After a 2010-11 season in which he led the Sharks defense in both relative and on-ice Corsi, even-strength +/- per 60 minutes and finished just behind Dan Boyle in even-strength points per 60 (Boyle scored at a 0.91 clip compared to Demers' 0.90) a lot was expected of Jason Demers coming into this year. He'd carried over his standout play into the 2011 postseason, once again finishing well in the black in possession despite the toughest zonestarts on the blueline, with a performance that resulted in Mike Babcock calling him the Sharks' best defenseman in the team's series against the Red Wings.
Unfortunately, much like Return of the Jedi, the third installment of Demers' career couldn't quite live up to the excellence of its predecessor. Instead of Ewoks and singing muppets, we witnessed poor positional play and decision-making by Demers in his own zone and the inexplicable deterioration of what was a consistently effective outlet pass the season prior into a neutral-zone turnover machine. Although Demers' surface stats were severely impacted by a 979 PDO that we should expect to regress next season, even league-average percentages couldn't have salvaged what was an abysmal season for Demers by the underlying numbers. Only Douglas Murray posted a lower Relative Corsi rating among Sharks defensemen than Demers' -7.9 and while Murray was playing tough minutes, Demers was starting in the offensive zone 55.2% of the time at even-strength and faced the weakest quality of competition (as measured by Corsi Rel QoC) of everyone on the blueline save for Jim Vandermeer.
Taking a closer look though reveals what most of us probably picked up on as the season wore on; the coaching staff's decision to finally give up on integrating either Colin White or Vandermeer into the lineup and instead pairing their two young right-handed puck-movers in Demers and Justin Braun on the team's third pairing worked wonders for both players' games. This chart shows Demers' possession numbers when paired with each Sharks defenseman at 5v5:
Demers was able to keep his head somewhat above water when paired with Burns, his most common partner, and he did well in limited minutes alongside Boyle but clearly the most success he had driving play this season was with Braun. As the Sharks proceed with their offseason, an important task will be finding an upgrade on Murray to play with Burns on the team's second pairing but I think they can be reasonably secure in knowing they have an excellent third defense pair for pennies on the dollar.
Jason Demers Statistical Overview
|Season||GP||TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||DZone%||Corsi Rel||PDO||+/-/60|
|2011-2012||57||14.29 (5th)||-0.454 (7th)||44.8% (6th)||-7.9 (6th)||979 (7th)||-0.44 (7th)|
|2010-2011||75||15.08 (5th)||0.195 (4th)||50.8% (2nd)||9.1 (1st)||1016 (1st)||+0.95 (1st)|
|2009-2010||51||12.09 (7th)||-0.466 (7th)||51.3% (3rd)||-0.4 (2nd)||1035 (2nd)||+0.78 (2nd)|
Rankings are among Sharks defensemen who played at least 40 games in that season. 7 qualified each year.
FTF Grade: C-. Demers is a victim of the sky-high expectations he created for himself with his excellent play in 2010-11. He wasn't able to repeat that kind of success and was probably the Sharks' worst defenseman through the first half of the year, somehow making White and Vandermeer look like superior options. After being paired with Braun on a consistent basis, Demers definitely turned things around and actually posted the best scoring chance ratio among Sharks defensemen in the playoffs (although he was scratched for a game) but never at any point re-established himself as the legitimate second-pairing anchor he showed flashes of the season before. He'll have a chance to prove he's still that player next season although if he starts the year on the second pairing alongside Burns the Sharks will not have had a very successful summer. Braun/Demers is the type of high-performing, cost-controlled third pairing contending teams need to fill their higher ranks with impact players and the Sharks are lucky enough to have Demers under contract through next season for just $1.25 million.