NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have been one of those teams you can pencil into the playoffs year in and year out for quite a while now. The core of Thornton, Couture and Pavelski have seen the playoffs often and the team has had various levels of success in the postseason. After their dismantling of the Ducks the team must have had high hopes heading into their series against the Vegas Golden Knights. However, the Knights proved themselves yet again and beat the Sharks relatively easily. The team will have a series of decisions to make this offseason and their core could look very different moving forward.
I know I mentioned the core above, but the bright spots section is going to focus on the young players who have the chance to take over and become the new core. The Sharks are in a position where they still have their veteran players but the top players on the team are younger. Tomas Hertl made a name for himself in the playoffs a few years ago but he has developed into quite the player for the Sharks. He plays in all situations and was able to register 47 points on the season. He moves the puck best when on the rush, his controlled entries have a successful play after more than 58% of the time. On the powerplay he is a force to be reckoned with in the front of the net. He tips more than 3 shots per 20 minutes and attempts more than 5.5 shots from the inner slot in that same time frame. He is also a valuable penalty killer and a solid defensive forward during 5v5 play as well. He blocks shots and is great at recovering loose pucks in the defensive zone, recovering more than 8 loose pucks per 20 minutes.
Twenty-one-year-old Timo Meier scored 21 goals and had 15 assists in 2017-18 and he must be a forward that excites the Sharks management team. He had a 52.6% Corsi and the Sharks expected goals with him on the ice was higher than the opponents expected goals. He is like Hertl in the sense that both players have a knack for getting pucks on net from the slot while on the powerplay and during 5v5 play. While on the powerplay 91.3% of his shots come from inside the slot which results in 8.19 scoring chances per twenty minutes while on the powerplay. He was a top 10 draft pick in 2015 and rounded into form this year.
Joonas Donskoi was one of the team’s best possession players with a 55.6% Corsi%. He is a great offensive player; the Sharks were expected to outscore the opponent by .3 goals per 20 minutes with Donskoi on the ice. That almost amounts to one goal every three games which creates quite the advantage for the Sharks. A deeper look at his numbers illustrates just how valuable he is to the Sharks offensive attack. He makes 22.7 possession driving plays per 20 minutes, those plays could include his 9.07 controlled defensive zone exits and his 5.73 offensive zone entries. He is an exciting player with the puck on his stick and he has proven to be responsible with the puck as well.
I cannot have a bright spots section without mentioning the core of players that fans immediately think of when thinking about the Sharks. Brett Burns is one of the best defenseman in the league, there is not much I can say that has not already been said. Up front the team relied on Thornton, Pavelski and Couture and the trio performed up to expectations yet again. Evander Kane was a midseason acquisition who performed well for the Sharks. Unfortunately, he was not 100% healthy in the playoffs but regardless the team was satisfied with Kane’s play and he was rewarded with a 7-year contract worth $49 million.
We are getting to the point in our review series where the teams will not have many disappointments. I want to preface this section with this. These players are not below average players, in some cases they are even above average, but they are not necessarily playing up to the level of the contract. In other words, the Sharks could replace these players with a different player with a similar contract and they would see more production on the ice.
The first player that I feel fits this bill is Brenden Dillon. He had a $3. 3M dollar cap hit this year and I feel like his production was just a hair short of that cost. Again, I am being very picky, but I think there is room for improvement here. He has good possession numbers, but the Sharks are expected to be outscored while he is on the ice. I think this can be attributed to the fact that he is not very good in his defensive zone without the puck. He does not block many shots or passes, and he only wins 34% of his loose puck battles in the defensive zone. He is a fine player, but I think that he can be even better which would undoubtably help the Sharks.
Up front, Mikkel Boedker did not have a strong season. He only registered 37 points and struggled possessing the puck. The Sharks were only expected to score .85 goals per 20 with him on the ice and they were expected to allow 1 goal. He was not used in a highly offensive role, he only had a 28.7 offensive zone start percentage. However, he makes $4M per year and a player who plays a similar role could probably be signed for a fraction of the cost.
The Sharks are unique in the way they structured their forward contracts. This offseason they have six forwards who will be free agents and next offseason they will have nine free agents to be. After signing Evander Kane, the team only has $7.5M in projected cap space but the cap may rise more than expected so I will say they have $11.5M. regardless they will have some decisions to make. Thomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are both RFAs and if I were in charge I would want to retain both of those players. I would guess the cost to keep both would fall between 6M and 7M which does not leave the team with much flexibility.
If the team opts to resign those two players a buyout of Paul Martin might make sense. That would free $2.8M in cap space which opens plenty more doors. Joe Thornton is an interesting case, by all indications, it looks like he wants to come back to the Sharks and it might be up to the Sharks to make the call. Personally, I would probably let him walk but if he is willing to sign a one-year deal at a team friendly number the Sharks would be crazy not to resign him.
I would be remised not to talk about John Tavares, but I would be shocked if the Sharks are able to work out a deal. Signing Evander Kane eliminated a large percent of the cap and signing Hertl and Tierney would eliminate even more. The real reason why I do not see the team signing Tavares is that Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are both due to be UFAs in 2019. This could create a very tough salary cap situation. However, if Tavares were to come to the Sharks and say I want to come to San Jose I would expect the Sharks to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
If I were the Sharks I would operate under the assumption that Tavares is not coming to San Jose. The team has enough to worry about but I would look to lock up their own RFAs and explore bringing back Thornton. The goaltending situation with Martin Jones is solid and there is no reason the team should not qualify for the postseason again next season.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics-based projects.