Sharks Vlasic Valiant vs Villains

vlasic_marc-edouard

SAN JOSE- Marc-Edouard Vlasic may not be a super hero but the San Jose Sharks defenseman is the best shut down defender in the NHL. A terrific run at the 2014 Winter Olympics with Team Canada showed the entire world what those around the Bay Area have seen ever since Vlasic reached the NHL as a teenager back in 2006.

If you’re an opposing forward trying to beat MEV or “Pickles” or “Eddie” as his teammates call him, one-v-one, well, you’re best served to pull up and wait for help to arrive.

With the combination of elite skating ability, arguably the most fluid transitional skater in the league, forwards, backwards, starts and stops, and a Nick Lidstrom-esque hockey IQ, in terms of stick placement and gap control, the world is watching a future hall of fame defenseman.

Unfortunately the knock on Vlasic has been and always will be that he doesn’t produce at the offensive end (only 24 points this past season). But that assessment is patently unfair since he isn’t used on the power-play. He makes one of the best first passes on the breakout in the entire league and the Sharks dominate puck possession when he’s on the ice.

Vlasic was third amongst all defensemen in Corsi-for percentage this past season behind only Team Canada defense partner Drew Doughty and his regular partner Jake Muzzin. With Vlasic on the ice at five aside, the Sharks controlled a whopping 58.2% of the possession. Even when paired with a struggling Dan Boyle, the Vlasic led Sharks still kicked major butt in the possession game to the tune of 57.9% Corsi. Furthermore, Vlasic’s 17 even strength assists tied him with the likes of some big  point producing defensemen in Zdeno Chara, Andrei Markov, and Keith Yandle.

If you take Vlasic’s 21 even strength points this past season and put him on the Sharks top power-play unit for a whole season, he would easily finish with over 40 points. In 2008-09, Vlasic scored 24 power play points while playing on San Jose’s second unit. Those second unit power-play totals combined with last year’s even strength totals would be 45 points (in case you couldn’t do the math). On the top unit he has a clear shot at 50 points.

The awesomeness that is Marc-Edouard Vlasic doesn’t end there though. While plus/minus can be a tricky stat, Vlasic was nonetheless tied for second in that category amongst defensemen last season with a plus-31. Doughty meanwhile finished a plus-17 and Muzzin a plus-8. Furthermore, while the two Kings defenseman took 32 and 28 minor penalties respectively, Vlasic was caught for a mere nine minor penalties in 82 games. Despite playing against the opposing team’s top players night in and night out, Vlasic hardly ever put his team on the penalty kill.

Speaking of 82 games, Vlasic is almost never injured (which makes his playoff injury vs the Kings all the more devastating), playing in 96.5% of the Sharks regular season games since coming into the league. He missed 18 games during the 2009-10 season but missed only four others over the other six seasons of his career.

Not playing the power play means Vlasic will probably never be up for a Norris Trophy, nor will he win a Hart Trophy, but it’s hard to argue anybody was more valuable to their team last year given roster makeup, than Vlasic was for the Sharks.

It was brutally obvious before the trade deadline that the Sharks needed help on the left side of their blue-line having only Brad Stuart (traded this offseason), Matt Irwin (sophomore slump in 2013-14) and Scott Hannan behind Vlasic on the left side.

While hockey fans believing in the Kings off ice camaraderie/thick skin/resiliency narratives will tell you otherwise, Vlasic’s absence in the last three games of that series was a major factor. Had things been completely reversed, and the Sharks were dominating play in game 5 on the road, and Drew Doughty went down, chances would be very much improved for the Sharks to pull off the reverse sweep at that point.

When we boil hockey down to it’s simple roots, it’s about creating offensive chances for your team and thwarting offensive opportunities for the opponent. Nothing else really matters. Now Vlasic is amongst the elite of the elite in terms of generating possession for his team (read: creates tons of offense) and he is the absolute best at his position in limiting offensive chances by the opponent with the incredible stick positioning, gap control, and hockey IQ mentioned above.

To put it simply, Vlasic is one of, if not the best defenseman in the entire NHL, not just shut down. When the Sharks lost him to injury in the playoffs, they lost their MVP.

 

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