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What we do know after six starts, though, are these things:
*He gives the Wild a chance this year that it flat-out wouldn’t have had without him. Minnesota had a 9 percent chance of making the playoffs at the All-Star break, according to their record and a simulation of the rest of the season from Hockey Reference. Since then, Minnesota has 2-1 and 1-0 wins on the road. Dubnyk was solid in the first; he was spectacular in the second, a blanking of Calgary on Thursday in which me made many tremendous saves — including a third-period breakaway and an underrated pad stop in the final seconds. The Wild would have earned, at most, one point in those two games had either Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom played. Instead, they got the full four — in regulation, which was particularly huge against Calgary — and have nearly doubled that playoff probability to 17 percent already. It’s still a long way to go, but it’s a good start.
*Though he’s a free agent after this season, he’s the kind of goalie that has found a long-term home in Minnesota before. Manny Fernandez was 26 and in search of playing time when the Wild picked him up. Backstrom was playing in Finland before the Wild grabbed him at age 28. Dwayne Roloson was an undistinguished journeyman before finding a home in Minnesota at age 32. Those three goalies have the most wins in Wild history. Dubnyk, 28, has put up respectable numbers on bad teams. Maybe this is the right fit for both the short and long term?
Even if this is just a rental, though, Dubnyk has proven — so far — to be a smart acquisition. There’s nothing like good goaltending to give a team hope, and that’s what the Wild (finally) has this year.
It’s January, and none of the games are even close to being played yet. Spring training is still a month away. And even when real games happen, they will be played on the field, not paper.
Still, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for team records came out this week, and they are not kind to the entire AL Central — and the Twins in particular.
The Tigers are projected as the division winner with a mere 82-80 record. The Twins? They’re dead last at 70-92, which is also the worst projected record in the entire AL.
Silver lining, we suppose, if you root for the Twins? Nobody is expected to be good in the division, so in theory Baseball Prospectus is saying this thing is wiiiiide open. If the Twins can overachieve, maybe they have a chance?
As you’ve noticed in the past couple weeks, we’re getting more and more interested in advanced hockey stats. We’re not entirely sure why, since we’ve only dipped toes into other more widely accepted advanced stats in baseball and basketball. Maybe it’s the hipster in us; we only want to like something if we’re in on the ground floor.
In any event, Own The Puck put together a great tool and posted it Thursday. Basically, it compares the 390 forwards starting in 2012-13 and running through now (so about 2 1/2 seasons) who have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 action in the NHL, taking a look at two main areas: puck possession and production.
Possession is where we get into the real advanced stats — one called “usage adjusted Corsi percentage.” If you want a long explanation of what it is, this is a good primer. The short version, as explained to us by @BobaFenwick on Twitter, is that UAC% “measures how much a player drives possession based on deployment, linemates, and competition.” It’s kind of like WAR in baseball. You’re attempting to strip out all other factors to determine, in a vacuum, how well a player drives puck possession, obviously a valuable asset in hockey.
Production is easier to measure: Own the Puck takes a look at goals, assists, points and scoring chances, all per 60 minutes played.
The particularly nice thing about the new tool is that it creates bar graphs for each metric, showing where each player ranks among the 390 forwards in each category and separating them out in to 1st-through-4th liners in each category in terms of production.
Of particular interest are four Wild forwards: Jason Zucker, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise. Here is what stood out to us in each case (we can’t link to the individual bar graphs because it’s a drop-down menu, but we’ll show Zucker’s to illustrate):
*Zucker: His numbers are all over the map. In terms of UAC%, which again is essentially driving puck possession when all other factors are stripped away, Zucker is barely a third-liner and ranks in the bottom third of forwards.
Goals scored? Zucker is elite. As in, fifth-best out of all 390 forwards in terms of 5-on-5 goals scored per 60 minutes. Assists? He’s 12th-worst among the forwards. Scoring chances? He’s top 30.
Basically he’s a guy who doesn’t drive possession well, but when he gets the puck he’s extremely dangerous as a goal-scorer and a chance-producer but not as a set-up man for others. He an interesting mix of marginal and elite.
*Vanek: Much like Zucker, Vanek is a high-end producer, but a low-end puck possessor. His UAC% is in the bottom 50 out of the 390 forwards (not bottom 50 percent, bottom 50). But he’s top-10 in assists and top 25 in points (again, overall numbers and not percentages). In production, he’s a first-line forward (from 2012-present, remember). In possession, he’s a fourth-line forward.
