Time to pass out the THW awards for the San Jose Sharks. Your Sharks writers, Zachary DeVine, Andrew Bet and myself picked the best in four categories. This was a group effort and the contributions of all are reflected in the voting and text.
One vote was unanimous, another sort of unanimous. The other votes were split decisions, which is fitting given the up-and-down nature of the Sharks’ season.
Most Valuable Player: Brent Burns
Candidates: Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski
The Sharks’ most valuable player is the lone clear-cut choice, and none of us seriously considered anyone else. Burns is the straw that stirs the Sharks’ offensive drink. For much of the season, Burns was the best player in hockey. Even with a recent slump, he still tops the team in points and plus-minus. While Couture finished a clear second, there was a discussion and a good deal of agreement that he has been the best Sharks forward this season.
Most Improved: Micheal Haley
Candidates: Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Micheal Haley, Brenden Dillon
In a 2-1 vote, the award goes to Haley over Marleau. Haley turned in a solid performance in a role that only he can play. The stocky veteran set career marks in each major category, quadrupling his career point total while leading the NHL in words written about a fourth-line winger. He became a plus player (plus-5) for the first time in his career. Fans have expressed frustration with head coach Peter DeBoer’s deployment of Haley, but credit the middle-weight for doing his job (including 15 fights), doing it well, and doing it in the face of overblown criticism. Marleau’s bounceback season after a few down seasons was a close second.
Best Newcomer: Aaron Dell
Candidates: David Schlemko, Jannik Hansen, Aaron Dell, Kevin Labanc, Mikkel Boedker
The first pass resulted in a 1-1-1 tie, with a vote each for Labanc, Schlemko and Dell. The tiebreaker a look further down the ballot. The second-place votes tipped the scales for Dell. His strong performance put him among the elite backup goalies. The World’s Okayest Goalie took the final step forward in a career which goes back to the Alberta Junior Hockey League with numerous stops on his way to the Sharks. Dell’s record is a solid 10-6-1 and his save percentage sits at a sparkling .930. Two of Dell’s six losses came in games with a 1-0 final score. He played well in close games, with six of his wins coming in games decided by one goal. The lone issue working against Dell was not his play, but the baffling decision from the coaches to use him much less than his play merited.
Rookie of the Year: Aaron Dell
Candidates: Aaron Dell, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier
Dell takes the award in a 3-0 vote over Labanc. Due to his age, Dell is not a rookie according to the NHL definition, so there was discussion on this. The NHL rules were put in place so veteran players from overseas leagues would not be eligible for rookie awards if they came to the NHL mid-career. The rules were not intended to target players like Dell. In the end, we went with the spirit of the rule, not the letter of it.
On merit, Dell finished first and Labanc second on all three ballots. As mentioned before, Dell had a strong season in inexplicably limited action. From the start of the season through mid-February, Dell went an average of over two weeks between starts, twice going over 20 days between starts. Considering he never had an opportunity to “get into a groove,” his results are even more impressive. In 16 starts, Dell allowed three goals or fewer 15 times, two or fewer 11 times. There was also a consensus regarding Labanc as the only other rookie even worthy of consideration. Labanc has over 50 games played, 19 points and a plus-9 rating.