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February 17, 2011
Team Prospectus
San Jose Sharks

by Timo Seppa

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TEAM STATS

San Jose Sharks, 2009-10
Goals For: 	264	4th 
Goals Against: 	215	7th
GVT: 		49	4th
Points:		113	2nd

VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 	239	6th 
Goals Against: 	235	20th
GVT: 		3	12th
Points:		92	12th

On the surface, it looks like VUKOTA pegged the San Jose pretty well, looking for the Sharks to come down to earth after several seasons near the top of the NHL's regular season mountain. And sure enough, as of February 16, they're down a notch in the standings, tied for 4th through 8th place with a whopping five other teams in the ongoing Western Conference logjam. Yet it's their goal scoring that's seen a decline from 4th to 16th in the league (from 3.13 GF to 2.71 GF), while their goal prevention has essentially remained at the same level (2.59 GA after going 2.55 GA) as when they were backstopped by Evgeni Nabokov and his surprising .922 save percentage. The pendulum is swinging in the right direction for the Sharks though, as San Jose has gone 9-1-2 over their last dozen games, with their only regulation loss coming against the suddenly unbeatable New Jersey Devils.

If you're looking for a good reason why San Jose has gone from a league best 5.0 shot differential in 2008-09 to a middle-of-the-pack 0.3 shot differential in 2009-10 and back to a league-best 5.3 shot differential thus far this season, you can look to the number of penalties taken and drawn by the Sharks in each of the three seasons. San Jose went from an outstanding +54 net penalties (+0.66 per game) to -18 (-0.22 per game) and back up to +20 through 54 games (+0.34 per game) this season. Having that big swing in power plays makes a big difference as to which net is having the shots directed at it.

And if you're looking for one reason for San Jose's improvement in 2010-11, look to the departure of defenseman Brad Staubitz, who was responsible for a ridiculous -3.0 net penalties per 60 minutes in 2009-10. Staubitz has now taken that "skill set" to Minnesota, where he yet again has the distinction of having more penalties taken per 60 minutes than any other player with as many games played.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

The "secondary stat" that jumps off the page for the San Jose Sharks is of course faceoff percentage—they're in the top two for the third season in a row. Even with the loss of Manny Malhotra (62.5%), the Sharks have multiple above-average performers, with the likes of Joe Thornton (53.9%) and Patrick Marleau (51.4%) finishing out of the money amongst the team leaders below.

He doesn't qualify given my cutoff of 40 games played, but had Logan Couture (25 games played) qualified, he would have made several of the lists below with 9.8 shots/60, 2.6 blocked Shots/60, 2.1 takeaways/giveaway; he's also got a 52.4% faceoff percentage. This season, Couture's in the running for the Calder Trophy.

Sharks top forwards, by 2009-10 stats

Shots/60: Joe Pavelski 10.5, Dany Heatley 10.1, Patrick Marleau 9.5
Hits/60: Scott Nichol 13.2, Jamie McGinn 9.1, Devin Setoguchi 7.0
Blocked shots/60: Jamal Mayers 2.8*, Joe Pavelski 2.8, Scott Nichol 2.1
Takeaways/giveaway: Jamal Mayers 2.3*, Jamie McGinn 1.8, Scott Nichol 1.8
Net penalties/60: Devin Setoguchi 1.3, Torrey Mitchell 1.1, Joe Pavelski 0.7
Faceoffs: Scott Nichol 60.6%, Joe Pavelski 58.1%

Sharks top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats

Shots/60: Dan Boyle 5.4, Jason Demers 4.0, Niclas Wallin 3.6
Hits/60: Douglas Murray 8.7, Niclas Wallin 8.6, Jason Demers 3.2
Blocked shots/60: Kent Huskins 4.7, Marc-Edouard Vlasic 4.4, Niclas Wallin 4.3
Takeaways/giveaway: Niclas Wallin 0.9, Dan Boyle 0.7, Douglas Murray 0.6
Net penalties/60: Marc-Edouard Vlasic 0.2, Dan Boyle -0.2, Jason Demers -0.2

*New acquisition
Minimum 40 games played

Sharks goaltenders, 2009-10 and 2010-11 stats

San Jose split their eggs into two baskets when seeking to replace Evgeni Nabokov, settling for a somewhat unknown quantity in the former 26-year-old-rookie-turned-Stanley-Cup-champion Antti Niemi and a number one/number two type goaltender in former-Flyer/former-Bolt Antero Niittymaki. And in some kind of bizarre coincidence, you can find the entire name "Antti Niemi" within the name Antero Niittymaki. It's like they were destined to be together.

