Meier, Dahlen headline Sharks' midseason award winners


Let's be honest, the Sharks are longshots to make the playoffs.

Through 46 games, they're on pace for 86 points. From 2005-06, the advent of the shootout and the end of the tie, to 2018-19, the last 82-game season, the average worst postseason squad had 92 points.

Can the Sharks up their points percentage pace to truly put themselves in the playoff conversation?

If they do, it's likely that most or all these Sharks -- San Jose Hockey Now's All-Star Break Award winners -- will be carrying the load.

Team MVP

Timo Meier leads the Sharks in most offensive counting stats -- points, assists, plus-minus, power-play goals, game-winning goals, and shots -- but it's probably in the micro-stats where Meier's value is best expressed.

Despite missing five games, Meier still leads the Sharks, per SPORTLOGiQ, in cumulative Zone Exits and Zone Entries.

You want to exit your zone with possession of the puck? Give it to Timo. You want to enter the other team's zone with possession of the puck. Give it to Timo.

Essentially, Meier is as dangerous a Shark as there is offensively in all three zones.

Top Defenseman

Is it cheating to say Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson?

Karlsson has missed 13 games and counting for a variety of reasons, most recently a left forearm injury that will sideline him until at least mid-March. But in his 33 games this year, he's been the Sharks' most productive blueliner with eight goals and 26 points.

Burns, meanwhile, has thrived with Karlsson out of the lineup. He's scored half of his 30 points in the 13 games that's Karlsson's missed. That might be just a coincidence, but what is not a coincidence is Burns's workload with Karlsson out: He's playing a whopping 28:12 without EK65, about three more minutes more than normal.

That's a tremendous workload that deserves recognition unto itself: Burns is first or second among Sharks defensemen in even strength, power play, and penalty kill usage. He's a top-pairing blueliner in every situation on this San Jose squad.

Top Rookie

The obvious choice is Jonathan Dahlen, who's tied for fourth in rookie goals with countryman Lucas Raymond at 11. Dahlen is one of just seven rookies (Tanner Jeannot, Michael Bunting, Trevor Zegras, Raymond, Alex Newhook, and Anton Lundell) to hit double-digit goals by the All-Star break.

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But let's also shout out Jake Middleton, who's come out of nowhere to become the Sharks' No. 4 defenseman, ahead of injured incumbent Nikolai Knyzhov and highly-paid vet Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Biggest Surprise

There are a lot of candidates here: After back-to-back disappointing seasons, who predicted a renaissance campaign for Meier? Same goes for Karlsson. Alexander Barabanov and Dahlen have been unheralded shots in the arm for the offense. In goal, James Reimer has gone from veteran insurance to No. 1 goalie.

But you can't ignore the Middleton story.

He was Mr. Irrelevant of the 2014 Draft, the last pick. For the previous five seasons, he had toiled mostly with the San Jose Barracuda. His NHL stints, 14 games spread over three seasons, were mostly unmemorable. He barely cleared a double-digit minute playing time average -- 10:27 -- in those contests.

I have to admit: I saw him as a sparingly-used seventh defenseman at best before training camp.

Instead, "Midds" has shot up into the Sharks' top-four, is a penalty-killing staple, and has been lauded for his textbook ability to defend the rush.

Biggest Disappointment

There are also a lot of candidates here:

The Sharks were hoping for more offense from veteran third-line center Nick Bonino. It's not his fault that he's hurt and hasn't played this season, but a lot was expected of Knyzhov after his surprising rookie campaign last year. The Sharks traded a second-round pick for Adin Hill, but per Evolving Hockey's Goals Saved Above Expected, he's been the seventh-worst netminder (of 100) in the league this season.

But considering his cap hit ($4.725 mil), potential importance to the Sharks, and the expectations, it's Kevin Labanc.

Unlike say the aging Vlasic, the 26-year-old Labanc should be in the prime of his career. And re-inserted back on the third line to start this season -- the winger put up 56 points from that spot in 2018-19 -- there was a huge opportunity for Labanc to provide some much-needed secondary scoring for the Sharks against potentially weaker match-ups.

Instead, Labanc notched just six points through 21 games until a shoulder injury felled him in mid-December. He's also out until about mid-March.

Can the skilled playmaker salvage his season then?

Wild Card

Looking ahead, which Shark is mostly likely to emerge as an impact player in the second half of the season?

They're hoping it's Adin Hill. Getting both Reimer and Hill going at the same time could go a long way toward the Sharks being competitive every night.

Hill does have a degree of a track record, in an admittedly small sample size of 32 games: Per Evolving Hockey, over the previous two seasons, his -0.51 Goals Saved Above Expected was 26th in the NHL (of 67 goalies, 1000+ minutes played).

So Hill is capable of average to above-average NHL performance: Can he pick up his game enough to help carry the Sharks into the playoffs?

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