2014-15 Season Review: Patrick Marleau
We continue our post-mortem of the Sharks' 2014-15 season with a review of the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
Fear The Fin Player Card (click to enlarge; a glossary of terms used can be found here; all data courtesy War On Ice, Behind the Net, Hockey Analysis, NHLNumbers and NHL.com; stick tap to Japers' Rink):
2014-15 Sharks 5v5 Forward Usage Chart (via Hockey Abstract):
Patrick Marleau Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
The Good: Some perspective: despite having what was clearly his worst season in eight years, Patrick Marleau still finished 57th in league scoring, ahead of the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Matt Duchene and Eric Staal and within a few points of Phil Kessel and Marian Hossa. That's despite Marleau scoring on an anomalous 8.2% of his shots on goal, the worst single-season shooting percentage of his career by far and a number that tends to be subject to a great deal of random variance from one year to the next.
Granted, players do tend to experience a slight decline in shooting ability during their mid-thirties but Marleau's shot locations this season weren't significantly different from 2013-14, although it did seem like fewer of those shots were the result of Marleau using his speed to generate odd-man rushes and breakaways. It's safe to say Marleau is no longer the 15% shooter he was from 2008 through 2011 but if he'd shot at even his 2011-14 average shooting percentage this year, he would have scored 27 goals. Even with the rotten shooting luck, Marleau produced points like an average first-line forward courtesy some terrific work on the power play where he posted the 22nd-best scoring rate in the NHL.
The Bad: There was a lot more than just bad luck that plagued Marleau this season though. There were real signs that he's started to enter the decline phase of his Hall Of Fame-worthy career. Offensively, Marleau's 5-on-5 shot rate was his worst since 2007-08; he generated more than three fewer unblocked shot attempts per even-strength hour this season than he did in 2013-14. His scoring chance generation rate took a similar tumble per War On Ice's numbers.
Defensively, there were even bigger concerns. He and Logan Couture were a fairly reliable tough-minutes duo last season, consistently winning the possession battle against tough opposition, but fell off substantially this year. In 2014-15, those two barely broke even in the shot battle and posted possession numbers worse than the team average. In terms of shot suppression, Marleau and Couture were among the worst regular forwards in the NHL, ranking 308th and 318th respectively among the 359 forwards who played at least 500 5-on-5 minutes this season. They were given a tough assignment and just couldn't hack it.
There are a lot of reasons for that and not all of them are Marleau's fault. After an outstanding 2013-14 campaign, Justin Braun (one-half of the defense pair Marleau and Couture spent the bulk of their even-strength ice time playing in front of) decidedly regressed and spending nearly 400 5-on-5 minutes with defenseman Brent Burns certainly isn't going to help anyone's defensive stats.
But Marleau also wasn't nearly as quick to loose pucks in the defensive and neutral zones as he used to be, he was uncharacteristically losing or failing to engage in one-on-one battles and he made some questionable puck management decisions between the bluelines all season that at times earned the ire of Todd McLellan. Marleau's penalty killing, once a staple of his game, wasn't good either. None of the Sharks' regular penalty killing forwards were on the ice for more shot attempts or goals against per minute while shorthanded than Marleau.
I don't think this season signaled the end of Marleau as an important piece of this team but it probably should signal to whoever the Sharks' next coach is that changes need to be made to the way Marleau is used. He (and Couture, for that matter) should no longer be on the club's go-to shutdown line, his even-strength minutes need to be relaxed a bit and he should probably be taken off the penalty kill entirely.
Marleau's breakaways this season were few and far between but this highlight-reel goal from the home opener back in October was Vintage Patty. He slides down below the hashmarks off a lost own-zone faceoff in good defensive position before blazing up ice at the first sign of a turnover, catching a perfect saucer pass from Matt Nieto in stride and capping it off with a beautiful finish. Hopefully that wasn't the last we'll see of this kind of play from Marleau.
The Future: Even if Marleau weren't clearly the sort of player who should spend his entire career with one team and even if he didn't have a full no-movement clause attached to his contract, trading him this summer when his value is at an all-time low would be a terrible idea. You buy low and sell high, not the other way around, and there's little doubt Marleau's shooting percentage will bounce back next season. Even a modest rebound should make him a good bet to crest 25 goals, provided he can stay healthy and avoid a further decline in shot rate.
Admittedly, a shift in Marleau's usage would certainly help that along. One thing the Sharks' next coach shouldn't copy from Todd McLellan's gameplan is continuing to use Marleau and Couture as the team's shutdown line, burying those two in the toughest even-strength minutes. As long as Thornton and Pavelski remain a tandem there's absolutely no reason not to use them, both faceoff aces and tremendous defensive forwards, against the opposition's best and with a defensive slant to their zone starts. Give Couture and an aging Marleau—both of whom struggled in tough defensive minutes this year after outscoring their mistakes in that role in 2013-14—Hertl as a linemate (the Sharks controlled 57% of shot attempts with those three on the ice together over the final weeks of the season), set that trio loose on opposing second and third lines and pairings with offensive zone starts galore and watch one or both of Marleau and Hertl bounce back from disappointing seasons.
The Vote: Grade Marleau below on a typical grading curve from A+ to F based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season. If he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a A+; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a C+ or C; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him an F.
How would you grade Marleau's 2014-15 season?