Who is the Sharks best defenseman? It seems like a simple enough question but coming up with an answer isn’t that easy.
Part of the answer lies in what defines a good defenseman. Is he solely a player who should be judged on his defensive play or does the offense he provides also factor into the equation?
Some would argue that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the Sharks best defenseman. Head Coach Todd McLellan typically has Vlasic on the ice against the opponents’ top offensive players. Vlasic leads the team in +- rating at +12 and he has respectable offensive numbers with 6 goals and 14 points including 3 game winning goals. He was also named to Team Canada’s Olympic squad last year in Sochi and came home with a gold medal around his neck.
Others might offer that Brent Burns rules the San Jose blue line. Burns is one of the NHL’s top scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 points. His 24 assists are just 1 behind team leader Joe Thornton. Burns has a booming shot. It’s a weapon. He’s also a key to the Sharks power play where he’s scored 4 goals and he has 2 game winners. But at -8 Burns has one of the poorer +- ratings on the team. Depending on how much value you place in that statistic it may diminish his reputation as a top defender.
When the NHL named its 2015 All Star representative from the Sharks it named Brent Burns. Does that mean the league regards Burns as a better defenseman than Vlasic? I’m not sure. Perhaps Burns was being recognized as much for his personality and admirable community work as he was his play this season.
One thing that is certian is that the Sharks have a good problem when it’s unclear who their best defenseman is and they have two very good ones. And when they are paired together on the ice as they have been recently in games, it’s a big problem for the opposition.
Joe Thornton had played in 319 consecutive games for the Sharks when he was injured in Anaheim on New Years Eve, so it was going to be interesting to see how the team responded without him. The initial good news was that they beat Anaheim that night. Three days later the Sharks struggled against St. Louis in a humbling 7-2 loss. They came out flat, put on a brief push late in the first period, and then collapsed the rest of the way surrendering six unanswered goals. They also went 0 for 6 on the power play. Life without Jumbo didn’t look very promising.
But two nights later in Winnipeg, the Sharks other leaders took it upon themselves to respond. Just like they have on other occasions this year when they’ve had less than acceptable outings (Buffalo and Vancouver at home), the team rallied. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Antti Niemi led the way. And then Marc-Eduard Vlasic stuck a dagger in the Jet’s with a game-winning goal in the dying seconds.
The next night in Minnesota the Sharks had to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Pavelski came through again. So did Tommy Wingels who broke a scoring slump. Rookie Melker Karlsson, who doesn’t look like a typical rookie, scored for a third straight game. Alex Stalock settled down after a shaky first period and the Sharks found a way to get the game to overtime. Then Mr. GWG, Vlasic, scored in the extra frame and the Sharks had another road victory.
It’s not a huge body of work but it’s hugely uplifting to see the Sharks players playing for one another and playing for the coaches. That’s what it feels like. We’ll see how they respond against the Blues on Thursday. And everyone in the dressing room looks forward to the return of Joe Thornton!
If the NHL amateur draft lottery were held today the Edmonton Oilers would be the #1 seed and the favorite to pick #1 overall, again. Due to their stretch of 8 straight non-playoff seasons, the Oilers have had quite a run at the draft table. From 2010 to 2012 they selected first overall each year taking LW Taylor Hall, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and RW Nail Yakupov. Unless things improve appreciably this season there’s a good chance they’ll end up with the opportunity to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, both of whom are being described by the hockey scouting community as “generational players”.
It’s tough to argue with the Oilers picks when they’ve selected first overall. It’s what they’ve done beyond the first round in their drafting that is under the microscope now. When they skated onto the ice against the Sharks this week the Oilers had only one player on their roster that they drafted outside of the first round. That’s a problem. The success of a good team certainly starts with solid first round picks but it doesn’t end there. Depth comes from the middle and later rounds. The Sharks have had some very good first round picks over the years that are on the current roster. Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller were all taken in the first round. But the organization has filled the rest of the team with excellent players from much deeper in the draft. Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun were both taken in the 7th round. Tommy Wingels went in the 6th. Goaltender Alex Stalock was a 4th rounder. Matt Nieto and Marc-Eduard Vlasic came out of the 2nd round. That’s an impressive group. It could be a core group for many franchises. A top scoring center/winger in Pavelski, a top defense pair in Vlasic and Braun, speed/skill in Nieto, physicality/heart/leadership from Wingels and a goalie (Stalock) with the potential to be a starter.
