Minnesota Wild: Pontus Aberg’s Roller Coaster Season

Why does Pontus Aberg seem incapable of sticking with an organization?

Originally drafted by the Nashville Predators at 37th overall in 2012, Aberg’s career has been a whirlwind since 2018. At the 2018 trade deadline Pontus Aberg was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Mark Letestu. In 16 games with Edmonton he registered 8 points.

At the start of the 2018-2019 season, he was put on waiver and claimed by the Anaheim Ducks. After posting some decent numbers with the Ducks (19 points in 37 games) he was again traded to the Minnesota Wild in a very curios move. In Minnesota his offense suddenly dried up, posting only 1 goal and 5 assists in 22 games.

Troubles in Anaheim

The inconsistency in Aberg’s game is super obvious when you look at his time with the Anaheim Ducks.

When Aberg first came to the Ducks, you can see right away there was a huge spike in offensive output. His shooting percentage, shown by the first graph shows that twice his goals per shots on goal spiked over 20% which is an extremely effective rate. for reference here is the Minnesota Wild’s leading scorer Zach Parise on the same graph.

Any spike over 20 percent usually indicates a top 6 caliber forward. Parise and Aberg both had more than one last season, yet the peaks and valleys in Aberg’s game hold him back. Even though he was producing he was still moved from Anaheim to Minnesota. Looking at the graphs, you can clearly see why Aberg was moved. Even though Aberg had seemingly captured lightning in a bottle with the Ducks, his play quickly did a 180 degree turn.

At roughly the 30 game mark, 7 before he was traded, Aberg fell off a cliff. All of a sudden the goals per shots on net against ballooned and the goals for fell off a cliff. This defensive drop off, combined with a complete evaporation of his offense, helped add fuel to the fire that was the Ducks 12 game losing streak.

Minnesota’s Offensive Black Hole

To say Pontus Aberg struggled with the Minnesota Wild this season is a big understatement. In every way Aberg regressed in Minnesota. He went from .51 points per game to .27, his Fenwick ratio tanked from 50.6 to 48.1. His Fenwick ratio relative to his teammates went from 4.9%, a positive impact to his teammates, to -4.5%. He came to Minnesota to add depth scoring, and failed at that in a big way.

looking at his career trajectory he’s at the point now where at 25, he’s pretty much done developing at the NHL level. Furthermore he has at his best, never been more than an above average third liner, outside of one fluke streak in Anaheim.

When it gets to the point where you are no longer even breaking even with a team, and are regularly having a negative impact, it becomes a problem. In the article I wrote on Victor Rask, I mentioned that although Rask struggled mightily to post any offense he was still driving possession when he was on the ice. While there is still hope for Rask (even though he played a lot with Aberg) I don’t see the same happening for Aberg. Aberg is damaging to the Wild stat wise, and possession wise, and he represents a big risk to the Wild’s success.

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Final Thoughts

So should the Minnesota Wild re-sign Aberg? in short, no. At least not with the expectation that he can be a full-time NHL player. If he is willing to be on the AHL team to start the year and be one of the first call-up options, then he represents value.

If Paul Fenton is penciling in Aberg for a spot on the third line, then that represents a problem. Better players will be available for third line spots, for not too much more of the cap. With the space Minnesota has to add, I would much rather go out and get a Michael Grabner or Richard Panik type player that can consistently contribute 35-40 points.

*Credit to Hockeyreference.com for the analytic stats used and Hockeyviz.com for the charts used in the article*

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Can Victor Rask be A Usable Player For the Minnesota Wild?

Ever since Nino Niederreiter was sent to Carolina for Victor Rask the trade has looked especially lopsided, and not in Minnesota’s favor.

The Minnesota Wild made a very controversial trade, swapping Rask for Niederreiter. Including Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato being brought in, and longtime core players Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle being shipped out, it’s obvious. In 26 games with the Carolina Hurricanes Rask had 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points and was a minus 3. Following the trade, in 23 games with the Minnesota Wild Rask scored 2 goals and 1 assist and was a -1.

