At the quarter-season mark, the San Jose Sharks find themselves in the playoff picture. This is a surprise to many who projected the Sharks to be one of the worst teams in the Pacific Division. At this time of the season, I thought it would be fun to look at who would win the team awards if they were handed out right now. I’ll go through the most valuable player, most surprising, best rookie, and most disappointing.
Most Valuable Player: Logan Couture
There’s no question that the most consistent player this season for the Sharks has been their captain Logan Couture. After previous captain Joe Pavelski left, it took a while for Couture to come into his own as a leader and player in the new role. Like the rest of the team, he struggled the past two seasons, but his resolve appears renewed. Of all the bloated long-term contracts the Sharks have, his is probably the one that will age the best based on current production.
If his current pace holds, Couture will finish with the best point total of his career. His current 74-point pace is fueled by a slightly high shooting percentage and points participation, but most of the rest of his number are in line, so if there is regression coming, it shouldn’t knock him down too far. This team finally feels like it is playing in the mold of their captain. They are fast, they compete hard, and rarely take shifts off. The last two seasons, it didn’t feel like his team, it now certainly does.
Most Surprising: James Reimer
Sharks’ fans were welcoming two new goaltenders at the beginning of the season with open arms. After years of suffering through the inconsistent play of Martin Jones and finding no answers with Aaron Dell, Devan Dubnyk, Josef Korenar, amongst a few others, fans were ready for a change. When the Sharks traded Korenar with a 2022 second-round pick for Adin Hill, the thought was that he would be the presumed number one goalie, and he did enter camp that way. Since then, though, Reimer has wrestled the job away from Hill.
Reimer has looked more calm and confident in the net. His scrambles have been measured, and I don’t remember many if any “bad” goals. Most of the games where he did not do well, you could also blame the team. The numbers back this up, too, as he has saved more than six goals than he was expected to do, according to Evolving Hockey. At this point, he is the clear-cut number one goalie and Hill will have to steal starts from him with stellar play if he wants to get back in the crease. The fans are thankful for NHL-caliber goaltending, regardless of whom it comes from.
Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Dahlen
In a year when so many young Sharks’ players have played meaningful roles for the team, Dahlen stands above the crowd. According to Money Puck, the Coutre-Dahlen-Timo Meier line is fifth in the league in expected goals for per 60 minutes for all lines with at least 120 minutes spent together. Not only is he a member of one of the best lines in hockey, but he’s also a valuable contributor, not just a passenger.
We weren’t sure what to expect from Dahlen in his first sustained role in the NHL. If he was a consistent NHLer who contributed a few points here and there, you could consider his season a success. Instead, he is a first-line winger whose contributions have been vital to the success of the team. He is fifth on the team in point pace for forwards, which is fantastic for someone who wasn’t even on the team last season. First-line wingers don’t grow on trees, and the Sharks a very lucky to have Dahlen achieving such great early success. Hopefully, for the Sharks’ sake, it will sustain.
Most Disappointing: Erik Karlsson
If Erik Karlsson weren’t making 14.1% of the Sharks’ cap hit per season until 2027, he probably wouldn’t be quite so disappointing. His 62 point pace isn’t terrible, even considering he was consistently at or above 65 point paces from 2011 to 2019. What’s bothersome is that according to Evolving Hockey, Karlsson is the seventh-best defender in Corsi against per 60 minutes. This means he is one of the worst on the team in limiting shot attempts on his own net. Even the struggling Marc-Edouard Vlasic and rookies Jaycob Megna, Jacob Middleton, and Ryan Merkley have been better than Karlsson.
On the other hand, Karlsson is by far the best at expected goals per 60 minutes amongst the defenders on the team. He’s also been the best at turning those expected goals into actual goals. He has nearly double the number of secondary assists to primary, which means the point scoring is likely to regress even further. He’s shooting nearly double his career norm and, according to Money Puck, has almost three more goals than expected. It isn’t all bad, but there are serious signs of regression coming. If the expectations weren’t so high, he might not win this award, but because they are, he is the biggest disappointment.
What Does the Future Hold?
It’s hard to say if these selections will maintain for the season. It’s possible Reimer’s play regresses, and Hill takes the crease. Reimer has never really been a starter for very long. His most appearances in a season were 44 in the 2017-18 season with Florida. He’s 33-years-old, so it’s conceivable he and Hill share a majority of the starts the rest of the season.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Meier’s stellar start to the season. Even though he has been great, we’ve been expecting this for some time from Timo, and I still maintain Couture has been more valuable. Couture does more than just score and has been instrumental in helping Meier get a large majority of the points he has. Hopefully, for Sharks fans, Karlsson improves his defensive game without sacrificing the offense he’s been able to contribute.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12