Did you watch the 30 Rock finale? Do you remember the scene where Liz Lemon gets onto an elevator with Conan O’Brien and she shoots him down, prompting him to wonder when he will ever lose his virginity? I bring this up only because the shot had a weird green-screeny look to it, like they weren’t actually in an elevator but on a stage. My theory on this is that because he’s 6’4″ and she’s 5’5″ they couldn’t actually frame the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder, so they had them do it in front of a screen (these are the things that I think about sometimes…) And the only reason I bring this up at all is because, like a lot of people, I’ve seen Ryan Suter’s lousy Corsi stats and have started to wonder about that huge contract and whether he will be the same player as he was in Nashville…we’ll come back to this later.
After watching the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week, I’m staying cautiously optimistic about the team’s potential this year, but I’m not deluding myself either–they still look like a team that’s developing a number of young players and building team chemistry. Between the injuries last year, the new faces this year, and the lockout-shortened training camp/lack of preseason, I’m sticking by my it’s-too-early-to-really-know-anything stance. They hung with the Blues and Blackhawks, undoubtedly two of the conference’s better teams, but they also let the Blue Jackets hang around with them, so I’m not too sure what to make of them yet.
Back to Suter. Imagine you start your NHL career paired up with a guy who’s 6’4″ (without skates) and 230 or so pounds. He’s like Leroy Brown–baddest man in the whole damn town. He clears out the crease with the greatest of ease, lays bone-crushing hits, sometimes goes a little too far, and will go toe-to-toe with any opponent. You play your first seven years in the League with this man, your playstyle literally develops alongside his. Then, you get your opportunity to get capital-p Paid so you go to Minnesota, where they pair you up with this guy. Jared Spurgeon is listed at 5’9″ and 185 pounds. If you believe that, I’d love to talk to you about a fantastic real estate opportunity in beautiful northern Minnesota.
Don’t misunderstand me–I like Spurgeon fine. He’s a great skater, he sees the ice well, knows how to make a good pass, and he’s got a knack for getting out from behind his own net and over the attacking blue line in just a few seconds. Plus he’s played for Mike Yeo for a year so he has more familiarity with the system than Suter. I’ve got a special place for Spurgeon in my heart because he’s about the same size as me, and us little guys gots to stick together. But he’s not a top-line NHL defenseman. His game is too one-dimensional to be getting top-pair minutes, and I think it’s clear that Suter and Spurgeon just don’t have the chemistry–probably because if you cloned Spurgeon and duct-taped the two together then doused the double-Spurgeon with water, it would still weigh less than Shea Weber after he’s eaten a double quarter-pounder. Seriously, if you gave him a two-handed axe, Weber would fit right in fighting alongside Qhorin Halfhand and the Watchers on the Wall. But I digress…let’s get to the numbers.
I’ve wanted to do some Wild usage charts for a little while now, and they’re fairly informative but it’s still too early and because Yeo has had the same 12 skaters all year there is a lot of overlap. Check out Rob Vollman’s page describing usage charts if you need a refresher. In short, the X axis here is percent of offensive-zone starts (excluding NZ,) the Y axis is CorsiRel QoC (quality of competition,) and the bubble is CorsiRel, with solid bubbles representing players who see more shots at the opponent while on the ice, and white bubbles representing players who are getting rubber thrown at them. Numbers are current as of 1-31-13, I whipped up these charts before last night’s Anaheim game:
I wrote earlier this week that I’m happy with the way Mike Yeo is switching up the lines, and that extends to the recent shake-up on the blue line. Suter’s CorsiRel bubble actually overlaps Clayton Stoner’s completely, though it sort of looks like a little Death Star right there on the chart (30 Rock, Game of Thrones, Star Wars–NERD TRIFECTA!) Enter: Jonas Brodin. In a Wild system that’s loaded with prospects, Brodin has earned himself a spot with the big boys, and in just four games, he has impressed the coaching staff enough that it looks like he’ll stick around–plus he and Suter seem to have good chemistry so far. I am going to dig more into the Suter-Spurgeon vs. Suter-Brodin pairings in another article this weekend, though with a podcast still to record and the Super Bowl coming up, I’ll have to find the time somehow.
The top line of Parise-Koivu-Heatley is driving possession for the team and getting an almost exact 50-50 split offensive zone/defensive zone. Koivu and Parise are fantastic 200-ft players, while Heatley is as disinterested in backchecking as I have ever seen in a player. Granlund and Setoguchi are still seeing the toughest competition of anyone on the team, and it’s becoming clear that Granlund just can’t handle it. His numbers are downright lousy so far, and I wonder if Yeo will continue his throw-him-into-the-deep-end approach or if we’ll see a shake-up. I’m just saying, Kyle Brodziak did a fine job centering the second line last year through all the injuries, and Matt Cullen still has a heartbeat. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is getting the sheltered treatment, which is fine by me. He’s been making plays and getting game winners, so just let him do his thing. When Granlund and Bouchard get caught together in the defensive zone, though, it’s just brutal.
I will not overreact to Marco Scandella…I will not overreact to Marco Scandella…I will not overreact to Marco Scandella. But look at that big red bubble! It’s way too small a sample, only three games included here, but that’s an OZ St% of 28.6, a CorsiRel QoC of 1.28, and a CorsiRel of 18.6. Plus his on-ice Sv% was .813, so no favors there. Ok, I got that out of my system. I really think this guy can be a solid top-four defenseman for the Wild, so now that he’s back with the team I’ll continue to eagerly watch his progression.
Alright that’s all for now. Thanks for reading, make sure to follow me on Twitter @Hashtag_Hockey, and check back later today probably for my per-game analysis of Suter-Spurgeon vs Suter-Brodin. Until then, LIVE EVERY WEEK LIKE IT’S SHARK WEEK!