San Jose Sharks’ Alumni Contributing & Succeeding in 2020 Playoffs

After a dismal 2019-20 regular season, the San Jose Sharks didn’t qualify for the expanded 24-team playoffs. There are however several former Sharks’ who have moved on to other teams and are helping in the postseason. Let’s take a look at where the former Sharks are and much they are contributing to their team’s success.

Matt Nieto

Nieto was a 2011 second-round pick (47th overall) and one of the best players to ever be drafted native to Long Beach, California. He played parts of four seasons with the Sharks, after three full seasons at Boston University and a brief stint with the AHL affiliate Worcester Sharks. Being a fairly high draft pick, the Sharks were never quite happy with Nieto in a top-six capacity as he failed to surpass a 31 point pace in any of his seasons with the Sharks. They waived Nieto during the 2016-17 season where he was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche.

Matt Nieto (Photo credit Zeke/THW)

In his four seasons with the Avalanche, Nieto has settled into a depth role. His point paces have been 29, 29, and 25 in his full seasons so that aspect of his game has predictably not gotten much better. In his playoff appearances with the Avalanche, he’s scored three points in six games in 2018, seven points in 12 games in 2019, and two points so far in 10 games in 2020.

Related: San Jose Sharks – A Brief History

Nieto is obviously not the most important key to the success of the Avalanche but he is providing some value. I don’t think that the Sharks necessarily miss him, or that too many Sharks fans are rooting for him, but he is one former Shark still playing in the 2020 playoffs.

Justin Braun

As a seventh-round pick in 2011 (201 overall), Braun was one of those late-round gems that Doug Wilson has been able to mine during his tenure as general manager. He was a staple on the Sharks’ blue line for many years. He and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were a formidable pair that stifled the opposing team’s best offensive threats more often than not for years.

Justin Braun (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 2013-14, Vlasic had an expected wins above replacement (xWAR) of 2.5 and Braun of 1.1. These numbers were outstanding as Vlasic ranked fourth in the league amongst defenders, while Braun was 41st in the league that year. They were truly fantastic. Interestingly, current Shark Erik Karlsson was number one that year at 3.6, head and shoulders above the next best Shea Weber at 2.9 and Roman Josi at 2.8.

In 2018-19, the last season they played together, these numbers were dramatically worse as Vlasic dropped all the way to -.6, only good for 293rd amongst defenders. Braun was only slightly better at -.5, ranking him 288th in the league for rearguards. Sad as it was, it made sense for the Sharks to move on from Braun as it was unlikely they would re-sign him and his salary was quite high for his current value. Luckily, they were able to get a pretty good return for him.

Justin Braun Danton Heinen
Philadelphia Flyers’ Justin Braun and Boston Bruins’ Danton Heinen (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Flyers had an excellent 2019-20 season finishing as the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference. During the round-robin, they earned the top seed for the remainder of the playoffs going 3-0-0 beating the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals. While Braun has not been a top player for the Flyers, he has been a valuable depth piece. He sits sixth on the team in time on ice per game in the playoffs at 13:45. Unlike the other two defenders in that range, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg, Braun has yet to be healthy scratched.

xG rates for Philadelphia Flyers in 2020 Playoffs as of 08/26/20 (courtesy of @Charting Hockey, chartinghockey.ca)

As seen in the graphic, Braun and Hagg are in the dull range of expected goal rates (xG rates), a measure of expected goals against per 60 minutes and expected goals for per 60 minutes. The pair does not produce much offense but have been able to shut down their competition. For a third pairing defender, this is really the ideal outcome.

As players age, it is important to adjust our expectations of them and the Flyers seem to be utilizing Braun appropriately. Not as a top, or even middle-pairing defender. He is right where he belongs and helping the Flyers succeed. They have the sixth-best odds of the remaining teams to win the Stanley Cup and I would love to see that for the former long-time Shark.

Barclay Goodrow

Goodrow was undrafted when the Sharks signed him in 2014 after a stellar season in the OHL for the North Bay Battalion. In his first few professional seasons, Goodrow split time between the NHL and AHL but became a full-time NHLer in the 2017-18 season. He was never a great scorer in the NHL, maxing out at a 30 point pace in 2019-20 when he was traded to the Lightning. His new team entered the 2020 playoffs as one of the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup and after getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019, they got their revenge in 2020 and won in five games in round 1.

Line and Pairing xG Rates for 2020 Playoffs as of 08/26/20 (courtesy of @chartinghockey, chartinghockey.ca).

Goodrow has played a prominent role for the Lightning on one of the best lines in the 2020 playoffs. Through August 26th, the Goodrow-Gourde-Coleman line sits eighth in xG rates amongst lines that have played at least 30 minutes together. They are first if you increase that number to 100 minutes, proving their prolonged chemistry. They are even better than the more offensive and higher scoring line of Palat-Point-Kucherov.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning Player xG Rates for 2020 Playoffs as of 08/26/20 (courtesy of @chartinghockey, chartinghockey.ca)

Looking at individual xG rates, you can see that all three of Goodrow-Gourde-Coleman are in the good range. Gourde may be the most offensively minded, whereas Coleman is the most defensively responsible. Goodrow is in the middle, but the three are quite close and when played together it is no wonder they are dominating play as much as they are. It actually makes me wonder why they don’t pair them with some of the skaters that are struggling like Anthony Cirelli, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Pat Maroon.

