Week 18 of the Nerdy 30: Tamed Wild and Flying Red Wings

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Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

As we get closer to the trade deadline, it is time to eliminate another team as everyone has played over 53 games (or 8/14ths) this season. As much as I would like to Montreal and their decaying corpse of a season, I need to know that Carey Price has a chance of playing this season or not. If the answer is yes, anything better than what Montreal’s other goaltenders should make them a playoff team because of their five-on-five play. Until then, let’s pick a team that just decided to fire their head coach and make their short and long term future very uncertain.

The Minnesota Wild are scratched off in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game Standings Points Pace: 75 points, Last Week: 29)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: V, LW: 28)
  • 27. Ottawa (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 26. Calgary (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 25)
  • 25. Edmonton (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 27)
  • 24. Toronto (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 24)
  • 23. Minnesota (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 19)
  • 22. Winnipeg (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 23)

So it finally happened. Minnesota’s most loathsome hockey man is gone and as Mike Yeo was fired after an abysmal 13 losses in 14 games. It is one thing to see the Wild try to get rid of, supposedly, the biggest problem on the team. It is another to see that problem replaced by someone who may not be such an upgrade. John Torchetti may have coached some of the younger players from the Wild while he was head coach of their parent AHL club, but he has only coached 27 career NHL games while serving as interim coach with the Florida Panthers in 2004 and the 51-year old has never made it passed the first round of any professional level in almost 20 years  and that was with the CHL’s San Antonio Iguanas.

With a division that already has such experienced NHL head coaches like Lindy Ruff, Joel Quenneville and Peter Laviolette and even Paul Maurice in the Central Division, someone like Torchetti is going to be an extremely hard sell as a long-term answer to Wild fans wanting to see the most out of a crop of expensive veterans possibly in their last years of their primes.

Thomas Vanek is a disaster, even if he were to rack up a lot of points and has to be traded immediately. As much as some are saying the same with Jason Pominville, I’m not there in that regard due to him shooting at 4.1%, while his career rate is at 10.8%. However, it maybe time for him to get into gritty areas as his average shooting distance tends to be 34-37 feet and from his right wing area. This is considering that some of the better forwards in the league shoot almost ten feet closer. If Nate Prosser gets a sweater one more time, they might as well have fan tryouts and see how many play better than him. It’s an insult to Chuck Fletcher every time this happens considering he brought in Mike Reilly and Christian Folin to shore up the bottom pairing defense. Lastly, somebody needs to figure out how to make Jonas Brodin play like the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft.

To do so, Torchetti has to sort out the defense pairings better than Yeo ever did this year. While Jarred Spurgeon and Ryan Suter have played well together this season, Matt Dumba really lacks a partner to help generate positive puck possession with. Up front, it is time to see what Jason Zucker can do in a top six role as he consistently been among the team leaders in points and shot attempts per hour and all are within a 25th-percentile of forwards with 300 minutes of even strength play.

Can Torchetti be the long term answer or does Minnesota expect him to be more of a stop gap until they can hire someone with significantly better credentials. Either way, this seems like a lost season for a team that doesn’t have time to afford to have one.

  • 21. Colorado (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 22)
  • 20. Arizona (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 21)
  • 19. New Jersey (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 20)
  • 18. Philadelphia (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 18)
  • 17. Boston (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 17)
  • 16. St. Louis (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 14)
  • 15. Pittsburgh (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)

While we were talking about Torchetti’s lack of strong credentials to last as an NHL head coach, Mike Sullivan’s could be placed in the same category. He has been essentially John Tortorella’s side kick since 2007 after two years being the head coach in Boston where the Bruins were starting to rebuild their roster to what it is today. However, take note that Sullivan will only turn 48 years old on February 27th. If anything, he is still a young pup in the coaching profession and seems to share similarities with Alain Vigenault based on head coaching time gaps alone. At 40, Vigenault was fired after 20 games with Montreal before taking the head coaching job at Vancouver at 46. In other words, Sullivan may not have the most ideal resume, but he shouldn’t be discounted as a bad head coach either. If anything, this could be a guy that has learned the more modern tricks of the NHL coaching trade over the years and has come back stronger than ever. And boy, are Pittsburgh benefiting from him.

When Mike Johnston was fired, the Penguins sat with an abysmal 48.7% score-adjusted puck possession that was saved by Mark Andre-Fleury and Co.’s even strength save percentage of 93.7%. Since Sullivan has taken over, only the resurgent Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have had more shot attempts go in their favor at even strength as Pittsburgh’s puck possession number climbed to 54.4%. Along with that, Pittsburgh’s defense has improved from 55.5 shot attempts per hour to 49.3 and their offense has gone from 52.6 shot attempts per hour to 58.7. If not for the even strength save percentage dipping to 92.9% and the on-ice shooting percentage barely increasing from 6.3% to 6.6%, the Penguins would probably be much better than where they are now. Instead, they are in the thick of being one of the lower seeds of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and that should scare Washington or Florida.

