2011-2012 San Jose Sharks Season Review: Marc-Edouard Vlasic

After something of a down season by his standards, limited largely by having to carry Niclas Wallin around the ice for a huge chunk of the year, Marc-Edouard Vlasic bounced back terrifically in 2011-12, re-establishing himself as one of the best young shutdown defensemen in the NHL and a legitimate first-pairing blueliner on a playoff team. Initially paired with Brent Burns, the Sharks' coaching staff opted to restructure their defense corps and form a Vlasic/Dan Boyle tandem to sic against opposing first liners. Vlasic and Boyle were both among the top thirty defensemen in the NHL in terms of even-strength quality of competition this season and, additionally, Vlasic started nearly 53% of his non-neutral shifts in the defensive zone, allowing Burns and Jason Demers to be utilized in the offensive end of the rink to a much greater degree.

There might be somewhat of a perception that Vlasic's play fell off as the year wore on after he stormed out of the gate with two goals and eleven points in the first eighteen games of the season. In reality, Vlasic's production rate and particularly his early season +/- was unsustainable and built on a lot of help from the percentages, as this chart helps illustrate:

G/82 GP A/82 GP P/82 GP +/-/82 GP Fenwick% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
First 18 Games 9 41 50 +50 54.4% 8.4% .947 1031
Next 64 Games 3 13 16 Even 53.6% 6.9% .920 989

Territorially, Vlasic was essentially the same player throughout the season (and a damn good one at that) but a boost from the hockey gods early on led to a lot of people writing pretty ridiculous things about the five-year NHL veteran, who hasn't been a scoring force since his days in the Q, having a breakout offensive season and coming into his own as a prolific scorer from the blueline.

Although Vlasic will never be an offensive dynamo, he provides tons of value with his ability to face the opposition's best players on a nightly basis, starting primarily in his own zone, and still help ensure opponents have the puck less frequently than the Sharks do using his positional smarts and active stick. The proof can be found in the aforementioned quality of competition leaderboard. Among the thirty defensemen on that list, only Nicklas Lidstrom, Kimmo Timonen and Brent Seabrook posted better on-ice Corsi rates than Vlasic and all of them had the advantage of starting a greater percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone than Vlasic did (in the case of Lidstrom, 10% more).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic Statistical Overview

Season GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC DZone% Corsi Rel PDO +/-/60
2011-2012 82 19.49 (1st) 1.085 (2nd) 52.6% (3rd) +2.1 (3rd) 1001 (3rd) +0.41 (2nd)
2010-2011 80 17.00 (2nd) 0.498 (3rd) 53.4% (2nd) +0.1 (4th) 1001 (4th) +0.49 (3rd)
2009-2010 64 16.36 (3rd) 0.534 (4th) 56.7% (1st) -0.7 (3rd) 1037 (1st) +1.26 (1st)
2008-2009 82 17.25 (1st) 0.723 (2nd) 50.8% (1st) -2.8 (4th) 1009 (2nd) +0.68 (2nd)
2007-2008 82 16.27 (2nd) 0.809 (2nd) 50.7% (1st) -5.3 (7th) 976 (6th) -0.44 (7th)

Rankings are among defensemen who appeared in at least 40 games that season. 7 qualified each year.

FTF Grade: A-. Vlasic re-asserted himself as a premier shutdown defenseman with arguably the best season of his NHL career. The only potential black mark was, as with seemingly every other Shark, his play on the penalty kill although Vlasic still managed to allow shots against at a lesser rate than every defenseman but Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle as well as goals against at a lesser rate than everyone on the blueline save for Murray, Brent Burns and Colin White. He should be in the running for a spot on Team Canada in 2014 and with Boyle really getting up there in years, Vlasic is probably the Sharks' most important defenseman right now. He'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season and as such the Sharks have the right to sign him to an extension as soon as July 1st of this year. I would be willing to bet we see an extension announced sometime this summer, likely carrying a cap hit somewhere between recent free agent deals signed by comparable blueliners Jan Hejda ($3.25mil/yr) and Dan Hamhuis ($4.5mil/yr).

How would you grade Marc-Edouard Vlasic's 2011-12 season?