Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Sharks' Vlasic working hard to disprove critics with on-ice play

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Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng

Marc-Édouard Vlasic wasn’t interested in discussing what he considers to be falsehoods. Sharks head coach David Quinn, however, was happy to speak up on behalf of his veteran defenseman.

On Monday, Elliotte Friedman said about Vlasic, on his “32 Thoughts Podcast”: “One of the reasons that San Jose benches him is because that fire, it’s been quenched. When you are having a year like you are and you’re turning over your team, you can’t have that. You can’t show your players that, if you feel a player isn’t competing to a level they can, especially around young players, you can’t let that happen.”

Vlasic has been a healthy scratch for much of the 2023-24 NHL season, appearing in 16 of San Jose’s 27 games.

Quinn pushed back though on why he’s sitting Vlasic after the Sharks practiced on Wednesday in Detroit.

“It is not that he's lost his fire. It's not that he's lost his desire,” Quinn said. “That is the furthest thing from the truth.”

Ironically enough, Quinn said this after a very optional practice that nine regular Sharks sat out – but not Vlasic.

“Marc-Édouard Vlasic has handled this unbelievable. All he's done is come to work his ass off,” Quinn said.

For what it’s worth, as a reporter who’s seen more Vlasic practices and games than any other reporter over the last four years, I don’t think that he’s lost his fire. I saw this firsthand last October on Long Island.

After practice at UBS Arena, Vlasic confronted me in the Sharks locker room. I don’t remember where I wrote or said it, but I had posited that the Sharks could have the worst defense in the NHL. I’m paraphrasing some of this, but this essentially is what was said.

“How can you say we have the worst D in the league?” the veteran defenseman asked. “We’ve got Karlsson for the offense. We’ve got me for the defense.”

It’s not every day that a player, unprompted, speaks up on behalf of himself and his teammates to me that way. I told Vlasic quietly, “Both you and Erik aren’t who you were.”

Remember, this was four games into the season, before Karlsson dropped 101 points and won the Norris Trophy. In Karlsson’s previous four years in teal before this, he had struggled or been hampered by injuries, or both.

As for Vlasic, he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his decorated career in 2021-22. And arguably, the last time the 2014 Olympic gold medalist had played at an elite level was in the 2019 playoffs. Since then, both his playing time and reputation as a shutdown defenseman have eroded.

“Show me something different,” I said. “I hope you do.”

Vlasic glared at me but didn’t say anything else. His eyes said it though. This wasn’t a guy who had checked out, from himself or his team.

While Vlasic wasn’t able to respond as dramatically as Karlsson did, the stay-at-home defenseman enjoyed his best campaign in years, wasn’t healthy scratched once, and was a regular on a top-10 penalty kill.

So why do I think that Vlasic has declined? I mean, he’s 36. It happens.

I wouldn’t go up to a 40-year-old Joe Thornton and ask why he isn’t clearing a point per game anymore. And it happens at different times. Mike Richards’s career was over by 30.

“A few execs said the same thing about Marc-Édouard Vlasic,” Friedman clarified on Friday, “‘The fire is gone.’”

I have no doubt that people think this.

I also understand that Vlasic is a lightning rod for criticism because of his massive contract, eight years and $56 million signed in Jul. 2017. I get that when you make that kind of money and aren’t performing, there’s a lot more scrutiny.

But I also think it’s kicking a guy when he’s down to question, essentially, his heart.

“He's been through a lot. I don't want to get into it,” Quinn said. “As a staff, we were talking about how professional he is and how hard he has worked just two days ago.”

For what it’s worth, Vlasic was inserted back into the line-up on Tuesday, a 5-4 overtime victory over the New York Islanders.

Quinn thought it was his best game of the year: “I thought he was decisive. I thought he was physical. I thought he made some good plays with the puck. There was a big uptick in his play.”

And speaking of puck plays, Vlasic did this out of the penalty box in Detroit, using the referee as a screen and passing it through Shayne Gostisbehere’s legs to Nico Sturm:

The Sharks came back down 4-0 against the Red Wings to win 6-5 in OT.

So an old dog still has some tricks.

“He’s a prideful guy,” Quinn said. “A prideful f--king guy.”

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