With the regular season finished and the playoffs on the horizon, how did each Sharks player perform this year compared to expectations? In the real world, the common letter grading system used in schools is actually terrible. One of the reasons for it being outdated is that for students, expectations aren’t taken into consideration. For more on that debate, I highly recommend watching this excellent Ted Talk.
For hockey purposes though, letter grades based on expectations are interesting to note. The following are my Sharks grades for the 2016-17 regular season based upon expectations. A player that did no worse nor better than expectations will get a C grade. (In this case, a C will truly be average)
Let’s start at the top, shall we?
Joe Thornton: C-
As a 36-year old last season, Joe Thornton hands down received an A+. As a point-per-game player with 82 points in 82 games, Thornton exceeded all expectations. This season, the expectations were set much lower given his increasing age, but 65 points in 82 games, leading a top-10 power play were about what I would have expected. This season, however Joe has not been as good as expected. Scoring 50 points isn’t terrible, but it’s a tad underwhelming and he’s arguably been the biggest problem on the Sharks struggling power play this year (bottom third in the league). He has slowed the attack down far too much, becoming too predictable on the power play. If I wasn’t such a big Thornton fan, perhaps this grade would be even lower D+ or even a D. But I tend to be a lenient grader in this case. Thornton has still been an effective top-six, if not top-line center at even strength.
Joe Pavelski: C+
Just like his linemate, Pavelski was an A+ player last season. With 78 points and the highest plus/minus of his career at plus-25, Pavelski exceeded expectations. This year, my expectations were about 70-75 points. At 68 points, Pavelski finished a tad under that mark, but I give him a slightly above average C+ mark because he has put up close to the same amount of points while his centerman Thornton, took a step back.
Brent Burns: A+
How could this be anything other than an A+? Sure, Burns was an All Star the previous two seasons as a defenseman, but he struggled mightily in his own end in 2014-15 and again for the first half of last season. This season though he has been an absolute stud at both ends of the ice all season. He has rightfully received attention for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and has been considered a slam-dunk Norris Trophy winner as most outstanding defenseman all season.
Patrick Marleau: A
Patrick Marleau finished two points under his total from last season, but the eye test says he has had a bounce-back season. The previous two seasons were by far two of his worst from a plus/minus perspective. Minus-22 and minus-17 are pretty dismal to see next to a player typically hovering around an even-zero. This year however, Marleau looked rededicated. Perhaps it was just another contract year kick in the pants that he regularly seems to give himself, but No. 12 looked much better in all three zones. His plus-4 rating was much more typical Patrick Marleau. This defensive turnaround as an aging scorer was not expected. Kudos to Patrick, he had a tremendous season, far better than expected.
Logan Couture: C-
The two highest point totals in Couture’s career were 65 and 67 back in 2011-12 and 2014-15. Last year injuries limited him to just 52 games. This year in 73 games he finished with 52 points, pretty close to expectations, but after he nearly won the Conn Smythe trophy last playoffs, I expected slightly better production. A mostly healthy season until the puck to the face in late March, 65-70 points would have been an ideal number for Couture. I’ll dock him just a tad for not producing quite to the level he is capable of during the regular season.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic: C-
By no means was Vlasic bad this season. A colleague of mine would disagree by pointing out Vlasic’s CORSI this season has fallen below 50. Vlasic posted a 52.6% CORSI last season and currently checks in at 47.7% this season. In my colleague’s mind, Vlasic had a bad season. The eye test though shows a defender still shutting down opposing top lines with his usual expert defensive skills. Realistically, the drop in CORSI is simply due to a slight dip in his personal offensive game (including d-zone breakouts) and the lack of offense from the Sharks overall this season. Vlasic is never on the ice with Burns, and Burns has carried such a huge offensive load this season. Otherwise, the Sharks forwards haven’t been very good as a whole, so that can help explain the dip in Vlasic’s CORSI (which is a team statistic when each individual is on the ice).
