SAN JOSE – You won’t find Micheal Haley’s name at the top of any advanced stat geek’s Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
But the five-foot-10, 205-pound forward has been a mainstay in the Sharks lineup lately, while other players have seemingly fallen out of favor. On Tuesday against Anaheim, Haley suited up for the 15th time in the last 18 games, while guys like Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels remained healthy scratches.
Just don’t tell Haley he’s a regular.
“In my line of work I tend not to think you’re regular at anything, you know? Things can change,” he said. “My job is to come to the rink, and if you’re in, do the best you can, and if you’re not, be ready for the next time you are.”
Tuesday’s game was a typical one for Haley. He took exception to Jared Boll’s hit of Dylan DeMelo behind the net, dropping the gloves and engaging the Ducks’ tough guy in the first period. He played eight minutes and 50 seconds, registering a shot on goal and a plus-one rating.
In 22 games this season, Haley has three assists and a team-leading 42 penalty minutes, including six fighting majors. More importantly, though, the Sharks are 15-6-1 when he dresses.
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Pete DeBoer said recently. “You can’t underestimate the effect of having a guy that you know has your back, and everyone else’s, in the lineup. That’s important. We can say all we want that fighting’s getting out the game and intimidation’s getting out of the game – it’s still a part of the game.”
Haley has dropped the gloves in each of the last two Sharks games. On Friday against Edmonton, it was Zack Kassian – who was running around all night – that went toe-to-toe with the San Jose brute.
It could be argued that Haley’s role is more important against the heavier teams like Anaheim and Edmonton. That Sharks-Oilers game was the first of five meetings between the sudden rivals, so having Haley in the active lineup is perhaps DeBoer’s way of showing that his team won’t be pushed around in the season series.
“This is still a physical, hard game where players can be intimidated,” DeBoer said. “You need guys like that. The difference now is you need guys like that you can actually play so you can play four lines and he’s one of those guys whose improved his game and he’s been great all year for us.”
Haley, too, relishes the types of games like last Friday’s physical, bitter affair with Edmonton.
“That’s just the first one, so it’s exciting,” he said. “Hopefully that competition will be there, and it’s definitely a game that we seem to get up for.”
At 30 years old, Haley’s experienced enough to know when he’s needed. He’s not simply looking for a fight, or to instigate someone just for the sake of doing so.
But when the opportunity presents itself, he won’t back down. He can’t, if he wants to keep playing.
“You’ve got to read the situation. How they come out and how we come out will dictate how rough the game might be, but you don’t go in there every time hoping for a melee or anything,” Haley said. “As long as we’re going good, that’s all that matters.”