So what has happened to the player that scored 31 points, 45 points, and 48 points in the three season’s prior?

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Bad Shooting Luck

Weirdly enough there is plenty of evidence that suggests that while Rask has been struggling mightily for the Minnesota Wild, most of it can contributed to bad luck. Over the past two seasons, wherein his struggles have been most prominent all off his stats from Corsi, to Fenwick, to shooting percentage have plummeted across the board. Even though there has been a decline the numbers show that he has turned a corner with the Wild, the only thing left to turn with that corner is his offense.

First off I want to show a heat map of his 5v5 shots unblocked and his 5v5 shot locations with the Minnesota wild this season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That big scary blue thing is bad luck personified. Beside it is his shot locations and you can see the amount of shots taken that are in that blue mass. What these two diagrams are showing is that while Rask has been getting shots through, the high danger shots are being blocked or deflected, or he’s missing the net. See there is a large amount of red on the outside of the slot, indicative if a player that is attempting to force offense. With this diagram it is obvious that Rask is forcing shots from bad angles and it is not leading to success. For example here’s Tobias Reider of the Edmonton Oilers, proud new owner of the record for most shots without a goal in one season (67):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much the same problem, lots of shots, although plenty of them are blocked/deflected. Both Rask and Reider are players who this year have been hit with the bad luck bug. Both players have taken plenty of shots from high danger areas. Unfortunately for them however, neither has had much luck getting those shots through and on net.

Possession Stats

The one place where Rask has been excelling with the Minnesota Wild this season is with his possession stats. Which is weird because his season sure didn’t start that way.

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In his first 26 games with the Carolina Hurricanes Rask was nothing short of abysmal stats wise and possession wise. With Carolina, Rask owned a 46.9% Corsi for rating, a -6.0 Corsi for relative rating along with a 44.9% Fenwick for rating and a -8.4 Fenwick for relative rating. To put that into perspective here’s the list of players that also had negative Corsi and Fenwick ratings for the Hurricanes this season Saku Maenalanen, Janne Kuokannenm, and Jake Bean. What do all three of those guys have in common? They are all rookies with less than 100 games of experience between them. Rask on the other hand is approaching the 400 game plateau.

After the trade from the Hurricanes to the Minnesota Wild things quickly rebounded for Rask. His top 5 line combos with the Wild were:

Pontus Aberg – Victor Rask – Zach Parise

Ryan Donato – Victor Rask – Kevin Fiala

Ryan Donato- Victor Rask – Pontus Aberg

Jordan Greenway- Victor Rask – Marcus Foglino

Jordan Greenway – Victor Rask – Pontus Aberg

Here are Rask’s common line-mates organized by Corsi and Fenwick ratings:

  1. Marcus Foglino- 52.0 Corsi rating, 53.2 Fenwick rating
  2. Zach Parise- 51.4 Corsi rating, 53.2 Fenwick rating
  3. Ryan Donato- 51.1 Corsi rating, 49.3 Fenwick rating
  4. Kevin Fiala- 50.3 Corsi rating, 53.2 Fenwick rating
  5. Jordan Greenway- 48.7 Corsi rating, 48.9 Fenwick rating
  6. Pontus Aberg- 47.6 Corsi rating, 48.1 Fenwick rating

Weirdly enough this group is much worse than the group he played with in Carolina. As I previously stated most players on Carolina were positive Corsi and Fenwick wise. The only player that he played with in Carolina that had a negative Corsi and Fenwick ratio was Saku Maenalanen. The next lowest player, Brock McGinn had a 51.0% Corsi for rating and a 50.9% Fenwick for rating. The highest was Justin Williams at a 58.3% Corsi for rating and a Fenwick for rating of 57.8%. The quality of teammates in Carolina he had were much better statistically but Rask did much better with the Wild.

