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San Jose Sharks need defensive upgrade to capture Stanley Cup

Antti Niemi was an impressive 39-17-7 with a solid 2.39 GAA, but was mediocre in the most important stat (.913 Sv%) and bad in four of six playoff games.
Antti Niemi was an impressive 39-17-7 with a solid 2.39 GAA, but was mediocre in the most important stat (.913 Sv%) and bad in four of six playoff games.
Thearon W Henderson, Getty Images

San Jose Sharks defenders


It is of little consolation that the Los Angeles Kings have taken two road wins against the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division finals that resume Thursday, May 8. The reality is the San Jose Sharks deserve to be picked apart for another short-lived Stanley Cup run. looked at San Jose's coaches and general manager in the final hours of Monday. There was little blame to put on the second staff to fail with the top two picks of the 1997 NHL entry draft as its core.

As reported by CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz after the season, general manager Doug Wilson is expected back and said he hopes the coaches are part of the process moving forward. The only coaches that the Sharks even might not re-sign are Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft unless Todd McLellan is not brought back.

Firing them would not do much. As Kurz pointed out Wednesday, there would be no shortage of teams interested in these coaches if San Jose is not.

This one is on the players, and they know it. So does Kurz, who even dangled the names Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns out there Monday. However, the place to start an examination of the Sharks is really on the back end.

A great goalie can lift a mediocre team to contention. A late trade for Dwayne Roloson got a team that was not going to even make the playoffs to the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

That elite goalie can also be the difference between a championship win or loss in clashes between two good teams. Any that can work with a great blue line can form an impregnable defensive team.

The Kings have been able to have Stanley Cup success with one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL because of the Drew Doughty-led unit teamed with Jonathan Quick. The 2014 President's Trophy-winning Boston Bruins have been to two finals in three seasons with Zdeno Chara and either Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask.

A great blue line can also cover for a team without a great goalie. The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008 with Chris Osgood (who had not even been a primary starter for four years) because of the best blue line in the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks have ridden their elite blue line to two titles in four seasons without an elite goalie.

Nevertheless, Stanley Cup champions have at least one or the other. A look at San Jose's results suggests it has neither.

After a good defensive 2013-14 NHL season, the Sharks gave up at least three goals in six of the seven games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. So how does one determine what part of that failure is on each individual to assess the team moving forth?

For goalies, statistics are a pretty good reflection of play. While it is popular to say that wins are the most important one, that is only so with regards to the team because it is a team stat. Save percentage (Sv%) tells a lot about how much a goalie is being relied on, though an argument can be made goals-against average (GAA) is as important because goalies facing fewer shots usually have a larger percentage of quality chances and may control rebounds better.

Shutouts are the only other statistic, and they should actually be a negative because they indicate more peaks and valleys. If one goalie saved exactly 28 of every 30 shots (.933 Sv%) allowed per game over a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff series while the other also gave up 14 goals on 210 shots but had two shutouts, that means four more goals allowed than scored in the other five games. It is pretty hard to win two in those circumstances.

The other two statistics are a very good measure for two teammates, though still imperfect. For instance, Alex Stalock has better statistics and winning percentage than Antti Niemi but was more likely to face non-elite competition and did not have to go out there every night. The goalie for a quarter of the season is not more important than the starter.

It is a little harder for skaters. Points do little if they are given up even more frequently on the other side. Forwards and blue line have different roles and will have different statistics. Hits in particular are very subjective from rink to rink. How does one conquer this?

Each pictured Shark's grade uses's offensive (OQ) and defensive (DQ) quotient. Players are judged by their total contribution, not per game or more subjective analysis such as how they performed according to their role or the expectations on them—i.e. Joe Thornton and John McCarthy play the same position and are on the same scale.

It is not a perfect system. Just as one must consider the different circumstances of the starting and backup goalie, there are things to keep in mind when looking at the hard statistics. Thornton obviously has more talented players around him than McCarthy. Defensive plays sometimes result in a puck retrieval instead of a turnover or a blocked pass instead of a blocked shot. Sometimes it is just about being there to make the opposition pull up.

However, some things can be taken into account. Game-winning goals are weighted more than other goals. Either still means more offensively than assists, which must be modified by giveaways.

Hits are factored into the defensive quotient because this is a comparison of players on the same team and thus having very similar statisticians. Blocked shots receive more weight and takeaways the most because they necessitate a change of possession.

A blue line that lacks a true two-way threat is detailed after goalies, in order of highest to lowest total quotient (TQ).

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