Thursday, June 25, 2009

The San Jose Sharks - Tanking In The Postseason

San Jose Prolegomena - The Real Culprits

San Jose cruised to the President's Trophy this season posting 117 points in the regular season. One thing that might have gone unnoticed during that regular season was the play of one Brian Boucher, who is seemingly a plucky up-and-comer despite being 32 and resolutely a career backup: Boucher posted a 2.18 GAA and .917 save percentage while starter Evgeni Nabokov posted a .910 save percentage with a 2.44 GAA. Some of this should no doubt be attributed to inferior competition - if Boucher starts mostly against the dregs, his GAA and SV% should be slightly inflated. However, Boucher filled in for Nabokov during an injury and the team didn't suffer any lapses.

People like to point to Joe Thornton as the culprit for the Sharks' playoff failures, and he does have to take some blame, certainly; his career shooting percentage in the regular season is 14.9, but in the playoffs it dips to 8.0. Worse still, as a member of the Sharks, it's 6.5 in 41 playoffs games, whereas it's 14.4% over that time in the regular season. Playoff shooting percentage tend to be lower - defenses are better, as well as goaltenders, plus there tend to be less penalties, so let's assume that Joe's expected shooting percentage is 11.5%. The odds of this occurring purely randomly, of Joe shooting 6.5% over that time assuming a normal distribution of shots, is 4.5%, and the odds of him shooting 6.5% or worse is only 8%. Something more is likely going on here. However, Joe Thornton's expected goals over this time frame are around 11, so the Sharks have missed out on 5 goals over the 4 playoff years that Joe Thornton has been around.

Let's look at another player - one Evgeni Nabokov, who was mentioned above. League average save percentage is .906 in the regular season. However, it tends to rise in the post-season for the same reason shooting percentage falls - fewer penalties, tighter defense. Let's assume that expected save percentages are .915. How does Evgeni Nabokov stack up over that time frame?

First of all, it's worth noting that Evgeni Nabokov didn't even play in 2005-06 because he was so terrible during the regular season that the Sharks started Vesa Toskala instead. However, Nabokov has a .908 save percentage over that time. It's worth noting here that the Sharks probably increase save percentage somewhat - to what extent won't be investigated here, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Sharks' expected save percentage for their goalies was .002 to .005 higher. Regardless, .908 over the course of that time versus the .915 that's expected. Evgeni Nabokov faced 815 playoff shots, and stopped 740 of them. Had he stopped the league average, that would be 745.7 saves - a difference of 5.7 goals.

Conclusion: Evgeni Nabokov has been just as responsible for the Sharks' playoff failures as Joe Thornton. He deserves just as much blame. If both players had played up to reasonable standards, the Sharks might have advanced farther in the playoffs.

How's It Looking? Not great. No Rob Blake and the team's only got 6 million left to spend, and that's in the best case scenario. The good news is that the Sharks have a lot of bodies lying around who are cheap and can play on the bottom lines, so at least they don't have to waste money there.

2009-10 Projected Lines




Future Watch

The Sharks always have players in their pipeline - LW Jamie McGinn played 35 games for the Sharks and should be considered a shoo-in if a spot on the LW opens up. RW Riley Armstrong is waiver-eligible this season and has improved each season in the AHL - this may be his chance at the the big time. Defenseman Derek Joslin had 11 goals in the minors and could also be ready for the NHL.


The Sharks are heavily involved in trade rumors - whether it's trading Patrick Marleau or Ryane Clowe or whomever else, they are expected to make a deal in the next few days. Dealing Clowe appears to make little sense - he probably hasn't reached his full potential yet and the Sharks can likely negotiate a reasonable deal with him. Jonathan Cheechoo has to be considered trade bait - the former 50 goal scorer only managed 12 last season and may need that famous 'change of scenery'.

Free Agent Discussion

3rd Line Center

San Jose may be interested in the Pahlsson/Madden/Malhotra/Peca/Moore mix out there. Dominic Moore looks like a better fit for them than anyone else. Marcel Goc appears to have been the player that filled this hole during the regular season more than anyone else.


If there's any justice, Evgeni Nabokov will be kicked to the curb for something halfway decent, but that doesn't seem possible. The Sharks still need a backup - Boucher may get a look once again as he was certainly capable during his stint.


The San Jose Sharks were once the healthiest team under the cap - no longer. Teams get expensive quickly. While they are certainly in decent shape, it remains to be seen if they can slide Rob Blake under their cap. They are still one of the best organizations at weaning young talent, and despite their lack of playoff success in the past, they've still got a bright future.


Stanley Cup contender with a few tweaks.

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