting,’ then do the hockey birthdays, talk about Hossa and Jagr reaching significant goal milestones, the Minnesota Wild’s nice start to the season, and finish the show by talking about the new music they are listening to, including Car Seat Headrest, Young the Giant, and Phantogram.
Bob and Dan reminisce about the Oktoberfest celebration they enjoyed recently. Then, after the hockey birthdays, the boys recap the Wild’s season opener and talk about some things they want to see from the team this year. They discuss whether Eric Staal is not getting enough credit for improving the team, Teemu Pulkkinen joining the squad, and a half-assed prediction for each team in the Central division. Finally, Bob describes his new business idea, a Board Game Cafe, and wants you to help him with some market research!
On Tuesday, the Wild claimed 24-year old Finnish winger Teemu Pulkkinen off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. He will be 25 in a couple of months, so we pretty much know what his skill set is in terms of his development. But, he hasn’t been given much opportunity to show what he can do over long periods of time (just over 11 minutes per game with DET). Apparently Bruce Boudreau and his coaching staff didn’t like what they saw from the Wild prospects this preseason, but signing Pulkkinen is also just a smart move for a team that needs to improve its scoring to remain competitive in the ever-improving #ConferenceIII.
The best seasons by 22-year-old AHL forwards in this decade, FWIW pic.twitter.com/9c3FRItbSc
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 11, 2016
One way to judge a player transaction is to see how the opposing team’s fans react to it. Detroit Red Wings fans have all generally said the same thing since Pulkkinen was put on waivers, “Well that was stupid move by Detroit,” which makes me feel good. Teemu is known for having a Howitzer of a slap shot and has been deployed primarily in the offensive zone (61.5% in 2014 and 67.5% last year, excluding NZ ) so we need to change our perception of what the Wild’s fourth line will do this year.
As I tweeted yesterday, Pulkkinen shows good underlying possession numbers. His 5v5 CF% in his career has been 56.2% (14-15) and 57.7% (15-16).
Let’s take a look at his HERO chart:
Just above where it says ‘Performance Tiers’ in the figure, you can see Pulkkinen’s composite WOWY stats, or how his line mates did in terms of possession and goal scoring both with and without him. His linemates experienced ~58% CorsiFor when playing with Teemu, and just over 50% without him. Similarly, their expected goals scored saw a jump from about even to just over 55% when skating with him. The hero chart takes both his pro years into account, so what that shows is a guy who consistently drives possession and scoring.
But there is another angle that I think could present itself over the next couple of weeks as the season gets going–Pulkkinen has put up excellent power play stats in his limited NHL time. Yes, he’s only got 2 PPG and 3 PPA, but check out his 15-16 PP numbers compared to the other Wild forwards:
I didn’t do that very systematically, it was only intended to be a quick check off the top of my head. So I’m sure I’m forgetting someone in that table–but, you can see how valuable Pulkkinen can be on a second PP unit for the Wild. Notice that Teemu’s expected goals/60 is higher than anyone on the Wild last year other than Parise. With great playmakers like Granlund, Staal, and Koivu, and more finishers like Pulkkinen along with a step up from Coyle/Nino/Zucker, this could be the year that the Wild PP takes the next step. Also, don’t forget that Charlie Coyle ranks among the league leaders in penalties drawn, and Staal has consistently drawn a lot of penalties over the course of his career.
If nothing else, I think Pulkkinen’s success on the team is tied to his success on the power play. The better the team does with the man advantage, the more job security this guy has. Obviously that could mean we don’t see Tuch or EE this year, but Teemu Pulkkinen is better equipped to help the Wild win this year.
My next post will be on the Wild’s penalty kill, but that may not come out until early next week. Check out the podcast this Friday, and see our first episode from yesterday!
Bob and Dan talk about what they have each been doing since the last podcast, then jump back into it with the Hockey Birthdays, a segment on why Phil Kessel doesn’t get enough respect, and the Beer of the Week (this week: Stone Enjoy After Brett IPA). Then, Dan recommends some true crime podcasts, and the guys answer mail bag questions about Pokemon, the MN Twins, and the Chicago Cubs.
With the addition of Eric Staal this offseason, the Wild’s top-six have a good shot to be among the best in the league. Throw in the signing of a new coach who has won four consecutive division titles, and there’s a buzz about the potential new line combinations and whether Boudreau will be able to get more scoring out of the roster that Yeo and Torch could not.
I’ve been pretty excited about the Staal signing, because I really think when you have a proven vet coming off a statistically down year, that gamble is usually worth taking. I’m working on a feature piece on Charlie Coyle’s deployment but I thought I’d talk a little bit first about why I’m excited to see what Staal will bring.
