Better Late than Never: San Jose Sharks

Over the last three NHL seasons, there have only four teams that have consistently had the ability to control shot totals at 5-on-5, Detroit, San Jose and Washington in 2007-08 and 2008-09, and Chicago in 2008-09 and 2009-10.   (The 2007-08 New York Rangers were an unheralded dominant team, largely because they had an extraordinarily low shooting percentage on the power play.)

 

Team

Season

SV%VS

SV%F

% Shots

PDO

DET

07-08

919

921

58.57

1002

CHI

09-10

917

902

58.04

985

DET

08-09

916

910

56.22

994

SJ

07-08

923

911

54.83

988

NYR

07-08

928

922

54.77

994

CHI

08-09

918

922

54.53

1004

WSH

08-09

918

915

54.44

997

SJ

08-09

928

924

54.40

996

WSH

07-08

919

910

54.36

991

 

What’s interesting is that these teams had barely league-average goaltending and their shooting percentage was below league-average.  Given that they played with the lead so much, we’d actually expect them to be in positive PDO territory.  This should serve as a reminder that clutch shooting and goaltending are not the only driver of playoff success.

 

You’ll notice that the 2009-10 San Jose Sharks are not on the list of dominant teams – while they kept up their performance on offense, they couldn’t keep pucks from going against them.  You can see the decline in the Sharks’ year-by-year performance:

 

Season

SV%VS

SV%F

% Shots

PDO

07-08

923

911

54.83

988

08-09

928

924

54.40

996

09-10

909

928

50.08

1019

 

It’s ironic that when San Jose finally became an ordinary defensive team, it was masked by a performance high by Evgeni Nabokov, and they were able to make it further in the playoffs than ever before.

 

What Happened?

 

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the only veteran forwards to play a significant role for the Sharks in each of the last three years, and their usage has changed significantly:

 

Season

Coach

Mins

QoC Corsi Rel

Corsi Rel

Zone Start Rel

07-08

Wilson

2274

-0.65

11.4

3.4

08-09

McLellan

2290

0.41

4.8

0.7

09-10

McLellan

2347

1.04

5.2

1.3

 

This is San Jose in a microcosm.  Ron Wilson sheltered his top offensive players; Todd McLellan did not, preferring to go power-vs-power like the Detroit Red Wings did and still do.  Of course, this seems like an overwhelmingly positive maneuver – Thornton and Marleau took on much tougher minutes, leaving the softer ones for the middle and the bottom of the roster.

 

You can also how this usage changed for the bottom six forwards in terms of Quality of Competition:

 

Sheltered

Mins

QoC Corsi

Corsi

Zone Start

2007-08

4812

-0.99

11.21

58.8

2008-09

4468

-0.23

8.23

54.0

2009-10

3793

-0.18

0.43

46.8

 

Ron Wilson had a strong crew of defense-first forwards, including Patrick Rissmiller, Marcel Goc, Mike Grier and Torrey Mitchell, which allowed him to pick choice offensive assignments for the rest of his forwards in 2007-08.  Todd McLellan opened the following season with three of those four (Rissmiller signed with the New York Rangers) but all three were injured and accounted for half the playing time that they did the previous season. 

 

It’s unclear whether it was a case of the best-laid plans going awry, or a gradual shift towards a new strategy.  Either way, McLellan moved his skilled forwards – Thornton, Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Devon Setoguchi, Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo – up the depth chart in terms of defensive assignments and the Sharks traded for known stopper Travis Moen. 

 

For 2009-10, Grier, Goc and Mitchell were no longer viewed as shutdown defensive forwards – Grier and Goc have mid-level roles with Buffalo and Nashville, respectively, while Mitchell has never recovered his pre-injury performance and got exclusively 4th line ice time with the Sharks last season.  At the same time, Marleau, Thornton and Dany Heatley now clearly get the toughest assignments, followed by Pavelski, Clowe and Setoguchi.  If we look at the top six forwards in each season in terms of Quality of Competition, you can see how their performance changed as McLellan started using better players:

 

Tough

Mins

QoC Corsi

Corsi

Zone Start

07-08

5021

0.22

2.39

50.9

08-09

6618

0.53

7.51

50.7

09-10

6559

0.75

5.05

50.0

 

Not only did the top six players play a lot more, but they took on tougher opponents.  So why didn’t San Jose improve?  The problem is that their bottom six in 2009-10 were somewhat worse than they had been in the past. 