It all points to some solid scouting and drafting by the Sharks, a skill that a team like the Oilers will have to be more successful at if they’re to be a playoff team again.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
I’m feeling some angst in Sharks Territory these days. Fans are asking “what’s wrong with the team?”
Granted the Sharks present record wouldn’t have them in a playoff spot if the postseason started today, but they’re not that far back.
And how many times over the past 10 straight years of playoff appearances by the team have we seen the Sharks shoot out of the gate straight to the top of the division standings in autumn only to see them come up short in the spring?
Adversity builds character. The Sharks are going through their share of adversity right now. The road heavy schedule in October and November was brutal. There have been several very disappointing nights so far. It’s hard to understand how the team can be 0-5-1 collectively against Florida, Columbus and Buffalo. But this is a different team than last years. There are new players and the leadership dynamic is in transition. These things take time. It’s difficult to be patient when you’re used to seeing the Sharks cruising along through most of the season.
Are these Sharks good enough to make the playoffs come April ? I believe they are. Are these Sharks good enough to win a Stanley Cup? I have no idea. What I do know is that when a team goes through tough times together and has to fight and scrap for wins like the Sharks did on Tuesday night against Philadelphia, it’s bound to unite them and instill a stronger spirit in the group. Those are character traits that ought to serve them well when the big games come next spring.
Back in the late 80’s I was invited to be part of an organization called Pro Hockey San Jose. The purpose of the group was to promote San Jose as a viable NHL expansion destination and to hopefully attract ownership. We succeeded in educating a lot of hockey people about the city and ultimately the Gund family became the owners of the Sharks franchise. It was an amazing experience with lots of twists and turns along the way. There were also a lot of people who helped us achieve our goals. One of those people was former NHL player, coach, General Manager and executive Pat Quinn who died this week at the age of 71.
Right around the time that Pro Hockey San Jose was making inroads with then San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery about the idea of the new Arena becoming the home of a hockey team, Pat Quinn was the President and General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. Quinn reached out to our group and wanted to help in whatever way he and the Canucks could. And it made sense. It would benefit a West Coast franchise like the Canucks to have another team in their time zone. It would help their travel and it would perhaps even offer up another rivalry, which it ultimately did. Pat Quinn dispatched his then assistant GM Brian Burke to San Jose to meet with our group and eventually Mayor McEnery and his staff. Burke, under the instructions of Quinn, shared the Canucks business plan with McEnery and spent hours answering questions about how an NHL team works and how it might impact the downtown area. That information proved to be incredibly valuable to the mayor and the city council in their eventual decision to back the idea of a hockey team for San Jose.
With his passing, Pat Quinn will be remembered for many things. I’ll always remember him for his interest in our idea’s and the hand he had in making the dream of NHL hockey in San Jose a reality.
In professional sports, with every injury there is also an opportunity. With Alex Stalock out of the lineup and on inured reserve it’s a chance for Worcester Sharks call-up Troy Grosenick to show what he’s got. He’ll be dressed for his first ever NHL game on Thursday when the Sharks continue their road trip in Tampa.
First of all Grosenick is a good goalie. In college he took his Union Dutchmen team to the NCAA Final Four his sophomore year and became the first ever player from that program to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s outstanding play college hockey player.
This year the undrafted free agent leads the American Hockey League in victories with 10 and has a lot of people believing that the Worcester Sharks will be a playoff team and could really do some damage if they get there.
In chatting with Worcester play-by-play man Eric Lindquist he describes Grosenick as a “battler”. The kind of goalie who makes the last save, the big save. He’s athletic and intense. He’s also a character. Grosenick juggles three tennis balls up against the wall as part of his pregame ritual. He’s sporting a totally legit “Movember” moustache and if he happens to get an NHL start and happens to get his fist NHL win, keep an eye on his water bottle. Apparently after a win, Grosenick grabs his water bottle off the top of the net, goes down on a knee and throws the bottle down the ice. Check out this video at about the 2:30 mark.
And if that’s not colorful enough for you, Grosenick’s fiancé Maggie has her own business. She makes bow ties for dogs and sells them. You can’t make this up. You have to love hockey goalies!
