Are the Sharks Mishandling Mirco Mueller?

Strange Rookie Season

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
Sharks’ rookie Mirco Mueller (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

This past offseason 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller was a popular candidate to crack the opening night roster for the San Jose Sharks. After reportedly putting on 30 pounds the previous year and steadily improving during the preseason, Mueller did in fact make the Sharks opening night roster. Not only that, but the rookie defenseman was in the lineup for Game 1 against the Kings back in October.

Rather surprisingly however, Mueller began the season paired with forward turned defenseman Brent Burns. This simply wasn’t an ideal fit. Going back to defense for the first time in basically two years, Burns was guilty of numerous defensive mistakes of his own the first couple months. Ideally speaking Mueller would have been paired with a veteran capable of bailing out his mistakes, not one making equally as many. That said, Mueller managed to sparkle at times during the first couple months. In early October Mueller defended New York Islanders star John Tavares one-on-one during a four-on-four overtime situation and absolutely shut him down. Even with Tavares having gained a head of steam, the terrific skating Mueller stayed with him, denied a power move to the net, and finished his check into the boards with authority. For the most part though Mueller has been up and down, just like the majority of his Shark teammates.

Put me in Coach, Somewhere…

At 19-years-old Mueller is at an age where he ought to be playing on a regular basis yet he’s been a healthy scratch throughout his rookie season. Due to his age he cannot play in the AHL except for on a conditioning assignment and according to a source within the junior ranks, he cannot play overseas. With the WHL trade deadline passed, Mueller would be eligible to rejoin his junior team the Everett Silvertips as a third European player on their roster. Now the question is would sending Mueller back to junior be ideal?

Everett's Mirco Mueller is rising up some draft boards (Photo by Christopher Mast)
Mirco Mueller with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips (Photo by Christopher Mast)

In Thursday’s 5-1 win over the the Vancouver Canucks, Mueller got back into the Sharks lineup for the first time in nearly two months. Being loaned to the Swiss junior team for the World Junior Championships and a wrist injury have kept him from appearing at the NHL level since early December. Mueller was one of six Sharks rookies in the San Jose lineup, the first time the Sharks have featured that many rookies in one game since the 2009-10 season. Mueller looked sharp on a pair with Brenden Dillon, his defensive positioning was sound, and he didn’t make any noticeable errors with the puck. At 6’3” 205 pounds with tremendous skating ability, Mueller has the physical tools to be a top notch shut down defenseman once he gets used to the NHL speed. The biggest problem for him at the NHL level has been his inability to make quick decisions with the puck on the breakout. He has frequently held onto pucks too long and been burned for it. Most notably in a game against the Oilers earlier this year Mueller second guessed his decision with the puck and gave it away to the ever dangerous Jordan Eberle. While he didn’t score, Eberle went in on a breakaway and deked Antti Niemi out of his pads only to hit the post. Turnovers from Mueller were far too common in the first half of the Sharks season.

When not paired with Burns, Mueller has been most often paired with either Scott Hannan or Matt Irwin, both fellow left-handed shooters. In reality, Mueller hasn’t been given a chance to be paired with the most logical choice on the blue-line. That would be none other than the right-handed Justin Braun. In the first two months of the season, Braun was his normal defensively stout self. Therefore Braun covering for Mueller and Marc-Edouard Vlasic covering for Burns would have made logical sense. However, the Sharks overloaded with Vlasic and Braun together and went with the aforementioned Mueller-Burns pair. Considering Vlasic and Burns have been playing together for awhile now, and the fact Braun and Dillon didn’t mesh well, it would make a lot of sense to try Mueller with Braun when the latter returns from injury. Neither Hannan nor Irwin have done enough to deserve lineup spots on a regular basis, so Burns-Vlasic, Braun-Mueller, and Dillon-Matt Tennyson would be a good way to go with the pairs. Since Braun went down, Dillon has been playing much better lately with Tennyson.

