On August 1, the National Hockey League will return to playing games in Toronto and Edmonton. The top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the fifth through twelfth place teams will be battling to get into the playoffs altogether. Those series are known as the Qualifying Round. The New Jersey Devils were worse than that at the time of the NHL Pause back in March. Therefore, they will not be returning to play. They did not even qualify for the Qualifying Round. While the New Jersey Devils are not involved in these games, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to them all beyond just having any kind of professional hockey in North America (and literally being on all day for at least four days). Since there are eight weekdays until the start of the Qualifying Round and there are eight series, I will be giving you a Devils fan-centric rooting guide for each one.
The Series Information
What you need to know about the series in general.
The Records: The Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 56.5% Point%, 7th in West) vs. Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 55.8% Point%, 10th in West)
The Pre-Pause Season Series: Minnesota took to the majority of points by going 2-1-0, while Vancouver did take three points as they went 1-1-1. Links go to the Gamecenter page at NHL.com:
Game 1: January 12, 2020 - Canucks 4, Wild 1 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Game 2: February 6, 2020 - Wild 4, Canucks 2 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Game 3: February 19, 2020 - Wild 4, Canucks 3 (Shootout) in Vancouver
Interestingly, this was a recent season series as these games all took place in 2020. The first game featured Jacob Markstrom starting both games in a back-to-back set and won the second game, which was against Minnesota. It helped that he faced only 24 shots and that Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, JT Millet, Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson, Troy Stecher, and Chris Tanev all found their way on the scoresheet. Minnesota obtained a measure of revenge in the following month. They went up 3-0 on Vancouver in the first period, led by Brad Hunt and Kevin Fiala each scoring and earning a primary assist. They secured the win in the third to hand what was then a third-straight loss to Vancouver. The third game featured the debut of Tyler Toffoli in Vancouver. It was spoiled by Minnesota, largely thanks to Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk scored a third period equalizer with just under five minutes remaining in regulation and scored the deciding goal in the fifth round of the shootout. The shootout win was also the first for Minnesota’s recently hired head coach, Dean Evason.
The Broadcast Schedule: From NHL.com:
Game 1: Wild versus Canucks, August 2, 10:30 PM ET - NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, FS-N, FS-WI
Game 2: Wild versus Canucks, August 4, 10:45 PM ET - USA, NHL.TV, SN, FS-N, FS-WI
Game 3: Canucks versus Wild, August 6, TBD
Game 4: Canucks versus Wild, August 7, TBD
Game 5: Wild versus Canucks, August 9, TBD
Note that local channels are carrying the games in this and in other series. This was not on the broadcast schedule at NHL.com until Thursday night, so please keep that in mind going forward.
Games 4 and 5 may not be necessary as it is a best-of-five series. If they become needed, timing and broadcast information will be determined later. As per the NHL’s announcement, the home team is the second team listed. Oddly enough, there is no time and broadcast information for the third game in this series yet. I would expect a late night game for those of us in the Eastern Time Zone. Also oddly enough, USA is going to have Game 2.
A Quick Analysis: Do you like battles down low? Do you like offensive zone cycles? Do you think transition hockey is overrated? Then you will love this series.
The Point Hockey has been putting together Style Guides for each series. Mike Kelly explains more quickly and better than I could how Minnesota and Vancouver have played the game of hockey this season. The gist of it is that Vancouver intentionally tries to get a lot of pucks in deep and try to create offense from there. This carries the risk of counter-attacks if they lose the puck. However, Minnesota has not done a good job at that so that risk is not as great to Vancouver. Further, Minnesota has allowed a lot of goals to teams creating offense through cycles - which is what Vancouver aims to do. Other teams will be a bad matchup for Vancouver, but not the Wild.
Kelly hits on the Wild for having the worst goaltending in the league. I would disagree with that assertion, but I would agree that Minnesota’s goaltending was not very good. Per Natural Stat Trick, Minnesota’s team save percentage in 5-on-5 hockey ranked 20th at 91.54%. Technically tied for 19th with Pittsburgh, but that is still not a very good mark or ranking. Alex Stalock has been quite good in 5-on-5 play with a 92.1% save percentage; however, Devan Dubnyk has not as he has a 90.3% save percentage in the same situation. However, Kelly’s assertion has some merit if you look at save percentage of scoring chances. The Wild were dead last in save percentage on scoring chances at 83.90% (86.6% was the league median in 2019-20) and high danger scoring chances at 77% (league median was around 82%). Basically, if you can generate scoring chances against the Wild, then you can find opportunities to score.
