San Jose Sharks midseason grades: Erik Karlsson is back among NHL’s best

Before the 2022-23 season began, the easiest way to sum up expectations for the Sharks’ defense corps and goaltending was, “Well, Erik Karlsson really needs to have a bounce-back year, but at least the goalie tandem should be solid.”

Karlsson has not only bounced back — he’s authored a transcendent offensive performance in the first half. The defense corps as a whole has outperformed expectations. Mostly because of Karlsson’s work by him, but a new addition and a couple of other guys improving from a year ago have helped replace some of what was lost when Brent Burns was traded to Caroline.

The goal tending has not been as expected. James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen have both struggled, to different degrees, and the Sharks have the second-worst save percentage in the NHL. That’s not all on the goalies, but a lot of is. There have been nights when the Sharks made too many bad mistakes in front of the goalies, but there have also been times when the team in front of them has played well and just needed one or two more saves.

We’re taking stock of where the Sharks are at as they cross the midpoint of the campaign. This is part two, after the forwards on Tuesday.

After using one of David Quinn’s favored sayings — “5 to 10 percent better” — to judge players one-quarter of the way through the season, we’re going to use the European football-style ratings system at the halfway mark. It’s 1-10, with 10 being the best. Player ratings are also a bit tougher in Europe than the AF grading system more often favored on this side of the pond.

Stats are compiled from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving hockeythe NHL and The Athletic.

Defensemen

Player

GP extension

Goals

Points

SOG

TOI/G

41

13

54

112

25:13

40

1

18

29

7:18 pm

41

1

12

34

6:18 pm

38

0

9

36

6:37 pm

31

2

6

31

10:14 pm

14

1

6

15

3:37pm

10

0

4

1

2:59 pm

31

1

2

31

2:44 pm

Player

CF%

xGF%

GF%

GAR

GSVA

54.97

55.51

55.88

11.7

2.3

44.58

52.69

48.21

8.9

0.8

47.61

54.81

40.68

4.1

0

54.13

54.25

52.86

1.5

-0.1

45.74

47.39

34.55

-1.3

-1.1

46.46

55.01

47.83

0.9

NA

42.74

45.41

40

-0.2

NA

46.15

50.18

14.32

-5.3

-0.4

Erik Karlsson – 9

Karlsson is on pace to be the first defenseman with 100 points in three decades. The Sharks are on pace to score more goals with him on the ice at five-on-five than any player in the advanced stats era (since 2007-08).

There are 182 defensemen who have logged 350-plus minutes at five-on-five. Karlsson leads them all in both minutes played (838:48) and on-ice goals for per 60 minutes (4.08).

Any historic-level offensive measure is almost always met with a critique of his defence. He is 50th among those 182 in goals for percentage, and his partner Jaycob Megna is 76th. They are the only guys in the top 125 who have an on-ice save percentage that is worse than .890.

Here are two players, and where they rank among these 182 defensemen in shot attempts (Corsi) allowed, shots on goal allowed, scoring chances allowed and high-danger chances allowed, all for 60 minutes to smooth out any playing time (dis)advantages .

CA/60 SOGA/60 SCA/60 HDCA/60

54

73

100

52

62

75

85

113

Karlsson is the first player. Above average or right around average in all four categories, while putting up the best offensive half-season of like, multiple generations.

The second guy is Charlie McAvoythe No. 1 defenseman on the No. 1 team in the league.

Matt Benning – 7

It’s hard to argue against Benning being the club’s second-best defenseman to this point. He’s spent most of the season on the second pairing at even strength. He’s been the second- or third-most used defenseman on the penalty kill. He’s taken over quarterbacking the second power play unit.

Benning is also tied for 15th in the league among defensemen with 17 even-strength points, and he’s tied for ninth in even-strength points per 60 minutes. The cap hit for the eight guys ahead of him are first, 34th, fourth, 64th, 53rd, 40th, 94th and 11th this season among defensemen.

Benning is 158th. The only defenseman who isn’t on an entry-level contract that costs less and has more points is Washington’s Erik Gustafssonwith 25 points and an $800,000 cap hit.