Potential Injury Concerns

Hand injuries suck, and Rask had a doozy of a hand injury. On September 13th, 2018 Rask unfortunately sliced his pinkie and ring finger on one of his hands. The result of him cutting his hand was surgery and a long recovery time. If I had to guess I would suggest that he sliced tendons in his hands, as the extensive recovery time matches the usual recovery time for that kind of injury.

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Personally speaking I had a similar hand injury last November wherein I sliced a tendon in my hand. As of April 10, 2019 I still do not have full function of the finger that I sliced and cannot make a fist. I cannot imagine being an NHL player and having to play hockey at an extremely high level with an injury like this. I severely hope his recovery is full, but can see how that injury could be affecting his current play. Here’s an interesting graphic:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see he started to struggle a bit at then tail end of 2017-2018, a season where he scored 31 points in 71 games, then there’s a gap at the beginning of 2018-2019. That’s the time spent recovering from his hand injury and then after, you can see how his career has plummeted. Now maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with his struggles, but I think it might. Again, speaking personally not having full motor control of my pinkie finger has sucked, and has definitely affected my day-to-day life. I can only imagine how much that would affect a professional hockey player.

Wrap-Up

Well do I think Rask is a salvageable player, his possession stats suggest that much. I believe that as long as he can continue to help drive possession the offense will come. With the Wild’s newest additions, Paul Fenton is clearly trying to put his stamp on the roster. With Fiala, Donato, and Rask, the youth influx Fenton is trying to add should help re-tool the wild on the fly. This, combined with prospects Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Nico Sturm soon to be joining the Wild roster, should help build a good young core around the current aging core the Wild have.

Credit for the charts: Micah McCurdy

stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com

 

 

The Hockey Community and Building Positivity

Hockey fans are some of the most wonderful, kind, giving people I’ve had the joy of being around.

On the other hand hockey fans are some of the most hate and vitriol filled people I have ever had the displeasure of having interactions with.

 It’s time to have a conversation. Hockey is an amazing sport that has the power to bring fans and players alike together. How many fans have had lunch room debates at work over a trade, signing, player, or game that’s lasted all lunch break? How many of us have had the opportunity to be part of a hockey team, be it in beer league, junior hockey, ball hockey, or even a street hockey tournament?

Our Garbage Affects Others

We’ve all in some capacity experienced the camaraderie and sense of belonging that being a part of a team or fan group brings. It’s a great feeling. Which is why it’s extremely disappointing when a small minority of people harass or personally attack people. Now I want to make it absolutely CRYSTAL CLEAR that I am not in any way trying to tell people how to fan. What I am suggesting is that a conversation needs to be started about negativity breeding negativity. My parents taught me a valuable lesson when I was young. Every person is a garbage truck.

I know, weird right? let me explain. Every single person carries garbage with them emotional garbage, mental garbage, physical garbage etc. Everyone has their own issues and we deal with it in different ways. My parents taught me to never dump my garbage on others, that garbage belongs solely in the garbage dump. What they meant by that is while it’s okay to express and feel anger/sadness/disappointment it is not okay to take that out on others. Garbage should be properly and healthily disposed of, not used to affect others.

When that happens it just adds more garbage to the person you dumped it on, and in turn they dump that on to the next person and so on. It creates a vicious and hateful cycle of words that can seriously cause harm to a person. This is all too common in the hockey world. Certain fans frequently antagonize another, and spew very hateful words that would not be repeated face to face. Either because they hide behind a screen, or will never directly interact with that person again or ever. Just recently a big example of this was John Tavares and his return to Nassau.