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
My thought today is all about Tuesday’s “Meet The Sharks” event at SAP Center. For several hours my fellow Sharks broadcast colleagues and I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with so many ardent and wonderful hockey fans. Back in the day when the broadcast positions were in the lower seating area we met fans each and every night. For the past few years we have been located in the upper press box area, which is closed off from the main arena. I miss the day-to-day, game-to-game contact with you the fans.
Tuesday we met little children who are just finding out about hockey and about the Sharks. We met moms and dads who brought them along and have been faithful fans for years. We saw familiar friendly faces, the people who we see at these events all the time. Your dedication is always appreciated. One of my fondest memories was meeting a couple, well into their golden years, which stopped by to chat with us. They were new fans. They discovered Sharks hockey as seniors, and fell in love with it. How uplifting is that?
There were many gracious comments about our broadcasts. We truly appreciate that. It’s especially gratifying when we hear that you enjoy learning more about the game but also like the “entertainment factor”. It’s always our goal on radio and television to bring that blend.
I sincerely felt energized leaving the arena Tuesday night. It’s so humbling and gratifying to know that so many of you care about the Sharks and care about how we present them to you. Thank you!
I’m Randy Hahn for SJsharks.com
It took an amazing effort by Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Antti Niemi in the shootout but the Sharks managed to win 3-2 in Colorado on Tuesday night and string together consecutive victories.
Talk about a frustrating night! The Sharks carried over what they established in the Anaheim win and absolutely dominated the Avalanche in the first period outshooting them 23-8. But thanks to a goal post, a crossbar and that guy named Semyon Varlamov, San Jose only had a 1-0 lead. When Alex Tanguay tied it shorthanded in the second period that sinking feeling set in just a little. How many times over the years have we seen a team dominate but not get rewarded around the net and ultimately lose? And when Gabriel Landeskog beat Niemi with a shot from the wing it felt like a rerun of heartbreaking losses from the past.
But it would be different this time. Right after Jamie Baker noted on the broadcast that Justin Braun expects to grow his game even more this year, including offensively, Braun hit the post with a booming shot and Logan Couture scored on the rebound. And then Niemi made the critical save of regulation when he robbed Ryan O’Reilly with what might very well have been the “dagger in the heart” winner had it gone in.
The shootout belonged to the Sharks thanks to the sniper like accuracy of Marleau and Pavelski and the “shut the door” goaltending of Niemi who absolutely deserved his first star of the game honors despite Varlamov’s 49 save night.
It’s still early but it’s another brick in the foundation of a long season. The Sharks proved that the Anaheim game wasn’t a one and done. They built on it. That’s a good thing.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
Now that the Sharks first lengthy road trip (5 games) is over, what have we learned?
This year’s team is capable of beating top-notch opponents. The New York Islanders are a good hockey team and the New Jersey Devils won’t miss the playoffs this year. Those were solid road wins.
Logan Couture can still score. He might have failed to light the lamp in the first four games of the season but once Couture broke the seal in New Jersey he was on his way to a 5-point roadie.
The Sharks goaltending is solid. Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock are both playing well right now. Stalock might want a goal or two back from the New York Ranger tilt but stuff happens. The whole team was off their game that day.
Adjusting to the NHL at the age of 19 is tough. Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney both spent part of the trip watching from the press box. It’s a big jump from junior to “the show”. It’s much better to be patient with young players and give them an opportunity to succeed than to thrown them to the wolves.
We learned that the New York Islanders are legit. They will be a tough team in the east all season.
We learned that Henrik Lundqvist is a really good goalie. But then we already knew that.
And we learned that while a 2-2-1 Sharks road trip (.500) is OK, there is still plenty of room for improvement
Most of all it’s great to be back in the rhythm of the regular season.
It’s a small world isn’t it?
On March 28, 1989 Bernadette Devorski was a nurse working at the maternity ward of the main hospital in Guelph, Ontario. That day an expectant mother came into the hospital to give birth. Her doctor was summoned but didn’t arrive in time. Nurse Devorski delivered the baby. That child was Logan Couture. Thursday night on Long Island, Couture will line up at center for the San Jose Sharks. Also lining up and wearing stripes as one of the referee’s for the game will be 25 year NHL veteran official Paul Devorski. Bernadette is his mother. Chet Couture, Logan’s father, who lives in Southern Ontario will also be there to watch his son. He’s never met Paul Devorski but perhaps that will happen after the game. Devorski lives in Hershey, New York but his wife…is originally from San Jose.
It’s a small word.