Sharks

Analysis: Which Sharks player will end up in Vegas?

Analysis: Which Sharks player will end up in Vegas?

There weren’t any major surprises on the Sharks’ expansion protected list that was unveiled on Sunday morning. The team protected the maximum number of players possible, choosing the option of seven forwards, three defensemen and goalie Martin Jones. Pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were left unprotected, which was expected.

Vegas will have to take one player - and one player only - from each of the 30 NHL teams. Let’s examine who might be on the move from San Jose.

Brenden Dillon

Why he will go to Vegas: Dillon is a young, improving defenseman under contract for the next three seasons. Although there isn’t much offense to his game, he brings a physical/toughness element, and has become more and more reliable in his own end with each passing season. Last season, it was evident he worked on his speed and skating over the summer. That’s the other thing about Dillon: he’s tireless in his effort to improve.

Why he will not: There were some talented young defensemen left available by other clubs, including Sami Vatanen, Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jack Johnson, Jason Demers and Nate Schmidt. Dillon may not make the cut among the nine defensemen that Vegas is required to select.

Verdict: Dillon is probably the most likely player that the Sharks will lose. And, make no mistake, the Sharks would hate to lose him.

Joel Ward

Why he will go to Vegas: Ward previously played under Vegas GM George McPhee in Washington, so McPhee is surely aware of how respected Ward is around the league. If you’re looking to build a young team, as McPhee surely is, Ward would be the perfect guy to serve as a role model. Heck, he could even get consideration to be the first captain. 

Why he will not: At 36 years old, Ward’s best playing days are behind him. He went from 43 points in his first season with the Sharks to 29 last season. Ward has just one year left on his contract, too.

Verdict: Several people I've talked to think Ward will be the guy that goes to Vegas. I'd give him second-best odds behind Dillon.

Mikkel Boedker

Why he will go to Vegas: Boedker has already played nine years in the NHL, and had a couple 50-point seasons before joining the Sharks as a free agent and struggling to adjust in his first year in teal. Still, if there’s one player the Sharks would surely hold the exit door open for, it’s Boedker. Perhaps they even try to swing a deal with Vegas to include a pick or a prospect to entice the Golden Knights to select Boedker. If the Golden Knights need help getting to the salary cap floor, which they might, Boedker could make sense.

Why he will not: Boedker managed just 26 points in 81 games last season, and was a healthy scratch in two of the Sharks’ six playoff games against Edmonton, putting an exclamation point on his disappointing campaign. He has three years and $12 million remaining on his contract, which should scare away any suitor, Vegas or otherwise.

Verdict: Unless the Sharks are willing to part with a high-end prospect or high round draft pick - which I think is unlikely - I don't see why Vegas would be interested in Boedker and his contract unless they're desperate.

Paul Martin

Why he will go to Vegas: Just like Ward, Martin is a respected veteran that would bring instant credibility to the dressing room of what will surely be a young team. Perhaps, like Ward, he’s even captain material. Martin is also a guy McPhee surely knows well as he spent his entire career in the Eastern Conference before joining the Sharks two seasons ago. And, he can still serve as a reliable, defensive-minded defenseman.

Why he will not: Like we mentioned in regards to Dillon, there are probably better options on the blue line than a 36-year-old in the twilight of his career. And, although he’s remained generally healthy in San Jose, Martin has missed significant time in the past due to injury.

Verdict: Unlikely. That's probably just fine with the Sharks, as Martin remains an ideal partner for Brent Burns.

David Schlemko

Why he will go to Vegas: Schlemko is signed at a resonable $2.1 million salary for the next three years, and is a nice third-pairing defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice when he's on his game.

Why he will not: At 30 years old, he's not exactly young anymore, and there is no single part of Schlemko's game that stands out. There are better options around the league for the Golden Knights, including two defensemen on the Sharks' roster that are probably more appealing.

Verdict: I'd be surprised if Schlemko is Vegas' choice.

Joe Thornton

Why he will to go Vegas: Thornton, like teammate Patrick Marleau, is now free to negotiate with the Golden Knights. While adding a soon-to-be 38-year-old might not make sense for Vegas hockey-wise, this is still a small market team that has to sell tickets. Adding a future Hall of Famer to serve as the first real face of the franchise would do wonders from a marketing perspective. You'd have to think they’ll at least call Thornton’s camp to see if he might be interested.

Why he will not: Thornton wants to stay in San Jose, but if that doesn’t work out, he’ll want to go to a contender. The impression here is that at the very least, Thornton will want to see what kind of interest there is around the league when other teams are allowed to start speaking with him on June 25.

Verdict: No chance Thornton ends up in Vegas.

Patrick Marleau

Why he will to go Vegas: Like Thornton, Marleau would be a name that hockey fans in Las Vegas would instantly recognize, and he’d sell some tickets. Unlike Thornton, though, I’m not convinced Marleau wants to stay in San Jose. If he’d like to extend his career close to home, perhaps he’ll at least listen to what Vegas has to offer – if it is interested.

Why he will not: Also like Thornton, Marleau likely wants to play for a team that’s a contender if he doesn’t return to the Sharks. He’ll also want to see what other options might be out there on June 25, so signing with the Golden Knights wouldn’t make much sense – at least not yet.

Verdict: I think there's a slight chance Marleau ends up with the Golden Knights, but if he does, it wouldn't be until July 1 at the earliest.

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

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USATSI

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

Don't expect a lot of goals in the second-round playoff series between the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. The goaltending matchup, featuring red-hot shot-stoppers Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, is arguably one of the best in postseason history. 

