What We Learned: Behind the Minnesota Wild’s collapse

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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

There’s a perception that at this time of year, teams coached by Bruce Boudreau tend to collapse.

Well, maybe “perception” is the wrong word here, because on some level they do indeed seem to drop off a bit in the final month or so of the season. The postseason record — insofar as we want to read into all those one-goal Game 7 losses being indicative that he’s somehow to blame there — stands in furtherance of the point, if you’re trying to make it.

I don’t think that’s entirely fair. From March 1 on in the full seasons (and March 15 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign), his teams have collected a record of 108-63-22, a pace for a little more than 101 points over 82 games. But a lot of that is propped up by his time with that Caps wrecking crew, which carried a 121-point pace after that cut-off date under Boudreau.

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With the Ducks, there were two “collapses,” if you want to call them that. When he took over midway through the 2011-12 season, Anaheim went just 7-9-2 down the stretch (a 73-point pace), but that was a bad team in the first place and also an improvement on the pace they had before Boudreau took over anyway. The next year, with the lockout, they went 10-9-3, which flat-out isn’t good enough for a team that started 20-3-3.

But the next three seasons with the Ducks? Paces of 105, 104, and 105 points after March 1.

That ain’t collapsing, folks. Sorry to say.

Obviously, then, this year is a bit of an outlier for Boudreau in that regard. And while Wild fans always talk about mid- and late-season swoons for that franchise in general, regardless of coach, the three years previous to this one have seen them improve on their season-long paces after March 1.

This is a basically unprecedented collapse for both this coach and anything resembling the current roster for this franchise, and people understandably want answers. What they’re probably not going to want to hear is that thing Don Sweeney was talking about this year: “Decision-makers don’t want to hear about bad luck.”

But listen gang: It’s bad luck.

That’s it.

And to be fair, it’s particularly bad luck. Almost incredibly bad luck, as a matter of fact. Because everything the Wild have done that’s not directly related to goalscoring one way or the other since the start of March has actually been really damn good (not including yesterday’s game with Colorado).

I left the stats unadjusted here because while score effects certainly play a role, it’s important to illustrate that they’re not so powerful as to lead to 21 percent reductions in attempts against and so on. There would generally be a little wiggle room of course, but not to this extent.

Point being, the Wild are playing better now than they did for most of the year, but they’ve seen a huge swing in both goalscoring and goalkeeping. You don’t need to be an expert to understand that. But what’s amazing is that, as you can kind of infer from the scoring-chance changes above, the Wild are doing a better job of keeping opponents away from their net. They’ve cut high-danger shots on goal very slightly, and medium-danger shots are down by more than 30 percent. Low-danger shots are also down.

So the fact that Devan Dubnyk’s save percentage is in the .880s since the start of March is kinda on him (and perhaps, you could argue, Boudreau as well, for giving him so many minutes). The team in front of him is making it easier for him, but he’s melting down to a ludicrous extent. And that’s not to say he was ever likely to go .930-plus for 60 or 65 games, but to swing this badly, and more or less overnight, is a major issue. One wonders if there’s something physically wrong with him at this point that no one has disclosed.

But at the same time, you have to wonder why Boudreau doesn’t go with his backups more often than he has — and to his credit, he’s going to them more regularly than he did in the first several months of the year. On the one hand, Darcy Kuemper seems to have contracted the same disease as Dubnyk (though he also had it in February, and October, and a bunch of other points in his career, mainly because he isn’t that good). On the other, well, it’s hard to do worse. And at least Alex Stalock has been decent in limited minutes.

The goaltending issues, of course, don’t explain why the Wild have seen their shooting percentage drop from 11.2 in all situations through the end of February (the highest in the league, and extremely high even for a league-best) to just 7.25, the fourth-lowest in the league.

If their scoring chances are up, and they’re putting more shots on goal, then why on earth are they scoring 31 percent fewer goals per 60 minutes? I think part of it relates to who’s actually generating these scoring chances. Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Mikko Koivu have all seen their individual xGF/60 (a good measure of individual shot attempt quality) fall by at least 9.8 percent from the first 60ish games of the season to the past 17. Meanwhile, the guys who are generating more are deeper in the lineup, and you can generally expect those guys to convert on a relatively smaller number of their chances in the first place, plus they don’t exactly get a ton of minutes in the first place.

So if team numbers are, to some extent, being propped up by depth guys and the skill players are having a bit of bad luck (as evidenced by Granlund’s sterling unconverted scoring chance at 2:35 of this video) in addition to a little more difficulty actually getting to the net, yeah, that’s gonna hurt.

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The problem is that this team is now generally getting down early in games because its goaltending is bad, and that results in big pushes that lead the team to look worse as games go on.

There are systemic problems here that Boudreau should, to some extent, be able to fix. But if a lot of the Wild’s problems seem to be the same kind that got Claude Julien turfed in Boston, well, that’s because they are. And hey, at least they banked all those points from being extremely good for five months.

If this same run of 17 bad games cropped up in, say, December and January, but the Wild returned to winning after that, we’d have all forgotten about those 17 bad games by now. The fact that they’re arriving just six weeks before the playoffs start, and persist to this extent? Well, I really can’t see where the blame falls on anyone but Dubnyk. But there too, the guy was .930 for months. You can’t be too mad at him now.

There’s still a week left in the regular season. Maybe the Wild figure it out by playing the Avs and Coyotes to wrap things up.