Jaycob Megna – 6

Megna has again proven to be a near-perfect fit next to Karlsson. It’s hard to find defensemen who can play 18 minutes per game and are consistently either break-even or net-positive on a budget. Guys in his salary range typically can’t handle the minutes or the level of competition that comes with skating next to the No. 1 guy.

If the Sharks do trade Karlsson at some point in 2023, whether it’s before the deadline or over the summer, it will be interesting to see what happens with Megna. Would another team want to try him as the steady guy next to their star?

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – 5

There are 64 defensemen who played at least 90 minutes on the penalty kill (nice cutoff spot, given there are 32 teams). Vlasic has been on the ice for eight goals against, which is tied for second in that group.

He’s first in goals allowed for 60 minutes, and 12th in shots on goal allowed for 60. Some of the other numbers are middle of the pack, but going from barely used on the PK one year to first in goals allowed among the high-usage guys is quite a turnaround.

At a smaller cap hit, or on a different team that could more easily work around his current one, Vlasic has proven he can still do some of the things he made a career out of — anchor a PK unit, eat minutes against top competition.

Mario Ferraro – 4

Beyond Kahkonen and Noah Gregor, there might not be a guy on this roster who needs a better second half than Ferraro. He’s missed time with injuries, been banged up and even sick the other night, but none of the numbers, traditional or advanced, have much good to say about the first half.

He plays a style that might not always get full credit in some of the metrics for the positive things, but there are others who play like him that still rate higher in key categories. His work on the PK has been strong, but his defensive numbers at five-on-five are what people outside San Jose just assume Karlsson’s would look like.

Scott Harrington – 4

Harrington has put up better offensive numbers (in a small sample) than he ever did in Columbus. He’s shot the puck 2.4 times per game, which is easily better than any of his seasons with the Blue Jackets. He is probably going to get a chance to play regularly in the coming weeks with Radim Simek hurt and the trade deadline (he’s a pending UFA) looming.

Radim Simek – 4

Simek embraced a fresh start from the coaching staff this season, and he’s been mostly OK when healthy. His offensive numbers have suffered a bit from an on-ice shooting percentage that is significantly lower than the team average. His lack of offensive impact plays into that some, but there’s bad luck baked in there as well.

The bigger concern now is his health. He had multiple head injuries in about a six-week span, one that was confirmed as a concussion and another that is being treated like one when Quinn provides updates.

Nick Cicek – 4

Cicek has mostly held his own in 10 NHL games. He’s been better than most of the call-ups from the Barracuda were last season. He’s also clearly moved himself to the front of the queue on defense when the Sharks do need someone as the only one who began the season in the AHL and earned a call-up to this point. Pretty good work from a guy who was an AHL rookie on an AHL-only contract a year ago.


James Reimer (David Berding/Getty Images)

goals

James Reimer – 5

Reimer remains one of the best goalies in the league on the penalty kill. He’s tied for second in save percentage at .913, but three power-play goals allowed in his past two starts on seven shots against has dropped it from a league-leading .931.

A larger concern is that he’s 2-4-1 with an .877 overall save percentage in seven starts since missing a couple of weeks with an injury in late November/early December. He was in the middle of the pack in MoneyPuck’s goals saved above expected before the injury. Reimer is now 57th out of 66 goalies with at least 10 games played.

He’s at .895 for the season. Reimer has never had a sub-.900 season in his first 12 years, so he’s got some work to do to get back above that mark (and possibly to show potential contenders that he has moved past a post-injury dip in form).

Kaapo Kahkonen – 3

Kahkonen is 65th out of 66 goals in goals saved above expected. That’s exactly where he was before Reimer missed time as well. Kahkonen only played in one game over a three-week span at one point while he was working on some technical things.

He’s had a couple of good starts since then, but he’s also still at .877 in the four starts overall. He’s been encouraged by some of the progress he’s felt in his game, but both he and the Sharks need to see it translate into better results.

(Photo: Robert Edwards/USA Today)

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