That is easier said than done against the Wild. Kelly does note that Minnesota had one of the best team defenses in the NHL. This is not apparent if you look solely at their Corsi or shot against rates, which are nothing to write home about. But they do shut down the scoring chances. Their SCA/60 is the league’s lowest at 22.32 and their HDCA/60 is also the league’s lowest at 8.07. Both of these marks contribute to their amazing expected goals against per 60 rate of 1.95, which is also the lowest in the league. If the Wild received better goaltending when chances do happen against them, then they would be much better off. Likely better than tenth in the West. Vancouver ranks above the league median in generating those chances but not to a degree where they are exceptional. So provided they can keep the Canucks from generating chances, that will ease the pain caused by their goaltenders against scoring chances.
By contrast, the Canucks have been far looser when it comes to allowing shots and chances. Their expected goals per 60 rate is 2.53, finishing behind the Devils; they allowed attempts at a rate of over 60 per 60 minutes; they allowed shots above a rate of 33 per 60 minutes; and they allowed the second highest scoring chance rate in the entire NHL at 29.92 per 60 minutes. If the Wild can get going and force the game to be largely Vancouver’s end, then they can take advantage of them and force Jacob Markstrom (or Thatcher Demko) to be great. Markstrom has been pretty great in 5-on-5 and not trash on chances. Demko, well, not so much. For Vancouver’s sake, that he is healthy is a big plus.
Of course, Minnesota would do well to not give the Canucks opportunities by way of penalties. Per NHL.com, Vancouver’s power play has had a success rate of 24.2%, which was the fourth best in the entire league. The Wild’s power play is not at all shabby from a success rate standpoint as they are at 11th with a 21.3% success rate. But the penalty kill. Oh, the Wild penalty kill. A PK with a success rate of 77.2% is not helpful at all. It was the seventh lowest in the NHL. Why? The goaltending. The Wild’s goaltending in shorthanded situations has not been good. It was not the worst but they are in the bottom third of the NHL. To point, the Wild’s actual GA/60 in shorthanded situations was 8.3 and the expected goals model has the Wild at 6.33. That is not good. If the Wild cannot behave, then Vancouver can get wrecked. By the way, Vancouver’s PK ranked around the league median. That remains better than bad.
It is possible that Mark Evason could have the Wild play differently to get after Vancouver’s weaknesses in their style. However, I doubt he has the players to do so. Defensemen like Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon can be great in their own end but they are not likely to be rushing up ice. Their leading forwards in ice time per game are Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Mikko Koivu. Only Eriksson Ek is under the age of 30 and does not have hundreds or at least a thousand games on his body. I have seen Parise play a lot of them when he was in his prime in New Jersey. He is fantastic down low. That is where his bread is buttered. Not so much in transition and I do not think he got any better at it now that he’s 35 (and has 5 more seasons his contract, by the way). Vancouver has younger, more mobile talent - Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser among others - but as Kelly pointed out in his video, the coaching staff knows what their team can do well. It is not rushing up ice in transition to catch the opposition out-numbered. Evason may have to stick to what they were doing and hope to out-perform Vancouver.
I think this comes down to how disciplined they will be and how well their goaltenders perform when the shots come from in close. Short of falling flat on their face, I would give Vancouver an edge since they have been playing similarly to the Wild and arguably with more success. I am admittedly biased since, as noted early in this post, this series directly impacts the Devils.
The SB Nation Blogs: For anything Canucks related, please visit Nucks Misconduct, where you will not get 2 or 10 minutes for checking them out. For anything Wild related, please visit Hockey Wilderness, where you will not get lost since it is a blog and not an actual wilderness.
The Stakes at Hand for the Devils
We know these two teams are playing for a playoff spot. But what is in it for the Devils?
Do you want the Devils to have at least two first round draft picks in the 2020 NHL Draft? Then you want Vancouver to win this series.
