As this death march of a season mercifully draws ever closer, the Hawks find themselves out for one last swing through the West in order to play two completely meaningless games bookending a game that really only serves schadenfraude purposes.
For most of last year, if you paid attention to the underlying numbers, or metrics, or analytics, or whatever other scrabble word you use, you knew that the Sharks were one of the best teams in the league. In fact, by those measures they were basically blowing away the Western Conference, and somehow losing the division to the Flames was basically a crime. They always had the puck and were creating most of the chances.
You also knew that they were being let down by simply horrific/comedic/surreal goaltending, with Martin Jones putting up a .896 SV% on the season. Aaron Dell wasn’t any better, and all the good work the Sharks skaters were doing was undone a lot of the time by Jones and Dell whiffing and whatever puck was half-heartedly flung in their direction, with opponents apologetically celebrating the goals they never saw coming or considered were a possibility.
There weren’t a lot of options for the Sharks at the trade deadline, and you could see why they stuck with Jones as well. In his three years as the Sharks starter previous to last season, he had never been below .912, and also had been dynamite in the playoffs. In San Jose’s run to the Final in 2016, he was .923 in 24 games. The following season he was .935 in a first-round loss to the Oilers, and then .928 as the Sharks went out in the second round. The policy of keeping the faith made sense, or at least was defensible.
Still, Jones wasn’t very good in the playoffs last year, and had he even been average perhaps the Sharks find their way past the Blues (GRRRRRR….). Again, the options in the offseason weren’t exactly shiny and must-have. Perhaps they should have put in a call to Robin Lehner, as Sergei Bobrovsky would have been out of their price range. Perhaps they wanted to give Jones another half-season to prove he can come back to what he was. And only at the next trade deadline will they pull the trigger if it’s warranted.
Still, it’s hard to find a comp of a goalie that fell apart at 29 and then rediscovered it. As a warning, these should always be taken with a grain of salt, because Jones is his own man and whatnot. His season won’t be affected because of what other goalies did in the past. As Fifth Feather would say, it’s like deciding what the next hand of a blackjack will be because of what’s going on at another table. The odds say one thing, but they don’t actually force certain cards to be turned over. Still, let’s take a look.
Since the great Lockout of ’05, Jones’s season last year was the 12th worst for goalies 28 or above who made 40 starts or more. Ben Scrivens had a worse season at 28 after being pretty good, and was out of the league in less than a year. Marty Turco struggled out of the lockout at age 30, posting a .898. He recovered a very little, posting a couple .910s but never coming close to the Vezina form he had before. And really that’s about it for comparable age and falling off a cliff at said age.
The Sharks would happily take that .910 Turco put up after his stumble, as given what else they are capable of that would be more than enough for another 105-110 points. If Jones can’t get there, and he is indeed this broken bumper car now, the options again aren’t great. Would they take one of the Hawks’ goalies if they indeed have to sell at the deadline (or would even admit to)? If the injuries to the Penguins become too much, would Matt Murray be available? Laurent Brossoit from Winnipeg? These are all reaches in terms of availability.
The Sharks clearly don’t have much time. Even with Joe Pavelski put on his bike, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns are all over 30. Erik Karlsson will be soon. They probably can’t toss away another spring on the hopes that Martin Jones finds it for no reason other than HOCKEY.
The opening signs aren’t encouraging. Getting blitzed by Nashville and Vegas twice isn’t exactly shameful, but those are the teams the Sharks will have to get through come springtime. It was a rough opening for sure, but the Sharks might have liked it if Jones had stood tall in any of the games. And he only faced over 30 shots in one of them.
This is a game of chicken the Sharks are playing with themselves. Someone is going to have to swerve or the whole thing is going to pieces.
This might be the most pivotal season in San Jose Sharks history for a few reasons. One is it might be Joe Thornton‘s last, and he will go down as the organization’s greatest player (sorry, Patrick Marleau, but you’re too weird). If they’re going to get Joe a Cup, it probably has to be now. It might also be their only season with Erik Karlsson, who has yet to re-sign and may be waiting to see how things play out for the Sharks in the playoffs, his own health, and what happens to the roster after. And another thing to add to the pile is that Joe Pavelski is going to be unrestricted, and gauging just how to handle the re-signing (or not) of their 34-year-old captain is going to be quite the ninja course for Doug Wilson.
Pavelski has a shot at setting a career-high in goals this year, which is 41 (he has 37). It’s the most he’s put up in four seasons, and that total alone might belie some fear about his age. Pavelski could certainly spend a few more years being something of a spot-up shooter and still provide 25 goals for someone.
