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Fear the Five: 5 things we learned in December

Someone is going to pay Timo Meier a lot of money.

Timo Meier #28 of the San Jose Sharks skates after the puck against the Calgary Flames at SAP Center on December 18, 2022 in San Jose, California. Photo by Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images

With 2022 coming to an end, the San Jose Sharks currently have an 11-20-7 record, just 29 points in the standings. Sitting 12 points out of a Wild Card spot and having played three more games than the current eighth seed, the Colorado Avalanche and their walking mash unit, the Sharks fell behind by an additional nine points from the last playoff spot in the month of December.

In the Pacific, the Vegas Golden Knights have been the class of the division thus far, despite Jack Eichel being in and out of the line-up to start the month before being placed on injured reserve. The Los Angeles Kings have proven that last year's team was not a fluke, even with shaky netminding. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are starting to work through early season issues and will be competing for the final playoff spots. The Seattle Kraken have turned into an offensive juggernaut that no one saw coming. The Vancouver Canucks are teetering from Stanley Cup dark horses to full rebuild depending on the day. Finally, the Anaheim Ducks continue to be one of the most disappointing teams despite their young talent.

In the race for Connor Bedard, the Chicago Blackhawks have taken a commanding lead in the tankathon. The Columbus Blue Jackets have been dealing with so many injuries along the blue line, plus a terrible season from Elvis Merzlikins has firmly entrenched the team in the Bedard conversation. The Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers are also flirting with failure in pursuit of Bedard.

Here are the biggest things we learned over the month of December:

1. The Sharks are going to miss playoffs for the fourth straight season

It’s all but over for San Jose’s playoff chances. The great Micah Blake McCurdy at HockeyViz has the Sharks at a .8 percent chance to make playoffs — or a 99.2 percent chance that they miss playoffs.

“But the Blues were the worst team in the league and won the Stanley Cup!” Stop. Get some help. San Jose’s style of play is similar to The Little Dutch Boy who keeps having to plug the dike; the power play is fixed, but a hole springs up on the penalty kill. Fix the even-strength offense and a hole springs up in goaltending. The Sharks can’t outscore the problems in the net, and when they do get solid goaltending, the offense goes quiet.

The offense did stall a bit in December compared to November. The team averaged 3.17 goals per game, ranking 16th in the NHL. On the flip side, they gave up 4.33 goals per game, dead last in the league. The Sharks have nothing to hang their hat on right now and are riddled with inconsistency from players not named Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier.

After the holiday break, trade chatter starts to pick up as the trade deadline is within sight. General manager Mike Grier should be very active working all the phones that Doug Wilson left behind — when the Matt Nieto, Nick Bonino and James Reimers of the world get traded, this team is going to go from a lovable loser that is fun to watch lose, to downright unwatchable no matter what Erik Karlsson is doing.

The Sharks are a bad team and the sooner they accept it, the better it will be for everyone.

2. Timo Meier is going to get paid

... but by whom is the biggest question going into the trade deadline.

Timo Meier’s Player Card via Evolving Hockey
Timo Meier’s Player Card via Evolving Hockey

After a slow start to the season, Meier has been on fire, tallying eight goals and six assists in 12 games during December. In 38 games on the season, he’s scored 20 goals, a .53 goals per game pace, which would result in a career-high 43 goals if maintained. Throwing out the cold streak of first nine games, Meier has since scored .69 (nice) goals per game, a pace that would result in 50 goals on the season. Dave Andreychuk was the last player to be traded in the midst of a 50-goal season, when he went from the Buffalo Sabres to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1992-93 season. The Sharks have only had one 50-goal scorer, Jonathan Cheechoo.

While Meier is a restricted free agent next year, he could be signed to a one-year, $10 million qualifying offer and play this game all over again next year, the 26-year-old is in the prime of his career and looking for the life-changing money he has worked for. With the recent contracts of players like Mathew Barzal ($9.15 million AAV), Jonathan Huberdeau ($10.5 million AAV) and Matthew Tkachuk ($9.5 million AAV), combined with a potential 50-goal season, Timo Time is going to be (extreme Jean-Ralphio voice) flush with cash. It’s just a matter if Hasso Plattner is the one cutting that check.

Recent contracts via CapFriendly
Recent contracts via CapFriendly

3. The return of Vlasic?

One of the biggest developments is the return to form by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Sharks fans wore out the buyout calculator on CapFriendly last season, trying to find ways to get Vlasic off the team. Many fans were surprised that he wasn’t one of the cap casualties this off-season, but Grier seemingly made the right move. Under head coach David Quinn, Vlasic has quietly found his game again. While he won’t live up to his $7 million price tag, he can still be an effective player.

Comparing Vlasic’s 21-22 and 22-23 seasons via Evolving Hockey
Comparing Vlasic’s 21-22 and 22-23 seasons via Evolving Hockey

The past few seasons under Bob Boughner were rough for a lot of players and Vlasic was no exception. Under Quinn, Vlasic has really turned things around. He will never be known for his offensive skills, but he’s solidified the second pairing with partner Matt Benning. Vlasic ranks second among Sharks defenders (minimum 200 mins) with 53.57 percent expected goals for (xGF%).

While Vlasic and Benning have been on the wrong side of their share of unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi for percentage, or CF%), the pair has done a good job of making the most of limited opportunities. Vlasic ranks first among Sharks defenders with 59.38 percent high-danger chances for (HDCF%). Vlasic might give up some shots, but they are of the low-danger variety. When he does create offense, it’s quality over quantity. Benning has had a solid season, but pairing Vlasic with a more offensively gifted partner would be interesting to see. At this rate, Vlasic might live out the rest of his contract.

4. The Erik Karlsson Crazy Stats Power Hour

In what is probably going to be a tradition here, Erik Karlsson continued his Norris campaign in December. He finished the month with two goals and a whopping 17 assists. Of his 19 points, 13 came at even-strength. The Sharks scored 38 goals in the month of December — Karlsson contributed on half.

More stats about Karlsson:

  • He scored a point in every one of the 13 games during the month, including his third four-point game of the season.
  • King Karl also hit career point 700 this month in career game 871, the fewest by any active defender.
  • The Sharks have created 184 high danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 when Karlsson is on the ice, the most in the NHL by one player.
  • The Sharks have created 463 scoring chances at 5-on-5 when Karlsson is on the ice, the most in the NHL by one player.

In a month full of highlights, here are three of the best:

Enjoy.

5. The Sharks are going to be shopping for a new number one goaltender

James Reimer is as good as gone at the trade deadline, destined to help a team try to win a Stanley Cup. Kaapo Kahkonen is having a less-than-stellar season, and is still signed for another season at $2.75 million. None of the San Jose Barracuda goaltenders are signed past this season, but all of them are pending RFAs, with the exception of 33-year-old Aaron Dell. Eetu Makiniemi played well in his two NHL appearances, but it is a lot to expect a young goaltender to jump from an AHL tandem to an NHL starter.

San Jose’s net is going to continue to be up for grabs until a clear starter emerges ... or is bought.

Goals Saved Above Expected via MoneyPuck
Goals Saved Above Expected via MoneyPuck

The goaltending market is always a lot like musical chairs during free agency. Sharks management has shown that they do not want to push young players into roles they aren’t ready for, so don’t expect anything different when it comes to the goaltending pipeline. The team is likely going to be shopping for a short-term veteran to provide space for a young netminder to build confidence.

2023 Free Agent goalies via CapFriendly
2023 Free Agent goalies via CapFriendly