In the above chart, we see that adjusting for playing time, Staal has been a consistently high event player over his career, at least one shot attempt per minute skated while he’s on the ice. Although the very early part of his career was before the fancy stats age it’s a safe bet to say he was similar pre-2007. What’s interesting is that his corsi against numbers have dropped sharply over the last three years or so–and this is with line mates like Elias Lindholm and Kris Versteeg (nothing against those guys).
Everyone knows his goal scoring is down but another interesting note is that his individual event stats have held steady. His total shot attempts declined overall since about ’08 but have really steadied out since about 2012-13. His shooting percentage was way down last year (6.5%) after never dropping below 9.0% in any previous year. I think even with a modest rebound in puck luck, Staal will still rack up the shot attempts with the Wild. We just hope that he doesn’t get over-conservative like Vanek did and defer the shots to Parise or others.
I don’t want to sound like *that guy* but I do worry a little bit about Staal and Parise developing chemistry on a line together. Both guys want the puck on their stick, and you throw in a guy like Charlie Coyle who is expected to step up his goal scoring even more this year… Maybe I’ve had too many flashbacks to the horrendous over-passing that was taking place in the early part of last year but I just want to see this club live up to their offensive potential.
I’ll leave you with one final chart, from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca:
This chart takes the last three seasons into account, and does a good job overall of showing that even if Staal’s individual goal scoring is down, his possession is elite, driven by elite shot generation and well above average shot suppression. If he can adjust to playing on his third team in two years after spending over a decade in Carolina, he could really propel this team forward without eating up too much salary cap. Another attribute that he can bring is stability–recall that the Wild have had very good starts to the season over the last couple of years, so another strong presence in the locker room will not hurt.
Thanks for reading! Still hoping to get a podcast recorded in the next week or so, please keep your eyes and ears open for that. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @BobaFenwick and @HTHpod!
I got back from my honeymoon just in time for the Wild to get into their preseason schedule, so I thought I’d share some things I’ll be watching over the next couple of weeks.
- Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle – These two guys have been playing with the club for a while now. Both are 24, which means by many statistical models, their window for development might be starting to close. Zucker has shown flashes of speed and talent that would make him a game-breaker, and Coyle has been very good at drawing penalties, and finally cracked 20 goals last year. Whether they play together or separately, each could really push the team forward if they continue to improve. They are playing together on the top line in today’s first preseason game against the Sabres, though I don’t expect Coyle to stay at center once the regular season begins. We’ll have to see if Bruce Boudreau gets more out of these guys than Yeo could. Which brings me to…
- Bruce Boudreau’s deployment and line combos – I’ll be honest…I’m still not sure how the Wild got so lucky as to snag Boudreau. Coach Yeo had a lot of success but also a lot of roller-coaster stretches too. If BB can steady this team out, that could really go a long way toward having a strong regular season leading into a playoff run, rather than scrambling just to make the postseason as happened each of the last two years. The Central division is still awful, and got even tougher with the addition of PK Subban. But I do like the Wild’s overall roster construction this year, and I’m very excited to see what Eric Staal can do. If he and Pominville can both benefit from some positive regression to the mean, we could be looking at this team a lot differently than in years past. Back to Boudreau, I think Minnesotans liked Yeo well enough, but they’re going to LOOOOVVVEE BB.
Bruce Boudreau the only one on the ice as crews resurface. pic.twitter.com/jMqZTIorw8
— Dane Mizutani (@DaneMizutani) September 25, 2016
- The young guys, particularly Alex Tuch – The Wild have generally focused on developing a solid group of prospects over the last decade, but in recent years, vets were brought in and expected to contribute (Heatley, Vanek in particular). That trend continues this year with Eric Staal, though I’m not sure that wasn’t more of a savvy move by management to capitalize on a down year, rather than a campaign like #VanekWatch that we saw. I’m rooting for Staal to turn things around, and maybe he won’t face as much pressure to perform right away that both Heatley and Vanek had. But anyway, my point is that the club hasn’t had a young player turn in a really breakout performance in a long time. Zucker was starting to do that but had seasons derailed by injury. I am most excited to see Alex Tuch when he makes this team because I think he brings a size and skill combination that Minnesota hasn’t had in a long time, but perhaps Bertschy or Downing or even Lucia could turn in surprise performances. I liked Justin Fontaine well enough but he wasn’t really ever that dynamic of a presence. Chris Stewart should get lots of time in the bottom six, but with the depth at the top of the roster, a strong performance by one of the young guys could really change the makeup of the squad.
Thanks for reading!Let me know what you think by commenting on this post, on Twitter, or on r/wildhockey.