But look a little deeper, and things get dicier. Pavelski is shooting 20.8% this season, a feat he’s highly unlikely to repeat. It’s some 60% over his career-mark. Digging further, Pavelski is averaging less shots per game at all strengths than he has since his rookie year. His 12 attempts per game at even-strength are by far the lowest of his career. On the other side of the coin, his expected individual goals per 60 (ixGF/60) is the highest it’s been since 2012. Which means he’s attempting less and getting less shots on goal, but he’s getting almost all of his attempts on prime chances or from prime areas. His team-rate marks are still positive, but are some of the lowest relative marks to the rest of the Sharks of his career.
And again, Pavelski is 34. When next season rolls around he’ll be 35. In recent history, plenty of players 35 and older have been able to put up 30 goals or more. Jarome Iginla did it twice, and that’s not a bad comparison for Pavelski. Hossa did it once. However, only one center in recent vintage did it at that age, which was Pavel Datsyuk. Pavelski has spent most recent seasons on a wing, but has played a fair share of center this year to combat Joe Thornton‘s absence and limited usage. Going forward, he’s almost assuredly a wing only.
What happens to Pavelski might hinge on what the Sharks do in the postseason. If they flame out in the first round, which is looking like a distinct possibility given theirs and Vegas’s current form, the Sharks may decide it’s time to blow it all up and let Pavelski, Thornton, and Karlsson head to the door and try again down the road with Hertl, Meier, Kane and the like. We know they haven’t been hesitant to strip a captain before. Might even worth be perusing to see if they can turn Marc-Edouard Vlasic in for a newer model, as he’s 31 and anyone in the Seabrook mold entering their 30s is going to frighten the shit out of their team.
Or the Sharks could turn it around, win a couple rounds, maybe even make it back to the Final where they can get torture-racked by Tampa. That might convince them that even without Thornton they can make another go next year, pay Karlsson and Pavelski and keep the band mostly together with a tweak here and there.
Cap space isn’t too much of a problem, as the Sharks have $25 million in space with Donskoi and Meier the only must-haves, though Meier is going to get a hell of a raise. $10M between the two of them isn’t outlandish, which means you’re basically deciding between Karlsson or Pavelski. Which isn’t much of a choice at all given position and age. That is of course unless Pavelski wants to take a team-friendly deal. Which he might.
Pavelski being captain, and with Thornton on his way meaning he’s the face of the goddamn place, probably means the Sharks can’t let him walk. Especially considering what happened with the last one in Patrick Marleau. Needless to say, the Sharks have more riding on this spring than anyone.
Game #77 Preview Suite
Look at this guy.
Doug Wilson is 61-years-old. Do you know anyone who looks like that at 61? No, you do not. Will you look like that at 61? No, you will not. In fact, you probably don’t look like that now. We sure don’t. And yet Doug Wilson doesn’t age. He’s a former hockey player for fuck’s sake. One who didn’t even wear a helmet! You see most of the guys from the 80s? They all look like they tried to eat a moving Harley-Davidson. You can actually watch Jeremy Roenick’s face swell on NBCSN, and he came into the league after Wilson.
It must be a Silicon Valley thing. All that blood Theranos collected to fuck over rich people everywhere? Wilson stole it and drank it all. That can be the only explanation. It’s bad enough you have to sacrifice two children to pay a year’s rent anywhere within 100 miles of San Francisco, but now you’ve got Wilson around collecting your blood. Maybe that’s why Joe Thornton grows that beard, to hide the fang-wounds.
The job is supposed to be aging, too. Stan Bowman doesn’t look like his heart has actually beat since 2013. Every feature of Joe Sakic’s face is slowly moving away from each other out of fear of making a loud noise and scaring one of the others. Here’s one for you: Doug Wilson is two years younger than Brian Burke. And Brian Burke looks like a production of “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” performed by actual cirrhosis. Have you ever seen a picture of Doug Armstrong? Have you ever seen an angry bowling ball after a few hours in a furnace? There you go.
No wonder he wasn’t won a Cup. How much can one person have? He is undead, we’re telling you.
Game #77 Preview Suite
You miss most of their games because they’re on late. You might have seen on Twitter this morning that we got awfully close to a Joe Thornton cock-trick last night. He had a hat trick and there was an overtime to add to it, and hockey twitter waited with anticipation you could cut and serve as a side dish.
You’ll also notice they lost in overtime on a night they gave up just 20 shots. And this is the problem for the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks are the best team in the Western Conference. By any measure, it’s not even all that close. Whatever metric you want, the Sharks are top-five in and most likely top-three. They limit attempts, shots, and chances while creating a fuckload of their own. They roll teams most mights. The Sharks recently had a stretch of six games where they were below water in possession. Shockingly, Erik Karlsson missed all of those games. They also won all of them.