You may laugh at that statement, and it’s true that Pittsburgh’s tradition of ignoring talent along the bottom six forward lines continue with this hockey club, but at minimum, Mike Sullivan has had their star forwards produce at a higher level than they ever had at the beginning of the season. Consider that there were ten-game stretches this season where Sidney Crosby, high volume shooter Patrick Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz were on the ice generating almost less than 50 shot attempts per hour. Now, that number is hitting the mid-70s.

In defense, gone are the likes of Rob Scuderi and Ian Cole as well as a handful of minutes to Ben Lovejoy’s playing time and in comes Trevor Daley, Derek Pouliot and more Brian Dumoulin. Pittsburgh can certainly do more to make their team better if they ever want to be considered a cup contender, but at minimum, they can match with the best in the league with top end talent, deep offensive talent from the points and goaltending. It may be considered laughable to see Pittsburgh upset Washington in the playoffs and continue their 41 years of hurt, but it shouldn’t be considered impossible either.

  • 14. Carolina (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 16)
  • 13. Montreal (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 9)
  • 12. New York Rangers (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 12)
  • 11. Anaheim (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 15)
  • 10. Nashville (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 8)
  • 9. San Jose (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 11)
  • 8. Detroit (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 10)
  • 7. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 7)

There has been one narrative that has been missing from hockey folks when talking about Detroit. Are they as boring as the New Jersey Devils?

That may seem like a stretch considering that Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and now Dylan Larkin headline a solid, if not great top tier talent of goal scoring and playmaking. However, consider the amount of offense they generate and the emphasis of structure and systems play under Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill and it’s not the most farfetched statement to make. Since the 2007-08 season, Detroit’s foundations have been to be amongst the best teams in the NHL in suppressing shot attempts and this season is no different. Currently, they are sitting with 48.8 shot attempts given up per hour at even strength. Only New Jersey and Los Angeles does a better in that category. However, since the 2012-13 lockout season, Detroit seems to be a team that is struggling to generate offense consistently and has not been able to hit the 55.5 shot attempts per hour that season since. This year, they are sitting at a 24th best 51.8 shot attempts per hour.

Individually, however, the Red Wings don’t lack shooters. The likes of Larkin, Brad Richards, Tomas Tatar and Darren Helm each average well over 14 shot attempts per hour. That rate is good enough to be within the top-61 forwards in the league that have played 300 even strength minutes. However, only Larkin is receiving top line level minutes in terms of time on ice and quality of competition. Is it time for Blashill to loosen the reins on Gustav Nyquist, Tatar and Richards to generate goals? Would it mean that Helm has to play less of a sneaky Selke Trophy nominee role player and more of a top six goal-scoring role? This may seem a lot to ask and might cause too much of a headache towards an organization that likes being organized for the better part of two decades. If Detroit ever wants to get back to becoming a dynasty and take advantage of Petr Mrazek’s fantastic goaltending, however, they might have to do something out of the ordinary to improve their chances.

  • 6. Florida (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Tampa Bay (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Chicago (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Dallas (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 128 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 1)

Almost 24 hours have past and I still don’t know how Los Angeles to my Capitals last night. It can’t be stated enough the relentless pinning in the offensive zone and the cycle game that came in waves after waves that Darryl Sutter’s men played with. This isn’t last year’s team where their shot quality doomed them. This is a team that is back to dominating in all facets of analytics-era hockey.

 

 

In comparison to last season, Los Angeles now relies more on Brayden McNabb along the blue line so much that he has been Drew Doughty’s defense partner instead of Jake Muzzin. Instead, Muzzin has paired with Alec Martinez while the newly acquired Luke Schenn has been playing bottom pairing minutes while Matt Greene has been out since October from shoulder surgery.

Up front, if you thought about putting stock into the “Darren Helm for Selke” campaign. Don’t forget Anze Kopitar. While zone starts really shouldn’t be taken into account towards a player’s talent too dramatically, it is nice to see how they characterize how a player plays and how he can be trusted by his coach. Of the 80 forwards that have played 750 minutes of even strength time this season, Kopitar has dealt with the 8th worst relative zone start percentage. However, has racked more even strength points (28) than any forward with that many minutes and with a negative relative zone start percentage. Only Jonathan Huberdeau is close at 25 points and has faced tougher zone starts than Kopitar, but his on-ice puck possession sits at 47.8% while Kopitar’s is the usual mind-boggling 58.0%. Yeah, the Kings are really good and probably should win the Stanley Cup this year barring something dramatic from happening.

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