John Tavares

Recently John Tavares returned to New York and Islanders fans were in a justifiably bad mood. It was a night full of sacrificed jerseys, plastic snakes, boos, and “it’s past your bedtime” cheers. Some of what went on was funny, entertaining, and light-hearted. Personally I don’t support jersey burning but to each their own. I’m an Edmonton fan and we know a thing or two about ribbing a former player. Taylor Hall, Devan Dubnyk, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, and Jeff Petry still get booed every time they touch the puck or make a save here. Some of them were traded away a good 5 years a ago now, so I get it. Open wounds take time to heal. However, there should not ever be verbal or physical violent towards another hockey fan like in this case:

There’s a lot to unpack here but first I want to address that I am very aware people like this are the small minority. However this is an extreme example of what we as fans need to stay away from. First off how is John Tavares leaving this fan’s fault? It’s very obvious that these individuals are taking out their frustrations by abusing this fan. Secondly, I hope they caught the people guilty of this. Banning them permanently from the arena would send a strong and right message.

Go on any hockey forum/Facebook group and you’ll see arguments everywhere. Arguments that consist of put downs, cursing, and sometimes even threats. This a common occurrence and it shouldn’t be. Why do some hockey fans feel the need to defend their stance on a team/player so strongly that they’d resort to hurling threats and insults to get the other person to change their mind? It paints the hockey community as a bunch of raving lunatics and it’s my least favourite part of being a sports writer. In fact that exact reason is why I stopped (for the most part) writing trade scenario pieces. No matter what you say in one, no matter how you say it, some keyboard warrior is going to tell you are an idiot and don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s hard to hear that, especially when you do these things mostly for fun.

Conclusion

Hockey is a game. Taking hockey so seriously to the point of physical violence is sick. A person doing this in any other form of entertainment would be seen as insane! Could you imagine two people getting in a fist fight over an episode of The Price Is Right? This is just as ridiculous! Like I said in my opening sentence the hockey community is an awesome place. Just look at this story from the Montreal Canadiens:

Powerful stuff. Hockey is an amazing thing that unites people. Lets not let the minority of people who abuse the community to represent us as a whole. Lets spread positivity and help build the fan community up.

In Summary:

  1. Just because it’s not exactly what you want, how you want it, does not give you the right to harass anyone who does get what they want.
  2. Don’t dump your garbage in an unhealthy way, in the wrong place,.
  3. the hockey community is a wonderful place when it comes together.
  4. The intent of this article was not to try to preach on how to fan, but rather to spread awarness to the problem of toxic/harmful behaviours.

 

Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes and Deadline Strategy

What an unfair season this has been for the Arizona Coyotes.

What else could you call the Arizona Coyotes losing Antti Raanta, Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz, Jason Demers, and Michael Grabner to season ending injuries. Losing two of your best centers, your starting goalie, a good 2/3 line winger, and your starting goaltender for the season would decimate any team.

I mean imagine if Tampa Bay lost Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anton Stralman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Miller, and Yanni Gourde for the rest of the season. Tampa Bay might survive, but they would not be the #1 team by a long shot. This is the big issue with the Arizona Coyotes at the deadline this year. Do they sell, or do they buy?

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What do You Mean Buy?

Well to think that the Arizona Coyotes could win the Stanley Cup this season is a little bit silly. Anything can happen if you make the playoffs, sure. However, can anyone honestly say with confidence that Arizona can beat a Toronto, or a San Jose, or a Tampa Bay in a 7 game series? So what do I mean by buy?

Well simply put the Arizona Coyotes need to selectively buy. Like they did when they acquired Schmaltz. Yes they arguably gave up more to get him in trading both Perlini and Strome, but the initial returns outweighed the loss. It was a trade that may have mortgaged the future, but helped the team both now and in the future. If that makes sense…

I’ll put it this way, the tactical risk of trading the potential of both Strome and Perlini was outweighed by acquiring Schmaltz’s immediate skill and his potential to improve upon that skill.

If Arizona acquires anything this deadline it has to be a situation where they can both benefit now and in the future. Maybe it’s acquiring a young, cost controlled, RHD. Perhaps it’s finding more wing depth help insulate some of the guys they have. Maybe they even decide to go for it and swing a deal for both Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. Who knows? they do have both the conceivable assets to do so and the potential cap space to add their contracts if both would resign.

