Why Joe Pavelski Deserves the Sharks Captaincy

Whether you subscribe to the theory that captains are a useless title or that NHL captains are the only true leaders in sports, the award of the letter “C” is an honor. In San Jose, the captaincy isn’t so clear right now. Todd McLellan has instituted a rotating “A” policy. But a clear leader has stepped forward and has been there for a long time. His name is Joe Pavelski.

Joe Pavelski
The argument that his sweater has the wrong letter on it (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Joe Pavelski, Captain San Jose

Shocker, right? Pick the guy that has the most points and earns top line skating time. Real journalistic reach, huh? Well, enough of your snide internet remarks. There’s much more to The Big Pavelski than you realize. For that, we’ll inspect his impact versus the impact of the other three possible choices for captain: Marleau, Couture, and Thornton.

*Note: All 2014-15 stats are extrapolated to end of season and 2012-13 was the lockout shortened year

**2nd note: All advanced stats are at 5v5

Joe Pavelski

Pavelski CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel Goals Assists Points PPG PPP
12-’13 2.4 4.6 2.2 16 15 31 5 11
13-’14 4.0 14.2 3.3 41 38 79 16 31
14-’15 5.6 18.1 8.2 41 30 71 20 32

In his past three seasons, Pavs has raised his game. He centered the third line last season but has since seen all of his time up front with Joe Thornton. Joe Pavelski has spent more time on the power play this season and it is paying dividends. With 25 goals this seasons, 13 of them on the man-advantage (tied for the league lead with Ovi), he is on pace to match his career high.

Moving to his fancy stats, he has progressed by leaps and bounds. In the lockout season, his goals for was positive, but not overly so. Now, Joe Pavelski is 10th in the entire league for his goals for percentage relative to the team. GF% relative is a clear indicator on how important the player is to his team when scoring. To make that stat more mind-boggling. At even strength, Joe Pavelski is on the ice for nearly one-third of San Jose’s goals. And his power play numbers? Pavs is out there for 38% of the time the lamp is lit.

What isn’t listed on that table is how Joe Pavelski has been utilized. Everywhere from the third line to the top line and the power play to the penalty kill. He has never had problems producing wherever he played and whomever he’s played with. Most importantly, he hasn’t missed a game since the 2010-11 season. If there has been one guy that the Sharks can rely on night after night, it is Joe Pavelski.

Logan Couture

Couture CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel Goals Assists Points PPG PPP
12-’13 1.6 15.5 0.8 21 16 37 7 12
13-’14 0.0 8.9 1.5 23 31 54 4 13
14-’15 -0.6 5.1 0.3 30 41 71 6 25

Couture has often been tabbed as the heir-apparent to Joe Thornton’s captaincy. But perhaps that is a little short-sighted. I have had multiple arguments against myself about who should take the “C.” But with this current season, Joe Pavelski has jumped in front. Paired with Marleau and Nieto much of the last two seasons, Couture has had the benefit of two of the fastest guys on the ice at SAP Center.

Couture’s point numbers have steadily increased with the experience he earns at this stage in his career. He is on pace to eclipse all of last season’s markers. But his fancy numbers have all sunk. Whether or not it is because he and Marleau have faced stiff competition, Couture hasn’t responded as well as we would’ve hoped.

As THW writer Andrew Bensch mentioned, the Sharks have absolutely plummeted in five-on-five scoring. Couture’s numbers may be increasing, but so is his dependency on the power play. Last season, less than 25% of his points came from the man advantage. This year, that ratio is up over ten percent. Couture’s lack of production at 5-on-5 isn’t the end of the world, but it looks downright pitiful next to Joe Pavelski.

Patrick Marleau

Marleau CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel Goals Assists Points PPG PPP
12-’13 2.7 0.0 2.6 17 14 31 6 14
13-’14 -0.6 -3.6 -0.5 33 37 70 11 23
14-’15 -0.3 -4.2 -2.2 16 41 57 6 26

Of all the players listed, Marleau has seen his impact relative to the team dip the most. In the midst of his worst statistical season since the new millennium, Patty Marleau has struggled. Until recently, he went 16 games without a goal. While you can call it being unlucky, you can’t deny that Marleau’s production is slipping. He hasn’t lost a step in terms of speed, but his five-on-five production has gone the way of Logan Couture’s. But that isn’t surprising seeing as they are linemates. And at least Logan’s relatives aren’t all negative compared to his teammates.

Joe Pavelski
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Across the board, Marleau has fallen off in Corsi, Goals, and Scoring Chances for. Each of the last two seasons, his fancy stats have dropped from the year before. But Patty’s second linemate, Matt Nieto has not seen the same drop in value. Nieto, in fact, has the best Corsi relative rating for the Sharks.

Joe Thornton

Thornton CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel Goals Assists Points PPG PPP
12-’13 4.5 13.5 8.2 7 33 40 2 21
13-’14 6.8 9.6 5.6 11 65 76 2 19
14-’15 9.3 1.8 7.0 17 47 64 1 20

The most recent captain of the Sharks, Joe Thornton, has produced consistently over the last three seasons. But a few of his numbers have increased this season, the season he just happened to start playing 78% of his ice time with Joe Pavelski.

Now, we can’t blame all of Thornton’s success on having the other Joe on his line. Jumbo even garnered some attention for the Hart Trophy. But he has never had a better season in terms of Corsi. A 9.3 relative is by far his top mark in the category. Corsi, while it is an individual statistic, relies on teammates to an extent. At Jumbo’s age, his game also relies on teammates, namely: Joe Pavelski. 18 of Jumbo’s 20 even strength points this season are with the other Joe. His goals for percentage drops a staggering 25 points without Pavs.

Nobody Better Than Big Pavelski

In big moments, a team needs their captain. In previous iterations of this argument, I gave the nod to Logan Couture. But as Logan takes more injuries, his durability gets called into question. But what is more telling in favor of Joe Pavelski is how much better he makes those around him. The effect a captain has on his teammates is the most important factor. Only Matt Nieto, Scott Hannan, and Mirco Mueller have higher GF% without Pavelski on the ice. Couture could be captain someday, but right now, Pavelski is the best option.