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The biggest lesson the Wild can learn from the Ducks-Predators Conference Final

Apr 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) is congratulated by defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) after an empty net goal during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If you fiddle around with the Expansion Draft Simulator on CapFriendly.com, you will notice something about the Wild: Las Vegas is going to get a pretty good player off Minnesota’s roster if no move is made.

The Wild can either protect seven forwards and three defensemen or four forwards and four defensemen.

It’s clearly the better option to take the seven forwards on a team stacked with young scorers. The Wild will be forced to protect Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter. If Pominville is bought out, all the key forwards can be retained outside of Erik Haula, but two defensemen would be left exposed.

It would come down to picking between Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin

What the Wild should take away from the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators is the effective puck-moving defensemen are the bee’s knees in today’s game.

So if the Wild want to keep up, they should protect the best skater and offensive producer of the bunch. And if trading one of the three is the best option (it is), they should either look to sign another strong-skating, puck-mover or get one in return.

Nashville has the most dangerous defense corps in the NHL. All four of their top defenders P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm all ranked in the top 50 in 5-on-5 points this season.

Josi took the sixth most shots per 60 minutes at even-strength of any defensemen, only trailing Kris Letang, Darnell Nurse, Aaron Ekblad, Dougie Hamilton and Brent Burns. Ellis finished fifth in goals per 60. Subban wasn’t far behind at 16th in the NHL.

The Predators as a team ranked seventh in the NHL in shot attempts per 60 with 57.9. With either Josi or Subban (who play on different pairs), they produced more than 60 attempts.

Simply put: Nashville activates their defensemen in the offensive game as much as anyone in the league, which is terrifying for opponents, especially when the highly-skilled top line of Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson is on the ice.

Anaheim was a more defensive-minded team than the wide-open Predators, but they still relied on their blue liners to skate the puck up ice. With Hampus Lindholm on the ice, the Ducks create 5.6 more shot attempts per 60 minutes than with him off. He ranked fifth in the NHL in that category, just behind Josi.

Defensemen Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Shea Theodore don’t have the statistical credentials this year of Lindholm, but they are each good skaters who can make plays with the puck.

Both the Preds and Ducks have solid defensive-minded blue-liners who offer some balance. Ekholm and Josh Manson give their respective top pair partners Subban and Lindholm a chance to let loose, knowing their partner will be in position.

For the Wild, Ryan Suter played the role of the defensive-minded player last year, protecting the net as his partner Jared Spurgeon used his exceptional skating and puck talent to create offense. With Spurgeon on ice, the Wild created 3.5 more shots attempts per 60, which isn’t quite as good as Josi or Lindholm, but it’s close. The 5-foot-9 defenseman also scored 1.11 points per 60, which was 16th in the NHL.

Surprisingly, Jonas Brodin wasn’t far behind at 1.02 points per 60. That was a big change from 2015-16 in which he only produced 0.30 points/60.

While Dumba didn’t produce the most points on the team by himself, he has consistently been on ice for the most goals for the Wild since becoming an NHL regular in 2014-15. He was No. 1 for on-ice goals per 60 minutes last year at 2.98, which ranked 11th in the league.

Marco Scandella went from the team’s top even-strength scorer in ’15-’16 to last among regular blue liners in ’16-’17. The Wild produced big numbers with Scandella and Dumba paired together (3.23 goals per 60) but when Scandella played with other D-men, that number slipped to just 1.80 goals/60.

As you may have already discerned, the numbers point to Scandella as the one the Wild should trade, though it could be argued that Brodin’s production is unlikely to sustain since 10 of his 17 assists were secondary.

What’s clear is that Dumba shouldn’t be going anywhere – even if he is the most valuable on the trade market because of his age.

The Wild don’t quite have the defense to match Nashville (nobody does) and their top defenders aren’t quite as good as Lindholm (very few are), but the blueline is built the right way. With the upcoming expansion draft, Minnesota needs to work to keep it that way.


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