SHARKS TOP-6 PRODUCTION: 4-YEAR PTS/GP
: Two potent offensive lines powered the Sharks to the 3rd best offense in the Western Conference (257GF) and the 3rd best
power play in the NHL last season (24.2%, 87-360). Barring any trades, that should continue without significant changes for the 2009-10 season. One noticeable item on the top-6 forward chart is the fact that 7 players are listed. Despite being slotted as a 3rd line winger in one offseason depth chart, Devin Setoguchi could garner another spot on the top line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Jonathan Cheechoo should battle for first line duty in training camp and will remain a primary option for an in-season adjustment if a player falters.
The big offseason news was the removal of Patrick Marleau's captaincy and Joe Thornton's alternate captain role. This immediately lead to several rounds of Patrick Marleau trade rumors, some more substantive than others. Both players will have the opportunity to regain their leadership positions in training camp, but the team and the coaching staff must consider whether a change of direction is needed. Ryan Garner on a recent Hockeybuzz podcast noted that over the last 5 years Patrick Marleau has registered 19 goals and 30 points (28GP) in 5 series wins. In 5 playoff series losses, Marleau registered 7 goals and 13 points (30GP). Sharks EVP/GM Doug Wilson has repeatedly stressed a need for this team to find ways to win playoff games. That starts with Marleau.
A knee injury limited him severely against Anaheim, but the troubling playoff history dating back several years almost demands that a change be made. Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, and forwards Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau could be options for captain in 2009-10. A rotating captaincy the Sharks adopted after Owen Nolan departed in 2003 would only serve as a distraction.
If Marleau is not named captain, it may actually reduce the pressure on him and have a net positive impact on his game. When asked if he considered losing the captaincy an insult, Marleau was quoted by the Mercury News "I've told Doug (Wilson) that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get this team to the next level." Career regular season and playoff
goal scoring marks notwithstanding, it is often overlooked that Marleau finished 9th in the Selke voting last year (for the best defensive forward), finished 2nd
in the NHL in shorthanded goals (5) with significant penalty kill duty, and with only 18 PIMS and 21 drawn penalties
finished 4th in Lady Byng voting.
In an interview with KNBR 680AM's Ralph Barbieri this summer Wilson said, "The letters will be decided in training camp and how people perform and how the players respond. Leadership, nobody is going to be let off the hook with regards to leadership. Whether it be Joe, Nabber, Danny Boyle, Robby Blake, and another group of guys, the Clowe's, Michalek's, Pavelski's, Setoguchi's, Murray's, all accross the board. Leadership is there." Wilson said. "A guy like Joe (Thornton), he can't avoid it. He shouldn't, he should welcome the opportunity. I like what he has already done. He has come back a month early, he sent a message to his teammates he is in the best shape of his life." A name not mentioned with regards to leadership was Patrick Marleau. Whether that was unintentional or by design should become clear in training camp.
Many in the national/Canadian hockey media pointed to Doug Wilson's "big changes" comment
after the postseason loss to Anaheim (direct quote: "There will be some decisions made, and some big ones"). It was a comment that many interpreted to mean that a blockbuster trade of Marleau and Thornton was in the works. More damning was a comment from Wilson that only 2 San Jose Sharks players gave more than a 75% effort in the playoffs (direct quote: "I don't think we had one or two players that gave us more than 75% of their capability, that pissed us off then, and we are still frustrated by it.") More of an issue than who will be captain or who will battle for roster spots is what kind of team identity this team wants to have for itself in 2009-10? As Doug Wilson said at the State of the Sharks
Q-and-A with season ticket holders, "is this the final time that we have to get kicked in the ass to realize that we are going to commit to do whatever it takes to get to the next level?".
A more demanding coaching staff, stiff competition for roster spots, new leadership roles and remodled 3rd and 4th lines are all significant changes the Sharks are expected to make moving forward. Whether that will impact the Sharks second line (Clowe-Pavelski-Michalek), which combined for 22 points and 4 game winning goals in the 2008 playoffs, remains to be seen. After registering 70 regular season goals in the 2008-09 regular season, only 2 were scored in the postseason against Anaheim (both on the power play).
Joe Pavelski impressed at last month's Team USA Olympic Camp. ESPN's Scott Burnside opined
that Team USA is in "put up or shut up" mode. "As a player, that's what you want," Pavelski told Burnside. That should help his transition into the Sharks similarly fashioned training camp. When asked
by Craig Custance of the Sporting News about Marleau, Pavelski said he blames the playoff loss to Anaheim on himself as much as anyone else. "Everybody needs to step up," he said.
Ryane Clowe signed a new 4-year contract on July 6th, locking him up for the foreseeable future. A prototypical power forward for the Todd McLellan offense, Clowe will be looking to put past injury problems behind him and continue his effective work in front of the crease. Signed until 2013-14, next season will also be a make or break one for left wing Milan Michalek. After blossoming in 2007 with 26 goals and 66 points, Michalek has taken small steps back in each of the 2 subsequent seasons. In 2008-09 he began to take more liberties in the corners and in front of the net that his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame allows him. Those liberties need to start equaling goals. San Jose needs a breakout season from the quick skating Czech native, or he could be the next player surfacing in trade deadline or offseason trade rumors.
