Sharks

Analysis: It's time for Sharks, Wilson to make a big move again

Analysis: It's time for Sharks, Wilson to make a big move again

Nashville general manager David Poile has made some blockbuster trades in recent years. He acquired a number one center in Ryan Johansen from Columbus midway through the 2015-16 season, sending highly regarded young prospect Seth Jones to the Blue Jackets, and last summer dealt captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban in a move that shocked the hockey world.

The high-risk decisions are paying off. Nashville has advanced to its first Western Conference Final, while playing all season in front of a raucous, capacity crowd in the Music City.

Just like Poile, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has never shied away from shaking up the roster to acquire top talent. His biggest move, of course, was snagging Joe Thornton from the Bruins back in 2005, but there have been plenty of other high profile attainments along the way – Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns among them. Recall last summer, too, when the Sharks were reportedly making a push for Steven Stamkos before he re-signed with Tampa Bay.

This offseason is a unique one for San Jose. The two best players in franchise history, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are pending unrestricted free agents that may or may not return. There is offseason flexibility that the Sharks have rarely enjoyed during Wilson’s tenure.

The Sharks could bring one or both of the cornerstones back. That would at least keep them competitive in 2017-18. But if Thornton, Marleau, and the majority of the 2016-17 team returns next season without any major changes, it’s difficult to envision the aging club suddenly being a Stanley Cup contender again. 

In their own division, Anaheim is still strong while young Calgary and Edmonton are quickly improving. If the Sharks do decide to bring Thornton and Marleau back, they’re returning two soon-to-be 38-year-olds that while still effective, are not at the stages of their careers where they’re going to get dramatically better.

Even without Thornton and/or Marleau, the club still has several key pieces in place. Wilson has already called it a priority to re-sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the two biggest reasons the Sharks finished fifth in the league in goals-against this season. Likely Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns is not going anywhere. Joe Pavelski is one of the best captains in the NHL, commanding the dressing room with his win-at-all-costs attitude and tireless work ethic. Other than those guys, though, there may not be any other untouchables on the Sharks roster.

The Sharks can still be a competitive team without one or both of Thornton and Marleau, if they make the right moves.

Which brings us back to Nashville.

The two cities are comparable in that neither is a traditional hockey market. Both teams play in buildings that aren’t exactly state-of-the-art anymore. Both need to be winning teams on the ice in order to put fans in the seats.

Despite the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, there didn’t seem to be much of a surge in interest. There were still plenty of empty seats in key home games over the second half of the season, even with the Sharks in first place in the division (officially, the Sharks sold out 26 of their 41 home games, but many of the announced sellouts didn’t appear to be capacity crowds).

In that sense, this is an organization in desperate need of a jolt. The Predators got one when they acquired Subban, selling out all 41 of their regular season games for the first time in the history of the franchise. They also remained competitive.

* * *

Whether the business side factors into hockey decisions likely varies from club to club, and it’s impossible to know whether that plays a role in the Sharks’ front office. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Sharks owner Hasso Plattner expressed concern in January 2016 about all the empty seats at SAP Center that year.

“I'm really concerned about the situation,” he said at the Sharks’ 25th-anniversary celebration.

Plattner has to be wondering why a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in June didn’t prevent many of those seats from going unoccupied in 2016-17, too.

Could he be pushing for the kind of trade that sparks more interest, thereby selling more tickets? Again, we can only speculate. But, recall a press conference in May 2015 when the Sharks were announcing their new lease at SAP Center, when the owner mentioned Evgeni Malkin’s name before quickly checking himself and saying he was using Malkin’s name “just for an example.”

The point here is that Plattner and Wilson do discuss potential offseason moves, as the owner made clear that day. And if Plattner is concerned about the empty seats, that undoubtedly comes up during his conversations with the hockey department.

* * *

Talking about a blockbuster trade is plainly much easier than making one. It’s still too early to predict which names might be on the market this summer, and if those potential names would make sense for the Sharks. 

A top center would likely be at the top of the list. Perhaps the Sharks will get involved in discussions for Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene. Maybe the Islanders won’t be able to re-sign Jonathan Tavares, and will deal him instead. Perhaps Philadelphia, which got lucky in the draft lottery with the second overall pick, will look to move captain Claude Giroux to make way for Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

If the Sharks were to go after a player like that they would have to part with at least one or two key pieces, just like Nashville did when it sacrificed Weber and and Jones. Think along the lines of Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun or Timo Meier going the other way. 

And, to be clear, we’re not suggesting that both Thornton and Marleau need to depart in order to facilitate a big trade. Acquiring a top line center might allow Thornton to center the third line, where he’s probably better suited at this stage of his career, anyway.

Of course, it’s possible no big names become available. But, one thing is for sure – Wilson, a notorious worker of the phones, will explore. The general manager has mentioned before that he’s made a trade with every other NHL team during his 14 years in charge, and history shows he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a major trade.

Now would be a logical time for him to do it again, for the benefit of the team both on the ice and off of it.

DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

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DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer passionately defended goaltender Martin Jones following San Jose's 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. For the eighth time in his last 14 starts, Jones allowed four goals, but DeBoer tried to take a look at the bigger picture. 

"You guys like to grab little pictures of things that work for the story your writing," DeBoer told reporters in Denver after he was asked about Jones' recent struggles. 

"It's 14 games. You can go back six games and write whatever story you want. He's having a great year for us. Our goaltending has been excellent all year."

If you look at his save percentage, Jones is not having a great season.

His save percentage in all situations (.9097) is the lowest in his three seasons in teal, and ranks 22nd out of the 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations, according to Corsica Hockey. His five-on-five save percentage (.9147) is also the lowest of his teal tenure, and sits 26th out of 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes. 

But save percentage doesn't always tell the whole story, as it doesn't take into account shot quality. As we've written previously, Jones has played behind a loose defense this season.

Among those aforementioned 30 goalies, Jones has faced the highest percentage of high-danger shots, the second-highest percentage of medium-danger shots, and fourth-lowest percentage of low-danger shots. 

Luckily, there's a metric that does take into account shot quality: goals saved above average (GSAA). GSAA works much like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball, and considers how well a league-average goaltender would do "based on the shot danger faced," according to Corsica's definition.

Jones has been better than his save percentage would indicate. His 0.54 five-on-five GSAA ranks 17th out of the 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes, and his all situations GSAA (8.69) ranks 11th out of 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations. 

GSAA has the same downside as WAR, in that it's an accumulative statistic, and favors players that have played more. In order to equalize for playing time, we can look at GSAA/30 shots faced. 

Jones ranks 17th and 10th in five-on-five (0.03) and all situations (0.31) GSAA/30, respectively, among goaltenders that have played 1000 minutes in such circumstances. In other words, Jones has been about average during five-on-five play, and one of the league's better goalies across all situations, at least based on the kind of shots he's faced.

That's not neccessarily "great," but Jones has been better on the whole than his recent play would indicate. Of course, he's also been outplayed in his own crease.

Backup goaltender Aaron Dell not only boasts a higher save percentage than Jones, but his GSAA/30 in five-on-five situations (0.15) and across all strengths (0.44) are also higher than Jones'. Every 30 shots on the penalty kill, Dell (2.05 GSAA/30) saves nearly a goal more than Jones (1.06). 

DeBoer also acknowledged that Dell will have to play more out of necessity, with the Sharks halfway through a stretch of eight games in 13 days. That includes a difficult back-to-back this weekend, hosting the Penguins Saturday and facing the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday. 

The coach was on to something on Thursday. Yes, Jones has been better than his recenty play, and his season-long save percentage, would indicate. 

But that doesn't mean he's been "great," nor does it mean he's San Jose's better option in net right now. 

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

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Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

On a night when Eric Lindros is getting his number retired, who would have thought one of the NHL's best games involves a team that was the worst a season ago, and another features a team that didn't even exist last year?

Okay, most of the hockey world's eyes will be glued to tonight's Golden Knights-Lightning tilt in Tampa, which surely felt just as weird to write as it did for you to read. But Sharks-Avalanche could have that game beat, and not just because Long Beach native Matt Nieto will play against his former team.

No, the Sharks and Avalanche just happen to be two of the hottest teams in the league.

San Jose has won three in a row, and along with Nashville, holds the league's third-longest active winning streak. Colorado, meanwhile, has won seven in a row, and along with Calgary, holds the league's longest streak.

The Avalanche have not lost in 2018, and since their streak began on Dec. 29, have scored the third-most goals and allowed the fewest. With starter Semyon Varlamov out with a groin strain, backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but seven of the shots he's seen, good for a .962 save percentage.

Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as an under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidate, or at least he would have been under-the-radar if seemingly the entire hockey world hadn't made the same observation. He's no longer a dark horse, though, and may be the frontrunner if Colorado is even sniffing the postseason at the end of the year.

After all, the Avalanche were far closer to the 1992-93 Sharks than Colorado's glory days last season, losing the ninth-most games in a single season in NHL history. Entering Thursday, the Avalanche are just two points out of the final wild card spot.

To further drive home just how remarkable the turnaround's been, the Avalanche already have three more points than last season. In 39 fewer games.

Colorado may not be as good as they've been over the last seven games, when they've also led the league in PDO, the sum of save percentage and shooting percentage often used as a shorthand for luck. But during the stretch, the Avalanche are also a positive puck possession team when adjusting for score and venue, according to Natural Stat Trick, and eighth in adjusted corsi-for percentage during the win streak, per Corsica Hockey.

The Sharks, too, have been playing much better than before the bye. Two of the wins on their three-game streak have come against the cellar-dwelling Coyotes, though, and they needed overtime and a shootout to beat them.

The Avalanche will then represent the toughest test for the Sharks following the week off, and a potentially thorny end to their three-game road trip. Who would have thought?