The Sharks play great defense in no small part due to the contributions of one Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Canadian continues to lead the way on San Jose’s blue line, routinely tasked with shutting down the opposition’s most dangerous players. Without Vlasic, the Sharks would be a much worse team.
We have a 2003 trade to thank for acquiring this generational player. Lest I take credit for this tidbit of historical trivia, here’s the tweet that inspired this post.
On this day in 2003, the Sharks traded Miika Kiprusoff to the Flames for a second-round pick pic.twitter.com/sqALyN366W— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) November 16, 2016
You should read that whole thread, obviously, but here’s the gist of it:
- The Sharks traded Miika Kiprusoff to Calgary for the Flames’ 2005 second-round draft pick.
- Calgary selected future Shark Matt Pelech with its first round pick (No. 26). That has nothing to do with this trade, but it’s interesting.
- San Jose selected Vlasic with the Flames’ second round pick (No. 35). That turned out to be a pretty good pick.
Vlasic played his first NHL game in 2006. He played in 81 NHL games that year and quickly became a staple of San Jose’s blue line. Entering this season Pickles boasts 737 regular season and 108 playoff games to his name and 252 total NHL points. Scoring, albeit a bigger part of his game the past two years, isn’t why Vlasic is one of the best defenders in the NHL, of course.
Is that good? (Yes, that’s good)
Vlasic is one of the best possession players in the NHL and he plays against the best in the league night in and night out. Pete DeBoer may not line match in the same way Todd McLellan did, but you can bet Vlasic and Justin Braun get the toughest draws. Take a look at the below table — it ranks players based on the quality of their competition (this is based on the ice time of opponents).
Ignoring that you just looked at one of the ugliest blocks of text you’ve ever seen, Vlasic’s spot at eighth on this list tells you everything you need to know. Okay, you want more? Check out the chart generated from the above table. I know, there are a lot of points on here but I promise Vlasic is near the top.
He routinely sees the toughest competition because he puts together nights like this:
For those who don’t remember, here’s the explainer for this chart:
For those new to these charts, check out the far left column. That’s Vlasic in red to the far left. Now scroll down until you see the giant square that is almost only red. That’s the Lightning’s top line — that it’s all red means Vlasic absolutely dominated while they were on the ice together at 5v5.
For a more direct example: In the Series That Shall Not Be Named (It was 3-0, sorry, we named it) Vlasic played only five minutes in game five before being injured. He didn’t play in games six or seven. Listen, I’m not going to hang the whole series on the Sharks losing their best defender but check this out:
These numbers are all 5v5, score and venue adjusted from corsica.hockey. The Sharks had the better of the possession in the four games Vlasic played more than five minutes in and were much, much worse in the games he played fewer than five minutes in.
You can credit the Kings for making adjustments and blame the Sharks for taking their foot off the gas, but you can’t think Vlasic is one of the best defenders in the NHL while saying his absence didn’t badly hurt the team. That seems pretty straightforward, right?
With Vlasic, the Sharks get a guy who can corral opponent’s best players and occasionally hit the back of the net. As the Sharks enjoy one of their best defensive seasons to date, it’s worth remembering that trading a backup netminder (who ended up being pretty darn good for the Flames, it’s worth noting) helped San Jose get here. That’s a good trade.