Just One Game Back But…

While it is just one game, Mueller’s solid performance vs the Canucks should lend towards him staying in the Sharks lineup. As mentioned here yesterday, the Sharks would be wise to take a look at as many of their young players as possible. If Mueller struggles after getting a shot to play with Braun then the Sharks can send him back down for the stretch run and WHL playoffs. That said, if Mueller and Braun play well together, it could be the makings of a terrific defensive-minded second pair. Neither Irwin nor Hannan are going to be the difference maker that Mueller could be given regular ice time. It may take a few years, but who knows, playing consistently game to game, Mueller could find a top-4 level of play down the stretch for the Sharks. Yes a rookie like Melker Karlsson is older and plays a different position but nobody saw his ascension up the ranks of the Sharks depth chart. Mueller is talented enough to make that kind of jump if he finds his confidence. Given a normally defensively responsible partner like Braun, Vlasic, or Dillon, there is a better chance Mueller will be able to find that critical morale boost. Confidence is a tricky thing in hockey, one could be making mistakes but getting bailed out instead of seeing the puck in the back of your own net goes a long way in not over thinking. In hockey the worst thing a player can do is think too much. Players are at their best when they aren’t thinking but rather reacting and making plays instinctively. Whether the WHL or the NHL, the Sharks need to get Mueller in games on a regular basis so he can find his game again.

19 thoughts on “Are the Sharks Mishandling Mirco Mueller?”

  1. Mueller really isn’t anything special and all the hype surrounding him was simply because Nieto and Hertl had decent debuts. But now look both are showing that there isn’t much room for growth. Nieto at best will turn into a career 2nd line forward but more likely a 3rd liner ala Torrey Mitchell. Hertl at best will turn into a 2nd line forward as well and if he’s lucky play on the top line if someone carries him enough. He’s lost that fearlessness he had the season prior. Neither are bona-fide top six players anymore.

    As for the depth chart, Tierney, Karlsson, Goodrow, Goldobin and whomever else probably won’t succeed much more. If anything the Sharks are starting to resemble the franchise they were before 2004. Scrappy and full of fight but lacking in true talent. Mueller hasn’t done anything to prove he is the future. Braun still has yet to prove he is capable of handing 22 minutes per night. Irwin still hasn’t proven he is capable of staying in the lineup. Tennyson is finally proving he deserves to be in the NHL, but how long will it last? That leaves SJ with Burns, Vlasic and Dillon as their most competent Dmen. If I’m Doug Wilson I trade Matt Nieto for Cody Franson right now.

  2. Do you feel Burns is more valuable on D than as a forward after 50+ games this season? I find it hard to believe the Sharks would have as many points if he would have been a forward all year.

    • I feel that way, absolutely. Burns went from a huge + player to a minus player. Right now, the difference sits at around 30 (+26 to -3 last I checked).

      Plus, it’d give the Sharks more depth at forward, something that has been an issue all year, made worse by the disappearance of Marleau.

      I like Burns at d on the PP, something he should have done more last year, especially given Boyle’s struggles. And to my surprise, I like him on d for the PK, that long reach and ability to quickly get the puck out of the zone once its on his stick are real assets.

      At 5 on 5, he has more value at F than he does on defense. Its especially frustrating that the only d-man he appears able to pair up with is Vlasic. In large part because it’d be great to have them split up so we could have a very good d-man out there for 45+minutes per game. But apart from his time with Vlasic, Burns just hasn’t been a good 5 on 5 d-man.

    • The entire time Burns has been a shark, the team has struggled to score 5 on 5 when he plays defense, which in 2011-12, was really good defense. However, whenever he was at forward, they were terrific at even strength scoring. Simple as that.

      • Brent Burns statistics as a defensmen in 2014 as of February 10th.

        44th in 5v5 Corsi For % at 52.8%. (who played over 500 minutes)
        Above the following- Marc Edouard Vlasic, Dustin Byfuglien, Justin Faulk, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Cam Fowler, Hampus LIndholm, Niklas Kronwall, Christian Ehrhoff, Erik Karlsson, John Carlson and many many more.

        18th in Ice time in the NHL 24+
        Above Tobias Enstrom, Justin Faulk, Nilas Kronwall, Brian Campball, Jacob Trouba, Keith Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Jake Muzzin, John Carlson, Dan Girardi, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brent Seabrook and many many more

        3rd in points in the NHL. 40
        Above…well literally everyone

        Oh no is a minus two in 5v5 scoring which puts him literally IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NHL NOT THE BOTTOM.

