Quantifying Sharks' loss of Marleau


Quantifying Sharks' loss of Marleau

When Patrick Marleau played his first game against the San Jose Sharks, his absence was readily apparent. He wore another uniform, for one, and San Jose entered the first reunion with the league’s seventh-fewest goals, waiting on young players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier to break out. 

Labanc is now fourth on the team in assists, and Meier’s scored four goals in his last eight games, but the Sharks have now scored the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL, and the seventh-fewest goals per game. They’ve also scored the fewest five-on-five goals. 

Marleau, meanwhile, is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in Toronto. A season after scoring 27 goals, the 38-year-old has 15 goals through 41 games, putting him on pace for exactly 30. That would tie with Logan Couture for the Sharks lead, and Marleau’s 11 five-on-five goals are four more than any San Jose player. 

So yes, ahead of Thursday’s rematch with the Maple Leafs, the Sharks still miss Marleau. But would he have been able to do the same in San Jose? 

Given Toronto’s reputation as a high-flying, high-scoring squad, it’s easy to attribute Marleau’s production to a ‘Babcock bump.’ After all, Marleau is generating shots in five-on-five situations at a higher rate (9.65 shots per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey) than any season since 2007-08. 

Yet the Maple Leafs aren’t as high-flying as you might think. They score like gangbusters, yes, but they’re only 21st in the league in shots per game across all situations (30.68), 19th in five-on-five shot rate (29.65 per 60 minutes), and 12th in five-on-five shot attempt rate (49.23 per 60).

The Sharks are 11th, 13th, and fifth in those respective categories. 

It’s not like Marleau’s riding shotgun with Auston Matthews, either. His most common linemates in the Six are Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri, when he spent most of his five-on-five time alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. 

With all of that context in mind, it certainly seems possible Marleau could have enjoyed a similar late-career renaissance with the Sharks. It wouldn’t have necessarily had to come at the extent of San Jose’s young players, either. 

Part of the reason general manager Doug Wilson felt comfortable letting Marleau walk was confidence in Labanc, Meier, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney. All but Donskoi are averaging at least half-a-minute more in ice time, and all five have made significant progress in their development. 

Marleau’s resurgence and the young players’ development aren’t mutually exclusive. One of those players would have been bumped from a power play unit, but Marleau’s presence among the top nine forwards didn’t have to mean the demotion of one to the minors or the fourth line, especially if Hertl moved to the wing. 

There are also 18.75 million reasons, or 6.25 million annually over three years, why the Sharks couldn’t keep Marleau. They would not have enjoyed the salary cap space they have now. 

Because of that flexibility, the Sharks are considered a potential player at the trade deadline, and were even linked to Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane in a report from The Athletic on Thursday. By letting a scoring winger walk this summer, the Sharks will now have enough cap space in February to acquire...another scoring winger. 

There’s no guarantee Marleau would have enjoyed the same success this season in San Jose as he is in Toronto, but it certainly appears possible. The salary cap concerns may ultimately make walking away the right decision, but for this season at least, it doesn’t appear that way. 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak


Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.


With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone


With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game.