What was it like?
Before the Thornton to Toronto rumo(u)rs… before the "rebuild" and being a "tomorrow team". Before the notion that BLWO TI UP could actually be a thing that would make me laugh AND cry.
What was it like to consider the biggest questions facing the Sharks this off-season before the Great Panic of 2014?
Back in March, I put together a short Fanpost (here) comparing the rates and performance of some of the Sharks’ defensemen. I mentioned that the Boyle UFA / Demers RFA (and where would Burns would play) question was probably the biggest facing the Sharks this off-season. This shouldn’t be considered an earth-shattering conclusion given that many of the top forwards (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Couture, Hertl, Burns/Nieto, even Torres) were all signed for through at least the next two years. The most important UFA/RFAs among the forward group are/were Wingels and Sheppard. Adding a top-6 free agent forward to the roster is something not entirely in the hands of management, unlike the situation on the blueline: Boyle wanted to stay, the team has the rights to Demers (and Burns is locked up through 2016-2017). Before the San Jose Sharks were subjected to an unmentionable thing that happened in the playoffs, this really was the key off-season question. Remember that?
Then the panic button was pressed and suddenly the biggest topic/issue was trading Thornton and/or Marleau (beating out other topics, such as: firing DW, moving to Seattle/TV deal negotiation, signing Mike Brown, signing John Scott).
Let’s set aside all that stuff and get back to questions about the blueline (see the comments here). The organization made some decisions early on that provided some clarity: Boyle was traded and Burns moved back to defense (opposing view on that last decision here, which in retrospect, was not the worst decision the Sharks have made this summer).
[N.B.: I wonder--pure speculation--if Burns doesn’t go scoreless in the last those 4 playoff games, is he still moved to RD? Potentially, this would have freed up a bottom RD role for Tennyson or Fedun. FWIW, I still think he’s more valuable as a RD, but you can bet your ass that if the Sharks have trouble finishing up front, and Demers and Braun continue to play well, there will be a serious "Burns for RW" campaign. I might not even be against this.]
Given these moves, the organization faces a simple question: what to do about Demers. Should he be taken to arbitration or just sign him already? My claim here is that if you compare Demers’ performance last season to the recent Shark gold standard for RD (Dan Boyle, ca. 2008-2012), there’s some strong similarities. In particular, I will look at nine factors in 5v5 or even-strength play: point, goal, and shot rates, GF%, CF%, Sh%, D partner, zone starts, and competition.
Raise the curtain. Fade lights in. Enter numbers.
|Player||TOI||TOI/60 (all sit)||G||A||Points||G/60||A/60||Points/60||Sh%||GF20||GA20||GF%||CF20||CA20||CF%|
|Boyle||5v5 individual||5v5 team|
Table 1. Relevant statistics (all 5v5) from stats.hockeyanalysis.com
This first table presents 5v5 data to compare the performance of the typical Dan Boyle year during his four best years as a Shark (2008-2012) and Demers in 2013-2014.
Similarities are present across the board. In particular, we should note: point, goal, and shot rates (individual performance), GF% (team scoring differential on-ice), CF% (team puck possession on-ice), and individual Sh% (sustainability check; Demers’ goal total is not subject random awesomeness—this does not matter too much since the goal totals are low for defensemen). The numbers tell us that Demers is, in many ways, the same kind of player as Boyle and performs similarly. The only statistic of great difference is TOI. This means that the Sharks leaned on Boyle pretty hard. I do not believe the Sharks would employ Demers the same way, given the good depth at RD with Burns and the improved Braun. So, I do not think his TOI numbers (which if it does change, might affect the other statistics) will change all that much going forward.
|Player||ZS||ZS rel||Team Sh%||Qoc TOI||QoT TOI|
Table 2. Relevant statistics from extraskater.com
To supplement what we have so far, these numbers show zone-starts, team on-ice Sh%, and quality of competition measures. I used the last year of the four-year Boyle segment and compared it to Demers last year. As you can see, neither were particularly sheltered in terms of zone starts. Demers’ teammates shot the puck slightly better (increasing Demers’ point rate), but nothing abnormally good. Boyle played against better competition, Demers had worse partners (i.e. Hannan).
Speaking of partners. Boyle, when not with Vlasic, was paired a lot with Douglas Murray. Below you can see what Murray and Hannan look like with Boyle and Demers, what Boyle and Demers were like without Murray and Hannan, and what Murray and Hannan look like without Boyle and Demers. I know, it's a mouthful.
|Together||Boyle/Demers w/o||Murray/Hannan w/o|
Table 3. Partner data from stats.hockeyanalysis.com
If you examine the team performance in terms of scoring differential (GF%) and puck possession (CF%), Boyle and Demers aren’t the anchors in the pairings. Indeed, what made Murray acceptable back then was that Boyle helped prop him up in possession and scoring. What makes Hannan tenable as a LD pair with Demers is that they were pretty darn good possession-wise (though they got out-scored). Compare this to Vlasic, whose CF% was 58% with Demers and 58% without him. (Yeah, that guy is good.)
Important caveat: to what degree should we rely on comparing only one full Demers season versus four years of sustained Dan Boyle awesomeness? Of course, there’s a risk. Given Demers sustained his play over the course of an entire season, I would argue that it’s an acceptable one. This is especially the case given the alternatives.
On the open market, look at what UFA contracts were consummated for young RD like Mark Fayne (4-years, $3.5 million/year), Anton Stralman (5-years, $4.5 million/year), or Matt Niskanen 7-years, $5.75 million/year). Boyle himself took a 2-year deal averaging $4.5 million. With the exception of Niskanen, eyeball glance at the statistics hardly shows any gap between Demers and these other players.
Bottom line: should Demers be paid more than Vlasic ($4.25 million/year)? Well, that would be a little weird. But between $3.5-$4 million? There is just little reason not to.