Now that the dust has settled after the Minnesota Wild’s elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s time to start picking apart and analysing every detail of their campaign. To start, I’m going to look at who the team’s MVPs were in the regular season.
Here I will give some credit to players who were hugely important to the team’s success this year but missed out on the final 3 because they missed more than 15 games to injury.
Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper & Ilya Bryzgalov
Any of these 3 could easily be the MVP from this season but, given the low number of games they each played, I’ve decided to give them a collective honourable mention. To put it plain and simply, the Wild would not be in the playoffs if it wasn’t for the amazing goaltending they received from these 3 at different stages of the season.
Harding played 29 games and posted a 94.2 Sv% at 5v5 (2nd best in the league). Kuemper played 26 games and stopped 93.4% while Bryzgalov played 12 and they both stopped 93.4% (T-7th in the league). Those are small samples and it’s hard to know if they would’ve been able to maintain that kind of level if any of them had spent an entire season as starter, but the contributions they made in 2013/14 put the Wild into the post-season and, for that, they deserve huge credit.
Spurgeon has been quietly doing a great job as a 2nd pairing defenceman on the Wild for the last two seasons, but he had a huge coming out party in 2013/14. All season long he played with great composure in the defensive zone, his skating through the neutral zone was a joy to behold and he seemed to just always be making a positive difference when he was on the ice whether it be through physicality, offensive play or smart defence. He could easily have been a contender for team MVP this season but I instead gave a place in the top-3 to another Wild defenceman who had a similarly great season but played more games.
Spurgeon’s underlying numbers were fantastic as he posted a positive Corsi (5v5 on ice shot attempt differential) while playing tough competition with fairly neutral zone starts. In terms of scoring, no other Wild defenceman scored even strength points at a faster rate in 2013/14 and he also accomplished that feat without the benefit of a lot of secondary assists.
He was a contributer on the powerplay and the penalty kill all season and the Wild’s ability to dominate the neutral zone and maintain puck possession in the offensive zone really suffered when he missed time with injury in the second half of the season. In 2013/14, the diminutive defenceman established himself as ready to be a top pairing defenceman in this league.
Captain Koivu misses out on the top-3 because of time lost to injury, but it’s hard to overstate how important he was to the Wild when healthy. He was simply one of the most dominant puck possession players in the league. Only 23 forwards posted a better raw Corsi For% than him and, unlike Koivu, they all played for positive Corsi teams and most of them faced far lesser difficulty of deployment. Koivu played against top competition all year and just steamrolled them. He proved that he is one of the best two-way centres in the NHL right now.
In terms of scoring, Koivu didn’t have a great year. He was very effective on the powerplay but his scoring at EV was a bit behind Granlund, Pominville and Parise. The main cause of this way his low Sh%. He shot 1.3% lower than his career average while still generating shots at a good rate. So it wasn’t like he was struggling to generate offence, he was just a bit snakebitten.
As much as people seem to want to criticise Koivu at every opportunity, this team would be in huge trouble without him. He doesn’t play a flashy role, but his crushing two-way play in the engine that drives this team.
It’s tough to leave Granlund out of the final reckoning for team MVP but, unfortunately, the team had other forwards who impressed more. He was certainly the team’s best prospect in 2013/14 and the season he had was remarkable, given how much he struggled in 2012/13. His production was somewhat erratic throughout as his chemistry with Jason Pominville seemed to go through hot and cold patches. He finished a very impressive 3rd on the team in P/60 at even strength, behind Matt Moulson and Erik Haula, who both played a lot less.
The one thing that brings Granlund’s overall rating down was his poor puck possession numbers. He parituclarly struggled in this regard in the early part of the season thanks to his not-yet-developed defensive game and his inability to control the puck for long stretches in the offensive zone. Playing a lot of minutes with Dany Heatley didn’t help. While Granlund was still producing points, this was largely benefited by Jason Pominville shooting way over his career average as opposed to them just generating a ton of offence when they were on the ice. When Pominville’s Sh% dipped, as it obviously would at some point, Granlund’s production would tail of.
