Season in Review: Defensemen and Goaltenders
A few days prior, I outlined the season in review for the Wild’s forwards.
Now, it’s time for the back end of the team. Defense and goaltending. By all accounts, this was a Wild team whose defense had to be bailed out by their goaltender far, far too often. But this was also the first time that the Wild had multiple defensemen capable of putting points up on the board, so here we go with the review.
Marek Zidlicky – 3 – D | 76 GP, 12 – 30 – 42, -12: There are a couple things that are telling about Zidlicky’s first season in Minnesota. First, the man is a powerplay machine. Ten of his twelve goals game with the man advantage and, for the first time, gave the Wild a real, genuine threat with his shot from the point. The second, however, is that Zidlicky is also not known for his defense. He showed flashes of what he could do in the defensive end, but he is primarily known and kept for his abilities moving the puck and in the offensive zone. Zidlicky’s lack of size and his propensity to turnovers aggrivated Wild fans to no end, but there’s no denying the fact that he provided the Wild with a fantastic threat from the point. Grade: B
Marc-Andre Bergeron – 47 – D | 73 GP, 14 – 18 – 32, +5: When I look at Bergeron’s season, there’s one thing that pops to mind that really sums it all up. He was a plus?!? Look, Bergeron has a lot of skills that can be/are useful to an NHL team. It’s just that his defensive prowess is certainly not chief among them. While a force on the powerplay, Bergeron’s play in his own zone was inconsistent at best. He was often the victim of poor decision making and mistakes with the puck that caused the coaching staff and the fans to get a bit more grey hair on their heads. Overall, though, his offensive skill was something that we definitely needed from the blueline and he was one of the big reasons why our powerplay was as good as it was this season. Grade: B-
Brent Burns – 8 – D | 59 GP, 8 – 19 – 27, -7: It’s very hard to categorize Burns’s season, especially due to the fact that he was bounced around so much and because of the most recent news that he played his last six weeks of the season with a concussion. That said, Burns regressed a bit this season and the Wild management is largely the reason why. Everyone came into the season expecting a Mike Green-esque outburst from the young defenseman, but the flip flopping between forward and defense early in the season led to what could be called a mediocre season at best for the youngster. Grade: C
Kim Johnsson – 5 – D | 81 GP, 2 – 22 – 24, -3: Johnsson has his share of detractors in Minnesota, largely due to his contract and lack of offensive production. But looking at the current landscape for defensemen, his contract is not so outrageous in comparison to what other defensive defensemen are making; especially considering the fact that Johnsson has the ability to skate his way out of trouble and can provide some solid puck movement. Johnsson played in all situations for the Wild and was oftentimes matched up against teams’ top lines which makes his season all the more impressive. Grade: B+
Martin Skoula – 41 – D | 81 GP, 4 – 12 – 16, -12: Let’s just get the shocker out of the way right now. Martin Skoula was the Wild’s most dependable and most consistend defenseman all year. I know, I know what you’re thinking. “Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…Mass hysteria!” (Author’s Note: A shiny penny for anyone who can name that movie.) Anyway, the bottom line is that Skoula had a very un-Skoula-like season on defense. He did not make the catastrophic mistakes that he had previously been known for and he made sound decisions with the puck and actually used his size. Grade: A-
Nick Schultz – 55 – D | 79 GP, 2 – 9 – 11, -4: Let’s get one thing out of the way here first. Nick Schultz will never be known for his offensive output. He’s never going to be a powerplay specialist. But what he does do is play against teams’ top lines night in and night out and shut them down more often than not. He’s not flashy, but he rarely makes mistakes and has become a staple on the Wild’s blueline. One area where I think he could excel a bit more, however, is his physical play. He’s not a small guy by any means, but he relies predominantly on his positioning to take players out of the play. While this is extremely effective, the Wild’s blueline has been severely lacking in its physicality in recent seasons. Schultz is one of those players that I would love to see step up that part of his game. Grade: B
Kurtis Foster – 26 – D | 10 GP, 1 – 5 – 6, +7: Okay. I’m going to be honest here. I was going to give Foster a “passing” grade, simply because he was out for the vast majority of the season and came back from a pretty harrowing injury. But that was before I actually looked at his stats. 6 points and plus-7 in 10 games is pretty darn impressive, let alone for someone returning from a serious injury. Let’s clear one thing up right away. Foster is never going to be a top-pairing, or even second-pairing defenseman. Quite simply, he’s a solid d-man who can play 15-17 minutes a night and contribute offensively. But that stat line at least gives him a little bump in his grade. Grade: B-
John Scott – 36 – D | 20 GP, 0 – 1 – 1, -1: Scott was recently rewarded for his solid play for the team with a one-year contract and, quite honestly, he deserved it. He came in and provided a physical presence on our blueline that we have never had and played quite admirably for us. His skating needs to improve for next season if he’s going to have a shot of playing any sort of regular minutes and he may be looked at to be Boogaard-Lite for us next season. Grade: C
Niklas Backstrom – 32 – G | 71 GP, 37-24-8, 2.33 GAA, .923 Sv %: Quite simply, on most nights Backstrom was the reason that we either a) won the game or b) were in the game. He was spectacular this season and played his way into a handsome contract extension. He also proved that he was one of the elite goalies in the league and should likely be in the running for the Vezina trophy. There’s not much more that you can say about his season apart from this, as he was the reason we were as close to the playoffs as we were. Grade: A
Josh Harding – 29 – G | 19 GP, 3-9-1, 2.21 GAA, .929 Sv %: You’ve got to feel for Harding. On any other team he’d likely be starting by now, but he just happens to be stuck behind Backstrom. Harding performed marvelously as the back up to Backstrom, though his wins and losses don’t necessarily reflect it. He is still growing in his game, but looks as if he could easily step up and be a starting goaltender if need be. Grade: B
So there you have it. The season grades for the defense and goaltenders. Check back here as I will have a season recap and my thoughts on this season in coming days!