Player Power Rankings, Week 21: Those Tricky Joes

Nyquist a Shark, and I liked it.

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment.

As today’s NHL trade deadline looms, teams and fans are frantically checking and refreshing their sites and their apps and their twitters and their seeing stones to stay up to date on who they’re acquiring/losing, and we are no exception. This year has already seen a number of big names move before today’s deadline, as players like Matt Duchene, Mats Zuccarello, Jake Muzzin and Carl Hagelin, among others, have already started for their new teams.

When teams solidify themselves as no-holds-barred sellers at the deadline, this year’s Ottawa Senators, for instance (lack of a 2019 first round pick with which to tank notwithstanding), it makes sense from an organizational perspective to protect their assets. From this line of thinking, the Senators benching Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Mark Stone and, most recently, Cody Ceci makes pretty defensible sense. The future of the franchise may in part depend on getting the maximum return for what can be termed expiring assets and, in the rare occasion one of them gets hurt and depreciates, that future is jeopardized.

However, hockey is, at its core, a business of entertainment, one of the best entertainments there is, and it’s priced accordingly: as of the beginning of the 2017-18 NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens topped the list of most expensive tickets, averaging $195 per seat. Perhaps appropriately, the aforementioned Senators sat near the bottom of the list, averaging $54 per seat. Still, with tens of thousands of fans spending, on average, the price of five movie tickets to see their favorite team get pilloried by whoever is strolling into Ottawa tonight, the Sens’ decision to announce the absence of three or more of their star players seems a little disingenuous.

While the Senators are not the only franchise to have made moves like this to the detriment of the paying fans’ experience, their decision to sit their three most productive forwards in New Jersey against the Devils on Thursday left a sour taste in my mouth. While there are probably fewer Senators fans in attendance in Newark, there is still a non-zero quantity of die hard Sens fans who paid the $100 (on average) to see their team play, only to be informed about 30 minutes prior to puck drop that stars would be sitting.

Those of us who spend our days obsessing about the NHL trade deadline instead of eating or sleeping or spending time with our boring families salivate at the prospect of a selling team sitting their stars, but for the casual fan who attends the few games his hometown team comes to visit, these decisions are frustrating. For Ottawa, the franchise seems to be squandering what little goodwill they have left with their fans with these kinds of stunts, and the Sens’ place in the bottom five of the average ticket price list starts to make a lot more sense.

There’s something to be said for making sacrifices to present success for future viability as a competitive franchise, but the Senators have long ago frittered away the benefit of the doubt, and owe more than this to their current and long-suffering fans.

With the Sharks’ decades long run of success (Stanley Cup gaps aside), San Jose fans have not had to weather this kind of sacrifice, but the time will come when we do. Hopefully, by then, paying fans will be given more thought, or at the very least, more notice.

1. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week443762960.93

Last week: 1

Yet again, the Sharks’ captain leads them onward or upward. A 2-1-1 week may not be the very highest of heights to which the Sharks should be aspiring in their heated race with the Calgary Flames, but Joe Pavelski has been better than advertised all along the way. Leading the team in points and in goals this week with the help of a natural hat trick yesterday afternoon in Detroit, Pavs still leads the Sharks in goals in a contract year, and has 13 more goals than last season in 19 fewer games. O captain, my captain, indeed.

Tipping pucks that are just off target is very on brand for Joe Pavelski, but tipping them from there? That’s just mean spirited. Of note is the look of exasperation and disbelief on Frans Nielsen’s face as he saw the puck hit the twine. Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier barely had time to react to a shot before it was behind him and Pavelski was on his way to what would be a very productive evening.

2. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week432542754.48

While the NHL and the Boston Bruins may have conspired to bring about an end to the possibility of whatever would actually happen were Joe Thornton to score four goals on Monday night, the big man’s hat trick was enough to get the rest of us excited for a while. The eventual festivities that would normally accompany a Sharks hat trick were put on hold that night, since the Bruins, in true New England fashion, squeezed out an overtime win on the back of a series of poorly written technicalities (seriously, that high touch from Chris Wagner is the exact scenario for which the “intent to blow” call was written), but Thornton’s fifth career hat trick is something worth celebrating. Jumbo’s propensity to pass rather than shoot is a self-perpetuating resident in our collective unconscious at this point, so we should cling to these kinds of events as the rarities they are.