*Parise: His numbers are strong across the board, as one would expect. But what’s nice is that the numbers reflect exactly the kind of player he is. In terms of possession and scoring chances he’s elite — top 40 in both cases. In terms of production (goals, assists, points), he dips down to a borderline first-liner/top-end second-liner.
*Pominville: He’s interesting in that the numbers show he’s a clear first-line forward when it comes to possession, goals, assists and points. But scoring chances? He’s below average, ranking around 250th of the 390 forwards. That could indicate Pominville gets a lot of second assists to boost his totals — and that he’s good at making the most of his scoring chances.
If you’re interested about other NHL/Wild players, we suggest you get lost in the maze of the drop-down menu. Bring a box of tissues if you look at Dany Heatley.
With Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic all out with injuries, and with other key players from a year ago either traded or dispatched — as we wrote the other day, the top seven in minutes played this year for the Wolves is completely different from the top seven in minutes played last year — Minnesota went from a .500 team that had a chance to win almost every game to a squad that couldn’t compete most nights.
When Pekovic returned a week ago, there were glimpses of more watchable basketball. On offense, he creates space and works the glass. He’s never been a great defensive player, but he’ll give a credible effort and take up space. He gave the Wolves better flow on both ends.
Another piece returned Wednesday, with Martin coming back and getting 21 points in his return. Just like Pek, Martin creates space on offense, scores in a way nobody else on the roster can score, and at least knows where he is supposed to be on the defensive end even if he’s limited.
The result was a 110-98 win over Boston. Yes, the Celtics looked like a tired team in the final game of a six-game road trip. Even at full strength, Boston is a bad team. But the Wolves, on many nights before the return of Pek and Martin, struggled against any team — good, bad, tired, fresh, you name it.
We at least have a glimpse, now, of the preseason vision. Andrew Wiggins is more fully developed now than he was three months ago. Shabazz Muhammad, who is out with an injury as well, looks to be another key piece going forward. Zach LaVine, raw but with ability, showed Wednesday when he can do in spurts.
The Wolves were in control of the entire second half — and had enough fun for Thad Young to play with Wiggins’ ear in the postgame locker room interview session.
When the Wolves get Rubio and Muhammad back, we still don’t think they will “shock a lot of people,” as Martin said the Wolves were poised to do before all the injuries.
But already Wednesday, they looked competent and played their most watchable game in months.
Former Wolves boss David Kahn was a sportswriter in his past life … and now he is one again. He’s been writing recently for Bloomberg, weighing in on a number of sports topics.
His latest thoughts, which came out Wednesday, center around arena size in sports — more specifically in the NBA, and most specifically in Milwaukee.
Kahn’s argues that a small-market team like the Bucks doesn’t need the same size arena as a big-market team like the Lakers. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced this week that he proposes to both cut funding to UW schools by $300 million while also authorizing $220 million in state bonds for a new Bucks arena that could cost up to $500 million, which seems like a cool priority.
Kahn argues that a smaller arena would cost less and create more seating demand. Just how small? Per Kahn:
This isn’t just about Milwaukee: If a new or remodeled arena in a similarly small, oversaturated market calls for anything larger than 12,500 seats, then it does so at its (and the public’s) peril. The construction savings would be enormous — 12,500 seats requires only one seating level (no club level or upper deck) and only one large, well-designed public concourse, not multiple concourses, also reducing points of sale. Not all arena projects are priced the same — land, labor and finishes play significant roles in cost — but the elimination of 25 percent of square footage from a $500 million arena project should roughly correspond to a similar amount of savings. In Milwaukee, that 35 percent reduction in seating capacity would increase demand over supply when the team is winning and help protect the downside when it’s not.
There seems to be some logic here, but 12,500? That seems really small. Kahn holds up Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke as an example of what happens when you control seating supply (though, you know, demand there is also helped by winning).
Overall, we’d say this isn’t a worse idea than drafting Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry. But we can’t say we fully endorse it, either.
|New England||2/1/15 5:30 PM|
|LA Clippers||7:00 PM|
|Golden State||8:00 PM|
|St. Louis||6:00 PM|
|Oregon State||9:00 PM|
|Kent State||9:00 PM|
|Canisius||44||2nd Half 15:13|
|Coll of Charleston||6:00 PM|
|(19) Princeton||6:00 PM|
|(9) Florida State||6:00 PM|
|Wichita State||7:00 PM|
|Missouri State||7:05 PM|
|(11) Arizona State||8:00 PM|