The NHL season is a long, arduous battle. The October to April marathon gives way to the glorious and knockdown drag-them-out playoffs that make the Stanley Cup the hardest championship to win in all of sports. However, those battles in the throes of spring are a long way off and for now we are stuck in November, 22 games deep into the season. This means we are just over a quarter of the way through the season, which means we can totally hand out some fake hardware!
MVP: I don’t think there is any question, that San Jose’s best player so far is William Brent Burns. A consistent performer night in and night out, Burns has tallied eight goals and 20 points for the season. Burns actually leads the league in shots with 91. Playing with Paul Martin has been a boon to his defensive game and Burns accomplishes this all in a team leading 23:56 TOI/G. Watching a Sharks game it becomes apparent Burns continues to be an elite player even when other aspects/players are struggling or in an unlucky streak. Runner-Up: Joe Pavelski.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic Appreciation Paragraph: There needs to be time carved out of every day to think about how lucky we are to watch MEV. The guy is a workhorse and criminally underrated. He is a shut down D and there would be no one I’d rather on the ice with the time winding down and pinned in the defensive zone. MEV is a stalwart of the Sharks blue line and when he goes down, you can feel the entire Bay Area gasp and hold their breath. Pickles is integral to any sort of Cup aspirations, even if he his offense is somewhere between comical and sad.
Best Free Agent Signing: The fact that San Jose had Roman Polak lacing up skates in the Stanley Cup Finals is cringe worthy. Replacing him with David Schlemko is a coup. Schlemko drives play, can play in all situations, has a nice offensive upside and is also not a turnstile like our friend Polak. Schlemko has also revealed himself to be the perfect partner for Brendan Dillon, which means San Jose has 3 solid to great defensive pairings. There are no more holes on defense and we all owe it to Mr. Schlemko.
Biggest Struggle: It’s hard to pinpoint one or two players that have had a less than desirable start to the season. Most of the roster seems like it is nursing a nice Stanley Cup Hangover. Thornton is in the 12th round with Father Time and we all know Father Time is undefeated and it is starting to show in Jumbo’s game.
There are a lot of factors to consider as to the average start, and it is not without mentioning that most, if not all of the issues are very fixable. The Pacific is horrible as well so San Jose can easily surge out to a comfortable division lead or at least maintain a playoff spot without worry.
But, there is one player that needs to get going and it’s the hobo of the honeycomb hideout, Martin Jones. He has been the classic definition of hot and cold and not the brick wall he was in the playoffs. Jones has shown he has the talent to be a Vezina caliber goalie, it is just time he played that way night in and night out. I have no doubt he will round into form come 2017, I am just impatient and want him to play well now.
Haley vs. Nieto: If you actually think Haley is more valuable to the Sharks lineup because he has “grit” and “plays the right way” I’m sorry. Haley is a professional face puncher in a game that doesn’t require any of those in any way. This isn’t 1979; the Broad Street Bullies aren’t coming to town. The Sharks have spoken often about rolling four lines and being a deep roster.
Haley cannot matchup with the skill of other teams and often gets sat down in the third and plays single digit minutes. Why not give those minutes to a player who has skill and would help the Sharks actually have a dangerous fourth line? The argument that Haley has as many points as Nieto, two, is also pointless. It’s two points; it is not like Haley is burning up the score sheet. The idea of calling up a Barracuda player- Hi Timo! - Is also much better and more valuable at making the Sharks a deep and dangerous team. Just for the love of all that is Holy. Stop. Playing. Micheal. Freaking. Haley.
Interesting Sub Plot of the Quarter Pole: Peter DeBoer has put the lines into the blender. Normally, I think chemistry and having consistent lines is much better as a standard practice. However, the Sharks have been snake bitten on putting pucks in the net. It seems that every couple games nothing is working no matter how badly San Jose is dominating the puck. I mean they’ve lost twice to
Phoenix Arizona the Desert Dogs of all teams.
So the line blender makes sense in that they are finding out what works and what doesn’t. Joel Ward with the Joes? Woof. Mr. Shark Patrick Marleau on the top line? Pretty good so far. It’s going to be a struggle without Hertl and with the corpse of Boedker in the lineup and the Sharks need to find the scoring prowess from last Spring. It will be interesting to see what lines eventually come to fruition and help turn the Sharks unlucky shooting around. It is also handy to have some different combos in your pocket come playoffs when injuries and cold spells inevitably creep up.
Outlook: A very average start in the wins and losses department but the underlying numbers appear dominant. It’s a frustrating start to watch for sure; especially with the super weird 3W 3L 3W 3L trend recently, but there is no need to panic. The Sharks are built for the playoffs and remain a Cup or bust team.
The Oilers had a cupcake October schedule and now that it got a bit tougher, the Oilers are, well, the Oilers. Anaheim has Randy Carlyle as coach in 2016 so their numbers are all falling backwards even with an immensely talented roster. LA is average and will be a tough out any time of year.
Calgary is young and faltering and thinking of trading Dougie Hamilton for some unknown reason. Arizona is even younger and even worse. Vancouver LOL. So the division shouldn’t be a big problem, it’s a matter of the Sharks staying the course and rounding into form come April and peaking for the Cup run. I will check back in at the halfway point when we as a fan base have moved on to a whole new world of things to wet the bed over.