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.
31 in 31 NHL Season Review: Chicago Blackhawks
For the next 31 days, AFP Analytics is going to take a critical look back at how the season played out for all 31 NHL teams, starting with the last place team (Buffalo Sabres) and ending with the Stanley Cup Champions. In addition to a season recap, we will look at some major decisions the team will be facing this offseason.
Next up in our 31 in 31 season review is a look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who went from dynasty to bottom of the standings in a very quick time frame. The Blackhawks are an interesting team to look at as their possession numbers say they are still an elite team. Was much of their struggles due to the poor goaltending they received after Corey Crawford was injured (excluding Scott Foster of course). However, the team is saddled with many aging players on long-term, large money contract that will make it hard for the team to really change much up.
Season Bright Spots
I want to start with Alex Debrincat, a player who many people questioned whether or not could be a NHL player. Although I can’t point to anything with a timestamp to back up my claim, I was not one of those people. I find it impossible to believe that someone who dominated a level development league, playing against many players who many observers think will be future NHL players. To me, it seems likely that a player who dominates at the level against his present and likely future opponents, that player will likely be successful. Anyways, I digress and will move on to Debrincat’s performance this season.
Debrincat scored 18 goals at even strength, 28 overall while having a 53.7% Corsi For Percentage. That stat line would be really good for any player, let alone “an undersized” rookie, jumping directly from juniors. If you want to be someone who wants to look for reasons to not like Debrincat, you can point to the fact that he spent the most time with Jonathan Toews as his center, to that I would say, there is a reason the coaching staff put him there: It’s probably because he’s good.
The next major bright spot to look at is Scott Foster, the accountant, emergency goaltender, who somehow had enough free time during tax season to post a third period shutout against one of the league’s best teams. In a season filled with disappointment, especially in the crease, Scott Foster’s overnight fame and success was a great story.
The brightest spot for Chicago this season might have been the trade of Ryan Hartman for Nashville’s first-round pick. Even though the pick will be at the backend of the first round, the Blackhawks desperately need to add top end, cost-controlled, young talent to supplement their aging stars.
I think the obvious place to start is the injury to Corey Crawford, who is probably more appreciated than ever before. The Blackhawks were off to another strong start before Crawford was shut down in December with a concussion, playing in only 28 games. Everyone who replaced him (except Scott Foster), struggled mightily. I think the biggest concern for Blackhawk fans is that it seems like Crawford has really struggled with the effects (and maybe after effects) of his concussion. If he struggles to bounce back next season, the team could be in big trouble.
Do I need to talk about Brett Seabrook? I think I will touch quickly on him. I was surprised to look at the Blackhawks’ salary situation and find out that Seabrook, not Keith or Crawford is the highest paid Blackhawk behind Toews and Patrick Kane. Oh, he also has six more years remaining on his contract with a full no-move clause. The contract takes him until he is 39 years old. As I am sure Blackhawk fans know, Seabrook’s play was, umm, less than stellar. I’ll just leave it at that and spew a few clichés. No need to rub salt in the wound. No need to beat a dead horse.
I don’t know what else to really touch on here. The Blackhawks’ possession numbers were overall good. Their PDO, a stat that adds Shooting % and Save%, and should regress toward 100, was the seventh worst in the league. With a little more “puck luck,” they might have a significant improvement in the standings next year. The biggest hurdle for the Blackhawks next season may be the fact that they are in a division with this year’s two best teams and four other very talented teams.
I don’t know what Chicago can really do this offseason? Pray to the injuries Gods that Crawford and maybe Hossa can return at full strength? The Blackhawks enter the offseason with just under $7.5M in cap space that could deplete even further with any overage bonuses they have to pay out. They are going to have to add at least five forwards within that cap space. Duclair, Jurco, and Hinostroza could be relatively cost controlled as they are restricted free agents. Those players will probably account for a cap hit of around $4M, leaving the team with $3.5M to fill their remaining two spots, one of which is Patrick Sharp, who has found his stride in broadcasting and looks to be done playing hockey.
The Blackhawks are going to have to look to fill out their roster with younger talent. Anthony Louis was the leading scorer for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. It would be logical to think he could get a long look, especially considering the Blackhawks had success with Debrincat, another undersized forward. Though Louis’s 48 points in 70 games isn’t quite the level of production I would want to translate to a sure thing at the next level. He probably projects as more of a bottom six player. Matthew Highmore was the IceHogs’ leading goal scorer, netting 24 goals in 64 games and could be another player to get a look if the team is looking for a player with a scoring touch.
However, I think the Blackhawks’ best plan of action is to see if they can land an impact forward high in the draft that can come in and contribute immediately. They also have to be going hard after any college free agent forwards, who they think can come in and play right away. They could also look to bring one of their European forward prospects into the fold as well. Please note that I am assuming Dylan Sikura will be one of the players to definitely make the team.
The conclusion to come to here is the Blackhawks really need to clear some money. It seems like Artem Anisimov would be the most logical player to be moved to clear some cap space, though that doesn’t necessarily help with their forward depth problem. His salary is and production would be attractive but his No-Move Clause may act as a hindrance. Brandon Saad is another player I could see teams being interested in but it seems highly unlikely he will be traded after trading away Artemi Panarin to reacquire him.
Obviously, the best way to clear cap space would be to move one of their $10.5M men, Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, or one of their aging defensemen, Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith. I think it would be near impossible to move any of those players for a litany of reasons. Though making hockey decisions based on how your fans would react is not the best way to do business, I don’t see how you can sell moving Toews or Kane to your fans. The next problem is it takes two to tango. I think there would be plenty of interest in Toews or Kane, but the massive cap hit would certainly be a major issue. Though I wonder if we hear any rumblings of a Toews to Montreal trade. Moving one of Seabrook or Keith probably means adding assets to move the contract off your books. I’m not sure if Chicago is really in a position to do that again, as that is really what has gotten them into this mess to begin with.
I think a quiet offseason in Chicago might be the best course of action. There might be another season of below-average performance but keeping as much future cap space clear while also building their prospect pool. The team’s underlying numbers suggest a turnaround next season is more likely than not.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the New York Rangers. 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.
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.