On the surface, the Wild’s acquisition of goalie Devan Dubnyk might only appear to be a marginal upgrade — if an upgrade at all — over Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom. Kuemper, you’ll notice, has a slightly better goals against average than Dubnyk (2.68 vs. 2.72).
But a look at some advanced stats via War On Ice shows that Dubnyk — while he might not end up saving the Wild’s season — should at least give the Wild more than just a marginal chance to save more pucks.
(Note: We’re told advanced hockey stats are pretty new. They’re certainly very new to us. As in, we first started looking at them with any real interest earlier this week. We think we’re interpreting these numbers properly. But we also have a little bit of “college sophomore who is three weeks into a political science class and now thinks he can fix the world’s problems” edge to us right now. So you have been warned).
Here are four factors that make us think Dubnyk could prove to be a significant upgrade:
*Even strength save percentage: Dubnyk’s 91.6 save percentage in all situations (even strength, short-handed, power-play, etc) is already 18th in the NHL among all goalies with at least 750 minutes played. That’s not great, but it’s not bad. And he’s done that for a very bad Coyotes team. Arizona is a bottom-10 team in a lot of key team advanced stats, while the Wild is still a top-10 team in a lot of stats. The most notable among them is 5v5 Corsi Percentage, which looks at the total percentage of shots in a game taken by a team vs. its opponents in 5 on 5 situations. That indicates the Wild has a lot of possession time and chances. The Wild is 7th in the NHL in Corsi Percentage. It is the only team in the top 8 with a negative goal differential.
Now, some of that is because the Wild isn’t cashing in on scoring chances. But a lot of it, we would argue, is poor goaltending in the flow of 5-on-5 play. That brings us to a spot where Dubnyk is particularly good: 5-on-5 save percentage. He jumps to a 92.9 save percentage in those situations, 10th among the 35 NHL goalies with at least 750 minutes. Kuemper (89.6) is 33rd out of 35, while Backstrom (88.2) is dead last at No. 35.
*Low danger shots: War On Ice divides shots into three Danger Zones, none of which, unfortunately, have to do anything with Top Gun or Kenny Loggins. There are low-danger shots (yellow), medium-danger shots (red) and high-danger shots (blue). We’re going to deal first here with low-danger shots, which you can see from this illustration from the site are essentially from bad angles or from the right/left point.
Dubnyk’s save percentage on such shots is 97.0, in the upper third of qualified goalies. Backstrom is at 96.1, and Kuemper is at 95.7, both of which are in the bottom third. That might not seem like much of a difference, but basically Backstrom/Kuemper combined are giving up roughly one more low-danger goal per 100 shots than Dubnyk. These tend to be “softer” goals, and giving up one fewer soft goal per 100 shots — every three or four games, maybe — is a big deal.
*High danger shots: On high danger shots — as you can see, shots in close and directly in front of the net — Dubnyk makes 83.5 percent of the saves, again in the upper third of the NHL. Kuemper is at 81.5, and Backstrom is a league-worst 72.0. In 5-on-5 high danger situations, Dubnyk is even better: 87.8 save percentage, No. 3 in the NHL. Kuemper (79.0) is 31st while Backstrom (71.4) is 35th, aka last.
Dubnyk in general has good numbers overall but fares much better in 5-on-5 numbers, in part we think because Arizona has an atrocious penalty kill (second-worst in the league) and we imagine the Coyotes’ goalies get hung out to dry a lot with shots on which they have no chance. The Wild, even with its goaltending problems, has a top-10 penalty kill, helping its goalies pad numbers on the penalty kill while they get exposed when you dig deeper into the flow of play 5-on-5 stats.
*One final, simple number that shows why it’s dangerous to just look at goals against average: Sure, Kuemper’s is a bit better than Dubnyk’s. But Dubnyk has seen 32.5 shots per 60 minutes with Arizona, the 8th-highest mark in the NHL. Kuemper is seeing just 27.3, while Backstrom is at 27.0, both among the fewest in the NHL.
Backstrom and Kuemper have been forced to make a marginally larger percentage of “high or medium” danger saves than Dubnyk as compared to their overall save numbers, but in both cases its not nearly enough to explain the wide gap in the other numbers. Long story short, on the surface Dubnyk looks like he has the potential to be an upgrade. Below the surface, it looks like he could be an even bigger upgrade than one might think.