Sharks postseason scoring numbers add a little slice of intrigue to upcoming Trade Deadline

The last few years have passed with a consistent need for the San Jose Sharks, one for a defenseman to come in and play top-four minutes on the team's blueline. Off seasons and trade deadlines have passed by like a breeze, leaving disappointment and confusion in their wake. 

That wasn't the case this season, as Sharks' General Manager Doug Wilson acted more than a week before the trade deadline and acquired defenseman Ian White from Carolina for Derek Joslin and a second round pick in 2012. And while comparing this season's blueline to the one San Jose iced last postseason leads to a similar set of results (Ian White has essentially stepped into the spot vacated by the retired Rob Blake), it's an asset that needed to be acquired in order for the Sharks to round out their roster for a playoff run.

The long awaited need for a defenseman has finally been addressed. Which means, of course, that we're going to start talking about the offense. It's as natural as breathing-- just because you've finally taken that first glorious breath of precious oxygen after emerging from the depths doesn't mean you won't take another one. You get a little greedy, yearning for some more fuel for your body.

Ian White will undoubtedly help the team's scoring, as he's a mobile, puck moving defenseman. Still, White's addition to the offensive flow may not be enough to bolster the Sharks' playoff chances, especially considering how the team's offense has fared in the playoffs since the lockout. 

Of course, it goes with out saying that goal scoring becomes harder to come by in the playoffs. This is for a multitude of reasons, primarily because you're playing against top competition on a nightly basis. In addition, seeing the same opposition for a minimum of four games means that an entire scouting department is dissecting each player and each matchup with their full attention. During the regular season you'd be surprised at how little coaches match up for opposing teams-- instead, the focus is primarily on in-house improvements and personnel development. Constructing elaborate gameplans that break down the ins and outs of each roster would be a tiresome process, one that would cause more distraction than help. Once April arrives however, that magnifying glass is burning to a fierce degree.

The Sharks struggles offensively over their last five playoff appearances is troubling. The table below shows San Jose's goal scoring stats during the regular season and during the playoffs in that time frame.


San Jose Sharks Goals Per Game

Year
Regular
Playoffs % Change
2010-2011 2.73
-
-
2009-2010
3.13
2.73
-12.8%
2008-2009
3.06
1.67
-45.4%
2007-2008
2.63
2.31
-12.17%
2006-2007
3.12
2.27
-27.2%
2005-2006
3.23
2.64
-18.3%

As is easily discernible from the above table, the Sharks can't seem to keep up the same scoring pace in the playoffs as they've become known for in the regular season. In fact, if we can take previous playoff performances into account, a drop in production of at least 12.17% should be expected. And while that's not exactly something that should send shivers down your spine, the decrease in historical numbers coupled with the Sharks' already low goal scoring in 2010-2011 should be enough to at least give you a slight chill.

The Sharks have already seen some of their most prolific goal scorers have worse than average seasons; Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will each score fewer points this season than last if they continue at their respective paces. As we've examined many times before, most of this decrease has come at even strength; the Sharks have maintained their spot in the bottom third of the NHL all season when it comes to that metric. San Jose has benefitted from a better overall commitment to defense and strong play by Antti Niemi, both of which have kept them in games despite their lowered scoring totals. 

In addition to the strong defense and goaltending, the Sharks have maintained the powerplay success that has defined the team since Joe Thornton's arrival. However, not even the man advantage can be counted on by this team in the playoffs, as they have witnessed a decrease in powerplay efficiency every year since the lockout.


San Jose Sharks Postseason Power Play

Year
Regular
Playoffs % Change
2010-2011 22.8%
-
-
2009-2010
21.0%
19.7%
-1.3%
2008-2009
24,2%
16.7%
-7.5%
2007-2008
18.7%
14.3%
-4.4%
2006-2007
22.4%
7.0%
-15.4%
2005-2006
18.2%
15.2%
-3.0%

Some notes need to be applied with these numbers however, and it's something we will be taking a much more in-depth look at towards the end of March when the postseason is set to arrive. For a brief primer however, consider these facts-- although San Jose's power play percentage dropped last postseason, the amount of goals scored per game with the man advantage increased in relation their regular season numbers. San Jose scored power play goals at a 0.79 per game pace during the regular season, improving on those numbers in the playoffs where they scored at a 0.93 per game rate. The Sharks were using their physicality and cycle along the boards to draw hooks and slashes, committing to a workmanlike offensive scheme that this team has slowly developed into during Todd McLellan's tenure as head coach. It may be slow, and it may be plodding, but it generated some big advantages for the team.

