Sharks

Patrick Marleau leaving Sharks biggest news of week in Bay Area sports

Patrick Marleau leaving Sharks biggest news of week in Bay Area sports

The biggest news of the week – and here we emphasize “news” in its classic sense, as an event outside our current expectations or a new development on an old subject – was not the Warriors’ crazed money-burning, or the Giants’ sudden application of proper baseball techniques to a recognizable end.
 
It was Patrick Marleau leaving San Jose for, of all places, Toronto. It violated every assumption we made of the man and his market while on a secondary level making perfect sense.

[RELATED: Iguodala shares 'a gem' when it comes to gaining free-agent leverage]
 
Andre Iguodala got a new deal, which was one million dollars per annum and one year longer than we thought the Warriors would be comfortable giving. Stephen Curry signed for the most money a fellow in his position could receive (though not nearly as much as he is worth, both to his organization and to the NBA as a whole). Kevin Durant agreed to defer his humongous payday for a bit, by a bit.
 
And the Giants caught a foundering Colorado team and a very Pittsburgh’y Pirate team at the right moment for their fading self-esteem, while making a lot of little roster moves that suggest a surreptitious rebuild that nobody believes the management would ever stand.
 
But it is Marleau, who did 18 years as a Shark, going to Toronto for three years and $18.75 million that was the biggest surprise – especially after his bosom mate, Joe Thornton, agreed to a one-year deal to stay.
 
And nobody saw that coming.
 
Marleau was a peculiarly great player in that he never seemed to fully satisfy. His skills were hailed but his consistency in exhibiting them was sometimes in doubt. He was, in that way, a bit like talented centers in the NBA, who are always judged by what we think they should always be able to do and what they actually end up doing.
 
His numbers are Hall of Fame quality, especially now that Dave Andreychuk has been elected to the HOF, but he lacks the signature moment or moments that define the word of mouth that helps make such a career. To this day, he befuddles people who learn that he scored 40 goals only once and achieved 90 points no times at all. He finished in the top three for a postseason award only once (the 2006 Lady Byng for being no trouble to anyone) and played in only three All-Star Games, and yet his numbers when compared to his fellow players puts him a group of second-level Hall of Famers with Ron Francis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Frank Mahovlich and Gilbert Perreault.
 
It also does not help him that he played for a franchise that is defined in part by its postseason underachievements. Nor, for that matter, that he was always the guy who avoided the limelight or attention on a team that needed all the sparks it could get in a crowded entertainment field. He was very good at being “there” while being virtually undetectable.
 
And his new destination is the hockey media capital of the universe, where nothing he does (or does not do) will go undissected, and the privacy he and his family so cherished in California will be a thing of the past. He will not be under a microscope as much as under a magnifying class as wielded by a bully who likes burning things, especially when you consider that he will be a 40-year-old when his contract enters its final year.
 
In other words, he went to the place where the radar doesn’t let anything fly beneath it. He is taking center stage after decades of having been used to working in the wings, at a time when most players appreciate less notice rather than more.
 
So in all these ways and probably dozens more only he knows, Marleau the Leaf is an amazing development, and at only one-third the Iguodala price and one-tenth that of Curry.
 
In other words, sometimes the biggest news comes at a bargain. Not always, but for Patrick Marleau, that seems to be the one thing that does make sense about this seemingly nonsensical bit of real news.

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speed kills, and it claimed another two victims in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The "heavy" playing style that powered three combined championships in Southern California since 2007 was left in the dust by a pair of speedier division rivals, the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, en route to the only sweeps so far this postseason. 

San Jose learned this lesson firsthand. In a six-game series loss during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team speed.

Pittsburgh deployed three, mobile defensive pairings and sprinkled speed on all four forward lines. San Jose, meanwhile, had a few fast forwards in the lineup and strong skaters among its top-four defensemen, but its speed was only a relative strength against teams in the Western Conference.

Following the loss in the Final, the Sharks have infused their lineup with speed and skating ability. Mikkel Boedker was signed the following summer, and Evander Kane was acquired at this year's trade deadline. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Marcus Sorensen debuted last season. Dylan DeMelo, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan played extended NHL minutes this season, and there's nary a Roman Polak in sight. 

Take it all together, and San Jose played at a high pace this season. Using team-level shot-attempt rates as a proxy for pace of play, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic did with the graph shown below, the Sharks played at the league's third-highest pace this season. 

The Ducks were pretty far behind the Sharks on the season, at a rate of about five fewer shot attempts per hour. Keep in mind that data includes 67 games of Cam Fowler, one of Anaheim's best skaters on the blueline who missed the entirety of the first round with a shoulder injury. The Golden Knights don't rank as highly as one might expect, but still played at a faster pace than the Kings.

Vegas didn't have the same inciting incident as San Jose to fill its roster with strong skaters, considering the expansion team didn't play its first game until October. Instead, the Golden Knights saw the writing on the wall, and placed a premium on skating ability in the expansion draft, and in adding to their team afterward. 

"That was our basis for who we chose," Vegas pro scout Kelly Kisio told NBC Sports California in a February interview. "Guys that had hockey sense, and guys that could skate. If you have those guys, they will somehow make it happen."

43-goal scorer William Karlsson is a burner, and they acquired another one, Tomas Tatar, at the trade deadline. Blue-chip blueliners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore were prized for their mobility well before landing in Sin City. Even bottom-six forwards like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and depth defensemen like Jon Merrill are good skaters. 

The disparity was clear in Vegas' first-round series with Los Angeles. Five-on-five, only three teams in the first round have accounted for a higher percentage of expected goals entering Friday (Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals) than the Golden Knights, according to Corsica Hockey. 

Neither Vegas nor San jose will enjoy gap in skating ability against one another, however, setting up a what should be a standout second-round matchup. The games will be fast, but the length of the first-ever playoff series between the two should be anything but. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”