CBS Sports calls its NHL coverage Eye on Hockey, and they are in the midst of their Core Values series. Further examination is warranted beyond the pictured summary of their in-depth look at the San Jose Sharks Friday, Aug. 8.
Their focus is on how much of the money is spent on a core, how much production that nets and who might be ready to enter the core. They identified San Jose's core as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl. The 37-game NHL veteran was appropriately included because his prospect status and play in that brief time are good enough to trust in.
While Examiner's list includes Justin Braun for his skating and defending prowess, Eye on Hockey did mention him among those ready to break into the core. Tommy Wingels is also on this list for his versatility and character, but was with Matt Nieto among their next-tier Sharks. Mirco Mueller was already mentioned just on his potential.
CBS looked at what those seven players in that core brought to San Jose, focusing on more than statistics that can be unreliable taken individually but paint a complete picture taken together and in context. It is not enough to simply put shots on goal as Corsi measures, but look at what level of competition was on the ice.
Even though neither goalie was listed as part of the core, the battle in net was thoroughly examined. Their analysis of everyone was largely accurate, but there are things to add with each of them. Most notably, Examiner's rating of production on both ends of the ice is included for all nine Sharks.
As long as Thornton is on the team, everything starts with him. Even though he has not been in San Jose his entire career like Marleau, the current captain was chosen over the former captain as Pro Hockey Talk's best player poll Wednesday because he is on another level.
Since his first full NHL season, no player has as many points and Thornton is 199 ahead of second-place Henrik Sedin in assists. He also happens to be among the best in the world in the faceoff circle and at takeaways, making him a monster possession player. His production has barely curtailed as he had fewer assists than only Sidney Crosby, finishing with a 58.23 Offensive Quotient (OQ) and 50.39 Defensive Quotient (DQ) per Examiner's rating of production on both ends. As the Core Values analysis shows, he also played largely against better competition.
The problem is Thornton does not fit the way the Sharks want to play now. They want to keep skating hard and get pucks deep, but he continues to pull up along the boards and pass into traffic in the middle. This can work, but is noticeably less effective in the Stanley Cup playoffs that see his point production drop by 25 percent over the regular season.
That is not the case with Marleau, whose disappointing 2014 Stanley Cup performance might still have been best among forwards. Likely joined by Thornton as a former San Jose captain still on the roster, his point production drops by about five percent—easily a margin one might expect playing only Stanley Cup playoff competition.
Marleau is not the monster possession player or defender Thornton is, but he remains very effective in the middle and on the wing in all three zones. He finished the 2013-14 NHL season with a 58.3 OQ and 32.86 DQ, playing more minutes against even better competition than the only man chosen before him in the 1997 draft.
Marleau also offers the benefit of playing fast and not having Thornton's dressing-room presence to overshadow any young leaders the coaching staff chooses to anoint. He can remain in the core but there are five Sharks better, so he does not have to drive the bus.
CBS suggested Couture might be the next one to take the wheel. Just 25 years old, the two-way forward plays the toughest minutes for San Jose. He finished with a 51.55 OQ and 30.29 DQ despite missing over 20 percent of the 2013-14 NHL season, and his 1.26 Game Quotient (the combined offensive and defensive rating per game) was third among players with more than five games played.
Couture has also been the most visible player representative with the media, suggesting what his coach and general manager said in the past about him displaying the leadership of a future captain has come about. However, the 30-year old Pavelski is known for coming through in big moments and leads the unit in total minutes because of his versatility.
Perhaps no one can do as many things in as many places in as many ways as Pavelski. He can play the pivot, either wing or even take the point. He wins faceoffs and blocks shots as well as anyone in the NHL, and led the team with a whopping 69.55 OQ and led forwards with a 53.3 DQ. All of those would make him a good captain, as well.
If you want to reward players for reliability and doing the tough jobs well, making Vlasic captain does that. It was obvious how different the team was when he was knocked out of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and his combination of skill and defensive prowess speak to the blue-collar effort the Sharks say they want. His no-excuses mentality helps him take some of the toughest minutes in the defensive zones and still produce scoring chances.
They are the three most likely to be wearing letters on their sweaters to start the 2014-15 NHL season. Coaches know what they will get out of all five aforementioned players.
Perhaps the biggest unknown in the core is Burns. He was effective in the 2012 calendar year on the San Jose blue line, but unfortunately for him a quick elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs and a lockout left him with over eight months of that year off.
Burns did not look good on the back end to start the condensed 2013 NHL season, and was moved to forward for what was an effective 15-month experiment. He had a 43.47 OQ and 36.34 DQ despite missing 13 games, and his 1.16 GQ was fifth among Sharks playing more than five games.
The question is whether Burns will look like the player that he was for four months in 2012 when he returns to the back end out of necessity. He was in the 2011 All-Star game during a 46-point season, plus can skate and hit well enough to be an asset on both ends. If he can play well enough to earn and handle over 20 minutes a game, San Jose's blue line may not even see a drop in play.
Hertl may have a small sample of games, but scored 17 goals and 13 assists in 44 games including the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs; only three Sharks outscored him. If he stays healthy, scoring 20 goals is a given and he reaches 30 by merely duplicating last season's pace. That is good enough to place him securely in a top-six role, and he is one of six forwards with over five games played to have a GQ rating higher than one.
Hertl's defensive skills must progress, but 53 hits, 15 blocks and 19 takeaways in those 44 games show he is not a liability in his own end. A player that already arrived the season he turned 20 certainly belongs in the core moving forward.
San Jose's ice-time leader should also be on the list. Braun averaged about 21 minutes per game during the regular season because he could handle long shifts and was as good as they come defensively. He was first or second on the blue line in hits, blocks and takeaways, leading to an 83.4 DQ to lead the team and a 92.95 TQ to lead the unit. He did only score 17 points, but started more shifts in his own end than any teammate and drew the fifth-toughest competition.
Similarly, Wingels belongs on the list. He did not draw especially tough assignments or defensive zone minutes, but spent more time than other top forwards on the checking line.
He finished with half-again the hits of any teammate and was third among forwards in blocked shots and DQ (42.38). He scored a solid 16 goals (plus two or three that should have been counted) and 38 points in 77 games despite spending significant time on a checking line. His best years are still ahead of him and his grit makes him a more essential part of the Sharks moving forward.
In all, San Jose can consider half its skaters part of its core. With seven of nine being 30 or under, that bodes well moving forward.