The Minnesota Wild tumbled to 84 points and fourth place in the Northwest in 2010, and if not for the historically bad Oilers, they would have been considered one of the very worst teams in the West. Since peaking at 104 points in 2006-07, the Wild have posted seasons of 98, 89 and 84 points to complete the slide from top to non-Oilers bottom.
Jacques Lemaire took the brunt of the blame for the 2008-2009 season and he was sent out in favor of Todd Richards. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher lost Marian Gaborik and replaced him with Martin Havlat, a move that looked decent on paper, but in practice, Havlat was completely ineffective last season. Couple that with Richards' decision to take Mikko Koivu out of a power vs. power matchup, leaving Koivu to feast on lesser competition but the other Wild centers to be destroyed by the toughs, and the results on the ice were underwhelming. Long-term injuries to Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns didn't help and Niklas Backstrom spent the spring dinged up to the point of missing ten starts.
Wild fans have blamed Havlat, Richards, Pouliot, injuries, and even bottom-sixer James Sheppard, but the real problem just might be luck.
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Gabe Desjardins has looked into the impact of Jacques Lemaire on Minnesota's underlying statistics in the past, and essentially, Lemaire's system was able to limit opponent's shooting opportunities and scoring chances, which allowed the undermanned Wild to compete with teams of greater skill and ability. The system also inflated goaltender statistics, and made all of Minnesota's goaltenders look like superstars.
A look at the even strength shot rates against from the last few seasons confirms that Todd Richards wasn't doing anything so egregious that the Wild goaltenders in 2009-10 were buried under a cannonade of puckfire, or at least not more than they'd seen in the previous few seasons.
|Year||ES SA||ES SA/60||ES SV PCT|
However, a look at the even strength save percentage in the table above shows an enormous drop-off last season. Some of that can be attributed to a departure from Lemaire's system, but .914 at even strength is below-average even strength goaltending. If the Wild goaltenders would have reverted to 2007 form and posted a .922 last season, which above the league average, the Wild would have given up 24 less goals at even strength. Based on the work done by Tyler at mc79hockey.com, a differential of six goals accounts for approximately one win, so on this alone, the Wild would've had eight more points
Things were even worse on the penalty kill. Even though the Wild limited their opponents to seven less shots per sixty minutes of time on the penalty kill, the bottom fell out of their penalty kill save percentage.
|Year||PK SA||PK SA/60||PK SV PCT|
If the Wild reverted back to 2007 form on the penalty kill, it would have meant twelve less goals on the penalty kill, or two wins and four points.
Huge dips in save percentage cost the Wild somewhere between eight and twelve points in 2009-2010. Was all of this due to Jacques Lemaire's system or did the loss of Lemaire's system coincide with some severe variance from Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding's normal goaltending? Even on the penalty kill, Richards' system was limiting the opponents by more than 20% in shots against, yet the Wild fell the hardest while short-handed. If this was a case of limiting shots but surrendering scoring chances, someone should study Richards' system so that it's never used in hockey again.
The Wild should bounce back, at least in save percentage, in 2010-11. Whether that will be enough to get them back into playoff contention remains to be seen. If save percentage rebounds but not completely, and they aren't close to the playoffs, the impact of Jacques Lemaire's system becomes obvious.
Editor's Note: I've updated the stats above as the original dataset had some inconsistencies. The new dataset is taken from NHL.com