INCOMING SJ 3RD/4TH LINES: 4-YEAR PTS/GP
OUTGOING SJ 3RD/4TH LINES: 4-YEAR PTS/GP
: The most significant on-ice changes the Sharks have made to date have taken place on the 3rd/4th lines and on defense. Gone will be veterans Mike Grier, Travis Moen, Jeremy Roenick, Claude Lemieux, and homegrown forwards Marcel Goc, Tomas Plihal and Lukas Kaspar. The return of center Torrey Mitchell from a leg injuries suffered in training camp will add an injection of speed to the 3rd line. Possibly flanked by Jonathan Cheechoo and Jamie McGinn, secondary scoring could get a boost from that setup although many combinations will get a look in training camp. Defensive reponsibility and situational awareness will be key as late period and late game mistakes have plagued this team for several years.
Recently signed Scott Nichol
adds sandpaper and a solid faceoff specialist to the lineup. Possibly anchoring the 4th line, Nichol could be joined by defensively sound 6-foot-1, 200-pound right wing Jed Ortmeyer. On Saturday, San Jose Mercury News columnist reported
that 9-year veteran Dan Hinote would also be invited to the Sharks training camp. A relentless but undersized forechecker, it is unclear if Hinote was offered a contract of if he will be a pro tryout.
All 4th lines in San Jose will be compared to the Stephane Matteau-Ron Sutter-Ron Stern line under former head coach Darry Sutter. It was a veteran shutdown checking line that could absorb late game minutes and also intelligently answer physical challenges. Jody Shelley and Braud Staubitz will be battling to provide that physical element. In the State of the Sharks Q-and-A, Wilson complimented Staubitz's passion and work ethic. 2007 1st round draft pick Logan Couture and 6-foot-4, 225 pound left wing Frazer McLaren are also forwards to look out for heading into training camp.
SJ INCOMING D-PRODUCTION: 4-YR PTS/GP
SJ OUTGOING D-PRODUCTION: 4-YR PTS/GP
: All good things must come to an end, and for the Sharks that means one elite puck moving defenseman had to be sacrificed on the altar of the NHL salary cap. The Sharks traded
defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to the Vancouver Canucks for 2007 1st round draft pick Patrick White and Swedish defenseman Daniel Rahimi. The move opened up enough salary cap space to immediately resign Torrey Mitchell and Brad Staubitz, and left room for possible future deals. San Jose was blessed with an elite puck moving defenseman on every pairing in 2008-09 (Boyle, Blake-Vlasic, Ehrhoff). The end result was 4 defenseman registering 30 assists or more (Boyle 41, Blake 35, Ehrhoff 34, Vlasic 30), only the fourth time that has happened in NHL history.
Many in San Jose are suggesting that defenseman Dan Boyle is the front runner for the captaincy in 2009-10. Boyle was easily the most blunt and honest player after the disappointing playoff exit to Anaheim, but a Boyle-led team would not be a subtle change from the internal leadership of a Patrick Marleau or even a Craig Rivet. He would become a more challenging figure at the top, one who demands peak performance. Twice when asked how to shut down the Ducks top line of Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan (once by this blog), Boyle said that the defenseman out there against them need to play better. Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were on the ice for 6 of the line's 9 total goals in the series, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were on the ice for 1. During the State of the Sharks Q-and-A session, Boyle matter of factly said that the team needed better goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov in the series. He added that the team also needed to be better, as well as himself. One could envision him leading the Sharks as he leads the power play, pressing forward and taking neccessary chances in order to win.
Rob Blake is another strong contender for the Sharks captaincy. Playing a little under the radar in San Jose compared to his role in Los Angeles, on the ice Blake makes sure his presence is felt by forwards around the Sharks net with an elbow or a hard check on almost every play. He adds a much needed dose of old school hockey to a team that needs it. He has slowed down slightly after 19 seasons in the league, but he wisely uses his long reach and 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame to cut down angles and clog up lanes. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun broke the news
this summer that Blake would return with a 1-year deal. "It's almost unfinished business kind of thing... I think one needs to have that kind of approach; you're only going to be able to be together as a group for a few years, and when you have that much talent you have to make the most of it. We've got some big, big strides to take there."
In a radio interview last season, his defensive partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic noted that he used to watch Blake play when he was growing up. Vlasic marveled at the fact that he now had the opportunity to play with him. There is a solid chemistry between Blake and Vlasic, they check off opponents well and can quickly move the puck up ice. After 3 solid regular seasons, Vlasic trailed off in the postseason against Anaheim registering 1 point and a -6 in 6 games. An intelligent defenseman, Vlasic has the tools to succeed in a variety of different situations. The Sharks have a plethora of young players with talent, but that talent needs to exert itself in crunchtime. With the departure of Ehrhoff, it remains to be seen if Blake will move up to the top power play unit with Boyle or if he will stay on the second unit with Vlasic.