Justin Braun: C-
As Vlasic’s defensive partner on the Sharks’ shut down pair, you can pretty much copy and paste everything written for Vlasic in this case. I’m going to knock them a tad bit for their drop in CORSI as a defense pair. They could be a bit crisper with their breakout passes, but Braun has impressed all season defending highly skilled forwards. While Vlasic and Braun’s CORSI may be in the 47% range, their FENWICK (unblocked shot attempts) for both is almost exactly two percent higher each at 49%. What this tells me is that while Vlasic and Braun may be defending more than they have in years past, but they are making it tough on opponents getting clean shots away.
Paul Martin: D-
By virtue of being partnered with Burns all season, Sharks broadcaster and other employees would tell you Martin had a fantastic year. My eye test largely disagrees with this notion. After signing as a free agent last season, Martin was terrific for the Sharks in 2015-16. His presence helped Burns’ overall game improve to where it is today (an excellent two-way defender). However, this year, Martin looks like he has lost a step. The veteran stay-at-home defenseman wasn’t exactly fleet of foot to begin with and this year he looks extremely slow. When pucks get chipped in behind him where any other Sharks defenseman would get to the puck first and start a breakout, Martin is getting beat to the puck by opposing forwards far too often. Furthermore, despite this fall off in speed, Martin has perplexingly started pinching more in the offensive zone. A lot of these pinches have been poor decisions, leaving Burns back to defend two-one-one rushes against. Playing with Burns, Martin’s numbers are going to look good on paper. The tape though shows a defenseman whose numbers would be considerably below average playing with a human instead of a wookiee.
Brenden Dillon: B-
This grade might surprise those who follow me on twitter since I am not a Brenden Dillon fan. He is an overpaid third-pair defenseman. For being a big body at 6’3” 220, he gets far too easily pushed off pucks by smaller opposing forwards and his awareness on where to pass the puck leaves much to be desired. That said, he has improved his skating this year. Already a decently quick skater for a defenseman of his size, Dillon’s skating work has allowed him to be a regular passing option on the weakside of a breakout. He has also done a better job this year at getting point shots through traffic. Far too many of those point shots are blocked out high, but my expectations for Dillon were low. Perhaps too low due to his being anchored by Roman Polak last season. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised overall with Dillon this year. Ergo, he gets a B-
David Schlemko: B+
One of the biggest reasons for Dillon’s turnaround has been playing alongside Schlemko instead of Polak. The veteran journeyman for some reason has been underrated by all his former NHL employers: Arizona, Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey. Injury issues may fall into the equation as his career high in games played is just 68. However, Schlemko is terrific at both ends. He has the confidence to make plays with the puck all over the ice, and is generally reliable enough not to make bad turnovers. He can skate his way out of trouble in his own end with terrific awareness to escape forechecking pressure. Offensively, he can dangle around opposing forwards trying to defend him at the point. I knew the Sharks were getting a much better third pair defenseman, but I didn’t know I would love his game this much.
Dylan Demelo: INC
As loyal readers know, I’ve been quite unhappy with Sharks Head Coach Pete DeBoer this season. One of my beefs from the beginning of the season was that he kept Demelo on the roster, but didn’t play him a single game until Nov. 23, about six weeks into the season. This is a young defenseman who got screwed out of playing time when he was getting better and better each game last season. He was the player who got bumped out of the lineup last spring when Polak arrived. Demelo and Dillon were gelling as a pair, whereas Polak and Dillon never meshed as neither one is an offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman. Schlemko and Dillon and Demelo and Dillon work together because they balance each other out. DeBoer failing to get Demelo into a few games early on (either by giving the struggling Martin a game off, or Dillon a game off, or even as a seventh defenseman) was an extremely unnecessary mistake. If your seventh defenseman is a young up-and-coming player, leaving him in the press box to rot for six weeks is beyond stupid. Unfortunately for Demelo after finally getting some playing time, he broke his wrist and missed another six weeks. Given injury and lack of playing time early, it’s not really fair to give Demelo a grade.
