San Jose Sharks: 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Grades for Blue Line, Goalie

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMay 16, 2012

San Jose Sharks: 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Grades for Blue Line, Goalie

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    Any NHL offseason—or one for any professional sport, for that matter—begins with an analysis of the organization from top to bottom. Inventory must be taken of assets and liabilities before one can move forward.

    For a team like the San Jose Sharks that has high expectations, this examination must be harsh. A single playoff win is unacceptable.

    In the past, such a finish would have been nothing short of a choke. But the 2011-12 Sharks problems were nearly season-long (they had three 15-game stretches with at least 10 wins but won just 12 games in the other 42), making a quick departure predictable considering their struggles against the St. Louis Blues in the regular season.

    That being said, there were two teams that finished with lower in the league standings that played on longer. The Sharks beat one of those teams, the Los Angeles Kings, twice to end the season. No team scored less than L.A. during the regular season, yet they scored 15 goals on the same Blues squad in a four-game second-round sweep.

    In other words, regular season struggles aside the Sharks should have done more in the playoffs. A good playoff run could have erased the failures that preceded it and they could be sitting where L.A. is after last night's win in Phoenix—in the driver's seat to win the Western Conference.

    Thus it pays to examine the playoffs separately. That began by looking at the 14 forwards who played over the five games, and now it is time to examine the blue line and goalie play.

    At the above link, a formula was explained for Offensive Quotient (OQ) and Defensive Quotient (DQ) to come up with a final grade. These formulae consider only the total contribution, thus appropriately giving players who are on the ice more opportunities to score higher.

    Because the blue line's offensive contribution results in fewer points (often they touched the puck too early to get an assist) and more giveaways, their OQ formula is different. More stress on the back end, they are on the ice more but have fewer opportunities for takeaways, leaving them in the red for possession differential.

    Students are graded strictly on the numbers in a course at one of the fine Bay Area universities. There is no consideration for this student had to work and raise a child while attending compared to another who has every resource money can buy.

    Hence, the following players are listed from best to worst grade strictly according to the formula...

Brent Burns: A-

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    When the San Jose Sharks traded top-6 forward Devin Setoguchi for Brent Burns last summer, they envisioned him being one of the NHL's best players on the blue line.

    A big, physical player who can skate and has a booming shot, I saw him being in the Norris Trophy discussion as one of the truly elite defencemen in the NHL. Instead, he was not even in the discussion for the All-Star Game.

    But he was one of the few Sharks to come through in the playoffs. He was one of six players to score a goal and one of two on the blue line. With an assist, he was one of only two defencemen to have more than one point in a series that had just eight goals scored.

    That is why even though Burns had five giveaways, his OQ of 1.67 was good for second on the unit. But his biggest contribution was in his own end. He led the unit in hits (13) and takeaways (3) while registering five blocked shots, giving him a DQ of 5.13, just a hair behind team leader Douglas Murray.

Dan Boyle: B

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    There is much discussion this offseason about moving Dan Boyle, but probably very little of it taking place in the front office of the San Jose Sharks.

    While the average fan or East Coast media member sees Boyle as an aging one-way talent, the well-informed know better. His conditioning and skating make him such a valuable asset that he has been top-10 in ice time over the entire NHL for two seasons in a row.

    You do not get that much ice time unless you can play on both ends. Boyle had a regular season DQ of 61.3, third on the blue line and fourth overall. He was 10 hits and six blocks away from being first or second on the unit in all three major defensive statistics (hits, blocks and takeaways).

    Someone playing at that level is not going to all of a sudden be just another guy. You cannot replace someone with those skills.

    However, while he was among the team's best players in the playoffs, he was not especially impressive. He assisted on one-fourth of the Sharks scores, but thanks to a team-leading seven giveaways, his OQ is just 1.5.

    Of course, that was still second-best on the blue line and with how much the Sharks rely on him to move the puck (again, that is why he is worth his contract), he should lead the team in giveaways.

    Playing over 16 minutes more in the series than the next player will also tend to lead to more of every stat. This makes his third-best hit total of seven and second-best takeaway total of two unimpressive. But his eight blocked shots were just one off the team lead and his DQ of 4.33 finished third on the team.

Douglas Murray: B-

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    Douglas Murray finished without a point and had a minus-one rating. He only played the fifth-most minutes on the blue line.

    So why does he grade so high?

    Over his career, the Sharks have been a strong offensive team, but he has averaged less than a point per five games. Thus, having him not contribute a goal or assist among the team's eight scores is predictable.