Barclay Goodrow Tampa Bay Lightning
Barclay Goodrow, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

I’m sure there will be an ongoing debate as to whether Goodrow was worth a 2020 first-round pick, there has already been much discussion. The Lightning is a team that is ready to win their second Stanley Cup in team history now, so parting with first-round picks doesn’t really bother them. From the Sharks perspective, insider Kevin Kurz has wondered via The Athletic if they will be able to draft or trade for a player as good as Goodrow with that pick. (from “Sharks post-deadline FAQs: replacing Barclay Goodrow; should Aaron Dell return?,” The Athletic, 03/02/2020)

While he may not be as offensively gifted, he is clearly good at driving play and something the Sharks sorely missed without him. Even though he didn’t spend as much time in teal as Braun, I’d be quite happy for Goodrow if he gets to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Joe Pavelski

Considered by many to be a quintessential Shark, Pavelski played his entire professional career for the Sharks before the 2019-20 season. (from ‘What did Joe Pavelski mean to the Sharks? 20 former teammates and colleagues explain it all,’ The Athletic, 01/10/2020) After being drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall in 2003, Pavelski turned out to be one of the best players in his draft year. “Little Joe,” as he was affectionately known when “Jumbo Joe” Thornton arrived in 2005, became one the Sharks best players, an assistant captain in the 2014-15 season, and was captain from 2015-16 until 2018-19.

Joe Pavelski early in his career with the Sharks. (BridgetDS/Flickr)

After the 2018-19 season, Pavelski was hoping to re-sign with the Sharks but wanted a hefty contract of at least three years in duration. (from ‘Joe Pavelski gives brief update on contract talks; Jeremy Roenick chimes in on what Sharks should do,’ Mercury News, 06/14/2019) For the cash-strapped Sharks, that was a challenge. He ended up getting what he wanted from the Dallas Stars and did what many thought he’d never do – play an NHL game in a sweater without teal.

Joe Pavelski Dallas Stars
Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Pavelski’s season with the Stars had growing pains. The offensively challenged team was hoping he would infuse immediate offense, but it didn’t happen right away. His 70 point pace from 2018-19 dipped all the way to 38 in 2019-20. A disappointment for sure, but the Stars are a team built for a playoff run and regular-season success was not the goal.

Pavelski currently has nine points in 12 playoff games, tied with teammate Denis Gurianov and one behind captain Jamie Benn with 10. This is the kind of performance the Stars imagined when they signed Pavelski in the offseason. His current pace of .750 points per playoff game is right in line with his career average.

Even at the age of 36, Pavelski continues to contribute in the playoffs. This is unsurprising to me as his game is built for the postseason. He is excellent around the net, whether it is tipping pucks in, screening the goalie, or cleaning up rebounds. His skating has never been great and has definitely declined in the past couple of years, but as long as he has linemates that can help him carry the puck into the zone, he can continue to be effective throughout the length of his contract.

In these playoffs, he was united with Mattias Janmark and Gurianov who own the third-best xG rate amongst lines playing at least 30 minutes and are first if you increase the threshold to 50 minutes.

The best American born playoff performers based on points per game. Data from Quant Hockey

Pavelski was good during the regular season, according to Evolving Hockey, he was tied for 4th on the Stars with Alexander Radulov for forwards in expected wins above replacement (xWAR). He was ahead of Radulov in expected goals above replacement (xGAR). Even though the raw scoring statistics of goals and assists didn’t indicate it, Pavelski was quite good this season so it should be no surprise he is excelling in the playoffs.

Related: Sharks’ Best Players in Franchise History

In addition, he ranks 12th all-time for American born players in playoff points per game so he has a proven track record of elevating his game in the postseason. Though his regular-season point per game pace is .769, most players don’t maintain anything close to that in the playoffs, so his .752 is impressive. As one of the longest-tenured Sharks and most beloved, I’m sure many fans would love to see Pavelski raise the cup, even if it is with the Stars.

Who to Root for?

The most obvious choice here is Pavelski. He was most recently the captain, he was drafted by the Sharks, and just a downright likable guy. They don’t call him “Captain America” for nothing?

Joe Pavelski through the years, a tribute to him on his return to San Jose after signing with the Stars in the summer of 2019.

I doubt too many Sharks fans are cheering for Nieto. Considering what a perceived disappointment he was and the fact that he now plays for a Pacific Division rival. In addition, the Sharks own the second-round pick of the Avalanche in 2020 in the Brenden Dillon trade to Washington. They’d much prefer the Avalanche lose to the Stars and get a higher pick.

Goodrow has a soft spot in the hearts of Sharks’ fans after scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Western Conference first round against the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019. This of course was the game in which Pavelski was injured and the Sharks proceeded to score four power-play goals after the major penalty was assessed.

Goodrow puts the final nail in the coffin of the Golden Knights after an epic comeback from the Sharks in Game 7 of their first round matchup in 2019.

The Sharks lost the lead late in the game and it would have been a very different story had Goodrow not taken that pass from Erik Karlsson and tucked it past Marc-Andre Fleury for the win. I’d say many Sharks fans would be happy to see Goodrow win the Cup. On the other hand, that would mean the Sharks would get the 31st pick in the 2020 draft.

Braun was never the flashiest player, but certainly well-liked. The Flyers are not a team the Sharks have a rivalry with so there is no dislike there for Sharks fans. The Sharks do own the Flyer’s third-round pick in 2020, but that likely won’t deter fans too much.

Since Pavelski signed as a free agent, there is no influence on the draft for the Sharks if the Stars win the Stanley Cup. For this and reasons stated above, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Sharks fan that wouldn’t be happy for a Pavelski and Stars championship.

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