Evason extension makes sense for Wild, but biggest tests await

evason wild
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
1 Comment

With the 2022 Winter Classic a mere (ice-cold) stone throw away, the Wild decided to sign head coach Dean Evason to a contract extension. The Wild did the same with Evason’s coaching staff, and even celebrated it with the above graphic.

(Speaking of graphic, Evason apparently informed the media of his extension in a profane way.)

At first blush, it seems sensible enough for the Wild to keep Evason around as head coach. Just look at where the Wild rank in the Central Division.

How has he actually performed, though? Where could the Wild improve, and how much of their current success is sustainable?

Let’s dive in with the spirit of Creed Bratton blogging into the void.

Success, though in a strange, staggered sample size

So far, as Wild head coach, Dean Evason amassed an impressive 62-29-7 record, which translates to a strong .668 points percentage.

Focus on the past two seasons (throwing out the 12 games he coached replacing Bruce Boudreau in 2019-20), and it’s clear that the Wild stack up better than just about anyone expected when Evason took over. They rank ninth in points (115) and points percentage (.669) during the past two seasons.

Amid quite a few surprises, the biggest upset of all is that the Wild have been scoring more goals under Evason. With 3.36 goals per game over their past 86 contests, the Wild rank fifth in the NHL.

Impressive stuff.

[Lately, the Wild have been climbing PHT’s Power Rankings]

That said, I’d argue that we still only know so much about Evason as Wild head coach.

Truly, if you want a capsule of how much COVID has disrupted our ability to completely view the NHL, merely look at Evason’s first “three” seasons. After that 12 games as interim head coach, Evason’s first “full” season was truncated to 56 regular-season contests. At 30 games played now, it remains to be seen if the Wild reach 82 games in 2021-22.

Ultimately, Evason’s coached a mere 98 regular-season games and 11 playoff contests. While Minnesota hasn’t won a series under his watch, they’ve still exceeded expectations, but we really only have a bit more than a season of data.

So, there’s a “to be continued” air to some of this. But it’s better to succeed — maybe overachieve, maybe soak up some good luck — than to fall apart.

Can Wild keep scoring like this under Dean Evason?

Logically speaking, the Wild will probably cool off a bit under Dean Evason. Eventually.

After all, during the past two seasons, the Wild haven’t just been the hottest-shooting team in the NHL at even strength. They’ve been so by a pretty healthy margin.

Combine the past two seasons (86 games played), and the Wild’s even-strength shooting percentage is at 11.39-percent. No other team is even at 11%, with the Capitals coming in second at 10.82.

Could some of that be by design? Perhaps. Let’s not forget that the Capitals, for example, have outperformed shooting expectations quite often with Alex Oveckhin in the fold. Maybe Evason’s “attention to details” may help the Wild to keep this up?

That may require widening their range of high-danger scoring chances. Check out this Hockey Viz breakdown for 2021-22:

Evason extension makes sense for Wild, but biggest tests await Hockey Viz MIN
I’ve genuinely not seen another 2021-22 shot chart like this (via Hockey Viz)

Feasting on the innermost portion of the inner slot is a good thing. Still, that pattern doesn’t necessarily translate into the sort of red-hot scoring we’ve seen from the Wild.

Patterns they want to maintain, ones they want to break

That said, not every underlying metric indicates that the Wild aren’t thriving under Evason.

  • When it comes to winning the high-danger chance battles at even-strength, the Wild have been strong under Evason. During the past two seasons, they rank seventh in high-danger chances for at even strength (53.61%), and 12th in expected goals percentage (51.57%). Generally, they’ve been able to win the quality battle, even if they’re mixed at gaining quantity.

Overall, the Wild look good (if not great) at even-strength under Evason. To reach a higher level (and maybe counteract a possible cooling of their shooting luck), the Wild need to fix their power play, though.

You can’t just blame bad luck. During the past two seasons, they’ve been a bottom-10 power play in expected goals for and high-danger chances.

The soul-searching question is: how much of those failures hinge on personnel, and how much can Evason change?

The answers may dovetail into another area where the Wild might want to improve: goaltending.

The right time for Wild to buy at a trade deadline?

Could Evason get more out of Wild goaltending and its power play if Bill Guerin made some 2022 NHL Trade Deadline additions?

As dynamic as Kirill Kaprizov is, another power play weapon might just unlock that unit. (Giving prospects like Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi some looks could help, too.)

Again, the same logic may apply in net. Cam Talbot‘s been reasonably steady, but maybe the Wild would raise their ceiling by going after, say, Marc-Andre Fleury or some other potential net upgrade?

Ultimately, it’s pretty easy to see why the Wild kept Dean Evason around. Even so, his biggest tests lie ahead.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.