Mikkel Boedker: F
You know you are forever an optimist when the only player receiving an “F” grade is a player that you actually spent lots of time defending to critics. Bottom line is Boedker was brought in to be a 50-point guy and finished with basically half of that production. In his defense, a slow start was expected after he had a shortened training camp due to the World Cup. Boedker played for Team Europe and didn’t get much practice time getting used to his new San Jose teammates and systems. Boedker did finally get going in the second half on a line with Couture and Marleau, but he still drives me crazy with his offensive zone turnovers right up at the blue line while skating towards his own net. At the tail end of the season he has once again found himself on the Sharks’ most effective line though, now with Tomas Hertl and countrymate Jannik Hansen. While he gets an F grade for this season, there are reasons to be optimistic for a 40+ point season next year.
Joel Ward: D+
Like Boedker, Ward got off to a miserable first half. Unlike Boedker, he didn’t have the World Cup excuse nor did he have to learn new teammates and systems. That said, Ward did start to turn his season around with a strong stretch between December and February. Overall though his game has simply not been where it was last year. The assist numbers are on par with last season, but just eight goals after scoring 21 a year ago is a disappointment. He has at times been a healthy scratch this season, falling into DeBoer’s dog house. While the scratches may have been excessive, the fact he has even put himself in that realm of possibility is certainly disappointing.
Chris Tierney: C
Tierney is probably one of the most intriguing Sharks forwards. As a rookie, he finished the year with 14 points in final 18 games in 2014-15. That made me think he could become a big time player. In terms of passing ability, he is second to Thornton in terms of vision, but he just hasn’t regularly produced in the bottom-six. In fairness to Tierney, when he is playing fourth line, he often has to play with Micheal Haley, who can’t finish to save his life and is a career AHLer. When Tierney gets his third line opportunities though, that is where one would expect him to have produced a bit more. However, again his third line linemates haven’t been great this year. He has often played with Ward on the third line, who, as mentioned above, is having a bad year goal scoring wise. Another reason to criticize DeBoer, is his unwillingness to give Tierney and extended look centering some truly talented goal scorers. By going this route, DeBoer could deepen the offensive attack. A line of Marleau-Tierney-Pavelski and then a line of Labanc-Thornton-Donskoi would likely elevate the production of Tierney, Labanc and Donskoi, while making the Sharks harder to matchup against. Given his usage this season and his performance last year, Tierney has been pretty much what I expected.
Tomas Hertl: C-/INC
Hertl broke a 16-game goalless drought in the final road game of the season with a two-goal game against the Canucks. It’s not likely to have had a good season when a talented forward goes that long without a goal. However, prior to the long skid, Hertl was effective when healthy. He was at about a half-a-point per game prior to his injury. Only being healthy enough to play in 50 games this season though means I can’t justify giving out a full letter grade. I’ll dock him a bit and give him a C-, but a C-/incomplete.
Melker Karlsson: A+
Melker Karlsson impressed as a rookie free agent out of Sweden in 2014-15. He played a large chunk of games with Thornton and Pavelski, finishing with 24 points in 53 games. This season though, he has really outdone himself. Karlsson has tallied 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points in 64 games primarily playing on the fourth line. Despite seeing his ice time decrease in each of the last two seasons, his play has actually been more impressive this year. It is the sign of a hard-working and mature player who can have success on the top line and then not pout when dropped in the lineup. Karlsson has excelled on the fourth line this year, putting up his best plus/minus mark of his career at plus-7 despite having to play frequently with Haley. The Melkman is a consistent three-zone player, terrific hockey sense, great on the forecheck, and can kill penalties. He doesn’t have the size, speed, vision nor shot to be a top-end player, but he is extremely valuable as a role player. He can fit in on any line combination, is easy to play with, always in the right spots. Can’t ask for more from a fourth liner.
