Jul 11, 2011, 7:48 PM EDT
There are a lot of fantastic things that come from the generalized unselfishness exhibited by hockey players. They’re sports-wide leaders in “Aw shucks” quotes and tend to be generous when it comes to charitable causes (and also seem generous enough to lay their bodies in front of 100 mph slap shots). Those are all great things, but sometimes that attitude has some drawbacks.
One of the most obvious, teeth-clenching moments comes when a player seems unwilling to put a puck on net. Whether it’s a 2-on-1 that short circuits because the forwards “got too cute” with one-too-many passes or a defenseman whose point shots rarely make it to the net because they’ve telegraphed their attempts, there are times when it’s flat-out frustrating to watch this unselfishness in action. (Maybe there’s an element of players preserving their shooting percentages, too, but we’d like to think that isn’t a frequent concern.)
Soon-to-be-outgoing Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards cringed when people used the same trap-happy label for his more wide-open team last season, but the bottom line was that the Wild didn’t have the weapons to justify opening things up. The hockey blogosphere has been flush with debate regarding the true “winner” of the deal that sent Martin Havlat to San Jose in exchange for Dany Heatley, but it seems like the Wild are finally willing to dive into the deep end after a couple years of dipping their toes in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to opening things up.
It might be a loss in the grand scheme of things; Havlat is a little bit more versatile than Heatley and losing Brent Burns could really hurt a Wild blueline that lacks any apparent dynamism. That being said, the Wild obviously needed a change and those two blockbuster trades will provide that (if nothing else).
To keep the stats talk simple yet relevant, the Wild were regularly out-shot last season. They produced a league-worst 26.2 shots per game while giving up an average of 32 shots (tied for sixth-worst in the NHL with the New York Islanders). That works out to a league-worst -5.8 shot differential, with only the lowly Edmonton Oilers’ -5 being comparable.
The Wild would be dreaming pretty big if they thought that Heatley and Setoguchi could improve their odds in the shots allowed category. Thankfully, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher expressed more realistic expectations when he introduced Heatley and Setoguchi today: the Wild want them to shoot and score goals in large portions. Setoguchi expressed his objective in an almost comically single-minded way, as you can see from Michael Russo’s quotes.
On his game: You’re going to find that I’m just going to shoot the puck. That’s all what I try to do. I get the puck, I shoot it. I don’t hold onto it, I don’t make nice, really sweet plays with it. I just shoot it. I’m going to skate and shoot and hit, and that’s my plan.
Expectations from Chuck and Mike: Nowadays in the game, you’ve got to shoot the puck. The game’s quicker. Goalies are better. Teams are better. In order to be a successful team, you’ve got to shoot the puck, you’ve got to get shots. I think I can shoot the puck more, and I know that’s what they want us to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.
Describe your game: It’s pretty simple what you’re going to get from me. I like to play north-south. I like to use my speed, get in on the forecheck, really be tenacious and puck hungry. And I like to shoot. So you’re going to get some speed, you’re going to get a little bit of physicality and just a player that likes to play a hard game and score some goals every once in awhile.
Wait, so will Setoguchi shoot a lot or not? He keeps beating around the bush about it …
For those of you who might want to see things in black-and-white terms, Setoguchi averaged 2.67 shots per game in his career while Heatley averages about 3.1 per game. Havlat (2.57 per game) isn’t a slouch in that area either; in fact, he put more pucks on net (229) than Heatley (217) or Setoguchi (199) did in 2010-11. That being said, it might be a matter of mindset more than anything else (plus, in the simplest way, they’ll get more shots combined from Heatley and Setoguchi than they would from Havlat and Burns, even if Burns shoots pretty frequently for a blueliner).
Heatley’s hit the 300 shot mark twice in his career and Setoguchi topped out at 246 in 2008-09. Mysteriously enough, those years also ranked as the best offensive outputs of their careers. Maybe the two wingers were shackled a bit by San Jose’s shift to a more defense-minded scheme. If nothing else, the Wild could profit from letting both of them loose. Worst case scenario, the Wild are trying something different. We’ll find out next season if different will mean better.
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