Vlasic’s Norris Candidacy Lies in McLellan’s Hands

Way back in the day, this wee lad projected Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to win a Norris trophy for most outstanding defenseman (written as a teenager, please excuse the excessive optimism). Vlasic bounced back from a sophomore slump with a killer season in 2008-09 next to hall of fame defenseman Rob Blake.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
(Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

Put Me In Coach!

The Quebec native saw his points increase from 12 to 36, his plus/minus increase from minus-12 to plus-15, and he started to shoot the puck a whole lot more as well. Getting second unit power-play time in year three, it seemed like Vlasic was well on his way to becoming a house-hold name. Twenty-one of his 36 points came with the man-advantage. In the years since however, Vlasic has seen virtually no power-play time, accumulating just five power-play points over the following five seasons.

Unfortunately, in today’s NHL game, you have to score points in order to become a Norris candidate. While Vlasic has continued to flourish defensively, it wasn’t until his hot offensive start last year that he started getting the attention he’s always deserved. In large part to his early offensive output, the buzz got going around the league for him to make Team Canada. He eventually did make the Olympic team and his steady presence there allowed defensive partner Drew Doughty to dominate the tournament.

“MEV” as he’s referred to on social media, ought to someday get Sharks fans chanting “M, E, V, M, V, P” as he has that big of an effect on the game. We all saw how sorely he was missed at the end of the Kings series last year. Fortunately for Vlasic, all he needs is a little offensive faith from his coach to be a near surefire lock to become a Norris candidate.

While I thought it was a mistake that Sharks head coach Todd McLellan had Vlasic on the first power-play unit in the opener against Los Angeles, it’s not as if Vlasic doesn’t deserve it. However, the Sharks power-play has been absolutely fantastic the last few years (outside last season) with their five most gifted offensive players on the top unit. With Dan Boyle moved on, one would have thought Joe Thornton, Patrick, Marleau, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture would be the first unit.

Instead, McLellan opted to go with his top two even strength forward lines on separate units with Vlasic and Burns manning the point on the first unit and Jason Demers and Mirco Mueller on the second. Thus far, can only say it was a wise decision through one game as Vlasic earned an assist on Patrick Marleau’s power-play re-direct of a Burns shot-pass.

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

I’m Ready To Play!

Last season, Vlasic finished with 23 points outside the power-play. If you were to add his 21 power-play points from 2008-09 to that 23, you would have a 44 point defenseman. If Vlasic were to receive No. 1 unit time all season, he could easily be a 50-point defenseman. On the No. 1 unit, it would not be shocking at all for Vlasic to put up around 25 points on the power-play, and 25 points away from the power-play, turning him into the best defensive defenseman in hockey while also being a 50 point defenseman.

It’s all in McLellan’s hands on how much he wants to use him on the power-play. If Vlasic eclipses the 50 point total, it’d be a crime if he doesn’t get one of the three finalist spots for the Norris. Surely some defenseman will have more points, but nobody will be as good in their own zone. Plus few defenseman last year actually scored significantly more than 50 points. Only Duncan Keith and Erik Karlsson had over 60 from the blue-line. So even if Vlasic finishes with “just” 44 points, that’s a total good enough for 14th best in the league last year.

A couple of years ago, Vlasic winning the Norris would have been a stretch, but Team Canada attention, and first unit power-play time will help him be a finalist this season. It’s all up to McLellan on how much of the latter he is willing to give his top defenseman.