The All-Star break provides the perfect opportunity to grade players. We start the San Jose Sharks report card with their best players…
The All-Star break is a down time for fans, but provides an ideal milestone for analysis with over half the season spent. How does each team look as the stretch run begins next week? We will break the San Jose Sharks report card into studs, buds and duds.
All players are graded based on how they compare to the all-time greats. Someone with an A+ is playing like Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr or Patrick Roy this season.
We start with the studs. There was one deserving All-Star Shark at each position: Martin Jones in net, blue-liner Brent Burns and forward Joe Pavelski. Thus, Peter DeBoer (the deserving Pacific Division coach) has the only three of his players he should.
However, they are not San Jose’s only studs. Many other players are in that same category. Each is graded below but listed in order of their indispensability.
Martin Jones: A-
The Sharks have rookie Aaron Dell as their backup, and he has never even played a full AHL season. Thus, there is no more indispensable player than Jones. (Note that all statistical rankings below are based on goalies with at least 24 starts.)
While goalie stats are a better measure of how a player is performing than most positions, they still need context. This starts with workload: Cam Talbot (whose Edmonton Oilers are half a game back in the Pacific Division) is the only goalie with more than the 42 starts Jones has. That workload is worth a full grade at least.
On the other hand, that makes his 25 wins—fourth on the 2016-17 NHL season—expected. Likewise, his sixth-ranked goals-against average (GAA) is less impressive. Still, grade-A chances do not drop as much as overall shots so his 19th-ranked save percentage (.916) is better than it appears.
Brent Burns: A+
The blue-line/forward debate about Burns is over. He brings a new dimension to San Jose’s game because of his creativity. Not only is he the Norris Trophy leader for best defenseman, he should be a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
Burns is the blue-line leader with 21 goals and 51 points—tops among all Sharks in both. Shea Weber is second in goals with 12 and Erik Karlsson in points with 39. Nine goals and 12 points is like one entire player in addition to the next-best defenseman.
This would mean little if Burns was terrible defensively. Despite his skills leading the attack, he is fifth among all NHL defensemen in takeaways (33) and 39th in blocks (84). Finally, no teammate is better at stopping an odd-man rush.
Joe Thornton: B
He may not be San Jose’s captain anymore, but the dressing room still largely belongs to Joe Thornton. Likewise, he is no longer the best forward but is the most indispensable.
Thornton’s points are down (31 points in 50 games). All three of his goals were into an empty net. However, the Sharks just do not have anyone with his ability to distribute the puck.
Thornton is also a terrific defender. He has the best faceoff percentage (53.4 percent) among those with at least 160 draws. As always, he leads the team in takeaways (39).
Marc-Edouard Vlasic: A-
San Jose found out how indispensable Marc-Edouard Vlasic was when he missed four games starting New Year’s Eve, going 1-2-1. Despite missing five games total, he is tied for 20th in the league blocking shots.
However, statistics do not reveal how strong he is defensively. There is probably no better defender in the world than Vlasic.
He uses his skates, avoids mistakes and does what it takes. He also adds more to the offensive game than his three goals and 13 assists might indicate. Thus, he would be the top defenseman on almost any team in the league.
Joe Pavelski: A
Pavelski is not just the captain, he is the most versatile player on the team. His 42 points and 26 assists are top among San Jose’s forwards. He also leads the team in game-winning goals (five).
Pavelski’s defensive prowess also shows—he leads forwards with 93 hits, 50 blocks and 281 faceoff wins. His percentage (52.7) in the circle is near the top, as is his 20 takeaways.
Finally, the Sharks have taken on their captain’s identity. They have become the smart, scrappy team that finds a way to win.
Logan Couture: B
The final stud on the Sharks is Logan Couture. Much like Pavelski, the two-way forward’s specialty is his versatility.
His 17 goals are second and 24 takeaways third; his 47 blocks and 33 points are second among San Jose’s forwards. Where he is lacking is in the faceoff circle—he is an atrocious 40.7 percent. If he improves there, he could be ready for another Conn Smythe-worthy postseason.