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Regrouping for Next Year

Again Arizona has been absolutely decimated by injuries and that’s no secret. It’s put them in a position that arguably they shouldn’t be. On paper their full team would at least rival the Vegas Golden Knights, and could definitely go up against Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Colorado for those two Wild Card spots.

However this season we don’t get to see that version of the Arizona team and they currently sit 12th overall in the western conference and 6th overall in the Wild Card race. They aren’t going to leapfrog all of Dallas, St. Louis, Minnesota, Vancouver, and Chicago. They won’t. They might end up ahead two or three of those teams but not all of them. Knowing it this it would be wise for the Coyotes to start analyze their team and finding players who’d they’d be willing to sell/upgrade on.

My Sell List

  1. Richard Panik: A UFA this summer, currently has 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points. Good third line player who can do spot duty in a top 6. Could garner a third round pick or a B level prospect.
  2. Nick Cousins: An RFA this summer, has 6 goals and 17 assists for 23 points. Third line player that can play wing and center. He’s a very attractive option as he does have RFA status. Could get a third round pick and a prospect. teams love center depth for playoff pushes.
  3. Jordan Oesterle: A UFA this summer. Signed a cap friendly prove it deal for 650K. coincidentally that deal makes him a prime deadline asset. Boasting 6 goals and 13 assists, there will be many suitors if Arizona chooses to trade him. Will get at least a third, perhaps more, I hesitate to say a second, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
  4. Kevin Connauton: Only player that is not a UFA/RFA. If a team is willing to pick up the extra year on his contract he could be shipped out. Teams are always looking for defensive depth see Brandon Manning and Alex Petrovic in Edmonton for example. With only 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points this season he won’t get a huge return. He may get a 5th or a 6th round pick in return.

Honorable Mention

Dave Bolland. While he hasn’t played in years his contract (5.5 million AAV) is still on the cap this season for Arizona. If they do decide to buy hard, it would not surprise me if they found a way to trade this contract in order to fit under the cap. Ottawa is going to need dead cap space to hit the floor if all of Ryan Dzingel, Stone, and Duchene get traded… just saying…

The Wrap

This deadline is going to very interesting not just for Arizona Coyotes fans, but for the entire pacific division. Arizona has the power to drastically alter the playoff landscaping depending on what they buy/sell. Of course they could choose to hold their cards close to their chests and do nothing. Doing so would mean committing to giving the current mix of players a shot at a season of hopefully fully healthy players. Until they make a decision either way, we wait.

stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Thinking Outside the Box

The Edmonton Oilers have a big problem with Ryan Spooner.

That’s not news. The sky is blue, Connor McDavid is the most skilled player in the NHL, and you can still find me in the stands cheering on this team. Some things, unfortunately so in some cases, never change.

My weird love/hate relationship with this team aside the Edmonton Oilers find themselves trapped by one of Peter Chiarelli’s final moves (man does typing that feel good!). However now is the time to start correcting those mistakes and I think there’s an outside solution to the Spooner problem.

Buried in the AHL

It was announced on January 23, 2019 that both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Spooner were assigned to the AHL:

The former being there makes sense in the short term, as Yamamoto can play a few games in Bakersfield over the all star break or in the long-term. Personally I feel like Yamamoto should stay the rest of the season on the AHL so he can be a key cog in Bakersfield’s playoff push/run. The latter on the other hand is a different story. Spooner has failed so spectacularly in Edmonton that they no longer feel he is anything but a detriment to the team.

My first ever post on ThePuck77 was on Ryan Spooner and in it I stated that Edmonton needed to find a lineup spot for Spooner that works for him. I won’t go into too much detail on him here but my main points were:

  1. Ryan Spooner is not an offensive driver
  2. Ryan Spooner was, at his most successful, a good 3rd piece of a top 6 line.
  3. He benefited greatly from being on top power-play units
  4. He is a really ineffective possession player.

