Puck moving defensemen series: San Jose Sharks

While the San Jose Sharks reached 99 points in the regular season, they were eliminated by the Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  With Norris winner Brent Burns leading the charge on the blue line, who else will play a key role in helping the Sharks make a cup run in 2017/18? We explore.

07JUL2017 - sharks 1 - v1.JPG

Rapid fire observations

Our new regression-based QoC model provides a clean breakdown of the Sharks back end.  Vlasic and Braun were both used against the toughest competition. While Vlasic was slightly below average as a puck-mover at a PMF of -2.12, Braun really struggled with a PMF of -4.06. That said both were among the best on the team at minimizing scoring chances – defensive ability metric (DAM) of +1.92 and +2.38, respectively. So while they struggled as puck movers, they did a solid job keeping shots to the outside and clogging the middle. Vlasic’s poor PMF number may come as a surprise – so we deep dive on him later.

+ Burns and Martin formed the second pair (as reflected by ‘2nd level’ QoC). While Martin was on the lower spectrum of a 2nd pairing puck-mover (PMF -1.06), Burns was simply superb with a PMF of +2.54. While he did get favorable zone starts (39% O-Zone), he still consistently elevated his teammates and created scoring chances. Burns creates offense on his own (1.82 pts/60), is one of the best puck-movers in the league, and a premium asset on the powerplay, too.

+ Dillon (+1.41) and Schlemko (+0.86) formed an above average 3rd pairing. While they played in a sheltered role (weak QoC, more offensive zone starts), they excelled at driving possession and helping their teammates create scoring chances. With Schlemko selected by Vegas in the expansion draft (and then traded to MTL), San Jose will likely roll with Dylan Demelo as their #6 d-man. While Demelo was OK as a puck mover (PMF -0.81), he demonstrated some strong offensive instincts (1.55 pts/60).

Examining Vlasic

The Sharks just re-signed Vlasic to an 8-year extension worth $7M per season. While Vlasic was great defensively in 2016/17, a $7M per year defenseman should be stronger as a puck mover – especially in today’s NHL. Was 2016/17 just an off-year or the norm?

07JUL2017 - vlasic.JPG

While it’s normal to see some decline by age 30, Vlasic’s 2016/17 appears to be just an off-year as a puck mover. From 2007-2016 his average PMF was +1.69, which is top pairing value especially when considering the tough QoC he faces every night.  Let’s look at a detailed example to deep dive further:

2016/17

WITH Vlasic on the ice:  Joe Pavelski – CF% 49.3%; Joe Thornton – CF% 50.8%; Logan Couture – CF% 46.2%

WITHOUT Vlasic on the ice: Joe Pavelski – CF% 52.7%; Joe Thornton – CF% 54.7%; Logan Couture – CF% 50.2%

Average impact: -3.8%

2013 – 2016 (3 year period)

WITH Vlasic on the ice:  Joe Pavelski – CF% 59.9%; Joe Thornton – CF% 60.6%; Logan Couture – CF% 52.8%

WITHOUT Vlasic on the ice: Joe Pavelski – CF% 54.4%; Joe Thornton – CF% 56.4%; Logan Couture – CF% 51.8%

Average impact: +3.6%

After giving an 8-year commitment, the Sharks will be happy to see Vlasic return to his overall dominant self next season.

Verdict

Led by Burns and Vlasic, the Sharks will always boast a respectable top 4. That said, like most teams, they enter 2017/18 with some key questions: Will Burns maintain his Norris level play? Can Vlasic return to his previous form as a puck mover – or is this the start of decline in his play? With Schlemko gone, can Demelo bring stability to the third pairing? With Thornton inked to a 1 year deal – and a still dominant offense intact – the performance of their blue line may dictate how the Sharks fare next season.


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