However, although we mentioned above that goal scoring is tougher to come by during the postseason, the results from 2009-2010 run counter to that. During the regular season an average of 5.53 goals per game were scored, while the postseason saw that number increase to 5.98 goals per game. So while the Sharks power play numbers look better when we analyze the numbers a little more intently, their lack of scoring as a whole becomes slightly more troublesome.

So where is the solution? Based on the Sharks current cap situation, the increase in scoring will probably have to come from players currently on the NHL roster. It's our belief that the additions of White, Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager will be the extent of GM Wilson's activity, aside from the possible addition of an experienced NHL backup goaltender. 

Still, rumor season wouldn't be rumor season without a few mock trades, and there are a few forwards currently on the market which intrigue us. A move for any of these players is highly unlikely, but they are interesting nonetheless. Because of cap constraints, any move would require salary to be headed in the other direction.

The first player is one that we've enjoyed watching his entire career. Ales Hemsky is one of the more skilled players in the NHL when it comes to handling the puck and seeing the ice. He's a gifted offensive forward who has excelled on an Edmonton team that has struggled in recent years. Adding Hemsky would immediately give the Sharks another scoring option, making the skill and depth of their top-nine forward group superior to almost any other team in the league. Hemsky, a playmaker by trade who can skate with the best of them, would look stellar next to a finisher like Couture, Marleau or Setoguchi. Hemsky's $4.1 MM cap hit over the next two seasons however, despite being well-worth a player of his caliber, does pose some issues for San Jose. Although dumping salary in the deal would help clear room to acquire Hemsky, the chances of Doug Wilson doing so are probably unlikely-- he's made his play thus far by acquiring Eager and Wellwood on the forward front, and recent comments suggest that only slight tinkering will be done in order to improve the roster. The deal involved would likely start with Justin Braun and a first round pick, as Edmonton is deep with forward prospects and would like to stockpile defensive assets.

Another Oiler is an option for teams looking for offense. Former Anaheim Duck forward Dustin Penner has also been gathering interest from teams, and at $4.25MM, he's not much more expensive than Hemsky. Although he's another scorer, he doesn't exactly fit the needs of the Sharks; on the whole, San Jose is a slow and lumbering team which would benefit more from a speedy player such as Ales Hemsky instead of the more Ryan Clowe-esque Penner. A package to acquire Penner would be similar to the one suggested for Hemsky.

We must caution however, that deals of this magnitude are extremely unlikely. Obtaining a backup goaltender to play behind the heavily worked Antti Niemi is a must, especially when one considers Niittymaki's current status on the Long Term Injured Reserve is the only reason San Jose is cap compliant. If he returns before the end of the regular season, salary would have to be moved in order to accommodate him back onto the roster. The Sharks are essentially in a situation where Niittymaki's health is the ultimate factor in any move they wish to make during the next six days-- if he is deemed unable to return, look for a backup goaltender to be acquired. And if he will be ready to be return, expect a depth defenseman to be moved for a meager assortment of low-end draft picks.

Whether or not we see San Jose jump headfirst into the trading frenzy remains to be seen. It's unlikely of course, but never rule out Doug Wilson's ability to rappel down at the last minute and get a deal done. He's been one of the shrewdest negotiators in the league during his tenure as Sharks GM, and will definitely be active in fielding phone calls this weekend.

But, as we've said all along this season, the impetus for more postseason scoring is going to rely on the current assembly line of scoring talent currently on the roster. These are the players who will be required to get the job done in the postseason when all of the chips are on the table.

San Jose has shown good signs of increasing scoring output as of late.

They'll be hoping to continue that run all the way through June.

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