Here is the background. Back in February, the New Jersey Devils traded Blake Coleman to Tampa Bay for Nolan Foote and a first round pick. This is not Tampa Bay’s first round pick but Vancouver’s first rounder. Tampa Bay received this when they traded J.T. Miller to Vancouver back in June 2019. This pick has one condition and it is very straight-forward. Vancouver’s first round pick would be for 2020 if Vancouver makes the playoffs. If they do not, the pick moves to 2021. Pierre LeBrun confirmed at The Athletic back in May that the Qualifying Round does not count as the playoffs for the teams; thus, Vancouver needs to win this series for the Devils to get Vancouver’s first round pick in 2020. If Minnesota wins, then the pick moves back to 2021.
There is an argument to be made about the pick moving back to 2021 not being that bad. If the Canucks win this series, then their first rounder can be no higher than 16th overall. If the Canucks go on to win in the postseason, then that first round pick will become lower and lower. Whereas if the Wild win this series and Vancouver stinks in 2021, then that pick will be much higher. And, who knows, the 2021 draft class may be quite good.
I personally disagree with the argument. My standpoint is that I want the Devils to stop being bad and start being good soon. It remains to be seen whether Tom Fitzgerald will try solely build on what he currently has or whether he will blow up most of the roster and start from scratch. Either way, a pick in 2020 is more likely to make it to the NHL earlier than a pick in 2021. Plus, we have more knowledge about the 2020 NHL draft class and it is likely the Devils will get a very good prospect in the back half of this first round. Provided Vancouver does not turn into Cinderella and take a pumpkin-carriage to the Western Conference Finals, this pick will be in the late teens or early twenties. That is more than fine with me.
Regardless of what you would prefer, the stakes are clear. A Vancouver win means the Devils get their first rounder this year. A Minnesota win means they will get Vancouver’s first rounder next year.
The Second NHL Draft Lottery Possibilities
We know that Alexis Lafreniere will be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That pick is owned by one of the eight losing teams from this Qualifying Round. So there will be a second lottery to determine it. How should we react if the loser of this series wins this one?
If the Wild win the Second Draft Lottery: This would be fine to me. The Wild being in the lottery means the Devils will have Vancouver’s first rounder in 2020, for starters. The Wild are also in the Western Conference, so their fortunes do not directly impact the Devils. That is another plus. If you look at the Wild roster, you could make a case they could really use someone like Lafreniere. Not that Minnesota has any imminent issue with the salary cap. But this is a team that is basically built to be on the playoff bubble. If everything works out, then they can be a bit tricky as an opponent; but when does everything work out in the NHL? Their forward corps could use a real boost of young talent since Koivu is nearly at the end of his career, Eric Staal is battling Father Time at age 35 (spoiler: Father Time will win), they are stuck with a declining Parise for another five seasons, and Zuccarello is going to follow him as well. Lafreniere would be really helpful to avoid being stuck in second gear for the next few seasons at a minimum.
If the Canucks win the Second Draft Lottery: I would still be bummed about the Devils getting their pick in 2021 instead of 2020. But I would be heartened by the fact that this would mean that they would get Arizona’s first rounder. At least this outcome would still lead to the Devils having two first round picks in this year’s draft. Vancouver is in a tighter spot cap-wise and getting a talent of Lafreniere’s level on an ELC would be helpful for them. As with the Wild, Lafreniere going to Vancouver does not directly impact the Devils’ quest to rise up in the standings in the East. So it would not be all that bad of an occurrence. I would just prefer to have their first rounder and, ideally, along with Arizona’s.
Pending Free Agents to Look For
The Devils have a lot of cap space, a full-time GM, and a new head coach. Maybe they will spend in free agency this Fall. These games could be a real showcase for those looking to hit the market. These are some of the more notable potential unrestricted free agents in this series.