        I guess it’s a good thing he makes up for it by being among the top TWENTY in power play points, and top 30 in POINTS PER 60 on the power play. (who played over 50 minutes)

        AND DID YOU KNOW THAT BRENT BURNS IS AMONG THE TOP 20 IN GOALS ALLOWED PER 60 ON THE PENALTY KILL!? He is among the best penalty killers in the NHL at a GA of 4.2, above the likes of PK Subban, Viktor Hedman, Nate Prosser, Kris Letang, Duncan Keith and sooooo many more.

        At this moment Burns is among the top 20-30 in almost every statistically category compared to fellow defensemen. The ONLY and I mean ONLY category he was top 20-30 in as a forward was goals per 60 NOTHING ELSE. Thats one stat…one.

        Hell his RELATIVE Corsi when compared to forwards isn’t much better than it is now when compared to defensemen. Yet he succeeds in all these other categories.

  3. I think the Sharks ‘handling of Mueller has been fine. A lot of it is that Mueller just isn’t really NHL ready. He does need the right pairing and I think the Dillon-Tennyson pair has been a good find. Braun-Dillon looked a lot better on paper than it did on the ice. Burns, for all he belongs as F, is much less of a liability when paired with Vlasic and 88 is likely to get a lot more time in the offensive zone due to being paired with 44, one of the best d-men in hockey. The results so far are encouraging, to be blunt, Vlasic is the only Sharks d-man that has be able to limit Burns defensive deficiencies. At this point, Mueller or Hannan or Irwin paired with Braun is essentially the 3rd d-pair. I read nothing into the game vs Vancouver, the Canucks just played poorly.

    • Big win regardless of how Van played, SJ needed to beat them since they had dropped the first two at home to the nucks. They didnt play bad in either the first two games, but obviously didnt win, and the second loss was significantly worse than the first one imo. So good turn around game.

      Mueller needs to play regularly, wherever that is.

      • Mueller needs to earn his time, given that Hannan and Irwin are the ones competing for it, no reason he shouldn’t see his fair share. As for beating Vancouver, yes that was an important win. But it reminded me of many Shark games where we wonder why the team seems to be napping. But its OK to recognize that the Canucks were sleeping thru that game — we’ve seen plenty of games this year where it was the Sharks doing the napping

        • And I’ll take the vindication — obviously the Sharks sucked tonight at home against a less than awesome Carolina team, while somehow Vancouver crushed Pittsburgh. Take the 2 points from the Canucks a couple nights ago, but don’t read anything into it about how ‘good’ the Sharks were.

          • The Sharks were good against Vancouver, Sharks are clearly a better team than Vancouver and it finally resulted on the scoreboard. Vancouver was outplayed in the first two games. Pittsburgh clearly had no energy and would have been rolled by 28 other teams the same way Vancouver, I mean that was probably the worst game Pittsburgh played all season, they probably took Vancouver for granted which is easy to do when you look at their roster. Sharks kicked the Canucks up and down the ice and took out some frustration from the prior two games because territorially they dominated those games, Vancouver’s coach even admitted the Canucks were rather fortunate. Vancouver played poorly because the Sharks made them play poorly. You can take something away from the Vancouver game, if the Sharks keep it simple they can be very good.

  4. If you’d like to use me as a source, all you have to do is ask. Or else I can just continue to post my knowledge on a Facebook group and you can skim what you like.

  5. To answer the question posed in your headline…yes, they are. Another blunder by Doug Wilson who has mishandled the entire team since their playoff loss last season to the Kings. The Sharks have gone from one of the most respected organizations in the league to a laughing-stock based solely on Wilson’s bi-polar decision-making. I’ll give him credit though, his off-season buffoonery and finger-pointing somehow managed to save his job where he would have been canned in any other market. Yes, he managed to build an above average young core over the last several years but he was never able to get the team over the ‘hump’ and he is now effectively destroying the franchise from the top down. Fire Wilson, fire Wilson, fire Wilson.

    • Ive said it before, ill say it a thousand times, Wilson built a great core of Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, Vlasic, Burns, but he has crapped the bed when it comes to rounding out the roster. Sticking with an average Niemi, signing guys like Handzus, Vandermeer, Colin White, Burish, Handzus, Brown, Scott, etc, these are the moves preventing the Sharks from getting over the hump.

