Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Minnesota Wild

Unrestricted free agency has been open for about a week now. I thought that it would be good to take a look at how each team in the Northwest division is doing, both for this coming season and for 2010-11. When I did this exercise before the trade deadline I assumed that most teams would plan for the possibility that the cap could fall to 50M for that 2010-11 season. I still think that this ought to be the strategy going forward. Each team will be evaluated using the following as a general guideline for where money should be expected (modified from my last attempt to better reflect the reality of where most teams are spending money, i.e. more money allocated for goaltending):

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

I'll also take a look at each move each team has made in the last month that involves potential NHL players for the upcoming year. Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). First up is the Minnesota Wild:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Koivu, Bouchard, Havlat = 12.33 or 21.7%

Middle 6 Forwards - Nolan, Brunette, Miettinen, Belanger, Sheppard, Clutterbuck = 11.29 or 19.9%

Top 4 Defenders - Johnsson, Burns, Schultz, Zidlicky = 15.25 or 26.8%

Goaltending - Backstrom, ??? = 6.0 or 10.6%

Bottom 8 Players - Hnidy, Zanon, ???, Weller, Boogaard, Gillies, ???, ??? = 5.27 or 9.3%

The Wild are in very good shape heading into this season budget-wise. They have 3.25M to spend filling out their bottom 8 without overspending on the bottom of the roster. They've overspent slightly in goal but make up for that and more by having a cheap top 3 forwards. If an upgrade presents itself at any position they have enough flexibility to take on some salary.

1. Minnesota trades 2009 4th round pick + 2009 5th round pick to Edmonton for Kyle Brodziak + 2009 6th round pick. I've already looked at this trade quite extensively and I think that this was a solid move by the Wild. Brodziak has filed for arbitration since the trade but his contract should come in at under 1M which is exactly what the team needs for players that are going to be in a fourth line role. The fact that Brodziak has experience with taking a lot of defensive zone draws and killing penalties is a plus. Assuming a deal gets done for 1M or less, the Wild have picked up a very useful player in Brodziak.

2. Minnesota does not give a qualifying offer to Dan Fritsche. Fritsche has not established much success at the NHL level to this point but he has played four NHL seasons. He was taking on middling opposition with middling teammates and breaking even. In addition, Fritsche started in the defensive zone 29 more times than in the offensive zone, so he wasn't really being sheltered. On the other hand his Corsi number bested only Derek Boogaard and Colton Gillies among Wild players that managed at least 40 games and he has already had to deal with a small history of injuries. On balance, I can understand why the Wild decided not to qualify him at just under 1M but I think that I would have done it. Young fourth line players who can move up the lineup in a pinch and play for less than 1M are worth keeping around. The gains in depth made by bringing in Brodziak are probably mostly lost by losing Fritsche for nothing.

3. Minnesota signs Greg Zanon to a three year deal at 1.93M per year. Greg Zanon played last season in Nashville's top four. Although Zanon's Corsi number was quite poor (second worst among regulars and worst among Nashville defencemen), he did have 132 more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. Still, that's an awful lot of ground to make up. Just by eyeballing it, I don't think he made it. Thankfully, JLikens has made it possible for me to do more than eyeball. According to his adjusted zoneshift Zanon was one of the one hundred worst players in the NHL at getting the puck moving in the right direction at even strength.

But that wasn't Zanon's only contribution. He and partner Dan Hamhuis were also the first option on Nashville's penalty kill so I would expect him to be used in that role as well. Unfortunately for the Wild, the Predators penalty kill was scored on far more often with Zanon on the ice (6.57 GA/60) as opposed to on the bench (3.19 GA/60). It's quite possible that part of the reason is Zanon's ice time against the other team's top power play options. Still, that's a lot of ground to make up.

Like Brodziak, Zanon played for the Wild's new coach, Todd Richards, in the AHL so, if nothing else, the coach will have a lot of confidence in what Zanon brings to the table. Still, I'm not a big fan of this signing. He provides pretty much no offence. This past year was, if anything, his best and at 29 it's very likely that he's not still improving. Considering that he's currently going to be #5 for Minnesota, the price tag looks a bit steep but the Wild have enough cheap options that this isn't a big concern for them. Going forward Zanon is insurance for the top 4 and it may be that Minnesota sees him in that role for the last two years of his contract. Overall, I think this is a pretty weak signing.

4. New York signs Marian Gaborik to a five year deal at 7.5M per year. If Gaborik is healthy this deal could work well, but I really don't fault the Wild for not doling out this kind of cash for Gaborik. The money is the most per season of any free agent signed this summer and there were other options available. Letting go of Gaborik made it imperative that the Wild pursue one of those other high-end options.

5. Minnesota signs Martin Havlat to a six year deal at 5M per year. This deal locks Havlat in for his 28 through 33 year old seasons which makes the length of the deal a big win for the Wild. Havlat is a very good player at both ends of the rink. Havlat was third among forwards in terms of quality of competition this past season with the Blackhawks and started 59 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. He was by no means sheltered, but did receive some offensive time. 2.89 pts/60 and a +22 at even strength. If health was of on concern this deal would be a clear win for the Wild. Even with the injury risk factored in, it looks pretty darn good. This was by far the biggest move for the Wild this summer and they made it a good one.

6. Minnesota signs Shane Hnidy to a one year deal at 0.75M per year. Hnidy was a bottom pairing defender in Boston last season and will probably be a bottom pairing defender in Minnesota. This signing ensures that the Wild have veterans six deep on the blueline. Hnidy is getting a bit older but should still be able to offer capable defence as Minnesota's #6 option. Plus, the price is good. A nice depth signing for the Wild.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Koivu, Bouchard, Havlat = 12.33 or 24.7%

Middle 6 Forwards - Brunette, Miettinen, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 4.67 or 9.3%

Top 4 Defenders - Burns, Schultz, Zanon, ??? = 8.98 or 18.0%

Goaltending - Backstrom, ??? = 6.0 or 12.0%

Bottom 8 Players - ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, Gillies, ???, ??? = 1.04 or 2.1%

Every position is on budget even if the cap declines with the exception of Backstrom in goal. Most of the extra that will be required there is already made up for with their cheap top three forwards. If the backup is a bit pricy the Wild are well-positioned to save some money in their top 4 defenders. Given the amount of money they still have to spend on the top 4 defenders, they may even be able to push Zanon down into the bottom pairing. The wonderful contracts given to Schultz, Burns and Koivu have really set this team up nicely. There are no egregious problem contracts on the team at this point. If the cap really does go down, the Wild should be able to pick up some great talent at a fantastic rate next summer.


REDBARON said...

Great Wild roster analysis:

As a native Clevelander I have been puzzled by Dan Fritsche's lack of N.H.L. success. He is a strong skater. He has good acceleration and he gives a big effort on every shift. Why has he not done better?

Scott Reynolds said...

Thanks RedBaron.

As for Fritsche, I think there's some truth to the idea that he was rushed along by Columbus. There aren't many players who have success at 18 years old and Fritsche was no exception. The shoulder injury in 2001-02 probably also held him back as serious injuries often play a big part in hindering development. That said, Fritsche is still in his early twenties and could still have a career in the NHL.

JLikens said...

I really like what the Wild have done in signing Havlat as Gaborik's replacement. And this is coming from someone who's one of Gaborik's biggest fans.

They're effectively saving 2.5 MM/year for a player of equivalent value.

While Havlat isn't the goalscorer that Gaborik is, he's a much more well-rounded player. The Havlat - Bolland - Ladd line destroyed the opposition at even strength last year despite playing tough minutes.