What should the Sharks expect from a healthy Handzus?

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 19: Michal Handzus #26 of the San Jose Sharks tries to control the puck against the St. Louis Blues in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 19, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The universe served Michal Handzus a shit sandwich during the 2011-12 season. It began with the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash last summer that took the life of Handzus' countryman, former teammate and dear friend Pavol Demitra. It continued with one of the worst campaigns of Handzus' career that teetered aimlessly for the better part of five months until the wheels finally fell off as the 35-year-old Slovak center found himself scratched more often than not down the stretch. And now comes news from CSN's Kevin Kurz that Handzus spent the majority of the season suffering from a hip injury that likely played at least somewhat of a role in Handzus' lackluster performance.

But how much of a role did it play? It's obviously impossible to answer that question directly but we can compare Handzus' 11-12 season to the previous few years of his career to try and figure out what the Sharks can expect out of him next year if the treatment he reportedly received earlier this offseason helps him make a full recovery. It might also shed some light on whether the organization plans to pencil Handzus in as their third-line center going forward, perhaps explaining why they've yet to make any moves to significantly alter their bottom six forward corps apart from swapping Daniel Winnik for Adam Burish.


2008-12 Michal Handzus 5v5 Statistical Overview

Season TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC DZone Start% Corsi Rel Corsi On P/60
2011-2012 11.77 (8th) -0.364 (10th) 53.2% (4th) -20.5 (12th) -10.0 (12th) 1.45 (6th)
2010-2011 11.92 (8th) 0.517 (5th) 56.5% (1st) -13.1 (13th) -6.8 (13th) 1.17 (10th)
2009-2010 12.60 (7th) 0.614 (5th) 53.2% (2nd) -13.6 (13th) -8.7 (12th) 1.65 (10th)
2008-2009 11.69 (6th) 0.860 (2nd) 55.9% (1st) -9.9 (11th) -6.1 (11th) 1.31 (6th)

Glossary: TOI/60: Handzus' 5v5 icetime per game; Corsi Rel QoC: a measure of the quality of opposing players Handzus faced 5v5; DZone Start%: percentage of non-neutral 5v5 shifts Handzus began in the defensive zone; Corsi Rel: Handzus' on-ice Corsi number minus that of his team when he was off the ice; Corsi On: Shots (on goal, missed and blocked) directed at the opposing net minus shots directed at his own per 60 minutes that Handzus was on the ice 5v5; P/60: 5v5 points scored by Handzus per 60 minutes that he was on the ice.

Even a cursory glance at Handzus' numbers reveals he's never been a player capable of pushing the play forward, especially relative to his teammates, as he's finished with the worst possession numbers on his club every season except 08-09 when he was saved by the Kings employing the utterly worthless Raitis Ivanans. The main mitigating circumstance that explains why Los Angeles kept dressing Handzus despite his results and why Handzus' debut season in teal was particularly poor is the quality of opposing players Handzus has been deployed against over the years. In Los Angeles, Handzus was used as a checking-line center tasked with shutting down either the opposition's top line or their second unit on a nightly basis. He never accomplished anything close to shutting those players down, a lot of that also because the frequency with which he began his shifts in the defensive zone ranged from the 53% he started on the Sharks last year to nearly 57% the year prior, but allowed some of the Kings' more skilled players like Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Alexander Frolov to enjoy easier starting positions or play against less challenging opposing players.

It's unlikely he'll be used in that capacity in San Jose next season after being deployed almost exclusively against third- and fourth-liners last year. What we might see from Handzus, if his hip injury is no longer bothering him, is a return to the previous levels at which he was being dominated (i.e., being outshot by seven shot attempts per 60 5v5 minutes rather than ten). If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, it isn't. It's possible, though probably wishful thinking, that we could see Handzus play the bottom six forwards he faces to a draw but, unsurprisingly, the zone in which a player starts tends to have at least as substantial an effect on their territorial results as the quality of competition they face and it seems like a safe bet Todd McLellan will continue to start Handzus primarily in the defensive zone.

Moving away from the possession numbers, Handzus' scoring rate was actually reasonably good last year (hilariously, he scored as many 5v5 points per 60 minutes as Dany Heatley) and, relative to his teammates, well ahead of where he's been the last few seasons. A lot of that was thanks to some reasonably good fortune--Handzus recorded points last year on 76.3% of the 5v5 goals he was on the ice for. That's close to the individual points percentage of most elite players and, unsurprisingly, quite a bit higher than Handzus has had in the past when he registered points on 61.5% of the 5v5 goals he was on the ice for in 10-11, 61.9% of them in 09-10 and 69.6% in 08-09. It's a good bet that will regress next season but it's at least an equally good bet that Handzus and the players he shares the ice with 5v5 will score on more than 6.7% of their shots as they did this season. All things considered, Handzus' scoring rate should probably stay about the same even if he's completely healthy.

But even a fully-healthy Handzus doesn't make a lot of sense as the Sharks' third-line center and hopefully is not what the team is banking on to fill that role next season. Handzus will never be mistaken for Bobby Orr on the ice but, in retrospect, his skating stride was noticeably labored for much of the year compared to prior stints in Los Angeles and Philadelphia so it would stand to reason the hip injury healing would make Handzus less of a complete liability. Still, even a healthy Handzus in seasons past has had his show run, albeit by better opposing players than he'll likely face in San Jose. Acquiring a competent third-line center via free agency or trade should still be a priority for the team.

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