But the one thing the Sharks can’t get is a save. They’re last in the league in even-strength save-percentage, and the only team below .900 in the category. Overall in every situation, they’re second-worst behind only Florida. Even just league-median goaltending of .902 overall would have seen the Sharks give up 20 less goals. That’s about six points in the standings or so, which would have them well clear of the Flames in the Pacific (though still 10 points behind the Lightning, who aren’t even playing the same sport right now).
And the Sharks have six days to decide what they’re going to do about it.
There are some parallels to last year’s champs. Martin Jones’s collapse, much like Braden Holtby’s last year during the regular season, came out of nowhere. Jones has been as solid as you could ask in San Jose, with a .915 over three seasons. At 29, he certainly wasn’t poised for a dive over the cliff due to age. And it’s not workload either, as Jones is seeing less shots per game this season than he was last year (28.3 vs. 27.8). And the types of chances Jones is seeing are just about the same, as the differences in scoring-chances per hour and high-danger ones that the Sharks are surrendering are negligible.
Now, I’ve already been on record that Jones will pull a Holtby, and follow up a subpar regular season with a playoff rescue act and everyone will quickly forget that he was so bad during the 82. Jones has been more than reliable in the playoffs with the Sharks, sporting a .926 across three forays, including a .923 during their run to the Final in 2016. If the Sharks want to count on that, there’s evidence. And the Sharks, given what they’ve been doing, really only need average goaltending to beat most anyone. Their first round is likely to see them beat up on any of the remedial class in the West (assuming they can beat the Flames out for the division). Even finishing second will see them find Vegas who have been woeful of late and Marc-Andre Fleury is doing the humpty-hump in net.
A second round dance with the Flames is unlikely to see the Sharks get goalie’d either, as Mike Smith will be Neymar’ing everywhere or David Rittich will be seeing all of this for the first time. Stranger things have happened of course, but you wouldn’t bet on it.
It’s beyond that where the problems lie. Connor Hellebuyck or Pekka Rinne are both capable of going Iron Curtain for a series, and in the Final you’re most likely trying to keep the Lightning’s Punisher collection of weapons at bay. Can’t do that with even average goaltending, you wouldn’t think.
But if you’re the Sharks, everything is on this year. Conference final isn’t good enough. Neither is just a Final appearance. You’re here to do the damn thing. This is Joe Thornton’s last year, most likely. Erik Karlsson doesn’t seem guaranteed beyond this spring. Everyone else who matters is over 30. This is the one. So what do you do, hotshot?
The answers on at the deadline aren’t plentiful. Jimmy Howard out of Detroit can be serviceable, and behind a much worse team. But his last attempt at the playoffs was three years ago and it saw him get clocked so heavily he was pulled as starter. He hasn’t had a decent playoff run since 2013 when he nearly helped pull the wool over the Hawks’ eyes, and only a Seabrook speculative off of Kronwall’s stick kept him from doing so. He’s far from guaranteed.
Maybe you see if Luongo has one more run left in him before he hits the beach for good? But he’s been ouchy and bad all season, and if one of those goes TWANG! again you’d be back to Jones anyway. Jonathan Quick is signed for a million more years. Craig Anderson is also old. There isn’t much else to find.
But that’s ok, the Sharks’ entire legacy is only riding on this…
In about five years, if you’re not already, we’re all going to look back and just wonder how in the hell the Sharks ever came out of the West. It was the perfect storm for them I suppose, as the bottom dropped out on pretty much every other team that had kept them down for so long and they were able to rise by standing still. It might be as good as things get for the Sharks for a while. Teams aren’t supposed to be completely handcuffed by the departure of a 35-year-old, one-dimensional scorer. It’s the kind of thing you buttress your team against. And yet, here the Sharks are, still holding a bouquet of flowers for Patrick Marleau in the rain, unaware that they’ve completely wilted now and wondering just where their love went. And it hasn’t allowed them to come up with too many answers otherwise either.
San Jose Sharks
’16-’17 Record: 46-29-7 99 points (3rd in Pacific, coldcocked by Oilers in Round 1)
Team Stats 5v5: 51.1 CF% (8th) 51.8 SF% (4th) 51.4 SCF% (9th) 7.8 SH% (14th) .924 SV% (12th)
Special Teams: 16.6 PP% (25th) 80.6 PK% (16th)
Game Time: 3:00PM Central
TV/Radio: WGN, SportsNet (Canada), NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Josh Costine Is The Antichrist: Fear The Fin
With the riveting thrill ride that is the Big Ten college basketball tournament taking over the United Center for the remainder of this weekend, the Hawks now find themselves subjected to the extremely rare California matinee. And unlike Thursday in the desert, these two points are actually critical for both teams to obtain.