In announcing two weeks ago that the Wild was parting ways with longtime goalie coach Bob Mason, general manager Bill Guerin managed to be blunt while still taking the high road.
“He had an incredible run here,” Guerin said of Mason, who had been with the Wild since 2002 and overseen when in many years was a position of strength. “I have nothing negative to say about him. Sometimes you just need change, and at that position we needed a change.”
The reason? Well, again Guerin didn’t mince words as he assessed the play of Alex Stalock, Devan Dubnyk and the position overall.
“Al had a tremendous year and Devan had an off year, and it needs to be better,” Guerin said. “That’s just the way it is. And if I told you anything different, I’d be lying to you. It was not a strong point for us.”
On Wednesday, the Wild announced Mason’s replacement: Frederic Chabot — formerly a professional goalie and formerly an NHL goalie coach with the Oilers — was promoted from his job with the AHL’s Iowa Wild.
Interestingly, Chabot’s time with the Oilers from 2009-14 coincided with the early part of Dubnyk’s career when he made 157 starts for the Oilers. Getting more out of Dubnyk — who is entering the final year of his contract next season with a $4.33 million salary — could be the Wild’s easiest path from fringe playoff team to more sturdy ground.
The No. 1 goalie job looks to be up for grabs, and it’s possible the Wild could look outside the organization or to fill that job with a promotion from Iowa as well. Chabot has overseen the development of Kaapo Kahkonen, who posted a 25-6-3 record, a .927 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average in Iowa last season while posting an AHL-best seven shutouts. Kahkonen made five starts for Minnesota, going 3-1-1 with a 2.96 GAA last season.
Without a clear No. 1 — a spot that was Dubnyk’s for a long time, evolved into Stalock’s role last season and could be anyone’s next season — Chabot will have his work cut out in turning a weakness into a strength.
But perhaps in delving into just how much of a weakness it was last year we can see how even being average would be a big boost for the Wild next year. Here are three key stats that tell the story:
*Quality start percentage: This is kind of an old-school way to try to describe something in a new way, and as such it sometimes feels as arbitrary as the “quality start” stat attached to baseball pitchers. But at a baseline this stat — defined as a start in which a goalie has a save percentage above the league average or at least 88.5% if he faces fewer than 20 shots — tells you if a goalie gave his team a chance to win.
Wild goalies delivered quality starts in just 31 of their 69 regular season games — around 45% of the time. League average for this stat is around 53%.
Stalock was right around league average at 52.8% for the season, but he delivered a quality start in just one of his four play-in games as the Wild made a quick exit from the Edmonton bubble.
Also, it’s rather telling of the expectations of Stalock that Guerin would say he had a “tremendous” year when he was basically average. For as well as he played at times, Stalock probably isn’t the top goalie on a contending team. He was signed as a backup and is under contract for two more seasons. In that role he is fine.
Dubnyk, whose early-season struggles in particular coincided with major health concerns for his wife, Jenn, which led him to leave the team for a stretch, had just nine quality starts out of 28 — a dismal 32%.
*High-danger save percentage: As a function of a commitment to a certain style, the Wild allowed — per Natural Stat Trick — the fewest “high danger chances” of any team in the league in 5-on-5 play. That’s a bit of a subjective notion since it is determined primarily by shot location and whether it was a rebound, but the Wild was the best at not allowing premium chances at even strength.
But when opponents did get high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play, Wild goalies saved the shots just 77% of the time — the worst mark in the league. In short: Wild goalies weren’t asked to bail out their defensemen very often at even strength, but when they were asked they were not up to the task often enough.
*Expected goals against: Perhaps not surprisingly based on that last number, the Wild allowed 141 goals in 5-on-5 play.
But according to Hockey Reference, they would have been expected to allow 121 goals in 5-on-5 play based on the league average of goals scored from the locations of shots. Those 20 extra goals over 69 games are a big deal and are another example of subpar goaltending.
How Chabot goes about trying to improve on those numbers, in concert with Guerin and head coach Dean Evason, remains to be seen.
Perhaps identifying the question will be as important as the answer: Was the problem with the Wild’s goaltending a function of technique? Or perhaps approach? Or was it more a function of the ability levels of the goalies themselves?