For those Sharks fans out there that were big Milan Michalek fans, I have two things to say to you.
First, your worst fears appear to be coming true as Michalek is on pace for a 40+ goal season.
Secondly, if you want to blame anybody for Michalek wearing a new sweater this season, blame Jonathan Cheechoo.
If Cheechoo had produced at even half of his Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winning numbers of 2005-06 in his last two seasons with the Sharks, a different trade for Dany Heatley may have been made.
That rumored deal of essentially Patrick Marleau straight up for Dany Heatley might not have been that bad of an idea when you look at the big picture.
Although Marleau is currently on pace to set a new high in goals for the second straight season and has 12 more points than his former teammate, there is one issue that should make Sharks fans think for a second before claiming that giving up Michalek was the better move.
Marleau is now 30 years old and Michalek just celebrated his 25th birthday two days ago.
Considering the age gap, Michalek has a good seven to eight years of the real core of his prime ahead of him. Marleau, on the other hand, has only two to three more years of real top tier performance left.
Now, you might say Marleau has shown no signs of slowing down with his regular season last year and his current regular season so far this season.
However, even with his impressive play over the last two years, Marleau's career point total of 643 would still only eclipse Michalek's projected numbers (if Michalek had played the same amount of games as Marleau at his current scoring clip) by 30.
Marleau's 643 points have come in 902 regular season contests, while Michalek has posted 235 points in just 346 regular season games.
But what is even more interesting to note is that Marleau totaled just 169 points in his first 317 games of his career. Michalek, on the other hand, has totaled 214 points in his first 317 games.
Had Michalek been given time to continue his development and possibly play alongside Thornton and Heatley this season, it would be hard to imagine his play being any worse than what Marleau has given the Sharks so far.
While with Ottawa this season, Michalek has 15 goals and six assists, but the Senators have scored 20 fewer goals as a team than San Jose. If Michalek were still with the Sharks, his assist totals would naturally be higher than they are with the Senators simply by the players around him as well as the familiarity with the system.
But scoring during the regular season is far from the only angle needed to assess the two players and their value moving forward.
Over the last three postseasons, Marleau has registered just 17 points in 30 games including a minus-seven plus/minus rating in that span.
Michalek, on the other hand, has registered 10 points in the 30 games but is a plus-eight in the plus/minus department in that span.
In case you haven't done the math, that is a +15 difference in plus/minus from Marleau to Michalek come the postseason.
Perhaps Michalek doesn't have the same scoring touch, but in reality these past three playoffs have been three of his first four playoff experiences. In Marleau's first four years of postseason play, he managed just eight points in 22 games and was a minus-four.
The difference in early career playoff performance isn't much.
Add in the fact that Michalek's regular season career plus/minus as a Shark was an impressive plus-49, and it goes to show how much of a quality two-way forward Michalek has proven to be.
Over the span that Michalek was a Shark, Marleau's plus/minus was minus-11.
Now some fans would argue that plus/minus can be a deceptive statistic. However, that is primarily the case when comparing players on different teams (who have different players around them). But when comparing players who played on the same team (like Michalek and Marleau) it is actually an accurate measure of defensive awareness.
Now to be fair, both players are thought of us talented defensively because they are both used as penalty killers.
However, plus/minus can only go up while short-handed via a short-handed goal. Therefore it is Michalek's defensive awareness five-on-five that is much better than that of the former Shark captain.
Remember, for as much as San Jose has struggled to score in the playoffs over recent years, their defensive play also drops off come April.
The Sharks may score four goals a game come playoffs this year, but if they give up five, it isn't going to matter.
Of course, since Marleau has gotten off to a fast start this season, fans have seemingly forgot about why they wanted to trade Marleau after last year's playoff debacle.
Now although Michalek wasn't improving on his point totals on a year-to-year basis and therefore was not free from his own scrutiny, his young age made it feel as if this upcoming season would finally see him breakout.
So far this season he is on pace for his usual 55-65 points, but his scoring touch has caught fire with 15 in his first 29 games.
One could only imagine the point totals he could be putting up alongside Heatley and Thornton.
And unlike the Marleau-Thornton-Heatley line, a Michalek-Thornton-Heatley line would be under contract through the 2010-2011 season.
There is a good chance Marleau won't be back next year, and the Sharks' current top-line might end up as a one-hit wonder. And if that one-hit wonder doesn't win a Stanley Cup, then what next?
If Marleau felt the heat from media and fans for his team failing to win the cup with last year's roster, can you imagine how much more blame will be directed towards him if he has another mediocre playoff and the Sharks fizzle once again?
Would you want to take a pay-cut to re-sign with a team and a fanbase that wants you off their team for a third summer in a row? Probably not.
While the Michalek, Cheechoo, second round pick for Heatley, and a fifth round pick might seem like the better deal then the Heatley-Marleau swap, fans shouldn't be too quick to make that claim.
Without a Stanley Cup championship this season, the Sharks might find themselves without Michalek and Marleau going into next year.
I for one won't be looking forward to next season if the Sharks can't win it all this year, because for the first time in a long time, that Shark team will be less talented than the season prior.
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