Sharks Gameday: Fourth Line Winger



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I've been putting this off for much too long, but today is an especially pertinent day to look into it as both Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz returned, on Saturday against Edmonton, from injuries that were sustained roughly one and a half months ago. During that time Frazer McLaren fulfilled the role of fourth line winger/enforcer for the San Jose Sharks, and in this author's opinion, proved that he was deserving of a starting spot on the roster over his two counterparts.

We've debated the merits of all three of these players over the last few months, most notably at the start of the season, and I think the fanbase is fairly split-- some feel that the veteran presence of Jody Shelley is the most beneficial, as he provides the nuclear deterrent necessary for the team's impressive cast of skill players to play their game; others enjoy Brad Staubitz's ability to throw down with opposing skaters who are out of Shelley's weight class (and therefore wouldn't fight him), along with his relatively superior skating and shooting ability. And then there are those who prefer Frazer McLaren who, despite his lack of a yellow visor, has managed to provide a steady presence on the fourth line.

While I may be going into this with a bias (as I have mentioned in previous articles as well as this one, I prefer McLaren over both Staubitz and Shelley), the statistics I provide today will hopefully paint a clearer picture of what the San Jose Sharks can reasonably expect out of these three players going forward. An article from the end of last season entitled "Should Jody Shelley Dress In April?" would be a good prelude to this piece if you have the time today, as it outlines some notable areas I look for in players who skate on the fourth line. The thought process is as follows:

There's three basic tenets I look for in the shutdown lines, and those (along with a brief discussion of them) follow:

1) Penalty Differential. Taking bad penalties can turn the tides very quickly, and drawing a penalty can inject life into a team. Probably the most important thing to look for in enforcers, and important in analyzing other skaters as well. If a guy is taking stupid penalties and not contributing on the scoresheet, there's not much room for him out there on the ice.

2) Well Roundedness. Does he play on the penalty kill or power play? Also, I'm not sure "roundedness" is even a word, but it works here so we're rolling with it.

3) Statistics. How well does a player keep the puck out of the net when on the ice, and are they contributing on the scoresheet? Are they facing good competition or being thrown out against other non-scoring lines? It's not very likely that our shutdown line will be scoring goals very often, so clamping down on defense and cycling the puck is their utmost priority. That being said, goals from our bottom lines are a huge addition to the team, and could definitely be the difference in a tightly contested series.

- "Should Jody Shelley Dress In April?"

With that outlined, let's take a look at the relevant statistics and see if they are able to illuminate the areas that these three players need to be excelling at.

EV Penalties Drawn vs. Taken

Jody Shelley
18 6:06 2 7 1.1 3.8 -2.7
Brad Staubitz
16 6:28 2 6 1.2 3.5 -2.3
Frazer McLaren
23 5:57 2 1 0.9 0.4 +0.5

I think is one of the better ones to look at when it comes to your enforcer, and the results are pretty straightforward. Brad Staubitz, as we know, is prone to taking dumb penalties-- it's not a product of solely this season either, as his results from last year (along with Shelley's) are also in the negative.

I wouldn't go as far to say that Shelley is an extreme liability on the ice in terms of penalties taken (Staubitz is horrendous and was last season), but in a highly magnified playoff series, which is what management should be looking at when composing their lineup, it's an area that raises a red flag-- and consequently, one that gives McLaren a clear edge.

None of the three players play a substantial amount on the penalty kill (with Frazer being the lone ranger in this category, logging a herculean 0:04 per game shorthanded), so we will now move on to some general statistics.

EV General

Jody Shelley
18 -0.192 0 3 3 1.64 2.73 1.64 +1.09
Brad Staubitz
16 -0.174 2 2 4 2.32 2.32 2.32 0
Frazer McLaren
23 -0.099 1 5 6 2.65 3.54 0.88 +2.66

Once again, Frazer McLaren has a leg up in nearly every conceivable category. He's facing slightly more difficult competition (although, admittedly, it's still against pluggers), his points per 60 minutes of ice time is superior, he's been on the ice for a greater rate of goals for, and most importantly, he has done a much better job with his linemates of keeping the puck out of the net.

