Player Power Rankings Week 27: Burnsing down the house

The boring part of the season is over, time for the scary part.

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.

Well, friends, we made it. The NHL regular season is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint, so the next time your doctor asks you if you’ve been exercising, you can just say yes. The San Jose Sharks, in case you hadn’t noticed, are locked into a first round series with the very-frightening-but-technically-beatable Vegas Golden Knights, but with such a speedy turnaround from regular season to post, let’s take a minute to reflect on what we’ve witnessed over these many months.

With such well documented struggles on the blueline and in the net, it’s a small miracle that the Sharks ended the season as high in the standings as they did, and it should come as no surprise that their team offense set a lot of records on the way there. The Sharks’ 289 goals tied for second in the league with the Calgary Flames, and were the highest mark in team history.

Part of that is the team’s aforementioned requisite offensive dominance, and part of it is the uptick in scoring league-wide. The NHL saw 7664 goals scored this season, which marks the most in history, surpassing the previous record of 7588 in 2005-06. Again, grains of salt and all that, because the NHL had one fewer team in 05-06, but the average of 6.0 goals per game scored this season is the second highest (again, after 05-06, 6.2) since 1995-96. The ever increasing speed of professional hockey, a crackdown on goalie equipment, and further honing of individual skill through the use of constantly improving skills coaches are all at least partly to blame.

That said, a fair amount of the Sharks’ offensive success comes from within: the team’s eight 50-point players (nine if you count Gustav Nyquist) leads the league and their four 30-goal scorers are the most since the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers each had four in 2008-09. The Sharks saw career best point production from (deep breath) Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, burgeoning star Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and others. Joe Pavelski tied his career high in goals, Evander Kane scored 30 goals for only the second time in his career and Joe Thornton is just climbing every leader board he can find.

So, you see, friends? There is so much beauty in this miserable world and we as Sharks fans will still have no shortage of joy upon which to look back after the Knights win round one in five.


1. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week3224421160.16

Burns led the Sharks in scoring this week and this year, and the latter was not particularly close. The giant’s 83 points led Tomas Hertl by nine, and his 300 shots on goal led Evander Kane by 32. Burns’ offensive numbers this year have been good enough to get him into the Norris trophy conversations, even if he eventually loses out to the amazing season Mark Giordano had in Calgary. Burns led all defensemen in scoring, and shots, and sat seventh in the league in the latter among all skaters. With a goal and an assist in each of the Sharks’ two wins this week, Burns made a fun habit out of tallying points immediately after Hertl’s faceoff wins.

There are differences between these plays, for sure, but the plan to win an offensive zone faceoff back to Burns and have him launch it to the net paid off a few times this week. Some of the success of this play has to do with the Edmonton Oilers giving Burns enough time to research and write a series of small novellas on the history of Eastern European economic repression before deciding what to do with the puck, but the way he weaved through their defensive set up on the first goal will never fail to impress me. As long as forwards continue to stack moving screens in front of Burns’ shots, he should keep taking them and they’ll continue to find success.

2. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week304420048.05

Last week: 2

What is left to say about the legend of Joe Thornton? Well, it isn’t over yet, so we’ll keep updating as he goes. This week, Thornton passed Steve Yzerman for eighth place all time in NHL assists and Nicklas Lidstrom for 12th in games played. Thornton’s return next season may be contingent on the Sharks’ outcome this postseason, and will definitely be a big story line this summer, but it would be great to be able to watch him keep climbing the all time ranks.

A lot of credit is due to Marcus Sorensen’s mindfulness on the wall to allow Jacob Middleton’s pass to go by him to Thornton behind the net, and his ability to juke and jive around Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson in front, but Thornton’s patience is, as always, remarkable. Thornton’s head never moved or gave away what was on his mind, and that helped hold Larsson’s attention as Sorensen wrestled for position behind him. Once the Oilers’ defensemen realized Thornton has committed to the backhand pass, it was already too late.

3. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week312322956.48

Kane seemed to hit a bit of a slump shortly after his return from injury, scoring just two goals in nine games following his return on March 16, but, with three points in two games to close out the season, he may be heating up at exactly the right time. Kane’s biggest strength, upon which the Sharks will be relying this week, is his affinity for shooting the puck. While his 75 games played excludes him from the top tier of puck shooters in the NHL overall, his 11.65 shots on goal per 60 minutes played was eighth most in the NHL (interestingly, 11th place is Timo Meier, with 11.44 shots/60).

This wasn’t the most Kane-like of Kane goals, but it counts on the board just the same. The persistence Kane showed on this play will serve him well heading into the postseason, hammering away at the pads of poor Semyon Varlamov until the puck eventually scooted past him into the net. After Nyquist threw the puck at the net, Kane stood his ground, being thoroughly accosted by Carl Soderberg and Tyson Barrie all the while, until the goal counted. Play to the whistle, kids.

4. Gustav Nyquist

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
Season (DET, SJS)81223860411220452.44
This Week321330655.68

While there is potential for the Sharks’ failure to acquire a goaltender at the trade deadline being a major story in the next few weeks, it’s important not to overlook what they did do. Gustav Nyquist has been everything he promised to be since his acquisition on Feb. 25, solidifying the team’s winger depth and providing a more balanced attack. While the results in the standings have been lackluster at best, Nyquist has been pretty consistently effective and his presence will be invaluable going forward.

This is just a marvelous display of patience and awareness. Nyquist’s footwork was so good here, and it’s hard to know how much of it was conscious or intentional, but the way his left foot adjusted and pointed out toward the slot right after he caught Kane’s pass worked both to freeze Erik Johnson on the far side of the crease and to bait Varlamov into moving to his right to preempt a cut to the slot. That opened up the short side of the net like the gaping maw of Mount Doom and, unlike that parable’s protagonist, Nyquist did not hesitate.

5. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week304430252.83

Tomas Hertl seemed to take it upon himself this week to show us all the importance of winning faceoffs in the offensive zone. On the aforementioned three separate occasions, Hertl won draws back to Burns that ended up directly in the back of the net. There’s no doubt that Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant is watching a lot of the same tape that we are and game planning for this exact play, but there’s only so much that one can do to prevent that many layers of mobile screens once the draw is over.

All of that said, this play is nothing like it, and was almost definitely not intentional, but it is very fun. Hertl was definitely trying to one time this Thornton pass past Thatcher Demko (I still cannot believe that is a real human being’s name on the planet Earth) but brutally heeled it right to a characteristically opportunistic Pavelski. Still, credit is due to both of them for going to the net where, as I’m told, good things happen.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Kevin Labanc: With seven points in his last eight games, Labanc is getting appropriately hungry for the postseason to start. San Jose’s third line will have to carry a lot of the team’s offensive load this series to counteract Vegas’ dominant top-six, so seeing Labanc produce at this time of year is reassuring.

Micheal Haley: With a goal against the Avalanche on Saturday, Haley doubled his season total. He’s not very good by NHL standards, and probably shouldn’t be playing over other forwards on this roster, but Haley is a hard working, probably very nice boy and seeing him score on the last game of the season still kind of has to make you smile, right?

Leon Draisaitl: The gigantic German power forward scored his 48th and 49th goals of the season against the Sharks on Thursday and thankfully potted number 50 on Saturday night against Calgary. He is the first Oiler to score 50 goals since both Wayne Gretzky (62) and Jari Kurri (54) did it in 1986-87. Can we start a petition to ship both him and Connor McDavid to America where they can maybe win something once in a while?