The Wild: The Wild have two main pending unrestricted free agents. The first is 37-year old and life-long player for the Wild, Mikko Koivu. I highly doubt he joins another team, much less the Devils. The second is 26-year old forward Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk is versatile in that he could play any of the three forward positions. He would be one of the younger players on the market. However, he is also someone I think is a bit overrated. While he has been a consistent about-20 goal scorer and a consistent producer of about 40 to 50 points per season. Yet, he has rarely been a driver of play in 5-on-5. In 14 games with Minnesota, he has done well in that regard. Prior to that, opponents enjoyed playing against him when he was on the ice for the better part of the last four seasons on three different teams. Seeing that Montreal, Arizona, and Pittsburgh all traded him, it strikes me that three different organizations were willing to move him. Granted, the deals were not small deals. Montreal got Max Domi in return, Arizona moved him to get Phil Kessel, and Pittsburgh got Jason Zucker back. But if Minnesota lets him walk, that is a fourth organization that does not think he is worth keeping around. It makes me wonder about his actual value. Anyway, he is the one UFA to actually watch on the Wild. If he goes off in the Qualifying Round, he could have plenty of suitors in October. If not, well, he likely will just because he is a 26-year old forward that can play all positions and give your team about 20 goals and 50 points at best.
The Wild’s cap situation is rather healthy. Despite the hideously large Parise and Suter contracts still having five more seasons left on it and Sturgeon’s big extension kicking in next season, the Wild have a lot of space for 2020-21. CapFriendly projects about $16.2 million in space for next season. They only have two major RFAs to sign in Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway, who are both coming off of their entry level contracts. There will be lots of space after they get taken care of by early October. They could be players in free agency. The X-factor is that the Wild have a recently-new GM in Bill Guerin. He may look at the roster and start to re-construct it to something that is more to his liking. With more contracts ending in 2020-21, he could be more active next season. But we shall see.
The Canucks: There are plenty of names to look for, although they are not that amazing. Jacob Markstrom and Josh Leivo were on LTIR and are coming off their current contracts. Again, Markstrom has recovered, so how he performs will be of interest for teams that need a goalie. However, I would curb your enthusiasm as Markstrom said he would like to stay as a Canuck. The other UFAs may be more available. Tyler Toffoli could be hitting the market and he has been a fairly good winger. However, Vancouver may want to keep him and possibly move Brock Boeser to make space for it. That has been shot down, but that it was the first major rumor after the flat salary cap was announced is telling. 30-year old defenseman and assistant captain Christopher Tanev is also up for a new contract as are two depth players: goaltender Louis Domingue and defenseman Oscar Fantenburg. Tanev is not exactly a “wow” choice, but he would be worth keeping an eye on for his performances. I do not think the Devils really should shoot for the other two depth players. Basically, look out for Toffoli and Tanev in this series if all you care about are the pending free agents.
On the surface, it looks like Vancouver should be comfortable. CapFriendly projects the Canucks to have just over $17 million in cap space for next season. However, they will have a lot less than that after they take care of their restricted free agents. Troy Stecher is coming off a contract with a cap hit of $2.325 million. Jake Virtanen is coming off a contract with a cap hit of $1.2 million. Both will want increases. Likewise, Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette, and Zack MacEwen are all up for new deals and at least marginal raises. Then you have to consider that they should give Markstrom a new deal, which will not likely be cheap. All of a sudden, the Canucks could have fewer than $10 million to try to retain Toffoli, figure out a replacement for Domingue and possibly Tanev, and maintain enough money to give extensions to Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko in next season. This is why the rumor came out that Vancouver is considering moving Brock Boeser to make space to keep Toffoli. Things can get real messy in Vancouver real fast. A team with a lot of cap space like New Jersey may want to call up Jim Benning and see if he would scratch their back as they scratches his.
My Choice & Your Turn
I think I made it clear in the stakes section what I would want to see. I want to see Vancouver go through to the playoffs. Ideally, I want them to beat Minnesota and then lose in the first round. This way the Devils get a pick in the 16th to 20th overall range. Hopefully to go with their seventh overall pick and Arizona’s first rounder. While the Wild winning would not be bad, I want Vancouver’s pick for this year. That is my main reason for rooting for Vancouver in this series. If you agree, great. If you disagree, then that is fine too.
However, that is how I see this matchup. I want to know what the People Who Matter think of this series; I want to know what you expect and hope for in this series. Please leave a comment as to how you see this series going down, who you would want to win and why, and who interests you within this series. Also, please vote in the poll - which I did not forget in this post - just to answer who you think will win this series. The rooting guide series will continue on tomorrow and return to the East with the Columbus and Toronto series. Thank you for reading.
Who will win between the Vancouver Canucks and the Minnesota Wild in this best of five series?
This poll is closed