San Jose Sharks: Power Ranking Player Importance to Stanley Cup Playoff Run
There are different ways the San Jose Sharks—coaches and management—each judge the importance of a player. Fans all have completely different measuring sticks, so any power ranking must come with narrow parameters.
Management has to decide whether to hold pat, buy or sell before the NHL trade deadline April 3. It seems unlikely the Sharks will hold firm, needing either to restructure for next season or make one more push, but they have to start by looking at what they have without any moves made.
The goal of any season is to make the playoffs, and the goal of the playoffs is to win a Stanley Cup—especially for a team with a closing window. Thus the value of each player is based on their ability to contribute to a championship right now and determine how far away the team is from contending for one.
Sometimes better players are not as valuable to the team. This list boils down to which players are more important to the team's chances at a title and cannot be lost to injury or trade without a comparable replacement.
There are a dozen such players—the "dirty dozen" that the Sharks will need to lean on to make a run to the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Putting aside his five consecutive starts with three or more goals against—two were still good performances—Antti Niemi has been far and away the best player for the San Jose Sharks.
Nemo is 11-6-5 with a .925 save percentage and 2.18 GAA. As long as he plays that well, he can keep the Sharks in the game.
Every time a fan of the San Jose Sharks calls for Dan Boyle to be moved for a trade designed to win now, it brings a chuckle.
1. Boyle is the only defenseman with more than six points. The Sharks have one of the lowest-scoring blue lines and you want to get rid of the one guy you have?
2. The Sharks lack leadership that lights a fire under a team that has been repeatedly accused of not sacrificing enough, and you want to get rid of the former Stanley Cup champion who provides it?
3. Just because Boyle is an offensive defenseman does not mean he is a defensive liability. He is fourth on the team in blocked shots and tied for third on the blue line in takeaways—not great, but good enough considering his importance in getting the puck out of that end of the ice.
If the Sharks sell at the trade deadline, Boyle should be shopped. If they want to win now, the only way they can lose him is if they get another puck-moving defenseman that is a fiery leader.
Logan Couture is more important to the franchise than Joe Thornton, but not to winning the Stanley Cup this year.
While Joe does not like to criticize the team's play, he is accountable, works hard on both ends of the ice and is the most skilled player on the team. That is why he wears the "C" on his sweater.
Logan Couture may go down as the greatest player ever to play most of his career with the San Jose Sharks. He is already a genuine All Star and a leader who can skate, shoot, pass, win faceoffs, steal pucks, block shots and even hit if he has to.
There is no player more balanced in what he provides to the San Jose Sharks as Joe Pavelski.
He wins draws, has a strong stick and high hockey IQ that has him almost always where he needs to be defensively. And he also has a deadly shot and passes the puck well. Despite being one of the smaller forwards, he is probably the best working near the net.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is second on the San Jose Sharks in ice time. He ranks among the best shot blockers in the game and is a responsible player and good enough skater to rarely get beaten defensively.
Unfortunately, he is not producing offensively. However, he is capable on that end, once scoring over 30 points in a season.
Much like with Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau provides two things the San Jose Sharks are missing.
What was once a fast team is now lacking in skaters, and Marleau remains one of the best in the NHL. He is also a goal scorer. And even though his inconsistency is frustrating, teams simply cannot lose their best player doing anything they are not good at, especially when it is as critical as scoring.
Brad Stuart is third on the San Jose Sharks in ice time because he is a reliable veteran with some skill and can be physical.
He is tied for the lead on the blue line in takeaways, second in blocked shots and second on the blue line in hits. The Sharks highly value both as part of the team's new identity. Thus, they can overlook that he does not have any goals and only averages about a point per four games at this stage of his career.
Brent Burns has missed much of the 2013 NHL season with injuries. However, the San Jose Sharks can bet he was neither as bad as he looked on the blue line early nor as good as he has been at forward—four points in the three games.
A look at how he played down the stretch last season and how well he played the season before is actually a better measuring stick. Burns is capable of being an All-Star at either forward of defense. He is big, and he skates well.
Versatility and talent have to be balanced somewhat with unreliability, whether by injury or slow starts to both seasons in San Jose. In both cases, the team showed they could win without him.
Martin Havlat is the least reliable skill player on the San Jose Sharks. He is on this list mostly by default.
In his two years, he has had slumps and injuries that kept him from being productive. He is noticeably less engaged at certain times than others and is looking like a good bet to amnesty this summer.
But he provides speed and secondary scoring potential the Sharks have in short supply. If he can be counted on, he can give his team a good chance to make the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ryane Clowe has done next to nothing in the 2013 San Jose Sharks season. He is still without a goal and averaging just an assist every three games, while turning the puck over and slowing play along the half-boards rather than attacking the net as he should be.
But if the San Jose Sharks are going to make any noise, they need him to wake up. In the meantime, he sticks up for his teammates, provides physical play and has a passion that is lacking throughout the roster.
After scoring another goal for the San Jose Sharks Monday, Matt Irwin leads their blue line with five despite missing nine games while in the minor leagues. His eight points are second on the unit, and his ability to get the puck on net from the point is second-to-none.
Irwin is still shaky in his own end. He makes a lot of mistakes and is not a fluid skater.
If the Sharks were not in such dire need of some offense from the point, they would be better off leaving their weakest defender off the ice. But if they are going to get to the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, they will need someone capable of generating scoring chances.