    So was his defensive contribution. He was second in hits (10), led in blocks (9) and had a takeaway to counter his one giveaway, leaving him with a DQ of 5.17, best on the team.

    Pretty good considering he was 11th in ice time.

Antti Niemi: C-

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    Perhaps no player exemplifies more why one has to look beyond the numbers to judge someone's play rather than use only objective analysis.

    Nemo stole the only game the Sharks won (two goals on 46 shots) and was above a .900 save percentage in all but one game. Even in that contest, three of the four goals he gave up were on the Sharks awful penalty kill. He allowed just one or two even strength goals in every game of the series.

    But going strictly by the numbers he was below average.

    Unlike skaters for whom points are overemphasized, the two major stats for goalies—save percentage and goals against average (GAA)—are a pretty good and complete measure of their play.

    In fact, the next three stats commonly used (shutouts, wins and record) are not really indicative of goalie play at all. Wins or record are team stats while shutouts actually indicate a negative when examined in conjunction with the two major stats—if you have two goalies with the same save percentage and GAA, the one with the higher number of shutouts is less consistent.

    But since Nemo had only one win and no shutouts against the St. Louis Blues, those will not even come into play. Thus, the relationship between GAA and save pct. is interpreted determines his grade.

    The best measure of a goalie's play is save percentage. It is the only thing they have any control over. If you face more shots, even someone doing a better job will give up more goals.

    During the regular season, Nemo's mediocre GAA benefited from facing fewer shots per game than most goalies, and that made his workload lower than his games played would suggest. If anything, that should help him be at his best and save a higher percentage of shots.

    Among the other dozen goalies with at least 60 starts, only two faced fewer shots and exactly half had a better GAA than his 2.42. This all but proves the only measuring stick should be save percentage

    Among the 13 goalies carrying that load, his .915 save pct. ranked a hair behind Cam Ward for 10th. Nemo's playoff stats were uncannily similar (2.45 and .914), both ranking 10th among the 16 goalies to start more than half their team's postseason games.

    With five grades to give out (A-F) to 16 players, it would make sense to have four C's and three of every other grade. With only six players behind him in both stats, that gives him the lowest possible C.

    Note: Niemi is the only goalie to receive a postseason grade for the Sharks because he was the only one to play even a single second.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: D+

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    Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a minute-munching positional defender. During the regular season, he was the best shot-blocking San Jose Sharks player, was second on the team in minutes and third on the blue line in takeaways, giving him the second-best DQ.

    He was less impressive in the playoffs. He had just five blocked shots, three hits and two takeaways to go with three giveaways for a 3.09 DQ.

    Worse, he was absent on the offensive end. He had finally become a player the team could count on to contribute offensively this season but failed to register a point.

Justin Braun: D

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    Justin Braun has asserted himself as a player who can already anchor the bottom pair of the San Jose Sharks blue line. He plays solidly in his own end and has enough skill to contribute offensively.

    But a third-line defenceman is still below average. Grades are about how you play now, not about your potential.

    Braun did not register a point in the series. He had only three hits and three blocked shots, though he did have two takeaways to go with just two giveaways.

    This gives him a DQ of 2.5, good for fifth on the blue line just as you would expect from a bottom pair defender. But while an overall rating that ranks fifth on a unit and 14th on a team that lost four of five games might meet expectations for his first real playoff experience, it should be a below-average effort for San Jose.

Colin White: F

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    Colin White was probably the worst player the San Jose Sharks dressed more than a few times during the season. He had just four points in 54 games and had the team's second-worst assist to giveaway ratio.

    He had nowhere to go but up in the playoffs, right?

    Only one defenceman had fewer hits, none had fewer blocks and he did not register a takeaway. Despite being asked to do little with the puck, he had two giveaways.

    While he did get one of the Sharks goals, it was late in a game with a three-goal deficit. Thus, even his 1.0 OQ is misleading, and his DQ was the second-lowest among players with more than 22:00 of ice time in the entire series.

Jason Demers: F

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    Jason Demers was in for only three games, but had more minutes than Colin White and less to show for it. In 46:21 on total ice time, he has only the following to prove he played: a minus-one rating, two shots on goal, two missed shots, two hits and three blocked shots.

    Over a sample size as small as five games, avoiding the giveaways is more significant for a low-point player than the formula can account for. Thus, there is no doubt he out-played White.

    However, the scant defensive numbers to show for his time leaves his DQ at just 1.33. With an OQ of zero, his combined score is lower than White's (1.97) because he gets full credit for the garbage time goal.