And if not, well, I’m not sure what Boudreau could have done differently.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Oh yeah, the Ducks are good because of Randy Carlyle. This is a take that’s going to age well.

Arizona Coyotes: This is the highlight of their season, for sure.

Boston Bruins: They’re gonna give Cassidy the job. Let’s just accept it.

Buffalo Sabres: Congratulations to my son for his big NHL debut.

Calgary Flames: Flames owners are ghouls trying to bleed a city already going through difficult economic times for as much as $1.8 billion. With a B. Listen, the two of the five guys listed on the team’s ownership page are worth about $5.2 billion combined, according to The Internet. Crying poor when you have something like $7-8 billion in the bank as a group of five guys is disgusting and if the rich were capable of feeling shame, I would say they should be ashamed of themselves. Obscene wealth breaks people’s brains, of course, and you have to have an extremely broken brain to think normal people should give you $1.8 billion because you own a sports team. These creeps will go into the Edmonton playbook and say, “Well look at all these benefits a new arena district will provide.” But the thing is, if there were any real financial benefits to building a guaranteed-to-depreciate asset for $1.8 billion, you can be damn sure that a bunch of billionaires would be financing their own damn stadiums and pocketing the money. What people have to understand about their favorite sports teams is that these are corporations that only talk about the importance of The Fans insofar as doing so helps expedite parting The Fans with their money. All those people who lost their minds when Wyshynski made an Oilers playoffs joke seem to have very quickly forgotten that Darryl Katz was threatening to move to Seattle like 30 months ago. It’s the same with the Flames. If Murray Edwards — who by the way also helped engineer the last two lockouts — and his richboy buddies thought they could make more money in Kansas City, they’d have left years ago. Instead, they made their fans sit through an ugly rebuild and are now basically saying, “We’re good again, so pay up, suckers.” Civic pride has nothing to do with it. They could give a rat’s ass about the city of Calgary or the people who live there. These guys with multiple commas in their net worths are awful. They’re only humans in the same way Gollum used to be like a hobbit, twisted into foul creatures by their depthless avarice. If these five guys each ponied up $360 million, the arena would be Paid For. Most of them literally wouldn’t miss that money. It would not affect their lifestyles in any way. So don’t support them, and don’t let them get away with this crap. I wish I could use stronger language on here. Any team owner in any sport that does this should be beneath your contempt.

Carolina Hurricanes: This was a fun story line but it’s tough to see this team bridging the gap in any real way now.

Chicago: This is a pretty impressive feat for a team that really should be a lot worse than it is after all these years.

Colorado Avalanche: Things are going well for JT Compher these days. Except that whole “has to play for the Avalanche” thing.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Hear me out on this: What if this team’s insanely high shooting percentage for the first several months of the season wasn’t sustainable and their success was largely predicated on that good fortune, plus Bobrovsky playing incredibly well? I’ll hang up and listen.

Dallas Stars: Quick, trade Lehtonen while his value is at its peak!

Detroit Red Wings: The headlines this season have gotten progressively more depressing.

Edmonton Oilers: The last week is gonna be amazingly fun in the Pacific.

Florida Panthers: Gotta sign that horse, baby!

Los Angeles Kings: This is good stuff.

Minnesota Wild: Joel Eriksson Ek is a good late add, I think. Can’t hurt, anyway.

Montreal Canadiens: The uh, bad one. Just kidding. Maybe.

Nashville Predators: Uh, Joe? I believe it’s spelled “avoision.”

New Jersey Devils: This rowdy son of mine also made his NHL debut. What a perfect boy he is.

New York Islanders: That’s the Islanders, baby!

New York Rangers: Well it’s a good thing they’re gonna start the playoffs on the road I guess.

Ottawa Senators: This team isn’t that good. I don’t know how many times I have to repeat that.

Philadelphia Flyers: This is some scary stuff. Good lord.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sid Crosby sure is good but it feels like intentionally shooting at a goalie’s head is not nice.

San Jose Sharks: It’s a good thing for the Sharks the Wild are getting a lot of attention for falling apart, because the Sharks are falling the hell apart.

St. Louis Blues: I really don’t know that it matters who finishes third in the Central. You either play the Wild or the winner of the Pacific. Not exactly the tallest order on either front.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Folks, this Kucherov kid is solid.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Let’s think back to all those “Patrik Laine is gonna win the Calder” takes. Seems quaint now.

Vancouver Canucks: The premise of this column is amazing. “What if their coach weren’t one of the worst in the league?” “What if their GM could competently put together a roster?” Coaching is hard, GMing is easy. What’s the issue?

Vegas Golden Knights: Bless up Bill Foley!

Washington Capitals: This seems like one of those quotes where it’s like, “Except he didn’t say ‘junk.’”

Winnipeg Jets: Yeah the team is not good. Why are you surprised by this?

Play of the Weekend

I could watch this Oilers’ top line every second of the rest of my life and be perfectly content.

Gold Star Award

Wonderful to see the strong women of USA Hockey go into Plymouth and mop the floor with everyone they play again. Nice to see them get a bunch of money while they do it. Heck yeah.

Minus of the Weekend

Folks I’m feeling good about hockey this weekend so everyone gets a pass except Flames ownership. They’re bad. Morally.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “mint” had a proposal that literally led me to say, out loud, “Hell yeah, I’m in!”

To EDM:
Tavares, agrees to long term extension.

To NYI:
Puljujarvi
RNH
2017 1st
Jones/Bear/Nurse

Signoff

Marge, is Lisa at Camp Granada?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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