      • Wilson has signed players who have value and should have put the Sharks over the hump. The hump obstacle starts with their core, you expect your core players who are your stars to lift the team. Wilson has added very nice complementary pieces. Handzus was a bad piece? then how come he was a big part of the reason the Blackhawks won the Cup by being the answer they needed to anchor the second line. Handzus for whatever reason could not help the Sharks as a third line center yet could play second line on a Stanley Cup team. Wilson signs for a guy like Dominic Moore who was clearly a big reason why the Rangers got to the Finals yet when he comes to the Sharks has horrific personal situation to deal with, it is about the Sharks core that is the issue, these guys need to find a psychiatrist to help them find a way to elevate their game. John Scott? Blackhawks signed him…..Sharks are 14-6-2 with him in the line-up. People need to stop looking at what wilson has done and start looking at what the Sharks stars have not done.

        • Ask anyone in chicago, hardly anyone would say handzus was a big part of the Hawks winning that cup. There is a reason he is no longer in the NHL, he was slowing down big time with SJ and Chicago, he couldnt keep up anymore. Wilson traded for Dom Moore, which was a good trade.

          The Sharks top guys have playoff ppg rates as good as the top guys on chicago and LA. The difference is thoses teams have had stronger and deeper forward lines and in the case of LA in 2012 and 14 and the Hawks in 13, much better goaltending as well.

          • I have asked several people in Chicago since my family is from there and they all say Handzus was instrumental in that Cup. Quenneville raved about Handzus’ performance and how helped stabilize their greatest weakness of face-offs. He was brought in to play the 4th line center role, and ended up as the second line centerman which was a problem all year for that Blackhawks teams. Please do some research and ask around but you are way off on what you think people of Chicago think of Handzus. He ended up taking almost every key face-off Chicago had in the post season. There is a reason he is out of the NHL, he lost his job after the 2014 post season where he did not play as well. I am talking about their Stanley Cup team where he added incredible value to that team, I believe he had a couple of playoff winning goals during his tenure with the Blackhawks.

            Remember games 1 and 2 of last year. the biggest problem the Kings had was finding a solution for the Sharks 3rd and 4th lines per Sutter: We have no answer. And when they finally found a way by dropping Richards down to the 4th line, where were the Sharks top players? Do you know what Thornton’s and Marleau’s points per game is in elimination games and their plus minus? It is absolutely atrocious …..look it up sometime, these guys are nowhere to be found in elimination games. Look at the Blackhawks and Kings rosters the top 7 players in points are their top 6 forwards and their top blueliner. Depth lines do not win series in the playoffs, your best players do and scoring when it matters. You’ve heard of Anze Kopitar, Gaborik and Williams those were the Kings best players….Williams won the Conn Smythe, not some 3rd or 4th liner. vDustin BRown led them in their first Cup run.These guys have an innate ability to raise their game when it is on the line, something Marleau,Thornton, PAvelski and Couture have been unable to do. I guarantee you if you look at when most of Kopitar’s, Williams’ Toews, Kane’s goals are most of them come between games 4-7 rather than games 1-3. Might have similiar points per game, but there is a big difference between a game 6 goal than a game 2 or 3 goal.

    • Wilson has waged a beautiful psychological game against the players this season. He is testing their mental fortitude, by creating an us versus them mentality to they rally as a pack. Every time this team has been close to capsizing, they have rallied with a win streak against some really good teams. This team is finally building character and scar tissue. I am not saying it will get them over the hump, but this was Wilson’s last tool. he is playing chess with his pieces right now. Sharks are not a laughing stock at all, you need to talk to other players and management of other teams a lot of them get what Wilson is doing and absolutely respect it. There was zero buffoonery in the off season, the guy laid out a plan , followed it to a tee and it has played out better than I thought it would so far. This team is 9 games over .500 while facing one of the worst road schedules in NHL history to start the season, that could have crushed many teams, Sharks survived. They will also learn a lot finishing 10 of their final 13 on the road. He has given this core group ample ammunition to get over the hump, to get over it they need to figure it out that the missing piece is between the ears not on the ice. Wilson took a team in utter chaos from Lombardi and righted the ship and turned this franchise into one of the best ones out there. He knows what he is doing. I am stunned at how people are clearly missing what the issue is….look on the ice, players not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

      • Handzus played with some really good players with Chicago, that doesnt mean he was all of a sudden this much improved player. Hawks definitely used him in a smarter capacity Ill give you that, but he was not a good signing for SJ. On paper at the time it was a good pickup but it didnt work out as he couldnt keep up anymore. Lots of people can look good playing with Kane.

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