One of the factors to success in the NHL that is rarely mentioned is health. So far this year, the Minnesota Wild have been one of the league’s healthiest team, which has helped boost them to the top of the Western Conference.
When defenseman Jonas Brodin misses Tuesday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, he will have sat for 14 games with a broken finger, which is the most significant injury the team has faced this year in terms of contests missed by any Wild regular.
No injury to a 20-minute-per-night defenseman is ever good, but the timing of Brodin’s wounded digit presented the Wild with an opportunity to find out what their blueline would look like if they decided to deal Brodin at the trade deadline.
Since losing their former first-round pick on January 17, the Wild have gone 9-3-1 and outscored opponents 41-33.
If we dig a little deeper, the Wild have beaten their opponents 34-24 in even-strength goals, good for a 58.6% Goals For Percentage. While they have been outshot-attempted 60-53 on average per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, the website Corsica Hockey lists Minnesota as producing 74 scoring chances to their opponents’ 44 over the 13 games without Brodin.
How does that compare to the numbers with Brodin? Well, they aren’t that much different. Over the first 43 games of the season, the Wild produced a Goals For Percentage of 59.8%, were outshot 58-53 on average and producing 53 more scoring chances than their opponents.
Do those numbers indicate the Wild should be searching for a trade partner to acquire another forward? After all, they have struggled to find consistency on the fourth line, waiving Tyler Graovac this week. A quality bottom-six forward would give the Wild impressive roster flexibility as they head down the stretch.
Unfortunately, the decision isn’t as simple as looking at the team’s performance over the past few weeks, even if there were some impressive wins along the way.
Whether the Wild could improve by subtracting Brodin and adding a forward comes down to the difference between him and his replacement, the impact of said forward and if the chemistry of the defense corps would be significantly disrupted.
If we start with the last question first, we know that Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon are going to be the Wild’s top pair for the rest of the year and into the playoffs. They have played the second most minutes of any tandem in the NHL this year and with both on ice, the Wild have outscored opponents 46-23. But the other pairs have been mixed and matched, so Brodin has spent most of his minutes with either Matt Dumba or Christian Folin.
Here’s how each has played with him and without in Goals For Percentage and Corsi For (shot attempt differential):
Both Folin and Dumba see a reduction in Corsi For Percentage, while Dumba has been on the ice for a higher percentage of goals. The shot number is less likely to change than the goals statistic since it can be influenced by luck and goaltending. So you might call it a wash for Dumba and a significant upgrade for Folin.
Missing in this chart is how much Dumba has improved the play of Marco Scandella. When the Dumba-Scandella pair is on the ice, the Wild are producing a 62.5% Goals For Percentage versus just a 44.0% when Scandella plays with anyone else.
If the pairs are Suter-Spurgeon, Scandella-Dumba and Brodin-Folin, then each player’s numbers are more or less at their best.
Take Brodin out of the equation and things get much more tricky. It does not appear the Wild feel Mike Reilly is an all-situation defenseman as they have ping-ponged him back-and-forth from Iowa and when he has been in the NHL, Bruce Boudreau has been sure to protect him by avoiding tough defensive situations. Nearly six of every 10 faceoffs with Reilly on the ice are in the offensive zone and the average Goals For per 60 of his opponents are the lowest of any Wild defenseman.
Prospect Gustav Olofsson has not shown much to prove he is ready to take on a full-time NHL. In his four big league games, the Wild have been demolished on the shot counter with him on the ice, taking just 38.5% of total shots.
Despite the fact that Minnesota played well during the stretch in which Brodin was missing, they are not the same team without him. Adding a forward would probably be better off done using draft picks unless the forward was someone very good.
But, hey, if the Oilers were willing to move Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, who knows what the return might be for a former first-round pick with defensive skill and skating ability.