One offseason depth chart had Dan Boyle paired with Kent Huskins on the top defensive unit. Acquired at the trade deadline from Anaheim along with Travis Moen, Huskins remained sidelined for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman raised eyebrows when he signed a 2-year, $3.4 million contract in the offseason. General Manager Doug Wilson described Huskins as a tenacious player who brings a physical element to the game in the mould of a Rob Scuderi.
Battling Huskins for a spot on the top defensive pair will be enormous 240-pound Swedish defenseman Douglas Murray. "The Crankshaft" quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the game. Murray is not possessed of the quickest skating stride, but takes the proper angles, makes smart intelligent passes, and uses proper positioning in his own zone to maximize his defensive play. He also has a high compete level around his own net that inspires teammates. Derek Joslin, Mike Moore, Nick Petrecki and Jason Demers are young defenseman looking to compete in training camp for the 6th and 7th defensive slots in 2009-10.
E. NABOKOV SV%, EXPECTED SV%, GAA, EXPECTED GAA, DELTAGAA
2001-07 SHOT QUALITY METHODOLOGY - BEHINDTHENET
: The questions surrounding the Sharks early exit against Anaheim also focused heavily on the goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov. The 9-year NHL veteran came off a Vezina runner-up campaign in 2007-08 to register a 41-12-8 record, 2.44GAA, and a .910SV% in 2008-09. Nabokov helped power the Sharks to the best regular season home record in the NHL, and the first ever Presidents' Trophy in franchise history. Then came the postseason.
Nabokov struggled behind a team that struggled. Tied after 2 periods in Game 1 and Game 2, it was the Anaheim Ducks who found a way to win. The Sharks did not give Nabokov much offensive support, starting the series with a mystifying 0-12 streak on the power play. After a power play goal in Game 1 by Scott Niedermayer with Corey Perry on the doorstep, and Ryan Getzlaf scoring seconds after leaving the penalty box, Nabokov rankled fans in San Jose noting in a postgame interview that he did not see a problem with either goal.
In a summer interview with KNBR 680AM's Tom Tolbert, GM Doug Wilson said that Nabokov should have stepped up and taken responsibility for the goals. He added that there was enough blame to go around up and down the lineup. "I just want people to forget about all of the excuses, forget about all of the other outside influences, does it really upset you that we didn't get to where we wanted to get to," Wilson added. In the same interview, Wilson also characterised a couple of offseason discussions with Nabokov as "heated". Elaborating to David Pollak of the Mercury News, Nabokov described
the conversations as a mix of criticism and positive reinforcement.
Later in the Anaheim series, Hockey Night in Canada analyst and former Sharks goaltender Kelly Hrudey broke down individual plays by Evgeni Nabokov and said it looked like he was fighting the puck while making saves. On the other side of the ice, a flawless butterfly by Jonas Hiller was making difficult saves look effortless. There were questions about Nabokov's 5-hole, but his success is built around mental focus, anticipation and confidence. The last quarter of the regular season when an injury tsunami affected 9-10 roster players, the Sharks backed into survival mode and it was solid goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov that gave them opportunities to win games. What changed from the end of the regular season to the playoffs was one question that went unasked and unanswered by the media in San Jose.
The criticism after the loss to Anaheim may have been the most Evgeni Nabokov has experienced as a Shark. He reportedly
told Doug Wilson this offseason, "If the organization wants me to leave, I will leave... I would never stay with an organization that didn’t want me." Last season in an interview with friend of the blog Mikhail Bykov (republished on Yahoo
), Nabokov said players in San Jose are used to the playoff pressure. "I think every player is used to it now," Nabokov added.
In the final year of a 4-year, $21,5 million contract extention, this is most assuredly a make or break year for Evgeni Nabokov as well. One local hockey podcast speculated that the pressure applied to Nabokov this season could also impact the tenure of GM Doug Wilson. Whether the 2009-10 load is shouldered exclusively by Evgeni Nabokov, who has started an average of nearly 70 games the last 2 regular seasons, or whether athletic German netminder Thomas Greiss can create a competition in goal, the Sharks need improvement.
In an interview with Sharks development goaltending coach Corey Schwab
, Greiss was described as NHL ready. "Last year he got to play a lot of games in Worcester and in the last 15 games or so of the season he played very well and carried that team to the playoffs," Schwab said. He also answered questions about the mental aspect of the game with regards to Greiss, "When a guy comes up to the NHL he needs to believe in himself that he deserves to be in the NHL and that he can win games there." Greiss finished with a 30-24-2 record in the AHL (.907SV%, 2.47GAA), setting franchise records for wins and GAA in the process.
Gabriel Desjardins created a strength of shot methodology using 2001-2007 shot chart data from the NHL. Creating rough data for goaltending performance 5-on-5, Desjardins shows the numbers of goals allowed by each goaltender and the expected number of goals allowed by the average NHL goaltender. DeltaGAA shows how much lower or higher a goaltender's GAA compared given the shots he faced. Desjardins' expected SV% and expected GAA methodology is available here
, 2008-09 data is available here