Since the NHL changed up its playoff format in 2014, no two opposing starting goalies have entered a round with a higher combined save percentage than  Jones and Fleury (.973). Among goalies that played at least 175 minutes in a playoff round (or, about three games) all-time, Fleury and Jones' first-round performances rank 8th and 20th, respectively, in single-series save percentage. No other goaltenders in the top-20 played another in the following round. 

It shouldn't surprise you, then, that Fleury and Jones sit atop the league leaderboard in save percentage and goals-against average during the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. It's also shouldn't surprise you that both goaltenders stopped pretty much every shot they faced, no matter the type, in the first round. 

In five-on-five situations, where they've played the vast majority of their minutes, neither Jones nor Fleury allowed a goal off of a low-danger shot, according to Corsica Hockey. They each allowed one medium-danger goal, and Jones allowed the only high-danger tally.

Their save percentage against each type of five-on-five shot represented an improvement over the regular season, but some of their biggest improvements were arguably a result of improved play in front of them.

During the regular season, Jones ranked 46th out of 51 goaltenders that played a minimum of 1000 five-on-five minutes in medium-danger save percentage (.900), while facing the 11th-highest percentage of medium-danger shots. In the postseason, Jones has faced the lowest percentage of medium danger shots (25.53), and has the fourth-best save percentage (.958), per Corsica. 

Fleury, meanwhile, cleaned up on high-danger shots in the first round while his teammates limited those opportunities. In the regular season, Fleury's five-on-five high-danger save percentage (.768) ranked 44th out of 51 goalies (minimum 1000 minutes), according to Corsica. While he faced the 10th-lowest percentage of high-danger shots (16.91), he faced an even lower one (9.28) against the Los Angeles Kings. 

If the first round was any indication, though, the improvements of both goaltenders will be tested in the second. In four games against the Golden Knights, 42.71 percent of the five-on-five shots Kings netminder Jonathan Quick faced were of the medium-danger variety, the third-highest percentage of the 18 goalies that played at least 100 five-on-five minutes in the playoffs entering Monday. Against the Sharks, nearly a fifth of the five-on-five shots Ducks goaltender John Gibson saw were high-danger, the fifth-highest percentage (19.51 percent) among those aforementioned goalies, per Corsica. 

Some regression should be expected, but just how much is anyone's guess. Jones has plenty of playoff pedigree, and although Fleury doesn't (.912 career playoff save percentage entering this postseason), he's in the middle of what is easily the best season of his career. Plus, an additional four-to-seven games may not be enough of a representative sample size to expect any meaningful returns to normalcy. 

In other words, if you like to see pucks cross the goal line, there's a good chance this series will disappoint you. 

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

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USATSI

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

The Vegas Golden Knights are not a one-line team, but one line will worry the Sharks most in the second round. 

The top trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith was one of the league's best this season. Only Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen were on the ice for more five-on-five goals together in the regular season (47) than Vegas' first line (46), according to Corsica Hockey. In just under 700 five-on-five minutes together, they controlled 55.54 percent of the shot attempts, 56.55 percent of the shots, 56.41 percent of the expected goals, and two-thirds of the goals, outscoring opponents 46-23. 

They did so playing primarily against the team's top players. According to HockeyViz, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith spent an above-average amount of time matched with their opponent's top-four forwards and top-three defensemen. Per Corsica, no Vegas forwards faced competition that accounted for a higher percentage of their team's ice time, a higher percentage of shot attempts, or a higher percentage of expected goals in the regular season.

Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant continued to use them this way in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. They were attached to the hips of Los Angeles' top line, playing nearly an hour of five-on-five time against Anze Kopitar alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Kopitar's next-most common forward opponent, James Neal, played only 15 minutes against him five-on-five in the entire series. 

When the Sharks and Golden Knights face off in Sin City later this week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith will undoubtedly see a lot of San Jose defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Gallant will likely primarily ice his first line against Peter DeBoer's top trio of Joonas Donskoi, Evander Kane, and Joe Pavelski, especially if recent history is any indication. Smith was injured the last time the teams played on March 31, but Marchessault and Karlsson played (at least) three more minutes against Donskoi, Kane, and Pavelski than any other San Jose forwards. 

It will be interesting if those same matchups are used when the series shifts to SAP Center for Games 3, 4, and possibly 6. On March 22, the last Sharks-Golden Knights game in San Jose, Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl drew Marchessault and Karlsson (Smith was hurt then, too) most of the game. Boedker, Couture, and Hertl functioned as San Jose's shutdown line in the first round, playing most of their minutes against Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, who consistently remained on the Anaheim Ducks' top line.

No matter which Sharks line draws Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith, it will need to improve on its first-round performance. San Jose's top-six forwards, who spent most of their time against Anaheim's top-two lines, were the team's six-worst forwards in terms of five-on-five corsi-for percentage (none eclipsed 43 percent), and only Couture was not outshot, according to Corsica Hockey. None of them were outscored five-on-five, but that was largely owed to the team's strong finishing ability and the outstanding play of Martin Jones in net. 

Jones is a proven playoff performer, but the Sharks were unlikely to continue to score on nearly 12 percent of their five-on-five shots before factoring in the presence of Marc-Andre Fleury, the playoff leader in five-on-five save percentage, in the opposite crease. That's even less likely now. Plus, the Golden Knights are far more disciplined (plus-16 penalty differential in the regular season) than the Ducks (minus-60), so San Jose likely won't be able to mask any five-on-five mismatches with a strong power play.  

Thus, it'll go a long way for the Sharks if their top-six forwards keep pace with Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. Getting the best of the matchup would go even further.