Another story lost beneath the wreckage of the San Jose Sharks off-season is the belittling of Joe Pavelski. Last year Pavelski enjoyed his best season since entering the NHL, posting 79 points. He was voted onto the NHL All-Star’s second team and also received votes for both the Hart and Selke trophies. All in all, 2014 was a terrific season for the Big Pavelski. So why is he being undercut by the media? Well the most obvious reason is that his shooting percentage was an obscene 18.2% last season. For the most part, the top scorers in the NHL average shooting percentages around 11-13% so this number was off the charts. On top of that Pavelski’s statistics show that he has never maintained a shooting percentage over 13% over the course of a season until 2014.
Odds are he will drop back down to Earth and this is where most of these criticisms are correct. What is not correct is the assumption that shooting percentages translate directly to the amount of points a player will earn. The chart shown in this article references thirteen players with shooting percentages dropping after abnormal shooting years. What it does not show is that three players actually INCREASED their point totals the following year; Marian Hossa, Brad Boyes and Ilya Kovalchuk. It also does not show the fact that some players dealt with injuries the following season such as Teemu Selanne and Todd Bertuzzi. This is where this argument begins to lose its potency.
Something that is very interesting about this topic is that despite the research being done comparing Pavelski to historical data no one is comparing Joe Pavelski to…Joe Pavelski. For example, last season he had a total of 41 goals to lead the San Jose Sharks. If you knocked his shooting percentage down to 15.1% he would have still led the Sharks with 34 goals. It is still a high percentage but not as obscene as the actual percentage. Another thing that is being dismissed is Joe Pavelski’s normal shot totals. Ignoring the lockout season, Joe Pavelski took the least amount of shots since the 2008 season, his second in the league. If Pavelski had taken as many shots as he did during the previous two full seasons his shooting percentage would have dropped to 15% again. Why are these two major factors being ignored by those that are critiquing Joe Pavelski?
Another interesting story this summer is the amount of stories dismissing Pavelski’s ability as a a top-six forward based on “correlation.” Perhaps Pavelski’s natural position is at center and perhaps he plays better at that position but there are some major factors to consider here. First of all, Correlation does not equal causation regardless of how much data has been compiled. Patrick Marleau faced this same situation years ago and eventually became a winger out of necessity and it has worked out just fine. Secondly, Pavelski has 237 points over the past three seasons, one shy of Patrick Marleau. Why would you want your third leading scorer to take less ice time? It is understandable that players should play their natural position but for the welfare of the team put your best players on the top two lines. Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels are also listed as centers but they managed to fit on the wing just fine. Placing Joe Pavelski on the third line creates more balance to the roster but as it stands right now he is needed more than ever in the top-six with the departure of Marty Havlat and the movement of Brent Burns. Depth is important when discussing this and the Sharks are not as deep as they were a few years ago. Yes Hertl, Nieto and even Wingels brought some much needed relief in 2014 but are you really going to put all you faith on such a small sample size?
What About Couture?
Something I find quite interesting when discussing the role of the third line center is why it has to fall onto Joe Pavelski. If you recall he was once the teams second line center until Logan Couture assumed the role. Upon reflection, Pavelski actually has been the better player during the past four seasons. He has been more productive offensively than Couture and has better Corsi numbers than Couture during three of the past four seasons. So why is Logan Couture not forced to move down and assume the third line role?
The lack of depth in these assumptions on Pavelski has many Sharks fans nodding in unison without questioning any of the data. From my standpoint I’m not sure what the best course of action is going forward for this team, especially with the summer the Sharks have had. What I will say is that the talent Joe Pavelski brings is worth having on the wing with Joe Thornton than it is centering Tommy Wingels. While numerous predictions are being made it is a 25% chance between Couture, Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski on who will lead the team in points next season. To single out one player while defending the rest all summer long I find erroneous and in the case of Pavelski it has been bewildering.