Kevin Labanc: A+
Labanc is a sixth round draft pick from 2014 and has played over 50 NHL games this season. Even if had only 5-10 points, that would be a success. Players drafted that late in a draft, don’t usually surface in the NHL period, and when they do, it’s usually four or five years after their draft year. What Labanc has done this year is ridiculously impressive for being a sixth rounder just two years ago. Sure he has been up and down between the Sharks and the Barracuda, but 19 points in 53 games and a plus-9 rating has been far more than anyone could have hoped for from Labanc this season.
Timo Meier: C-
Going into training camp, a lot of Sharks pundits, myself included, had big expectations for Meier. After a bout of mono set him back in training camp though, I dialed down my expectations. Drafted ninth overall in a lauded 2015 draft, Meier still has a lot to prove, but again he only just turned 20-years old this season. His NHL production as a rookie has been pretty mediocre and he hasn’t dominated the AHL consistently either. Overall though he has shown flashes. He’s had some dominant offensive streaks with the Barracuda and looked effective at times on a line with Thornton and Pavelski, playing that big-body Tomas Hertl-esque role. I was hoping for a bit more offense overall, but hard to knock a kid so young just getting his first taste of pro hockey this season.
Joonas Donskoi D+/INC
I’ll make no qualms about it, I became a huge Donskoi fan last season and even bought a Donskoi sweater. Ergo, some will say I’m biased, but I will admit, it is what it is with Donskoi this year, a sophomore slump. Just 17 points in 59 games is disappointing production after tallying 36 in 76 games as a rookie. However, it’s not as big of a drop off as many will lead you to believe. Seventeen in 59 comes out to a pace of 22 in 76. Going from 36 points to 22 points, yes that is a drop off, but it’s not crazy low. For hypotheticals, let’s say Donskoi is simply a 30-point type player. Twenty-two is a below average year, but it’s not as bad as say Boedker with 50-55 point expectations only scoring 25 points. With the injury setting Donskoi back in the middle of the season when guys like Boedker and Ward were playing their best, it’s hard to truly judge Donskoi this year. He wasn’t healthy enough to really have a true chance at bouncing back in the second half.
Micheal Haley: C
Follow me on twitter and you will find out quickly that my belief on Haley being utterly useless. If fighting were banned from the NHL, there literally would be no use for Haley. He can only play on the fourth line, and he plays no special teams. He has zero ability to finish and his linemates would rather force passes to each other than feed him if he’s open. To Haley’s credit, he is a better player along the boards and better passer than pretty much all other Sharks goons, as noted by his 10 assists this season. But a handful of his 12 points were flukes. Particularly of note, one of his two goals he didn’t even touch the puck but got credited with the score on an own-goal by Jack Eichel. Another assist he picked up recently he bobbled a pass right onto the tape of Vlasic who immediately roofed a wrister top-corner. At best over 82 games, Haley is a 10-15 point player if surrounded by good linemates. Those good linemates though could make a truly skilled fourth line player a 25-point guy though. San Jose’s fourth line has been at it’s most dangerous all season when Haley doesn’t suit up.
Martin Jones: C-
Jones has been left out to dry frequently this past month, but his save percentage has actually fluctuated around his current .913 mark all season and I expected a bit more than that after last year’s playoffs. Particularly against Pittsburgh in the final, Jones looked like Patrick Roy in his prime at times keeping the Sharks in it against a better Penguins squad. Last year Jones posted a .918 and he’s capable of being a .920+ regular season goalie. Only posting a .913, I’ll dock him just a tad for not being quite as good as expected.
Aaron Dell: A+
Expectations for a rookie backup goaltender? Mine were pretty for him simply not to suck. A .908-.910 save percentage would have made me happy. Instead, Dell has shocked everyone and been the best goalie in the league by various goalie numbers. Overall a .930 save percentage is far, far more than anyone could have expected. That’s good enough for second in the league behind only Sergei Bobrovsky.
Jannik Hansen: INC
Far too few games to judge newcomer Jannik Hansen as a Shark. He has been good in that short time frame, but not gonna give a grade.
Marcus Sorensen: INC
Ryan Carpenter: INC
Dan O’Regan: INC
Tim Heed: INC
Barclay Goodrow: INC