If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Wild, which has been taking your breath away since we launched free agency on July 13, congratulations. You’re either passed out or, if you’re really good at holding your breath, you’ve moved on. Enjoy the afterlife.
For the rest of us with hockey still going on, we are treated to an off-season actual snoozefest. Sure, Kevin Fiala Business was lucrative at the end of last month, but it’s the front office equivalent of putting the funniest line of the movie in the trailer. A month later, we’re wondering why we even bothered to look.
In fairness, money is tight for Wilde, and there are no notes left in the free agent market. At least not in their price range. So if you see free agent merchandise getting damaged in the summer sun, think, Is this what? the answer is, Maybe!
Are world juniors in less than 10 days?
Since we have zero newcomers to discuss, we are turning our attention to a move from a few weeks ago. so let’s talk Jake Middleton’s contract extension. The Wild extended banned free agent Middleton on draft day, locking him into a three-year contract worth $2.45 million per season.
Minnesota picks up Middleton on trade deadline, shipping goalkeeper capo kahkonen For a 26 year old first year player. Bill Guerin Target Middleton, who emerged as Eric Carlsonof defensive partner, because he had something the rest of Wilde didn’t have: size.
Last year, John Merrill Wilde was the only player above 6’1″ on the blueline. Even his big player, Merrill, Dmitry KulikovAnd Jonas BrodinNot really a physical reputation. Matt Dumb does, but two major injuries over the past four seasons raise questions about his durability.
So who clears the trap for Minnesota? It had to be Middleton. He didn’t commit much crime last year, and in his case, that’s fine. If you’re playing with Carlson and Spurgeon, you can go ahead and let them handle the puck. Middleton just needed to handle the protest going forward.
The pair worked. With Spurgeon and Middleton on the ice, Wilde controlled 51.5% of the expected target stake at 5-on-5. They did better on the score-sheet as well by beating the opponents 15-8. 241 minutes is a small sample, but hey, Middleton could only do so much in 21 games. Results are results.
That’s why he got that contract protection, despite only playing 80 career games. With Merrill out to start the season and the only NHL-ready replacement he is 5’11. Callen EdisonMiddleton’s size will be even more conspicuous next season.
But will he stand out? And will he do so for the next three seasons?
Guerin discontinued the size he wanted but did so at a premium. Evolving Hockey is estimated to earn Middleton $1.12 million on a three-year contract this off-season. The Wild paid more than twice its market value.
To be worth the risk, he’d need a top-dollar paying physical, defensive stopper Minnesota. Related is that, at least in his time in St. Paul, he may not have been that man.
A successful defensive defender is usually good at at least one of two things. The first is to defend the blue line and prevent opponents from entering a clean zone. The other is guarding the net, keeping the shots on the outside, and the goalkeeper’s crease is clear.
When it comes to defending the Blueline, Middleton’s time in Minnesota was a bit awkward. He was the best in the team at allowing opponents to enter the field with control. According to Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zone Tracking Project, opponents took only 52.4% of the time against him.
But once he got into the forward zone, he did the damage. Middleton allowed a zone entry with a scoring chance 4.5 times for each hour of 5-on-5 play. This is the highest amount the team has ever made.
Could this be a fluke brought on by the small sample size? Sure. Could it also be a sign that when Middleton is beaten, he loses badly? It certainly could. This happened in Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues. Vladimir TarasenkoThe goal is ahead.
St. Louis threw the puck inside, but Pavel Bukhnevich Defeat Middleton with the puck. Then, despite being over 20 pounds on Buchnevich, Middleton allowed Buchnevich to give Tarasenko an easy assist. He did not allow a clean entry, but the goal was on him.
As far as the net’s defense is concerned, it’s hard to say how much influence it has on Spurgeon. At first glance, the heat map of the two looks great together, with a blue wall protecting the crease.
It’s solid until you look at what Spurgeon did last season without Middleton, mostly at an age with a fairly weak defender. Alex Goligoski,
Naturally, there is virtually no difference between Spurgeon with or without Middleton around the net. And less benevolently, Spurgeon shot a lot more than the rest of the ice, especially the slot, when Middleton was also there. Again, this could be a small sample size, but it could also be a red flag that Middleton doesn’t make an impact out of proportion to its size.
So what if he’s just a boy? Sure, a $2.45 million deal couldn’t hurt Wilde, right?
In a way, we’re already seeing a preview of what happens when a low-cost deal goes wrong for this Wild team. Dmitry Kulikov struggled in the stretch and the playoffs, and he has one season left on a cap hit of $2.25 million. In theory, it should be an easy deal for a cap-strapped Wild team to move in and clear more than $2 million.
But the problem is, no one is taking that deal in today’s NHL. Flat cap means a lot of teams need to spend money, and teams with cap space have a lot of options. Teams in Minnesota are giving away good players, sometimes literally for free. In that environment, why would someone take a person like Kulikov out of their hands?
He’s only there for a year. If Minnesota is wrong about Middleton and he turns out to be just a man, they will be in a worse position than Kulikov. Not only will Middleton have two years left on a more expensive deal next summer, but he’ll have $2 million more in buyout penalties to navigate. Minnesota bet that size matters, and for their sake, they better hope Middleton’s contract will extend.