Which 5 San Jose Sharks Will Have the Best Plus-Minus Stats in 2013-14?
No team dominates the 2013-14 NHL plus-minus charts more than the San Jose Sharks. Two Sharks sit atop the charts, tied for the league lead. Another looms one point behind, and four others are within three.
That's seven players in the top 20, for those keeping track at home.
The plus-minus statistic could be considered the gateway statistic of hockey. Its true value is a hotly contested point, and it has provoked a series of more complex statistics aimed at more accurately analyzing the on-ice value of a player.
But in a world of increasingly complex statistics, plus-minus is an easy-to-understand statistic that analyzes the events that occurred while the player was on the ice.
Unlike goals and assists, which can only be attributed to one and two players, respectively, all players on the ice get credit for goals scored and goals allowed in the form of a plus or minus.
Here’s the simplest explanation for the newbies: A player receives a plus-one if he is on the ice for an even-strength (five-on-five) or short-handed (five-on-five) goal scored by his team, regardless of his involvement. A player receives a minus-one if he is on the ice for an even-strength or short-handed goal scored by the opposing team.
With that explanation, it shouldn’t be surprising to see so many Sharks on the plus-minus leaderboard. San Jose’s combination of potent offense and stingy defense creates a perfect recipe for success.
Here are the five Sharks you can expect to see atop the team’s plus-minus chart in the long run.
Tied for the league lead early with a plus-10 is the Sharks’ best all-around defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Some players’ plus-minus ratings are overinflated due to ice time (or lack thereof) or an inferior quality of opponent—but not Vlasic’s.
“Pickles,” as he’s referred to by the Sharks’ faithful, consistently draws the toughest defensive assignments, lining up against (and shutting down) the opposition's best. Despite the offensive prowess he faces, Vlasic has only been on the ice for two even-strength goals in the Sharks' first nine games.
He logs extensive minutes on the team's penalty kill, comprising half of the top defensive pair. The Sharks are gifted with offensively skilled penalty killers like Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, creating a constant threat for short-handed opportunities. Yet with all the power up front, Vlasic lays claim to the Sharks' only short-handed tally thus far.
In his seven full seasons, he has failed to finish the season with a plus rating only once (2007-08). Since that season, Pickles has finished each season in the top five on the Sharks in plus-minus.
Vlasic will continue to be tested throughout the season, and the Sharks have every reason to believe their young star will meet every challenge thrown his way.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the other Sharks player leading the league with a plus-10 is Justin Braun. He is the other half of the league’s most underrated defensive pairing.
After being unable to find a consistent fit over the last two seasons, Braun appears to have found a home in the vacancy left when the Sharks dealt Vlasic’s former defensive partner Douglas Murray late last season.
Even after the trade, Braun’s numbers weren’t particularly impressive. But the experience and familiarity set the groundwork and has yielded a strong combination early this season.
He currently leads all Sharks in total ice time, much of which is spent fending off the opponent’s top line. San Jose has given up only one even-strength goal with Braun on the ice this season, which is tops amongst all team defensemen.
One-quarter of the Sharks' go-to penalty kill unit, Braun will have plenty of opportunities to spring the team's potent forwards for short-handed opportunities.
If Marc-Edouard Vlasic were a forward, he would be Logan Couture. Couture is the complete package up front and is defensively responsible to boot.
Currently at plus-eight, he tied for the team lead last season with a plus-seven while emerging as a leader in all scenarios. He led the team last season in even-strength points and currently ranks one behind team co-leaders Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl (eight).
Never one to shy away from self-sacrifice, Couture has blocked more shots over the last four seasons than any other Sharks forward, earning him ice time in crucial situations including the penalty kill.
There is every reason to believe Couture will continue his strong play at both ends as he seeks career bests in several statistical columns.
If Couture is the forward version of Vlasic, then Patrick Marleau is the forward version of Justin Braun.
Couture and Marleau might as well be tethered to each other. The pair receives all of the same assignments—including the Sharks’ first power-play unit and on the penalty kill.
Historically, Marleau has been a bit of a crapshoot in the plus-minus column. But that's not surprising for a player who is primarily categorized as a goal scorer. Goal scorers are streaky by nature and can rarely sustain their output for extended periods of time.
His current plus-five appears pedestrian amongst his teammates and can be misleading relative to his 11 points. But make no mistake: He works hard in his own end, and only linemate Tyler Kennedy has been on the ice for fewer goals against than Marleau, amongst all Sharks' regulars.
Additionally, seven of Marleau's 11 points have come via the power play, which don't affect his plus-minus rating.
Expect his plus-minus to continue to rise. In addition to mass amounts of even-strength chances his line sees, the speedy forward will see an increase in short-handed chances with a much-improved penalty kill.
I have to say, I can't help but be a little bit surprised when it comes to Joe Thornton and his plus-minus rating.
You wouldn’t describe him as relentless in his own zone. He’s led the Sharks in giveaways by a mile since arriving in San Jose.
Yet he consistently ranks among the team’s plus-minus leaders nearly every season.
So how is it done? He gets his plus-minus stats the old-fashioned way: He outscores his opponents.
Unlike the four previous players, instead of matching Thornton to an opponent, head coach Todd McLellan often finds his captain to be the recipient of the opposition’s top defenders. With few exceptions, these are rarely the opposing team’s top offensive weapons.
Despite the lockdown matchups, year after year with the Sharks, Thornton has produced elite offensive statistics. This season, the Sharks have created matchup nightmares with three offensively capable lines, which creates windows for Thornton's line to exploit.
Even when the San Jose offense begins to tail off from its scorching pace, count on the Sharks captain to be on the ice for significantly more goals for than against.