Brought in as a free agent in 2016, Mikkel Boedker came to the Sharks with a lot of promise to inject some secondary scoring, power play finishing ability, and some of the speed that eluded the team in a close, but not-that-close loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. In the 2016-17 season, Boedker, putting it gently, disappointed. A career second-worst points per game average, frequent healthy scratches, and a dismal power play on-ice shooting percentage, among other things, doomed the speedy Dane to a down season, prompting concerns about his shiny new 4-year deal in teal.
Despite frequent changes in linemates and usage, Boedker never seemed to quite gel with the Sharks on the ice from an eye test perspective. Boedker posted 10 goals (7th on the team, and even this number is a little inflated, since three of those goals came in one game in Edmonton on January 10), 16 assists (9th), and 26 points (8th), his lowest season point total since 2011-12. Yes, before the lockout. Boedker tied his point total from the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, and tied Paul Martin for total points on the Sharks. Yikes. In all fairness, he also skated for his lowest average time on ice since the aforementioned 2011-12 season, down about three minutes per game from his time in Arizona and Colorado last season.
Despite all this, Boedker’s even strength possession stats and metrics actually improved from his previous seasons (49.48% up from 45.61%). This difference is probably at least partially attributable to Boedker’s most common even strength linemate being Logan Couture (43.46%) instead of Antoine Vermette in the desert (61.70%), but his relative Corsi, while still being negative (-2.15), was closer to this team’s average than in all but one of his last five seasons in Glendale. The question, then, is not whether or not Boedker’s season was disappointing, but why?
The crux of this issue is that all of the above stats about Boedker’s past few seasons don’t capture the whole picture. One of the main reasons we were excited about the Boedker signing in San Jose is the same reason many in Denver were reticent to celebrate his trade to the Avalanche at the trade deadline in 2016. Boedker had been a 51 point player in two of his past three seasons in Arizona (the outlier being the 2014-15 season, where he missed 37 games to a ruptured spleen). However, Boedker’s even strength point totals in those two seasons were 30 and 24, respectively. Not only is that a pretty small percentage of points without the man advantage, it’s much closer to being in line with his 22 even strength points from 2016-17 in California.
The San Jose Sharks’ power play this season was nothing short of atrocious. The Sharks’ 16.7% conversion rate on the man advantage ranked 25th in the NHL, flanked by the aforementioned Arizona Coyotes, and the injury-plagued Florida Panthers, and their power play shooting percentage, at 9.79, placed 29th. Since Boedker’s possession numbers improved and his point total decreased by only two, it seems reasonable to conclude that his production on the power play suffered along with the Sharks’. After three seasons of producing 16, 12, and 14 points on the power play, respectively, Boedker’s man advantage production took a slight step back this year in a little under half as much ice time. Okay, more than slight, he had one (1). On December 16 in Montreal, Boedker passed the puck to a pinching David Schlemko, who wristed it through traffic past Carey Price. You remember that night, right? Timo Meier scored his first career goal on his first career shot, and Boedker’s first and last power play point of the season fell by the wayside, the poor little fella.
Not only do I not have a definitive answer for what seems like the next question to ask, but due to a looming expansion draft, we may never really know the answer at all. The question is, did Boedker fail in spectacular fashion to deliver on an implicit promise to improve the Sharks’ power play, or was the power play’s demise due to it’s predictability, lack of puck movement, and astoundingly low shooting percentage (6.48 when Boedker was on the ice) so predestined that he was ill-suited to the task in the first place? Given Sharks’ management’s many statements around the time of the signing about the Dane’s speed and efficacy as a penalty killer, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter.
Boedker took a step back in his production this year, no doubt, and some of that is on him: a player has a responsibility to adapt his game to his surroundings. Players are tools, however, for teams to utilize as effectively as possible, and Boedker is the same player he has been for years. A combination of mismanaged expectations (guilty as charged), and a lack of opportunity on a bad and unlucky power play, however, has led to his first season in teal being inappropriately maligned.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
Mikkel Boedker Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Mikkel Boedker Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
It seemed cruel to use Boedker’s only power play point as a highlight here, so I chose one that speaks to the strengths for which he was signed, and still qualifies as a special teams goal. On March 6, in Winnipeg, Boedker took advantage of a bobbling pass from Patrik Laine to Jacob Trouba, partially intercepted by Logan Couture. Boedker flies past a sprawling Trouba, outraces Laine into the offensive zone, and wrists the puck past Connor Hellebuyck for his 9th of the season.
What comes next?
Boedker is signed through 2020 at a $4 million AAV, but after a disappointing season by any measure, he’s almost guaranteed to be exposed in the Vegas Golden Knight expansion draft in June. If Knights GM George McPhee looks at Boedker’s point totals from this past year, he’s likely to look elsewhere on the roster, especially since the Sharks will be forced to expose players like David Schlemko, Paul Martin, Chris Tierney, Melker Karlsson, or any combination thereof.
It seems reasonable, then, to expect to see number 89 back next season in teal, and I expect San Jose’s power play to improve, if only due to regression. Hopefully, the tradition of forcing players to earn power play time with even strength productivity is on its way out of the NHL (thanks, Torts!), and DeBoer uses his once and future player where he’s historically been most effective. Boedker’s production rises and falls with his power play assignment and it’s effectiveness, so expect a bounce back season from DeBoer’s favorite former Kitchener Ranger.