Top Heavy Lineup Will Doom San Jose Again

Don’t Blame the Big Boys

Sharks 2nd line
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

For over a decade now the San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs every single season only to disappoint. And every year their top stars face the brunt of the criticism. Mainly that has meant guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau getting scapegoated for what was a team loss. It is quite unfortunate that there are a lot of silly people around the great game of hockey who want to single out individuals for team success or lack thereof and ignore other factors.

Based off league reputation, one is probably surprised to learn that both Thornton and Marleau have career playoff point per game rates on par with Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, and Patrice Bergeron. Since Thornton and Marleau haven’t won a Cup yet, they are unfairly considered by many to be worse players than their contemporaries who have raised the chalice. This is the same asinine thought process that leads some out there to try and argue Jonathan Toews is better than Sidney Crosby because he has two Cups to Crosby’s one. Sid the Kid isn’t to blame for Pittsburgh’s inability to win another cup. When the Penguins won in 2009 they featured three stud centers on each of their top three lines with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal. Pittsburgh hasn’t won again because their overall team hasn’t been anywhere close as good as it was in 2009. Crosby is still Crosby, still a point producing machine.

When it comes to the Sharks, Thornton and Marleau have never been the problem. For those who say Thornton and Marleau don’t perform in elimination games, that simply isn’t true. Dating back to the 2011 playoffs, Thornton has tallied 10 points in his last 15 playoff games where either the Sharks or their opponent were facing elimination. Over the same span Marleau has scored eight points in 15 elimination games. The narrative that the two longest tenured Sharks players disappear in the playoff is just plain wrong. It is simply not true. Could they have been better in these games? Certainly. Should they have been? Probably. But even if they were the Sharks’ biggest problem in the playoffs has not been the production of their top guys. The real problem is that they are too often a top heavy team without the depth scoring required come the postseason.

Shallow Sharks

(John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
(John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Going back to the 2008-09 season, the Sharks have featured the following players as their primary third line centers: Manny Malhotra, Joe Pavelski, Michal Handzus, James Sheppard, Scott Gomez, Jeremy Roenick, and Dominic Moore. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that their best playoff runs came with Pavelski (twice) and Malhotra at the third line center spot. As mentioned above, the current Crosby-led Penguins won their lone Cup with a dynamite player at third line center. Currently, the Sharks don’t have this spot locked down with anyone significant. Sheppard has disappointed, so has Tomas Hertl, and recently rookie Chris Tierney has filled in at third line center briefly. Yet again this season, the Sharks will get knocked out of the playoffs not because their top stars aren’t good enough but because their bottom six isn’t strong enough.

By the numbers the Sharks are tied with the Washington Capitals for the most top heavy scoring teams in the current playoff picture. Both San Jose and Washington rely on their top three goal scorers for over 40% of their total scoring output. Even teams thought to be top heavy like Pittsburgh and Anaheim, rely less on their top three. Anaheim comes in at 38.3% and Pittsburgh at 34.8%. Not to mention teams like the defending champion Kings at 33%, the Islanders at 34.3%, and the Bruins at 33%. It is not rocket science why teams like Washington and San Jose annually struggle come spring time. Teams that overly rely on their top scorers don’t go far in the playoffs because top defensemen are good enough in this league to limit the scoring of the top opponents and force other players to score. Neither the Sharks nor the Capitals have those kind of quality depth scorers to get the job done. Put it more simply, last season the Kings’ Justin Williams won the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs primarily playing on Los Angeles’ third line. Teams that go deep into the postseason get brilliant performances from the bottom six. Every playoff team has a talented group of top players, but the ones that consistently go far have the deeper talent pool in the bottom six.


5 thoughts on “Top Heavy Lineup Will Doom San Jose Again”

  1. I do not think there is any doubt Marleau and Thornton have not showed up in big games. In elimination or key games in a series when tied 2-2 in the second round and later, Thornton has like 3 points and is a minus 15…against LA had zero points and was a minus 8…that can’t happen even. Marleau is as bad in big games in the second round and later. Last 3 or 4 games of second round or third round series is a lot bigger than than the first few games. And these guys have not delivered, and they are being paid to deliver. Crosby has been shutdown the last few playoff runs in the series they have been eliminated, what Boston did to him a couple of seasons cannot happen to a guy like him. He needs to be better. Guys who make the most money need to be money guys when it matters most. Kopitar and Toews find a way to get it done later in the series.

  2. I have been saying the Sharks need to let go of McLellan for the last two seasons and now I have switched that saying. I believe that both Tmac and Doug Wilson both need to be pardoned from their jobs. The Sharks need a clean slate.

    Doug Wilson has been a average/good GM, he put the Sharks in a spot to contend every year and his scouting staff has been fairly good at eyeing and drafting talent. However his free agent signings have been really bad, the last notable signing was Niemi over 3 years ago!! After what Wilson pulled this offseason, just solidified my thinking that Wilson needs to be let go.

    Todd McLellan recently got his 300th win but I argue that it was easier done than said. Most coaches can win regular season games all day when you have Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in the prime of their careers. But the whole fact that McLellan runs these top heavy teams and fails to figure out how to spread the wealth will be his biggest downfall.

    I personally don’t think the Sharks will ever win a cup with McLellan at the helm or Wilson powering the ship. Since the Sharks really don’t have any upper management after Wilson; and Wilson being the direct person under team owner Hasso Plattner, he or McLellan will not be leaving anytime soon.

    • I agree with you Jasen, Sharks need new faces in both positions. It makes me chuckle when people associate regular season wins with a head coach, particularly in mclellan’s case because he inherited basically one of the top 3 teams in the NHL. They were division winners the year before his arrival and the summer b4 he started, Wilson brought in Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. McLellan has made many more mistakes than main stream media are willing to point out, and like you said, unfortunately there is no hockey mind above Wilson to make a change at GM. That is unfortunate because yes he has severely hindered his team’s ability to make that push to the promise land being awful in free agency.

  3. Hey Shark fan, ask the Fan bases for the Oilers, Flames and Panthers if they would trade teams with you. I’m sure they would jump at the chance to have a real opportunity to win the cup, every year for the last DECADE. It hasn’t worked out that way, but you’ve had your chances. I think the problem with that organization starts at the top. Why they would keep the coach after last years collapse is beyond me. Especially when you have LARRY ROBINSON there. LARRY FREAKING ROBINSON, and somehow McLellen survives. That, shark fan, falls on the doorstop of your GM, the real problem with that organization!

    • Appreciate the comment Robert, although Robinson is taking a lesser role as time goes on, he isn’t interested in head coaching anymore. Also it is McLellan, but i agree that they could use a change at head coach.

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