Monday, May 07, 2007

Jutting and His "Peers"

Runnin' with the Dogs had a tour de force post that discussed, among other things, Minnesota State, the WCHA, and fan expectations.

The genesis of the article was the contract extension of Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting, which was at least in part based on the idea that Minnesota State has competed well against their "peer group" in the WCHA, despite not having a lot of overall success in the league.

The theory is that it is difficult for a program the size of Minnesota State to beat much larger, much more established programs like Minnesota and North Dakota on a consistent basis. The conventional wisdom is that Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Denver, and Colorado College are the "Haves" of the WCHA, while St. Cloud, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech, and Alaska-Anchorage are the "Have-Nots".

But does that logic hold up to the facts? Jutting has been head coach at Minnesota State for seven years. So I looked up the average finish for each WCHA team over the past seven years and it looks like the WCHA can be broken down even more.(Average finish in parenthesis)

1. Minnesota (2.42)
2. North Dakota(3.42)
3. Denver(3.57)
4. Colorado College(3.71)
5. Wisconsin (4.57)
6. St Cloud (4.71)
7. Minnesota State (6.71)
8. Minnesota-Duluth (7.1)
9. Alaska-Anchorage (8.57)
10. Michigan Tech (8.7)

What's even more interesting is that if you look at the number of top 4 finishes each team had over that time frame, you get the same order:

Minnesota: 7
North Dakota: 5
Denver: 5
Colorado College: 5
Wisconsin: 3
St. Cloud: 3
Minnesota State: 1
Minnesota-Duluth: 1
Alaska-Anchorage: 0
Michigan Tech: 0

I'll also point out that the top four teams, along with Michigan Tech, were all original members of the WCHA, and its various previous incarnations. So history and tradition seems to be a pretty big factor, except in the case of Michigan Tech's program, where other factors have hurt their success.

Another important factor looks to be population. With the exception of tiny Grand Forks, and Anchorage, which is big, but in Alaska, schools with a larger local population base seem to be more successful.

If any program looks to be slightly behind where you would expect them to be, it would probably be Minnesota-Duluth. Duluth is in a fairly hockey-rich area, and is slightly bigger than St. Cloud and Mankato. You'd probably expect Duluth to be in the Wisconsin/St. Cloud grouping. It should be noted though that Duluth has had the most postseason success of the bottom five programs, making one NCAA tournament, and getting to the Frozen Four.

So where does that put Minnesota State? It looks like they're right about where one would expect them to be. It's certainly not an extraordinary record, but it also isn't significantly lagging behind where it probably should be. I know Minnesota State fans would like to see themselves higher, but over the long run, if they're consistently finishing higher than a North Dakota, or Denver, or Colorado College, it's probably because those programs are doing something wrong. You could even argue that Wisconsin is artificially low due to the end of the Sauer era, and in another couple years, they will be in the UND/DU/CC category. There's just not a lot of opportunity for smaller programs to move up into those top spots with so many strong programs already in the league.