Antti Niemi*

Save percentage .912 / .916
Even strength save percentage: .914 / .922
Power play save percentage: .899 / .894
Shorthanded save percentage: .952 / .857

Antero Niittymaki*

Save percentage .909 / .901
Even strength save percentage: .919 / .916
Power play save percentage: .869 / .805
Shorthanded save percentage: .935 / .929

2009-10 statistics / 2010-11 statistics shown above

SHOOTOUT PROSPECTUS

Sporting a couple of excellent shooters—in particular Joe Pavelski, who seems to do everything well—San Jose would do well to keep giving the likewise mulit-talented Logan Couture a chance to join the ranks of the more established. Conversely, Devin Setoguchi (25.0%) and Joe Thornton (22.2%) haven't seemed to have the touch in the shootout over their limited track record; Dany Heatley (16.0%) definitely doesn't have the touch. Both of the Sharks' Finnish netminders appear to be good at the skills competition, but especially in Niemi's case, we've got relatively few attempts to judge him by.

Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts

Joe Pavelski: 51.4% (19 for 37)
Ryan Clowe: 40.9% (9 for 22)
Kyle Wellwood*: 36.4% (8 for 22)
Patrick Marleau: 29.2% (7 for 24)

Best options, shooters with a limited track record

Logan Couture: 50.0% (3 for 6)
Devin Setoguchi: 25.0% (2 for 8)
Joe Thornton: 22.2% (2 for 9)

Goaltenders

Antti Niemi*: .780 career (32 for 41), .813 in 2009-10, .667 in 2010-11
Antero Niittymaki*: .716 career (68 for 95), .783 in 2009-10, 1.000 in 2010-11

THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE SHARKS

These quotes are from the 2-1 loss against New Jersey on February 11.

Big Question #1: What's been the secret to San Jose's recent success? And despite that short term success, are the Sharks on an overall decline now?

The talk:

Logan Couture: "During that winning streak, we were sticking to our system, playing hard, most nights playing the 60 minutes. But obviously that's not what we did tonight. We've been so streaky this year..."

Joe Thornton: "Just playing good defense, really. I think we're just keeping teams, we try to keep them under two goals a night and it seems to be working. We've bought into a defense part of the game and it's been paying off."

Head coach Todd McLellan: "We've been playing well defensively. Each of the players made a commitment to each other to play defense first, to work hard for each other, work around the net a lot better than we had been, and that's been allowing us to win some games."

VUKOTA says: Future Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake (61 GP, 7 G, 22 A, 29 P, 8.0 GVT) was definitely a significant loss for the Sharks. On the other hand, the departure of Manny Malhotra (68 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 29 P, 4.9 GVT) to Vancouver was seen to hurt less, due to expected regression. Evgeni Nabokov (53 GP, .913 save percentage, 10.6 GVT) would have been projected to be solid, had remained in the NHL. In addition, significant regressions were expected for thirtysomething star forwards Dany Heatley (17.0 to 12.7 GVT), Patrick Marleau (21.0 to 13.7 GVT), Joe Thornton (16.9 to 12.0 GVT).

Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: The Sharks do not have any of the Top 50 Prospects in the NHL…although look for C/RW Charlie Coyle to be there for Hockey Prospectus 2011-12.

Answer: San Jose has half a dozen star players, plus at least average goaltending. They're nearing a last hurrah with this aging cast of characters soon, so they'd better restock what's one of the NHL's most depleted farm systems.

---

Big Question #2: What aspects of their play does San Jose have to improve, to become a true contender?

The talk:

Head coach Todd McLellan: "We've still got to get our power play going. Our power play hasn't been good on this road trip, and that's in five to eight players hands—they have to be better. And then we've got to continue to grow our team. We're not good enough right now to win. We've got to get better in a lot of areas, just like everybody else in the league."

Joe Thornton: "Everything. You've got to improve on everything. And every day, we've been working on things, and you've got to continue to get better each and every day."

Timo says: San Jose still boasts considerable star power, so they're still a top-four power play squad (21.9%) as they have been for the past few seasons. What's declined has been their even strength play. Currently, the Sharks are 18th in the NHL at 0.98 GF per GA at even strength—they were third-best at 1.23 in 2009-10.

Answer: Adding a solid young veteran—younger legs—could help boost their 5-on-5 play and their no-longer-elite penalty kill (a 15th-best 81.9%, down from a fifth-best 85.0%), but cap room is pretty tight.

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Big Question #3: Can the Sharks finally reach a Stanley Cup Finals?

The talk:

Logan Couture: "We're still battling for a playoff spot. I mean, you look at the West, and it's so tight. We're just focused on getting into a playoff spot right now. We've got to just get as many points as we can. "

Timo says: San Jose is sixth in the West and 11th overall with 8.0 GVT. The way they're playing, things could very well improve from there.

Answer: Why not? Stranger things have happened.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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