 

We can see this if we adjust for quality of competition and zone starts.  The six guys getting the tough minutes got better by a smaller amount than the six guys playing soft minutes got worse:

 

Adjusted Corsi

Tough

Sheltered

Total

2007-08

2.29

7.24

6.71

2008-09

7.80

6.65

7.80

2009-10

5.79

1.33

3.35

 

That still isn’t the complete story.  We can’t blame an entire team slipping from dominant to league-average on Scott Nichol under-performing in 11 minutes of ice time per game.

 

The Defense

 

Over the last three seasons, there have only been two constants on the San Jose blue line: Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.  Their competition and raw Corsi figures are the same, but Vlasic has been used much more heavily for defensive-zone draws:

 

Player

QoC

Corsi

Ozone%

Corsi Adj

Vlasic

0.30

3.12

47.6

4.38

Murray

0.36

2.53

52.3

2.03

 

Murray and Vlasic took on tougher assignments in 2008-09 and improved their performance, while they regressed by a similar amount as the forwards did in 2009-10:

 

Season

Vlasic

Corsi Adj

Murray Corsi Adj

QoC

Corsi Adj

07-08

3.55

2.15

-0.067

2.97

08-09

7.27

3.73

0.433

5.73

09-10

4.19

2.11

0.554

3.04

 

The other pair of constants from 2008-09 to 2009-10 are Rob Blake and Dan Boyle:

 

Season

Boyle Corsi Adj

Blake Corsi Adj

QoC

Corsi Adj

08-09

11.09

5.57

-0.024

8.59

09-10

9.38

0.92

0.326

5.70

 

Finally, a root cause for San Jose’s decline.  Rob Blake’s ice time had been falling steadily for the last eight seasons, and, at age 40, his skills slipped enough that he decided to retire.

 

What about the 3rd pairing?

 

Corsi Adj

Ehrhoff

Lukowich

QoC

Total

08-09

5.47

7.11

-0.27

6.14

Corsi Adj

Huskins

Demers

QoC

Total

09-10

1.13

-0.88

-0.02

0.45

 

Well, that was ugly.  The Sharks have often started the season with a marginal 6th D – in 2007-08, it was Kyle McLaren, who Todd McLellan cut before the following season; in 2008-09, it was Lukowich, who spent most of last season in the minors and in 2009-10, it was Jason Demers, who never gave up his apartment in Worcester.  But the 5th D has usually been a better player – Matt Carle or Christian Ehrhoff.  Kent Huskins, however, did not perform at this level. 

 

Overall, San Jose went from allowing 26 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in 2008-09 to 30.3 last season.  And it’s no surprise: a massive drop in performance from half of their defensemen led to a big drop in their ability to control the flow of shots against.

 

Where does San Jose go from here?

 

They had two big decisions to make, and they made the right ones, re-signing Patrick Marleau long-term at a slight discount, while allowing the very mediocre Evgeni Nabokov to bolt for the KHL.  The die is cast as far as San Jose’s top end goes. 

 

Unfortunately, they’re already within a few million of the salary cap, and not only do they need to improve their defensive, but at the bottom end, they need to replace a huge defensive positive, Manny Malhotra.  There are simply no players of Malhotra’s caliber available for $700,000 in 2010-11, so it’s unlikely that they’ll replace this production on the free agent market, even with suppressed salaries for 3rd- and 4th-line players. 

 

The Sharks have had one top 40 draft pick in the last three seasons, so they don’t have any 18- or 19-year-old superstars in the system who might contribute significantly during an entry-level contract.  The real hope is that one of their youngish players – forwards Logan Couture, Ben Ferriero and Jamie McGinn, or defensemen Jason Demers and Derek Joslin – pans out and frees up room to trade a contract.  It’s unclear what their skills are; to this point, the five of them have either been sheltered in terms of opponents or face-offs or both, and they’ve primarily been negatives in the Corsi department. 

 

Bottom line: if the Sharks want to re-capture 54% of total shots, they can’t have one negative player on the entire roster.  If that sounds difficult given the dollars they have to play with, well, that’s the central dilemma of a salary-capped league, and it’s why virtually every good team is not destined to stay that way.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Arctic Ice Hockey

You must be a member of Arctic Ice Hockey to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Arctic Ice Hockey. You should read them.

Join Arctic Ice Hockey

You must be a member of Arctic Ice Hockey to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Arctic Ice Hockey. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9355_tracker