This summer, Chuck Fletcher watched noted veterans Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard leave via free agency, traded Cal Clutterbuck, and bought out Tom Gilbert. Due to the decreasing salary cap, the team was forced to fill these positions mainly with in-house candidates, better known as their young prospects, rather than go through free agency. The amount of players on the active roster at age 24 or younger, increased big time.
Eight guys 23 and younger in #mnwild lineup tonight
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) January 4, 2014
So the question has to be asked. Did the Wild really get worse from last year? Before we answer that, lets take the following facts into consideration.
Through 43 games this season, the Wild are 21-17-5 with 47 points. By comparison at this time during last year, the team was 24-16-3 with 51 points (Note: last year's season ended after 48 games). Also worth noting that the Wild only played teams from the Western Conference last year due to the shortened season.
|Courtesy of sportingcharts.com|
Besides the lack of quality shots, the Wild have vastly improved in terms of puck possession (before the six game losing streak, the numbers were much better looking). The below stats are the Wild's 5 on 5 close numbers from 2012 (top photo) and 2013 (bottom photo) respectively (via Extra Skater).
With the exception of goals and shots, the team has improved. They can possess the puck at great lengths, but they just have yet to see the results on the scoreboard. Its worth noting that these improvements comes after Mike Yeo made some adjustments to his system during the summer, and the fact that the holes on the team's roster were mainly filled with youngsters.
Lastly, the team has received a boost in net thanks to the play of Josh Harding, who is having a Vezina Trophy worthy season right now. Never once in the previous six seasons under Niklas Backstrom have you ever thought of him as being in the Vezina talk. Its not a knock on him, but merely shows how incredible Josh Harding has been this year.
We now return to the question: Did the Wild really get worse?
Its close, but one should be inclined to answer with the word NO. They may not be scoring, or getting great shots, but they are possessing the puck much better and are getting great goaltending. In time, the kids will learn and they will find better shots to take which will lead to getting more pucks past the goaltender.
Its hard to think this team is better than last year's squad, given the recent losing streak. But it is ridiculous to think that a team with as many youngsters on the roster as the Wild do, could keep up their franchise record start. There will be good phases, and their will be bad phases. Let's just hope the Wild have finally come out of their bad phase for a while now.