SAN JOSE- If you follow Sharks fans on social media, you are well aware how often Sharks forward Marty Havlat has been a whipping boy for critical fans. They mostly criticize Havlat’s inability to stay healthy but they also call out his on ice performance as well. However, a lot of it is simply unwarranted.
First and foremost, the injury criticism has just grown tired. It’s not as if Havlat has had chronic issues to a particular area of his body. In truth, he has been flat out unlucky. In his first year in teal he missed 39 games after tearing his hamstring while hopping over the boards. Obviously jumping over the boards is something Havlat has done thousands of times in his life. Fluky, doesn’t even do that injury justice. It’s difficult to find a word in the English dictionary to adequately represent just how unlucky that injury was for the 32-year-old.
Flash forward to last season and Havlat was actually healthy for the majority of the lockout shortened campaign. He fit in quite well down the stretch on a line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture before missing the majority of the playoffs. The injury that forced him out of the postseason required him to have bilateral pelvic floor reconstruction surgery in the offseason. Most of us sports fans had never heard of such a surgery before. So again, talk about a series of unfortunate events.
So please, enough with the “he’s made of glass” jokes. They are incredibly tired. In reality, Havlat isn’t a player with a history of nagging issues, just a history of being incredibly unlucky when it comes to injuries.
Law of averages would dictate Havlat is due to stay in the lineup for an extended amount of time. It is not as if he hasn’t had a history of doing just that. While in Minnesota and Chicago, he played over 70 games in three straight seasons from 2008-09 through 2010-11.
Now, I’m not trying to be a 100% Havlat apologist. In fact, I’ll admit that for the first half of this season Havlat mightily struggled to produce to expectations. For a $5 million dollar winger, you need a certain amount of offensive output. Through his first 19 games this year Havlat was making incredibly poor decisions with the puck and had accumulated just five points, (a 22 point 82 game pace). Simply inexcusable production from that talented of a player.
However, in his past 16 games, Havlat has turned things up a notch, picking up nine points over that span (which is a much more respectable 46 point pace over 82 games).
While 46 points is still below what one would typically expect out of a $5 million dollar forward, it’s only about (give or take) 15 points short. Havlat has clearly lost a step from his younger days, but when healthy he still provides a much better two-way game than a number of other forwards on the Sharks roster.
He is obviously not a physical player and not a coach favorite by any stretch. However, when he is healthy, Havlat gives the Sharks a better chance to win than either James Sheppard, Tyler Kennedy, Andrew Desjardins, Adam Burish, or Mike Brown.
Once again, I’ll admit that earlier in the year Havlat was playing at porous level. He was so bad that I temporarily gave up coming to his defense. Recently though, Havlat has been turning things around. If his contract was between $3-4M, there wouldn’t be all this talk about buying out his contract at the end of the season. He can still help this team win games and he is showing it lately with four points in his last four games.
Against the Islanders on Friday Havlat flashed hid old elite set-up skills when he made back-to-back nifty passes in route to a Jason Demers goal. Cutting through the slot Havlat made the less obvious five-foot backhand pass to Sheppard instead of passing up to the open point. He then took the give-and-go return feed from Sheppard and instead of shooting like most players would, he somehow spotted Jason Demers on the weak side and hit him with a picture perfect feed right on the tape. All Demers had to do was get the puck in the top half of the net with Isles goaltender Evgeni Nabokov having to make a long stretch across. Few players in the league have that type of vision.
Furthermore, people often forget that in his first two seasons with the Sharks, Havlat picked up 45 points in 79 regular season games. Up until this season, Havlat has actually been pretty consistent. Every team in the league would love to have that kind of production from a third line winger. Forty-five point third line wingers simply don’t grow on trees. The problem is his contract is of that of a first or second line player, not a third liner.
Fortunately for the Sharks though they have enough forward depth that they don’t need to rely on Havlat for 60-70 point level production. If Havlat can continue to produce at this current 16 game rate, he would be a huge help to the Sharks secondary scoring come playoffs. And one thing is for certain, even if he starts to struggle again, that 22 point pace is still more valuable than what Burish or Brown bring to the table.
There is this misconceived notion that fourth line NHLers have to be physical and there has to be a guy or two willing to fight. But the Sharks have plenty of physical toughness outside of Brown and Burish with players like Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and Raffi Torres.
Regardless of what line Havlat finds himself on, he should never be a healthy scratch. He is simply too good of a hockey player.
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