He improved this side of his game as the year went on, particularly when Zach Parise, an excellent possession player, became a mainstay on his left wing. Granlund’s defensive play became better and better and he became visibly stronger and harder to separate from the puck. His skating down the stretch was very impressive.
Scandella has had a bumpy development since being drafted by the Wild in the 2nd round back in 2008 which came to a head in 2012/13 when he spent almost the entire season in the AHL while mediocre defencemen like Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser and Brett Clark stayed in the NHL with the big club. He had a strong showing the playoffs last year but even early this season there were still many fans questioning his role in the NHL after a rough night against the Anaheim Ducks earned him a couple of healthy scratches.
Since then, however, he has just been phenomenal. It took a while to catch on, but slowly fans have realised just how well he has played this season. He has been a constant presence on the 2nd pairing, establishing himself alongside Jared Spurgeon in the first half of the year (with whom he had a lot of chemistry with) before spending a lot of time with the struggling Jonas Brodin, and the extremely limited Nate Prosser after December. It has been clear to see how much his confidence has grown since October.
He has played with a lot of grit and authority in the defensive zone but, despite his large frame, has excelled at carrying the puck through the neutral zone and has shown a willingness to go to the net and be aggressive and not just resort to the safe play all the time. He sometimes has a tendency to try a few too many ambitious stretch passes, but it’s hard to fault his positive approach.
I could have given this spot to Jared Spurgeon, but I decided that Scandella should get it because he played in more games and had tougher deployment. Only 7 other defencemen had zone starts tougher than him (4 of them playing for the possession-impaired Maple Leafs), he faced above board quality of competition and spent quite a bit of time with lesser partners, yet his possession numbers were still very good relative to his teammates.
He often gets stereotyped as a defensive-defenceman, but it’s worth noting that he was 2nd among Wild d-men in P/60 at even strength and 1st in Shots/60 and Corsi (Shot attempts)/60. We saw all year that he has great offensive instincts and I feel like, with his cannon of a slap shot, there is more to come in this regard. He wasn’t used on the powerplay, but Scandella was a key part of the Wild’s penalty kill.
He deserves mentioning here as one of the team’s MVPs of the 2013/14 season and what should excite Wild fans is that he is still only 24 and the best may yet still be to come.
Parise had a very strong season. Much like Koivu, he was one of the most dominant possession players in the league while facing tough competition. His scoring was good at even strength, ranking 5th on the team (3rd if you discount Moulson and Haula). He shone in particular on the powerplay where he was the Wild’s leader in P/60.
What Parise excelled at this season was generating shots. The Wild are one of the worst teams in the league in that regard(no, really) and it’s hard to imagine how bad they would have been without Parise and his ability to just constantly get the puck on net.
The team’s 5v5 play suffered mightily in the 15 games he missed and his incredible work rate and tenacity around the net was great to watch all season. There really isn’t that much to say about him. The Wild got some great performances from several forwards this season (Koivu, Granlund, Pominville, Niederreiter) and Parise was certainly one of the best.
Most Valuable Player
Your Minnesota Wild regular season MVP for 2013/14 is Jason Pominville. Put quite simply, he was just a constant force for the Wild this year. He played in all 82 games, spending more minutes with Granlund, a young forward trying to find his way in the league, than any other player and, although he also spent significant time with Koivu and Parise, he was often on a line with the thoroughly mediocre Dany Heatley and, another talented youngster trying to find his way, in Nino Niederreiter.
Pominville’s numbers are solid as he played tough competition and put up great possession numbers despite the struggles of his main centre in that regard. He finished 4th on the team in EV scoring, behind Moulson, Haula and Granlund and 2nd in G/60.
The ex-Sabres star was hugely important to the Wild this season with his consistent play and knack for scoring important goals. Although there were some very strong candidates that I mentioned above, Pominville did just enough to earn the MVP honours.
So, how do you feel about my picks? Who would you have selected instead? Leave a comment with your thoughts and make sure to share on Twitter and Facebook.
I’ll be picking my playoff MVPs in my next article, so look out for that one.