Yes, 30-year-old Micheal Haley is not a terrible hockey player.
By simply reaching the AHL level, Haley is already in the elite echelon of anyone who has ever played organized contact hockey.
Furthermore, compared to other recent fourth-line enforcers employed by the Sharks (Mike Brown and John Scott), Haley is a sigificantly better player. That said, he still doesn't belong in the NHL.
Haley averages just 8:02 in time on ice, last on the team by 50 seconds, essentially a full shift fewer than the next player, Ryan Carpenter. Therefore, the fact Haley is constantly praised on both the Sharks radio and television broascasts, as well as by mainstream media pundits is quite frankly absurd.
Career Minor Leaguer
San Jose's organizational belief that it needs a tough-guy fighter in the lineup on a regular basis is incredibly sad. They will spew garbage such as the team record with Haley in the lineup being better than without him. As if his presence in 24 games with no goals and three assists without playing any special teams and skating eight minutes per game actually is a significant reason why they win when he dresses.
The Sharks currently have 13 forwards on their roster more deserving of ice time than Haley. On their AHL Barracuda roster, they have no fewer than four NHL-ready forwards also more deserving of that ice time. There is the aforementioned Carpenter, as well as Danny O'Regan, Barclay Goodrow and Nikolay Goldobin. Not to mention other forwards with far more future NHL potential in Marcus Sorensen and Rourke Chartier.
With 24 games this season, Haley is already just three short of his career high in NHL games in a season. He dressed 27 times for the New York Islanders back in 2010-11. Over the five seasons between 10-11 and 2016-17, Haley played a combined total of 43 NHL games (17 fewer than Goodrow played for the Sharks in 2014-15 alone), including none in 2013-14.
It boggles the mind, how the Sharks prefer using Haley on a regular basis over someone like Goodrow, who chipped in 12 points in 60 NHL games two seasons ago for San Jose. Not only did Goodrow provide more offense than Haley does at the NHL level, but he provided solid minutes on the penalty kill. I'm sure many of you remember this beauty short-handed goal (4:20 of the video clip) where Goodrow set up Tommy Wingels. Shortly after doing a nice job chipping the puck clear of the defensive zone and beating his man to the puck, Goodrow makes a nice feed through the defender perfectly onto Wingels' tape. If you look closely at that goal, the Coyotes player Goodrow beats at the blue line is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, not too shabby of an NHL defenseman.
Goodrow also set up Brent Burns with a short-handed goal in his limited time last season. However, Goodrow was sent down after 14 games last year despite giving San Jose solid contributions as a fourth line player. Three assists in 14 games and strong penalty killing is certainly better than Haley's three assists in 24 games this year and zero penalty kill contributions. Barclay brings the size and speed that would allow him to play a grinding game similar to Haley, but with far more offensive upside. But because Haley is more willing to drop the gloves on the rare occasion, he gets to play. It's this gladiator mentality of the old white boys club that is the NHL. Teams and the league are too stubborn to completely shed enforcer types even though the role is dying on its own.
Not only do the Sharks have better options than Haley as their 12th forward, but guys higher on the depth chart deserve far more attention from the media. For whatever reason, Comcast "insider" Kevin Kurz regularly sings Haley's praises and recently Paul Gackle saw fit to interview Sharks players about Haley for the Mercury News.
Let's remember something for a second, NHL players almost never talk negatively about specific teammates to the media. So you could ask any Sharks player about any other Sharks player for an article and get a bunch of sound bites praising that particular teammate.
Again, I'll be the first to admit, Haley has been far from bad in his eight minutes per game this season. But there is no arguing that he is not the worst player regularly suiting up for this team. If he is constantly going to get praise from the broadcasters and writers, then where the hell is the praise for a guy like Melker Karlsson?
Melk Man Still Delivering
Melker Karlsson is exactly the type of fourth-line player who deserves attention. If Haley is going to get constant praise for his limited role, Karlsson certainly deserves even more for his contributions.
Karlsson is an extremely versatile forward. He is part of the top forward duo when it comes to penalty killing. With four goals and four assists in 30 games, he is also right on pace for what you would expect of him on the offensive side of things. Even playing with only fourth-line caliber players (like Haley) at even strength, Karlsson can be counted on for 8-12 goals and 20-25 points.
Certainly the Melkman isn't delivering the points-per game he did while with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski during his rookie year, but he is still consistently contributing from the fourth line. He is currently tied for second among Sharks forwards in plus/minus with a plus-6 rating and his CORSI in close situations is technically higher than that of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. His overall fenwick-for percentage is seventh among forwards as well, tied with rookie sensation Kevin Labanc at 52.9.
It isn't a stretch to call Karlsson an elite fourth-line player. He is a tremendous shot blocker with a high hockey IQ and smart defensive stick. At the other end he is terrific on the forecheck, often winning 50-50 battles against bigger and stronger opponents. Karlsson is relatively thin for a hockey player, listed at 6'0" 180, but he has a fearless net drive that sees him scoring most of his goals from right around the blue paint. Unlike Haley, who never jumps up in the lineup, Karlsson can play with just about anybody in the Sharks lineup and not look out of place.
Karlsson also scored a couple of huge goals in the Stanley Cup final last year including this one in Game 4. The forecheck pressure there on Sidney Crosby starts everything off, and then a tremendous shift ends up in the back of the net. Scoring multiple goals in the Cup final is not something you would ever expect from Haley, but seeing Karlsson do it shouldn't surprise anyone. His goal the very next game came on a shift with Couture and Patrick Marleau. You would never see Haley in a position like that with those players.
Karlsson is averaging over 12 minutes a night this season with 1:44 of it on the penalty kill and he has tremendous hand eye. Just last week against the Ducks he scored a goal on a seemingly nothing play because he was able to get his stick on a wobbly pass in midair from Joel Ward. If mainstream media is going to excessively applaud a fourth liner because he's a fourth liner and otherwise doesn't get enough credit, than they should be giving that attention to the Melkman, not Haley.