2011-2012 San Jose Sharks Season Review: Patrick Marleau

It's almost impossible to honestly evaluate Patrick Marleau's 2011-12 season without having it colored by the longest-tenured Shark's franky dismal performance in the team's five-game playoff series against St. Louis. As I covered in my scoring chance recap of that series, Marleau didn't record a single scoring chance at even-strength against the Blues en route to being held completely off the scoresheet through those five games. It was about as poor a five-game stretch as I can remember Marleau having in his career but of course that's just it: it was only five games and, listless as they were, that shouldn't overshadow what was another very solid season from the Sharks' best goal-scorer.

Since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, only Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk have scored more goals in the regular season than Marleau's 149. That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that none of those three players have the defensive responsibilities or face the quality of competition that Marleau does and, unlike Stamkos and Kovalchuk, Marleau doesn't manage to give back at one end of the ice the goals he creates at the other. Joe Thornton and the Sharks' lethal power play have played a part in Marleau's goal totals to be sure but it's not like Nicklas Backstrom, Martin St. Louis or Zach Parise are slouches. Still, despite eking out another 30-goal campaign on the final night of the season, Marleau's production in 11-12 was a far cry from the 40 goals he averaged over the previous three seasons. I've broken down Marleau's shot and goal rates by game state over the past four seasons to try and figure out why that was:

Season 5v5 S/60 5v5 SH% 5v5 G/60 5v4 S/60 5v4 SH% 5v4 G/60
2011-12 7.90 12.2% 0.96 15.20 15.6% 2.38
2010-11 8.61 12.0% 1.03 16.42 14.3% 2.35
2009-10 9.00 14.5% 1.31 14.19 18.8% 2.66
2008-09 8.92 12.2% 1.16 8.92 24.4% 2.17

Right away, a somewhat alarming trend emerges in that Marleau's even-strength shot rate has been steadily declining season-by-season (granted, it was essentially identical in 08-09 and 09-10). Marleau's career arc to this point has been a pretty unusual one; despite being an NHL regular since he was 18 (even scoring a preseason goal at the age of 17), the best four years of Marleau's career have been the last four when he was between the ages of 29 and 32. That doesn't really resemble the typical path taken by NHLers, who by and large peak from a production standpoint somewhere between their 26-year-old and 27-year-old seasons. Marleau's dropoff in the rate at which he gets the puck on net might be a signal that his second-act renaissance might be coming to an end soon. It also does seem to square with one NHL trend: that forwards maintain relatively consistent shot rates through most of their career before enduring a slight decline around and following their 31-year-old season.

One thing that has been remarkably consistent is Marleau's shooting percentage at evens. Apart from the 09-10 season when the entire team caught lightning in a bottle and shot the lights out, Marleau's essentially been a reliable 12% shooter at even-strength, demonstrably above league average. Assuming that really is his true talent, he'd need to record about 160 shots a season to score 20 5v5 goals which might prove to be difficult going forward.
Disregarding a wonky 08-09 when Marleau somehow couldn't manage a better shot rate on the power play than he did at even strength but ended up getting incredibly lucky all the same, Marleau's been relatively consistent in the volume of shots he's taken on the man advantage. I firmly believe that as long as Todd McLellan is behind the bench and

Dan Boyle

and Joe Thornton share a power play unit, the Sharks will continue to boast the best PP in the league and as the unit's sniper of choice, Marleau shouldn't have many problems producing there. It's pretty much solely Marleau's even-strength shot rate causing his production downturn over the past two seasons. Apart from age-related decline, spending far less time riding shotgun on Thornton's wing definitely had an impact on Marleau's diminished shot totals this season. Over the three years before this one, Marleau averaged about 698 minutes a season alongside Thornton 5v5. This year, that was down to just 579.

Patrick Marleau Statistical Overview

Season GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC DZone% Corsi Rel PDO P/60
2011-2012 82 15.19 1.497 45.5% +8.1 999 1.83
2010-2011 82 14.88 0.998 52.5% -1.0 995 1.97
2009-2010 82 14.55 1.115 49.4% +7.9 1028 2.61
2008-2009 76 14.22 0.402 48.7% +5.0 1005 2.50
2007-2008 78 13.20 1.030 41.3% +1.1 950 1.11

From a possession standpoint, this was a terrific year for Marleau; relative to his teammates, it was the best of his career since 2007 and he did it while facing very tough opponents. Of course, Marleau had the additional advantage of some pretty favorable zonestarts and although he turned that into a great even-strength shot differential, he didn't really turn it into a great individual even-strength shot rate as discussed before the jump.

FTF Grade: B+. Marleau cycled through a variety of linemates this season and controlled play at even-strength with pretty much all of them despite exclusively facing opposing top six forwards. He was the Sharks' biggest threat on the power play in terms of shots and scoring chances and finished second in 5v4 goal-scoring to Logan Couture. And on a penalty kill that was miserable, only Couture (who really didn't have a big role shorthanded) and Daniel Winnik averaged fewer shots against per minute while only Thornton and Winnik averaged fewer goals against, among Sharks forwards. The biggest problem for me with Marleau's game this season was his diminished 5v5 shot rate which clearly isn't something you're looking for in a guy you pay nearly $7 million to score goals and raises some concern as to whether the 32-year-old can continue to be a reliable 30-goal scorer. Still, what Marleau has continued to be is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL and certainly a better player (signed to a far less odorous contract to boot) than Rick Nash who many are eager to either trade him for or dump to acquire.

How would you grade Patrick Marleau's 2011-12 season?