If you want more in depth analysis on Spooner check out my first piece on him here.

Someone Similar?

You would think this situation would be rare in the NHL. Not many teams employ 3+ million dollar men in the AHL…

But there is another…

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Yes that’s right I’m talking about Sam “8 points in one game” Gagner.

Gagner has been a very nice addition to the Toronto Marlies roster since being sent down. In 36 games thus far Gagner has 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points. He definitely isn’t letting his demotion slow him down any. Even when he has played in the NHL he was not that poor. In 7 NHL games Gagner had 3 points, 1 goal, 2 assists. He has also been very good in terms of possession at the NHL level, posting a surprising 59.9% Corsi rating, and a 15.2 Corsi relative for rating. This, along with his 59.9% Fenwick for rating and 17.4 Fenwick relative for rating, paint a picture of a player who has more to give at the NHL level.

Gagner does a lot of things well that mesh with the Oilers needs right now. While he does have some warts to his game in regards to defending Edmonton at current needs a guy who is an offensive weapon. Gagner is a power-play, overtime, and shootout specialist. Put in the right situation; i.e on the left side of a Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl power-play, should result in increased success for Edmonton’s power-play.

Power-play Prowess

For example in 2016/17 he had 50 points, 18 of which came on the power-play. In 2017/2018, in his first year with Canucks (way lower teammate quality), he had 31 points, 11 of which were on the power-play.

In 2016/17 Gagner played on a unit with Zach Werenski, Nick Foglino, Cam Atkinson, and Alex Wennberg. on a much less successful Vancouver power-play Gagner played with a mix of Alex Edler, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Sven Baertschi, and Thomas Vanek. Vancouver struggled to find the right mix of players and eventually Gagner got lost in the shuffle. He ended up struggling to the point where he was demoted to the AHL at the beginning of this season.

Wherever Gagner goes he always finds a way on to that team’s power-play because that is where he excels. He is an extremely gifted offensive player who has a good shot and is extremely creative with the puck. The thing that he is the best at on the power-play is MOVING. The Edmonton Oilers power-play right now has stagnated. This is mainly due to the same issue that plagued them last year. They are too slow. they do not move the puck around enough to properly open up seams and lanes in an opposing team’s penalty kill. This kills them and they need a player like Gagner that can keep the puck moving on the power-play.

Is This Trade Realistic?

This is always the huge question with the hypothetical articles. It’s why I don’t enjoy making these speculation articles in general, do it wrong and you immediately can ruin your credibility as a writer. 

However in this case I think there’s a realistic possibility a trade like this could work. Right now at left-wing the Canucks employ Nikolai Goldobin, Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel. Goldobin has 23 points, Eriksson has 20, Leivo has 7, Baertschi has 13, and Roussel has 19. It’s safe to say they could use a boost. Edmonton currently employs Alex Chiasson, Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Tobias Reider, and I could go on at wing. Outside of Chiasson none of those players have 20 points, outside of Khaira, none have 15 points. Edmonton needs wingers bad.

So a swap of two players that both make almost exactly the same amount of money, that could potentially re-spark their careers makes a lot of sense. Gagner makes 50k more than Spooner at 3.15 million over the same amount of term. At current neither of Spooner or Gagner are going to see the light of day back in the NHL with their respective teams. It makes sense, at least to me to try to swap the two players in the hopes that they could re-find their offense elsewhere.

Wrap Up

The main reason this probably won’t happen is Vancouver and Edmonton are teams both currently in a dog fight for the last wildcard spot. While it would be an interesting trade as it would create a potential double rental situation if both Spooner and Gagner bounce back, the risk involved nixes that trade.

What do you think? is this trade realistic for both sides? leave a comment or find us on twitter at @ThePuck77 and me personally at @chayzdj.

All stats used in this article came from HockeyReference.com, Capfriendly.com, and HockeyDB.com.