Joe Pavelski’s 2016-17 season was a bit of a step back from the previous one, and while a portion of that can be attributed to the Sharks’ slight step back as a whole, his age and style of play do concern me.
The Big Pavelski rang up 68 points in 81 games, good for a point per game average of 0.84. A productive season, to be sure, but a significant step back from his 0.95 PPG in 2015-16, and his lowest point total since the lockout shortened season of 2012-13, when he posted 31 points in 48 games (0.65 PPG). A not insignificant factor in that difference was Joe’s shooting percentage, down to 12.4 from 17.0 last year. This is soothing in the short term, but this year’s figure is closer to his career shooting percentage of 12.1, and thus a little more likely to be indicative of future performance.
Little Joe’s advanced stats reinforce this narrative. His on ice possession stats slipped along with his points production (as they tend to do), where his on ice Corsi for % fell from 55.40 to 51.71. Some of this is attributable to spending over 85% (!) of his even strength ice time with Joe Thornton and his down season, some to the copious amounts of fatigue suffered by the team as a whole (just look at that possession dip in February below, woof!), but I am concerned that part of what we’re seeing is the natural progression of a forward’s aging curve as he cruises toward the end of his 32nd year on this Earth. His relative stats still show that he is a driver of possession on the team (down from 9.03 to 2.51), and whether the team’s possession and system brought his down or vice versa isn’t immediately apparent.
Enough sadness and math! Joe Pavelski is still, and will likely continue to be, an elite net front presence and leader on and off the ice. His hand eye coordination is among the best in the NHL, his tenacity is unimpeachable, and his oft extolled work ethic suits him well as the Captain of this team. A top line wing posting positive possession numbers against the toughest competition every night doesn’t come along every year, and we’ll appreciate Pavelski for as long as he’ll have us. In a vacuum, Pavelski’s season was more than enough for a competitive scoring winger in the NHL, but the concern over what it might mean for his future looms large.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
Joe Pavelski Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Player Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
Joe’s proximate goal in an eventual one goal loss to Edmonton on March 30 was not his prettiest of the season, but it may have been his Pavelskiest. Standing right in the low slot, stretching out with that trademark white stick to deflect a shot from the blue line that was nowhere near on target into a top corner past a Cam Talbot, and then immediately getting knocked on his rear? Classic Pavs.
What comes next?
Pavelski is signed to Captain (hopefully) the Sharks through 2019, on a six-year deal at a pretty team friendly $6M AAV. Comparable contracts signed around the same time as Joe’s include a lot of names that I’d take after Pavelski on the playground at this point, though mostly solid players overall. Names like Callahan, Okposo, Dubinsky, Steen (probably the closest value), and Clowe (lol). Whether Pavelski is due for a raise at the end of this deal hinges heavily on his ability to pull out of this funk and turn around his production in its last few years.
It seems like Pavelski is often referred to as part of the “young core” of the Sharks, and compared to elder statesmen Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, this isn’t a crazy statement. But Pavelski is no Spring chicken at 32, especially as more data is revealed each year showing that the most productive years for forwards are between 24 and 28, with some studies skewing even younger.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to be a little concerned that the year-by-year slow decline we’re seeing in Pavelski’s production is attributable to age and the wear and tear of regularly getting shellacked by pucks and sticks in opposing goaltenders’ creases. Pavelski plays a tough game as a net front presence, and is rightly appreciated as one of the premier puck-tippers in the NHL, but time spent in that area of the offensive zone has a cost, and I worry that we’re seeing that cost paid now.