2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic Report Card
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Pickles works because of his last name, but it does not describe his play: He is neither sour, nor soft, nor salty, though he is that one extra ingredient that enhances the blue line.
Players like Pickles are relatively unknown by fans. Because he is not a scorer and plays on the Pacific Coast, fans in the East Coast who never get to see him may not even know who he is. But you can also watch a game he plays in and not notice him.
So is he quietly productive or a non-impact player? Here are the good, bad and ugly truths about his game...
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Marc-Edouard Vlasic plays with one of the highest hockey IQs in the game. He does all the little things that do not show up on the stat sheet.
He is almost never out of position. That is why he led the San Jose Sharks in blocked shots with 171—more than all but 11 other players in the NHL, including 28 more than Sharks stay-at-home defensive specialist Douglas Murray. It is also why he led the blue line in plus/minus (plus-11).
His intelligence coupled with his skating ability makes him the most reliable defender the Sharks have. He was the only one who played every game (Pickles has missed just 21 games in six seasons) and his ice time exceeded everyone in San Jose but elite skill defenceman Dan Boyle.
He also stays out of the box (40 PIM) and avoids giveaways (44), giving him the best possession differential (minus-26) on the unit. But while his defensive quotient is an impressive 70.9 (fewer than three points lower than Murray's), he was drafted for his offensive potential.
He had 26 points as a 19-year old rookie and reached 36 in the 2008-09 season, but had not hit 20 points in any of his other three seasons. This season he had a modest but solid four goals (including one game-winner) and 19 assists. His resulting offensive quotient (also defined at the link above for DQ) of 32.44 is third on the Sharks blue line.
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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is not a very physical player on a team that lacks that quality. He had just 45 hits, fewer than six of his fellow defencemen, four of whom played substantially fewer minutes.
One would hope for more than a 22-point season average out of a player who is not physical. If he made up for it with a great stick, he would still be a shutdown defender. However, his 18 takeaways are not very impressive given his ice time, ranking him last in minutes per takeaway.
But more importantly, Pickles also has never been an impact player in the playoffs when the San Jose Sharks as a whole struggle more than their talent warrants. He had no points and a minus-two rating in the franchise's shortest playoff stint ever, and had no goals and nine assists with a plus-one rating in the prior 63.
The Ugly Truth
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Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be compared to Miikka Kiprusoff because the San Jose Sharks traded the goalie for a second-round pick they used to select the defenceman.
At first glance, the Calgary Flames would appear to have won that trade. However, after his first partial season in Saskatchewan that culminated in a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, he has not gotten out of the first round. His career is coming to an end, while the Sharks can still view Pickles as part of their core.
Moreover, he would never have been a starter in San Jose.
The Sharks have had better goalies who have usually made less money in that time. Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi have better stats in almost every season than Kipper and much more playoff success. Even Vesa Toskala had a better playoff record and was sought by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a starting goalie.
Meanwhile, Pickles has been plugging along, munching minutes and forcing players wide to disrupt the attack. At 25, he still has the potential of being a true No. 2 defenceman and will almost certainly be a top-four defenceman into the next decade.
Those facts along with his mild cap hit of $3.1 million next season may make him desirable enough to be a trade option. But on a team that lacks core players under 30, the Sharks will need to make a decision to either re-sign him or trade him before next year's deadline when he might fetch the biggest return.