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Are The 2011 Minnesota Wild Better Than Their 2010 Team?

"Puck possession is everything."
--Mike Babcock

One of central pillars of the arguments from those who believe the Wild are a legitimate top-tier team is shot quality. The argument says something to the effect that possession metrics don't explain the Wild because they get better shots and generate more scoring chances as part of believing and playing in Mike Yeo's system.

The terrifying Vic Ferrari used the Babcock quote in an article he penned of the same name. In that article, Ferrari explained his study on the correlation between scoring chances and possession (Corsi). The money quote is here

The idea is that the more games you're looking at, the more luck washes out. And you can see that over a small batch of games the player's scoring chance rates mesh reasonably well with results (goals) for these 20 Oiler players as a group. But as the sample of games grows larger, near the 77 total, the relationship becomes overwhelming and obvious.

Over time, the ability to create a gap in the possession metrics and scoring chances for disappears. Back to Ferrari:

I think that Mike Babcock is right, possession is everything. Damn close to it at even strength, anyways. I also agree with his thinking that being a "puck possession(TM)" team has little to do with coaching style, and everything to do with how good your players are.

For those of you that haven't clicked through to Vic's article, the last sentence is tremendous.

How does all of this apply to the Wild?

Our resident internet physiotherapist, doogie, tried to find a silver lining in Minnesota's underlying numbers in the comments of my last look at the Wild:

"I still sort of expect this team to improve its possession standing by the end of the year (no one can be that bad, can they?),"

Yes, actually, they can. Remember what Vic said "...being a "puck possession(TM)" team has little to do with coaching style, and everything to do with how good your players are..." I've looked at season segments and demonstrated they aren't getting better this year. Gabriel Desjardins' season tracker shows the same thing in graphical form. But getting their lunch handed to them at even strength is not a new trend for the Wild. In the table below I've listed Minnesota's possession metrics for the last three seasons.

Fenwick Category % NHL Rank Standings Finish
2011 Tied 42.24 30th ?
2010 Tied 42.97 30th 21
2009 Tied 46.11 28th 22
2008 Tied 46.92 23rd 19

Fenwick Category % NHL Rank Standings Finish
2011 Close 44.45 29th ?
2010 Close 43.14 30th 21
2009 Close 47.31 25th 22
2008 Close 46.80 24th 19

I've also listed their NHL rank in those metrics as well as their final position in the league-wide standings. The Wild have been one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to possessing the puck and have consistently finished in the bottom third of the league. The key, however, comes in understanding that the Wild aren't better than last year and are worse than the teams from 2008-09 and 2009-10.

But what about the claim (the same claim made by Avs' fans two years ago) that they are able to generate key shots and scoring chances because of their system? Thanks to the Scoring Chance Project, we can test that. Our scorers have recorded all but three Wild games and the Wild have tallied a Scoring Chance Close Percentage of .459, which is slightly better than Edmonton's close percentage from last season.

The Wild are full value as one of the worst even strength teams in the league. No, the Wild have no specific talent for generating scoring chances in spite of possession. Mike Yeo's system is not responsible for increased scoring chances.

"..being a "puck possession(TM)" team has little to do with coaching style, and everything to do with how good your players are."