This is how Joe got his points this week. Two goals in Boston and one that was later correctly attributed to Tim Heed in Detroit came about as a result of Thornton sneaking in to the far side behind the goaltender and keeping his stick on this ice. This goal required a little extra work, though, as Thornton dug the puck out of the corner in the first place before silently sidling up behind an unfortunately oblivious Torey Krug. He was aware (and large) enough to block the puck from cruising harmlessly back into the corner on Radim Simek’s point shot and bang in the rebound before poor Tuukka Rask could react.

3. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4246501559.13

Brent Burns is on fire. Again. Or still? Is he just always on fire? With four goals and 18 points in his last 14 appearances, the question of Burns’ frequent flammability is a real one. Burns’ 70 points in 63 games leads the Sharks by 11, and is the only defenseman in the NHL to lead his team in scoring. At this point, it’s not hard to start seeing Burns’ name mentioned in Norris trophy conversations again, as the award seems to go to the most prolific blue liner more often than not.

While scoring plays are undoubtedly more exciting than scoring chances, these are the kinds of plays that separate offensive defensemen from forwards. Burns’ ability and willingness to make this pass combined with Pavelski’s excellent backhand pass created a great scoring chance for Timo Meier in the offensive zone and it took all of goaltender Casey DeSmith’s poise and fortitude just to stay alive. Combined with the hopeful availability of a similarly dynamic talent in Erik Karlsson, Burns’ ability to create chances like this will do the Sharks well this postseason.

4. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4213241057.73

Tomas Hertl continues to break out. Assisted by his repeated victimization of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hertl has already marked career highs in points, goals and assists in just 58 games played. With two goals in Pittsburgh this week, Hertl has now scored five in two games against the Pens, further cementing him as an emotional favorite in all of our minds. Serving as the Sharks’ second center in one of the league’s most dangerous offenses, Hertl will be heavily relied upon to continue this offensive outburst well into June.

Hertl may have been the beneficiary of a truly head-spinning series of passes at the end of this sequence, but it was his doggedness on the wall that got the Sharks possession in the first place. Recognizing that Logan Couture was tying up three (3) Penguins skaters in a boards battle, Hertl skated in along the wall and pick pocketed all three of them, cruising off with the puck like it was candy recently stolen from a large black and yellow baby. Hertl toe dragged around a woefully unprepared Chad Ruhwedel (is there any other kind), causing the latter to collide unceremoniously into Jack Johnson (no, the other one), taking them both out of the play. Two passes later, DeSmith reasonably assumed that Kevin Labanc could not pass through the outstretched body of veteran and oldest active NHL player Matt Cullen. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for Hertl, he was wrong.

5. Doug Wilson

With a late night phone call to Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland last night, Wilson added to the Sharks’ already formidable offensive talent one (1) Gustav Nyquist. A dangerous and dependable top-six winger, Nyquist is yet another piece of evidence supporting Wilson’s reputation as one of the league’s best. With Nyquist, the Sharks can ice three absurdly formidable scoring lines, probably slotting the Swede next to Thornton and Labanc. Wilson shored up the Sharks’ wing depth for two picks and got the Wings to withhold salary in case there’s more brewing. Again, in Doug we trust.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Vlasic’s return to the Sharks’ lineup may not be fresh in our minds when compared to the addition of Gus Nyquist and the uncertain future of Erik Karlsson, but his presence seems to have lent some stability to the Sharks’ chaotic defensive deployments. Vlasic was thrown right back into the proverbial deep end this week, posting the team’s lowest offensive zone start percentage and still putting up a positive shot attempt share. While Vlasic’s contributions rarely jump off the score sheet, he may be recovering from what was a rocky start to the season in the admittedly small sample size since his return.

Logan Couture: With 12 shots and four points, Couture continues to lead the Sharks defensively, while still putting up strong point totals.

Micheal Haley: As much as has been written about the Sharks’ acquisition of Haley and his impact on the game on the ice, I have heard from real people that he is a very nice man.

Gustav Nyquist: Acquired late last night in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings, we are all very excited for even more Sweden. Apologies to Tomas Hertl, I’m sure Doug will get you another Czech later today.