Todd McLellan can be graded according to the 12th-best point percentage in the NHL his San Jose Sharks have attained
Everyone has different criteria for report card grades and brings different priorities to the debate. Thus, before evaluating the San Jose Sharks in the early third-plus of the 2013 season, it is important to define the report card parameters.
Anyone can say San Jose is 25th in goals scored per game (25th percentile) and grade them accordingly. Some even try to act like special teams compare to offense and defense like it does in the NFL.
It is power play, penalty kill and even strength. (It is also a sweater not a jersey, and a dressing room not a locker room.) That is because the team's power play is part of the offense, and the team's penalty kill is part of the team's defense.
If you give up four goals because your penalty kill gives up three, you do not have a bad defense and a bad penalty kill. The defense was good until it went on the penalty kill, establishing that the correct comparison is between PK and even strength.
While the PK is elevated too high, other elements of a defense are scarcely made known. Most NHL fans only know where teams stand that are very good or bad at blocked shots faceoffs, takeaways or giveaways—collectively called "real-time stats" on NHL.com.
It is in those details that the picture of what a team is doing on the scoreboard comes more into focus. Grades based on these statistics means they can be objective, though variables must still be considered—i.e. a team that controls the puck will have fewer chances at blocks, etc.
Note that there is no slide for hits, an overrated stat because it is assigned at the discretion of home statisticians. Some assign them more liberally than others, particularly to their own team.
Every game literally starts with a faceoff. Every time the whistle is blown, a faceoff is coming.
That is why teams that can get initial control of the puck generally succeed. The San Jose Sharks are ranked sixth in the NHL in both faceoff percentage (52.6 percent) and differential (57 more wins than losses).
They have been struggling in the circle of late, but given their recent history, that is more likely an anomaly than a trend. Being in the lowest-ranked team in the top 20 percent when there are five grades given out, spells A- as clearly as crystal.
Only three teams have more giveaways than the San Jose Sharks (180), and only the Edmonton Oilers average more than their 10 per game. That has to rate an F, right?
Here is where one must look beyond the numbers. Teams that win faceoffs and steal the puck have the puck more to turn it over.
It is kind of like fans that judge an offensive line simply by sacks allowed, not taking into account how effectively they run block, how often a team passes or how much of a drop their offense asks them to take (i.e. is it a Mike Martz system?).
Faceoffs, giveaways and takeaways are all part of the total number of possessions in a game for a team. Teams can lose possession without giving it away or having it taken from them, but since that data would be too cumbersome to accumulate, a less accurate estimation will be based on those three stats.
Many teams with fewer giveaways had far fewer possessions to work with. The Sharks lost only eight more possessions than they gained.
The Anaheim Ducks are at minus-78 in possessions after their 136 giveaways. Still, those gaffes are a lower ratio to new possessions (faceoffs)—136 to 1088 is exactly one in eight—than San Jose's 180 of 1097 (one in 6.1).
Realistically, this puts all but six teams above the Sharks: Edmonton, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto and the New York Islanders. With a target six failed grades handed out on each stat, the Sharks are the worst of the rest—a D-.
The San Jose Sharks have more takeaways than just 11 NHL teams. But the flip side of the giveaway modifier applies here—while losing the puck through a faceoff or a giveaway is bad, it does give a team another opportunity to pad their takeaway stats.
In short, you cannot take what you already have. The better a team is at puck possession, the fewer takeaways they are bound to have.
Four teams (Anaheim, New Jersey, Vancouver and Montreal) with more takeaways are clearly taking the puck away at a lower percentage of their opportunities than San Jose. Three more (Calgary, Dallas and Buffalo) are within the margin of error because possession changes that cannot be statistically validated are not considered.
In other words, the Sharks fall between 12th and 19th, but probably barely in the top half—a solid C.
The 275 blocked shots of the San Jose Sharks are good for 14th in the NHL. But most of the teams in front of them have played at least one more game.
And then there is that nasty phrase "percentage of opportunities" again. If you are not facing many shots, you will not have as many chances to block them.
Mathematically, these factors can be quantified by comparing the ratio of shots to blocks and dividing it by the number of games played. Shots are already given as an average per game, blocks needed to be divided by the number of games and then again by the number of shots on goal to establish the per game ratio.
The Sharks finished 10th at .58 blocks per shot on goal, a solid B.
There is no time the San Jose Sharks get as much mileage out of blocked shots as on the penalty kill. When down a man, only four teams have better than their 86.1 percent success rate.
Early in the season, it looked like the Sharks might struggle like last season. However, two of their first five goals allowed were while down two men for over a minute.
Then the Sharks went on a streak of 36 straight kills that also included a couple extended 5-on-3 play. The unit has been strong enough to hold the Sharks within a couple places of their peak, and it is just enough to get them a low A.
In the beginning of the season, hearing the theme from "Jaws" and seeing fans at the HP Pavilion mimic biting, with their arms as the mouth and fingers as teeth, meant the San Jose Sharks were going to score.
Now they should seriously consider passing on the penalty. The Sharks have converted just over five percent of their power play chances in the month of February, plummeting from a peak of second all the way to tied for 17th.
With six teams per grade, they barely make the cut for C. Their recent struggles should mean no more than their early success since neither is probably representative of their actual proficiency. With the number of chances they have been producing, the scores are inevitable.
Even strength proficiency is a statistic rarely looked at, but may be the most telling of all for most teams. Over two-thirds of game play is at even strength.
The San Jose Sharks have scored one more goal than their foes 5-on-5. They have scored two fewer 4-on-4. This puts them just barely below average overall at even strength, an obvious C.