The San Jose Sharks’s season ended a few weeks earlier than they would’ve preferred, but this year shouldn’t be seen as a negative. Many young players took the next step, aging stars showed that they could still compete, and the goaltending held up through most of the season. There are quite a few questions that will need to be answered by management, but before that let’s be positive for a moment.
Every Shark deserves to be praised for their accomplishments and I wish I could write an article for each player but alas, it would be too time-consuming. Instead, here’s a hypothetical look at who would win if only the Sharks received NHL awards. For obvious reasons, I didn’t include the Jack Adams award for the best coach or the Vezina for best goaltender. All stats are at even strength.
Selke: Tomas Hertl
The Frank J. Selke Award is giving to the best defensive forward in the NHL. It’s been dominated for years by guys like Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron.
Tomas Hertl took huge steps in many areas of his game and his defense rose to the next level. It doesn’t matter if you look at the traditional or fancier stats, Hertl was a defensive monster. He led the team in takeaways with 47 while also having a positive penalty differential by taking only nine minors while drawing 12. Hertl was also second among forwards with 63 blocked shots, only one behind leader Joe Pavelski.
The advanced stats mostly confirm what the eye test hypothesizes. Hertl was a dominant possession driver with a 51.70% Corsi and a 52.79% Fenwick, both good for top 10 on the team. He was also dominant around the net. He had a 51.90% high danger chance ratio while starting in the offensive zone about 49% of the time.
Peter Deboer did not shelter Hertl whatsoever, as he also saw mostly top-six competition. Despite that, Hertl tied his career high in points with 46 in 79 games with 31 of those coming at even strength. All in all, it was a career year for Hertl in just about every way, but especially in the defensive zone.
Norris: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Sometimes defensemen can be overlooked, and so the NHL gives out the Norris Trophy to celebrate the best defenseman. Unfortunately, it’s often handed to the best offensive defenseman in the league but I want to celebrate someone who thrives in all three zones.
The NHL is blessed with some truly elite defensemen today and few are better than Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He’s arguably the best defensive defenseman of his generation and changed the way the role is played in the post-2005 lockout era. His defensive stats are where Vlasic shines, although he did put up a respectable 11 goals and 32 points in 81 games. The most interesting part of the stat line is that Vlasic had the most even-strength goals on the team even though he still falls short of Brent Burns’ point totals.
But any offense that Vlasic produces is just gravy as he shines in the defensive zone. He exclusively matches up against top-line talent while starting over 58% of draws in the defensive zone. Despite any semblance of sheltering, his advanced stats are beautiful. Vlasic has a 50.41% Fenwick and controls just over 50% of the high danger chances that occur as well as 53% of high danger goals.
Vlasic was the best defenseman on the Sharks this season as he’s been over the last few years. And yes, I’m aware Burns won the Norris last season, but that wasn’t quite deserved in my opinion. Vlasic eats tough minutes so that the other defensemen can be played to their strengths and rack up as many points as they do. Without Vlasic, the defense would be a rudderless ship.
Lady Byng: Chris Tierney
The Lady Byng trophy is given to the most gentlemanly player on the ice and usually translates to how few penalties a player takes while also being competent. The player that best exemplifies this for me is Chris Tierney, who’s a jack of all trades but a master of none. He had a great season in the offensive zone with 40 points in 82 games while not being a liability in his own zone.
Tierney only took four minor penalties in all situations this year while being a key part of the penalty kill. He ate some very tough minutes while also facing middle-six competition. The Sharks needed a third-line center to step up and score, and Tierney answered the bell in wonderful fashion.
Calder: Timo Meier
I had to fudge the definition of this award a bit, as the Calder trophy is given to the rookie of the year. So consider my Calder as the award for the “best breakout performance of the year”. Timo Meier has been a wrecking ball all season and put up some respectable numbers playing in the middle six. He put up the best numbers of his young career with 21 goals and 36 points in 81 games.
On top of that, Meier set the pace whenever he was on the ice with a 52.60% Corsi and a 53.16% Fenwick. Setting the pace isn’t where Meier made his mark though, as his net-front presence was incredible for a 21-year-old. Meier controlled 53.90% of the high danger chances created and individually produced 94 of the total 249. That was good for second best on the team behind only Joe Pavelski.
Players have to shoot to score and Meier did just that and led the Sharks with 177. Pavelski was a close second place, but both were 50 shots better than third place. In fact, Meier was second on the team in shots per 60 minutes with 9.81, only behind Evander Kane who joined late in the season. His shots per 60 were ranked 19th in the league among forwards who played over 1000 minutes. That’s a good sign for the future as all of the best scorers in the league shoot often and with great pleasure.
The new Shark on the block had a great sophomore season and proved that he could play with the big boys of the NHL. Meier was the breakout player of the year and looks ready to take the next step in his development. The sky is the limit for the up and coming power forward.
Hart: Logan Couture
The Hart trophy is awarded to the most valuable player in the NHL. It doesn’t always mean points, but often they help. That’s why I think Logan Couture was the most valuable player to the Sharks in 2017-18. . Burns and Pavelski may have been better, but Couture was dynamite all season on the second line. He scored a career-high in goals with 34, 12 better than his previous best. On top of that, Couture also scored 61 points in 78 games, good for third on the team.
Couture’s Corsi was pretty much down the middle but his Fenwick was much better at 52.89%. Like his Corsi, high danger chances were right down the middle for the ex-Ottawa 67. What separated Couture from the other forwards who had better numbers was the matchups.
Head coach Peter Deboer trusted Couture to go up against and shut down the opposition’s top-line talent. Throwing him to the wolves allowed other lines to see easier assignments and maximize their offensive contributions. All in all, he had a hard job and he did it admirably. Like I said, other players may have more points or better numbers, but no one was more important to the team than Couture.