Along with that, McLaren has established some chemistry with Torrey Mitchell, as they have managed to generate good scoring chances in their limited time together, as well as compliment each other on the low cycle. While McLaren isn't as experienced of a fighter as Jody Shelley is, the aforementioned piece I did for Fear The Fin shows that a very small amount of fisticuffs occur during the postseason, making it nearly irrelevant. Also, and this is probably opening a can of worms that will unfortunately steer the conversation away from the topic of McLaren vs. Shelley/Staubitz, I'm not sure I completely buy into the fact that a team needs a "heavyweight" to be successful during the course of the regular season. I love a good scrap as much as anybody, and would hate to see it go from the game-- it serves an intangible purpose that can swing momentum as well as protect the skilled players on your roster to some degree. But, and this is the key here, what good does it do for two heavyweights to drop the gloves the shift following a player like Corey Perry taking a run at Patrick Marleau? The heavyweight (in this case Shelley) isn't providing retribution for the initial hit-- all he's doing is trading knuckles with another goon (Parros), a goon he may have possibly fought during the game anyways. Does this really dissuade Perry from stepping over the line? I'm not sure it does, and when a lineup decision is made at the expense of on-ice performance (look at Shelley's ice time in the last two playoff runs), it makes you scratch your head a bit.

At any rate-- McLaren provides the San Jose Sharks with a big body on that fourth line, one that's able to handle himself in front of the net, provide an enforcer role, and is superior in the relevant statistical categories. So why isn't he on the team now?

The same reason Jason Demers was sent to Stockton following the Phoenix game, and the same reason the Worcester Shuttle (damn right it's a proper noun) has been running all season-- dancing with the salary cap ceiling. We've beat this to death over the course of the last three months so I'm going to save everyone the trouble of another explanation, but at the end of the day it's a shame McLaren won't be able to practice and play with the team because he doesn't fit in monetarily-- I doubt he was sent down because of his play, and if he was, that's an asset assessment issue I have with team management. I doubt that is the case obviously, but it's still a statement I feel compelled to make.

A large part of me thinks that trading Shelley or Staubitz for a low round draft choice (7th, if need be) would be a good solution to this issue, and if that doesn't work, send Staubitz through waivers to Worcester and live with it if he gets claimed on the way down. My gut tells me he wouldn't considering the fact that former Shark Brad Lukowich made it through both entry and re-entry waivers (where a team would be able to get him at half the price, i.e. the same way San Jose acquired Jay Leach), and Staubitz is by no means as established as Luko (although he would be cheaper, which is a definite plus).* I'm not sure he fits in with the long term plans of the organization at this point considering the various other options for lower line wingers once next season rolls around, and Jay Leach's inclusion on the blueline makes having him as a "safety net" this year for injuries in warm ups doesn't make too much sense to me either. If Wilson is adamant on saving as much cap space as he can, carry no healthy scratch forwards once Malhotra returns and make a move with one of Shelley/Staubitz.

*Note that Staubitz would not be subject to re-entry waivers, as he has a two-way contract and does not make more than $105 K in the AHL. It's a one-time risk to send him down, and no team would be lured to pick him up for half the price.

Before anyone gets ready to hammer on their keyboards, no, I'm not saying send Shelley down-- he's been in the bigs for way too long, and that service should be honored by either playing out his contract or trading him to another team that desires his services. To stash him in the minors is bush league in my opinion (and a large reason why I think the shenanigans in Vancouver with Mathieu Schneider are a freaking joke that may come back to bite Mike Gillis in the ass). Staubitz, on the other hand, played in the AHL last season, and isn't exempt from this type of transaction when approaching it from the merits of tenure.



Briefly touching on the Demers to Stockton situation-- I'm pumped beyond belief. In fact, I even wanted to use an exclamation point there but decided against it because I only enjoy using them with a hint of sarcasm included. I fucking hate exclamation points. They are worse than the Oilers.

Anyways, if the Sharks are able to run the Worcester Shuttle to Stockton (which, ironically, is an affiliate of the Oilers) with their entry-level players, then it saves a ton of mileage and leaves lack of practice time with San Jose the only outstanding issue. We've voiced our frustration and concern on this before, and the possibility of an inter-state travel option does a lot to stymie that. Great job Doug Wilson, I want to have your babies!

Prediction: Sharks win 6-3. A pair of hat tricks from Staubitz and Shelley, who proceed to make this post the most irrelevant thing since Joaquin Phoenix announced the start of his rapping career.

Go Sharks.