While taking place more than 58 percent into their 2015-16 NHL season, the All-Star break provides a natural time for grading the San Jose Sharks. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz started his with the forwards Thursday, Jan. 28 and wrapped up with the back end Friday.
Four dozen games is certainly a big enough sample size and the week with no San Jose games provides time for analysis that can help define the team’s chances of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thus byteclay.com will take the same opportunity to grade them in the same order.
Grading by production is too simplistic. Sharks that have more expected of them must be graded by a tougher standard and those that come at a low price bring cap space as an additional asset. (General Fanager is the source of all cap values referenced in this article.)
Among San Jose’s forwards alone, the expectations for Patrick Marleau may not have been as high as they were for Joe Pavelski but the latter’s value would be higher even if all else were equal because his smaller contract allowed the team to also afford Dainius Zubrus. Thus the best measure of a player is return on investment (ROI).
Any forwards playing at least 15 games for the Sharks are pictured with their grades from lowest to highest and examined in further detail below. Injuries are not held against players nor are they considered an excuse for a slow start.
Among the forwards playing fewer than 15 games, Ben Smith was the only player expected to regularly be in the lineup. Projected as a fourth-line winger, he played in just six games due to never earning coach Peter DeBoer’s in part because of injury, did not score and had only one shot, five hits, one block, two giveaways and a takeaway while winning just five of 17 faceoffs.
Nikolay Goldobin is the only other one for whom there were really any expectations, and he had just a goal and assist in nine games before being sent back to the AHL for even poorer defensive habits (one block, one giveaway and three takeaways). Micheal Haley (eight games), Bryan Lerg (six), Ryan Carpenter and John McCarthy (one each) were sub-par reserves, scoreless on nine with 35 hits, six blocks, five giveaways and a takeaway to go with 28 wins in 55 faceoffs collectively.
Barclay Goodrow was the forward receiving the most significant trial (14 games) while Smith, Logan Couture and Melker Karlsson were out. He was ineffective enough (three assists, seven shots, eight hits, four blocks, four giveaways, three takeaways, as well as four wins and two losses in the circle) that San Jose opted for signing Zubrus off the street. Currently in the AHL, he is not costing the team as much money or any cap space and should be given time to develop but could be a decent emergency reserve.
San Jose’s biggest disappointment this 2015-16 NHL season is Matt Nieto by a wide margin. The speedy former second-round pick has not secured a scoring-line role and is ill-fitted for a checking-line role. The team missed an opportunity to send him to the AHL without having to clear waivers in November and are stuck with someone inadequate for either with six goals, five assists, 59 shots, 20 hits, 26 blocks, 16 giveaways, 11 takeaways and two wins in eight faceoffs.
Nieto still gets a passing grade because he only costs the Sharks a little over $750,000. Another player whose ROI might look even lower is Mike Brown.
Brown was not signed to be anything more than a platoon player and agitator for the fourth line. He has legitimately managed to to be dressed in all but six games of the 2015-16 NHL season, but $1.2 million is way too much for one goal and two assists on 36 shots, 14 blocks, 10 giveaways, seven takeaways and two wins in three faceoffs even with 119 hits and positive intangibles.
Both barely grade lower than a much more integral player not producing: Tommy Wingels makes almost $2.5 million and was expected to push for a scoring-line role, but has just four goals and nine assists in 48 games. He still leads the team with 153 hits and has 40 blocks to go with 17 giveaways, 10 takeaways and 28 wins in 73 faceoffs but is not good enough defensively to make that much without scoring closer to a point for every two rather than three games.
In the 18 games in which he has not been injured, Couture has been okay but not great. The Sharks struggled without him, but he has a modest three goals in 44 shots, seven assists, 10 hits, eight blocks, 14 giveaways, 13 takeaways and just 79 wins in 171 faceoffs. While growing into a leadership role, that is not the per-game production one pays $6 million a season for.
Marleau is having an up-and-down 2015-16 NHL season. He is still playing important minutes well but scored nine of his 15 goals (125 shots) and seven of 17 assists in a 15-game stretch, leaving him under a point per two games in the other 33. That and significant defensive responsibilities (43 hits, 26 blocks, 43 giveaways, 25 takeaways and 155 wins in 296 faceoffs) do not combine to a $6.6-plus million value, especially since he is not wearing a letter nor avoiding distractions about whether that fact or anything else led to submitting a list of teams he would be willing to accept a trade to.
Karlsson is really the only other disappointing San Jose forward. He has six goals and four assists on 59 shots over 33 games with 38 hits, 21 blocks, eight giveaways and 11 takeaways while winning three of six faceoffs. However, he had limited time on the scoring lines and has been surrounded by some questionable talent until Couture returned for good. That may not be worth $1.65 million, but there is a good chance he will be worth more than the balance of his salary for the rest of the 2015-16 NHL season.
Zubrus has been more than serviceable for the fourth line and a bargain for a team-low $600,000, scoring a goal and assist on 14 shots with 28 hits, 10 blocks, six giveaways, seven takeaways and nine wins in 18 faceoffs while spending time killing penalties. Still he did spend time on the first line and has made little impact outside of his own zone.
Chris Tierney played his way to a brief AHL assignment but has been great since his return, giving him mixed results over all 46 games. He is the second-lowest paid forward dressing for the Sharks, but the least productive (six goals, 10 assists, 58 shots, 10 hits, 24 blocks, 17 giveaways, 11 takeaways and 218 wins in 480 faceoffs) of the five that make under $1 million.
The interesting thing about grading with ROI is that Joonas Donskoi does not grade as well as he deserves. San Jose’s shoo-in rookie of the year is still a bargain at $925,000 and might actually be exceeding expectations, but grades lower than players with comparable salaries: 43 games, seven goals, 14 assists, 23 hits, 24 blocks, 28 giveaways and 23 takeaways with one faceoff win and loss.
Tomas Hertl has struggled with consistency, but has also bounced from center to wing and played on all three top lines. It has resulted in 10 goals, 16 assists, 119 shots, 54 hits, 40 blocks, 16 giveaways, 24 takeaways and an impressive 229 wins in 407 faceoffs over 47 games. That is worth well more than the $925,000 the Sharks pay him.
Meanwhile, Joe Thornton had a slow start offensively but has gotten hot with a point in 18 of his last 19 games. He has not missed a game and now has nine goals and 32 assists on 76 shots with 34 hits, 21 blocks, 53 giveaways and 40 takeaways while winning 243 of 468 faceoffs—more than worth the nearly $7 million he makes.
Joel Ward is exceeding even his own expectations in what appears to be a career year at age 35. He provides leadership, power play and penalty killing prowess for just over $3 million. Playing in 46 games, he has scored 15 goals and 16 assists on 84 shots with 46 hits, 33 blocks, 28 giveaways and 28 takeaways while winning 156 faceoffs and losing 158.
Finally, there is no doubt who San Jose’s most valuable player is. Not only is Pavelski the team leader because he is the captain, he is by far its best player.
Able to play center, wing or even a blue-line role on the power play, he is first on the team in games (tied with 48), goals (25), game-winning goals (eight while no one else has more than three), points (49), faceoffs won (318) and taken (569) plus leads forwards in blocks (42) and shots (129) while registering 96 hits, 49 giveaways and 27 takeaways. That is easily worth more than the $6 million the Sharks are paying him.