The Wild locked up Jared Spurgeon to a four-year, $20.75-million deal Monday afternoon. The signing couldn’t have been a better one, either, as they’ve extended a relatively young blueliner who increasingly looks like he could be a top-pairing defenseman in Minnesota for years to come.
Spurgeon, 26, was due a hefty pay raise and he was doing his best to earn it this season. Set to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, Spurgeon is already more than halfway to setting new career highs in every scoring category. Through 32 games, he has five goals and 17 points, which is only five goals and 10 points shy of Spurgeon surpassing his previous bests.
There’s more to Spurgeon’s game than just the scoring, though, which is a good thing for the Wild. While Spurgeon’s point totals may fluctuate — and, realistically, he’s a career 25-point per season player so that’s the range where he’s likely to remain for the bulk of the next four seasons — his ability to control and drive play alongside any of the Wild blueliners makes him a highly underrated piece of Minnesota’s core and a defensive gem that 29 other teams would love to have in their lineup.
For much of the past three seasons, Spurgeon has found himself on the top pairing alongside Ryan Suter, which has led to Spurgeon playing the biggest minutes of his NHL career. In each of the past three seasons, he has averaged well over 22 minutes per game. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season only Suter and Jonas Brodin have a higher average ice time than Spurgeon’s 22:33 per game. But it’s what Spurgeon has done with those minutes that is most impressive.
Spurgeon, on a pairing with Suter, takes most of his starts in the offensive zone and faces some of the toughest competition on a nightly basis, but he also helps drive play better than maybe any other blueliner on the team. His two most frequent partners at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons have been Suter and Marco Scandella, and he’s almost exclusively played with one or the other since the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign.
Suter has played more than 1,500 minutes with Spurgeon at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons. Of those minutes, Suter has started 58 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and had a shot attempts for percentage of 53.1 percent. Without Spurgeon, Suter’s zone starts slipped to 53.5 percent and his SAF percentage fell to an ugly 48.8 percent. The same pattern is seen in Scandella.
At 5-on-5 over the past three years, Spurgeon and Scandella have been paired for nearly 1,000 minutes and have taken 45.7 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. However, they’ve been a monster puck possession pair, driving play to the tune of a 53.3 SAF percentage. When Scandella is apart from Spurgeon, though, he starts 42.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and has a 48.8 SAF percentage. That’s a significant drop off.
Spurgeon’s impact beyond 5-on-5 also makes him a great signing. He’s the perfect quarterback and triggerman for the Wild’s second power play unit and possesses a booming shot. He’s also great positionally, which has earned him the trust of coach Mike Yeo when it comes to manning the second penalty kill unit.
The increase in pay is also in part because the Wild are buying three years of Spurgeon’s unrestricted free agency while they still control his rights. If the Wild were unable to sign him long-term, they could have only kept Spurgeon under control for one more season — meaning the potential to match any offer sheets — before he was able to hit the open market.
That Spurgeon landed a big-money deal and has made his way to top-pairing status on one of the more defensively sound clubs in the league makes him an incredible success story, too, and a player who’s hard not to cheer for. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he’s not your prototypical big-minute blueliner, and that’s one reason why the New York Islanders didn’t sign Spurgeon after drafting him in the sixth-round, 156th overall at the 2008 draft.
But the Islanders’ mistake has been the Wild’s gain, and he’ll continue to prove anyone who may still doubt him wrong. Spurgeon’s extension is a good one for the Wild, and he’s going to continue to show why over the next four seasons.
(All advanced statistics via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com)