Minnesota Wild; Is There Another Word For Slump?

Marc Elliott

ST. PAUL….  You had to know it. You just had to know that today, 24 hours after the Minnesota Wild blew a 3-0 lead to the Dallas NorthStars on Saturday eve to go on to lose 4-3 in OT that the local newspaper comment sections were going to be chock full of “fire this guy, fire that guy” rhetoric and I wasn’t disappointed. After most losses by the team there are a few comments about firing Coach Mike Yeo, GM Chuck Fletcher or both at the same time. Some things are constant. There are some fans that don’t like either and might be prone to post after a victory that it would still be a great time to issue some pink slips.

So after this particularly “ugly way to lose” kind of a game I knew the “anti” crowd would be out in full force. They were, but one comment gave me reason to pause and actually do a bit of digging to check the real record. The comment was that Yeo and Fletcher should be dismissed, and while this commenter didn’t have a replacement in mind for the Coaches spot, this person recommended that former GM Doug Risebrough should be brought back to be the GM again, the reasoning being that he couldn’t do any worse then Fletcher was doing with the team he has assembled. My immediate thought was that I could clearly recall that in the final couple of seasons of Risebrough’s tenure he was a frequent fan target of all woes Wild.

There were even a fair percentage of fans that were ready for some fresh strategy behind the bench with the legendary Jacques Lemaire getting his own share of grief. But when it comes to sports, the one thing I was told that you should always rely on for the sake of comparison are the numbers. And not any doctored up stats or the like. Just some solid data, some real honest statistical support. For the most part when it comes to winning or losing that is a fairly straight forward call. You have wins, losses and winning percentage which should be some easy data to sample.

However, (yeah, there is a however here) in the world of the NHL, at least until the first post-lockout era of the 2005-06 season forward, there were wins, losses, ties and OT losses. Yes, there were still games where fans went home with the same thing they had when they got to the arena; a tie score. This is one thing that drove me nuts going back to the NorthStars time here when they compiled an all-time record of  758-970-334.  Imagine that, 334 games ended in ties! That’s four plus 82 game regular seasons now. And back in their time the standings didn’t account for OT losses. You simply had the W-L-T listed and that was that.

So in trying to make a comparison between the DR tenure and the CF tenure, it turns out that it isn’t that straightforward. The first three seasons of the DR years you had the W-L-T-OT losses standings. In the CF era you simply have the W-L-OTL standings. All games now end in a decision, whereby they didn’t before. I like that there are no games ending in ties anymore and that the league is tweaking the methods of getting to that point by making OT changes to lessen the number of games that would go to a shootout. I wasn’t for the new 3 on 3 OT format but I am ok with it now. It is good and it is working.

So, what did my calculations say? Who had the Wild on a better path? With the changes in tie games, OT’s and the like I thought it best just to go with wins and losses and then winning percentage, and in that scenario Fletcher’s Wild is 189-145 in 334 games for a .565 win percent. By comparison, Riser’s clubs in 548 tilts went 293-255 for a .534 percent. If I add OT losses into Fletcher’s equation though his record goes to 189-187 for a .502 average. If I exclude games that ended in ties for Riser, but add in OT losses his record changes to 293-273 in 568 games for a .516 percent.

I guess numbers wise there is no data that jumps on your back and says this is the guy over this other guy. Both GM’s had teams that made the playoff three times. The 2002-03 club made it as far as the Western Conference Final, Fletcher’s club has made the 2nd Round twice, losing out both times, and last year, quite un-ceremoniously at that. The Blackhawk’s swept them in a 4 game beat down of sorts. At the end of the day there is no data in existence in my book that states that one is hands down better then the other.

The real question of the day for me is where are the Wild going? They are now 1-6 in their last 7 games. They have had to deal with injuries of two star players (Parise & Scandella) down to fill in guys of 3rd and 4th liners. Nothing about the goaltending in this stretch is jumping out at me and with the team up against the salary cap, making a trade or two is about the only thing they could do now to attempt to change the clubs direction if that is the way they chose to go. So far, Fletcher has shown that he prefers to develop a comfort zone of sorts where the roster has some familiarity with on another. Some coaches and GM’s prefer to have players looking over their shoulders all of the time and some don’t. The results of the two approaches are mixed.

The Sagarin ranking through Saturday 11/28 shows the Wild ranked at 14th, with an 11-11 record, 2-5 versus the top ten in the rank and 4-7 against the top sixteen as in teams that would make the playoffs if they were right now, and if the Sagarin accurately mirrored the standings. We know Fletchers record, Yeo is 150-144 prior to this year. Fletcher’s first Coach, Todd Richards was 77-87. We have a lot of just over, just under .500 going on here. Where are the Wild headed? PEACE