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):
Joe Pavelski Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
The Good: According to War On Ice's wins above replacement formula, Joe Pavelski was the second-most valuable player in the NHL this season after Carey Price, who singlehandedly dragged a mediocre Habs team to the division title. While that metric has issues separating Pavelski's contributions from those of frequent linemate Joe Thornton, the point remains that #8 followed up his 41-goal career year in 2013-14 with another ridiculously productive campaign this season. Pavelski's 19 power play goals were second in the entire NHL only to Alexander Ovechkin and his 37 markers overall were fewer than only Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Rick Nash and John Tavares.
Pavelski was also leaned on heavily in all situations by Todd McLellan. While he didn't spend much time explicitly at center (or really any, save for when Thornton was injured), Pavelski took nearly every right-side faceoff he was on the ice for, winning 56% of them. He led the team in shorthanded ice time and was second in power play minutes. Simply put, Pavelski was a horse for the Sharks this season, perfectly complementing Thornton on a top line that was dominant in puck possession on a nightly basis regardless of who its third member was (hello, Melker Karlsson!). He also thrived in his newfound role as one of the team's dozen alternate captains, as crystallized in a scene from EPIX's Road to the Stadium Series documentary. There were a lot of problems with the Sharks this season but Pavelski was definitely not one of them.
The Bad: There's really nothing "bad" to say about Pavelski's season but the role Thornton has played in Pavelski's offensive explosion over the past eighteen months needs to be acknowledged to a far greater extent than it usually is. Pavelski is a terrific two-way player in his own right and always has been. But it's naive to think that, at age 30, he miraculously turned into a goal-scoring dynamo on his own. The reality is that Pavelski was placed on Thornton's wing midway through the 2013-14 season following Tomas Hertl's knee injury and, like right-handed forwards Glen Murray, Jonathan Cheechoo and Devin Setoguchi before him, he made a killing cashing in on Jumbo's unparalleled vision, possession and passing ability.
10 of Pavelski's 19 power play goals this season were assisted on by Thornton while 14 of Pavelski's 16 5-on-5 goals came with Thornton on the ice. In his 278 5-on-5 minutes away from Thornton, Pavelski scored at a fourth-line rate and the Sharks controlled just 46.4% of shot attempts. Since 2007, Pavelski has averaged 1.18 goals per 60 5-on-5 minutes when on the ice with Thornton compared to 0.75 per 60 without him. The latter is still a respectable scoring rate but it's a Drew Stafford/Milan Michalek/Andrew Cogliano level of scoring compared to the Evgeni Malkin/Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin-comparable rate Pavelski has achieved on Jumbo's wing. Pavelski deserves credit for making the most of the opportunity he's been given alongside Thornton but, hey, so did Cheechoo, Setoguchi and Murray. Pavs' two-way abilities unquestionably make him a vastly better player than those guys, and he does provide an appreciable boost to Thornton's possession game, but Pavelski's goal-scoring outburst over the past two seasons is largely a product of playing with Jumbo. Which makes it all the more ironic Pavelski is likely to replace Thornton as captain, considering the role his recent scoring exploits have no doubt played in elevating his status as a leader. The heights to which Thornton has repeatedly raised other players' careers is remarkable.
The defining moment of EPIX's documentary series leading up to the outdoor game, Joe Pavelski responded to the Sharks trailing Arizona 2-0 at the first intermission by delivering a rousing locker room speech of Bill-Pullman-in-Independence-Day proportions. Or it would have been if President Whitmore had actually been the one to kill the aliens in that movie. Pavelski followed this speech up by scoring a hat trick to lead the Sharks to a comeback win in what would have surely been seen as the turning point of the team's season if they hadn't gone on to drop five of the next six in regulation to effectively fall out of the playoff race. Still, it was the ultimate example of Pavelski embracing his new leadership role on and off the ice.
The Future: Pavelski isn't going back to centering the third line anytime soon which isn't as concerning as it was a year ago thanks to Chris Tierney's rapid development. Pavelski will likely reprise his role on Thornton's wing to start the season and an offseason priority should be to find a better winger to complement those two than Karlsson, with all due respect to the pleasantly surprising rookie's contributions in that role this season. Of course, there's an entirely different way this offseason could go too...
If the Sharks are serious about rebuilding, there's likely no player on the roster with more trade value at the moment than Pavelski. He also doesn't have the full no-move protection Thornton and Patrick Marleau enjoy, as his new contract is equipped only with a limited no-trade clause. Would Nashville, led by Team USA GM David Poile and needing a first-line center with Mike Ribeiro heading to free agency, be willing to cough up Seth Jones, who appears to be on the precipice of becoming the all-around #1 defenseman the Sharks have never had, for Pavelski? Would the Bruins, who missed the playoffs after spending the year trying to find a right winger in light of Seguin, Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla's departures, consider flipping Dougie Hamilton for Pavelski?
I don't know, but those are questions Doug Wilson should be trying to find the answers to. Given that Pavelski is likely to be named the Sharks' next captain and is the most prominent part of their marketing campaign, it's unlikely to even be a consideration. But it should be. Pavelski is old enough and dependent-on-Thornton enough that the odds are slim of him remaining an impact player when the team has fully rebuilt around a new core. If a team views him as a legitimate 35-to-40 goal scorer now (which, let's be real, is not going to happen unless that team is Pittsburgh and they play him exclusively on Crosby or Malkin's wing) and is willing to give up significant young pieces to acquire him, why not pull the trigger? Especially if the Sharks can land a young right-side defenseman like Jones or Hamilton, replacing Pavelski's offensive output would be easy; just slide Burns onto Thornton's wing and he'd be a good bet to match Pavs goal for goal. Trading Pavelski just to trade him would be foolish but if another team overvalues Pavelski based on his recent production, the Sharks shouldn't make the same mistake.
The Vote: Grade Pavelski 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.