The Sharks in 2003-2004

Over in Frank’s blog, he asks a question i’ve heard a lot — how are the sharks going to make up the loss of the offense with Selanne gone and the other changes?

the Sharks have been saying all along that good defense along with the expected play of their players, especially the younger players, will do it. Fans have been (rightfully) skeptical. But will it?

Basically, the players no longer with the Sharks contributed about .69 goals a game last season. That’s not chopped liver, but much as i appreciate Selanne as a player, when you look at his production in San Jose, it simply isn’t that great, and isn’t that hard to replace.

So our goal (heh) is to find 3/4 of a goal a game.

First step: last year, our special teams sucked. Penalty kill was 30th in the league, we were 23rd in short handed goals allowd, and 23rd in short handed goals scored.

If you assume the Sharks merely get back to a decent penalty kill, that’ll cut .13 goals a game off of the oppositions scoring. If you want to admit they might be decent (10th of 30 in the league), that goes up to .2 goals a game.

Short handed: if the sharks could get back to average, that’d drop 2 goals. If they get back to average in short handed goals, that’d add 3 (a net of +5 for the season). If you want to look at 10th in the league, the numbers are 4 and 4.

So the improvement just by making the penalty kill average is .2 goals a game, or almost 1/3 of the “missing offense”. if you want to assume we can get those three stats to 10th in the league, it’s .3 goals a game, almost halfway there. Just by fixing the penalty kill enough to not be putrid. (for what it’s worth, in 2002, the sharks PK was 11th in the league, short handed allowed was 2nd best, and short handed 7th. Asking to get back to 15th isn’t a stretch, and 10th isn’t, iether. And if you look at the PK after Sutter was fired and Wilson had a chance to retool it a bit, it was in the top ten in the league the last 15-20 games of the season; so I think these numbers are reasonable).

Goaltending: The sharks were 26th in goaltending. If they could get that back to a (mediocre) 15th in the league, that would account for .21 goals a game. That and the penalty kill interrelate, but if the Sharks can get better goaltending and better penalty kill, and a net improvement of .4 or .45 (perhaps even half a goal a game) is easy to find — or 2/3 of the missing offense. San jose was 9th in GAA in 2002, for instance.

While 2002 was the division championship year, we’re not asking for that kind of performance. Even a decent (15th in the league) performance is a major improvement over 2003 — and would almost replace Selanne’s offensive numbers for 2003. That’s a scary thought, both as a reminder how bad the Sharks were defensively, and how weak Selanne was offensively. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in Colorado. It’s a scary team, but I wouldn’t hand them trophies yet.

In 2003, Selanne scored .34 goals a game. he can be replaced by a penalty kill that doesn’t suck. He just wasn’t the factor his star status would imply.

Then look at some of the guys still with the team: Mike Ricci (goals off 50%), Scott Thornton (goals off about 70%). That’s 15 goals right there, or almost another .2 goals a game. If both of those players come even close to the numbers we expect of them, if the goaltending snaps back to decent, if the penalty kill snaps back to decent, we’ve found .55-.6 goals a game, almost all of the “missing offense”. it wasn’t missing; we were handing it back with bad defense.

Between 2002 and 2003, the sharks scored 34 fewer goals — but gave up 40 more. A net difference of -74. Of that 34 fewer goals, have can be attributed to production losses from Ricci and Thornton.

So how do the sharks succeed?

Penalty kill 10-12th in the league.
goaltending 10-12th in the league.
cut down on short handed goals allowed.
ricci and thornton get back to 70-80% of what they gave us in 2002.

Right there, we’re 80% of the way home.

Alyn McCauley can get us 8-10 goals. cheechoo for 15 goals? That’s an improvement over last year, but not a major one. A healthy and in-shape McLaren is good for 9-10 goals from the point, and an improved power play.

If this team plays to its capabilities, or even close, it’ll be a good team. The problems last year were sub-par goaltending first and foremost, and that was caused as much by bad to non-existant defense and a ludicrous penalty kill as anything. Fix those, and the “missing offense” is at worst a minor issue. Don’t fix them, and it doesn’t matter, does it? Selanne couldn’t save this team last year, could he?