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No NHL team benefits from penalties quite like the Sharks

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Just about every sports fan base probably feels like officials have in it for them in some fashion. Lambasting the referees might be the one thing rival fans can agree on during “neutral site” games.

Once emotions subside, facts can clarify some of these thoughts. Some teams draw a ton of penalties but take a lot, too. Others don’t do much of either. The San Jose Sharks seem to enjoy the best of both worlds, or at least something close to that.

Using NHL.com’s handy team stats, let’s look at the advantages the Sharks have enjoyed (whether they’re earned or not is subjective) when it comes to power play/penalty kill differential.

(Note: PHT will also take a look at the other end of the spectrum soon.)

First, here are the teams that were on the power play for at least a half hour longer than they were on the PK in 2016-17 (again, via NHL.com’s team stats).

Team PP TIME PK TIME DIFF
San Jose Sharks 420:12:00 362:07:00 58:05:00
Philadelphia Flyers 464:24:00 415:27:00 48:57:00
Chicago Blackhawks 394:10:00 349:02:00 45:08:00
Carolina Hurricanes 387:18:00 345:17:00 42:01:00
Detroit Red Wings 426:20:00 388:13:00 38:07:00
Nashville Predators 430:22:00 395:41:00 34:41:00
Vancouver Canucks 403:58:00 371:25:00 32:33:00
Florida Panthers 454:51:00 424:39:00 30:12:00

As you can see, that’s a pretty significant gap between first and second place.

The Sharks rank 11th with power-play time (420:12) and were at the disadvantage at the fourth-lowest rate (362:07) last season. Shockingly, this edge wasn’t optimized, as San Jose drew even in scoring 41 power-play goals while allowing 41 shorthanded.

Now, that’s just one season. What about, since, say … the last lockout? Let’s consider how the top teams sorted out from the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign through 2016-17:

Team PP TIME PK TIME DIFF
San Jose Sharks 2036:49:00 1711:34:00 325:15:00
Carolina Hurricanes 1923:23:00 1648:42:00 274:41:00
Chicago Blackhawks 1926:51:00 1728:00:00 198:51:00
Minnesota Wild 1954:50:00 1759:33:00 195:17:00
Calgary Flames 1977:04:00 1797:57:00 179:07:00
Dallas Stars 2098:48:00 1925:24:00 173:24:00
Nashville Predators 1959:27:00 1828:12:00 131:15:00
New York Islanders 1909:56:00 1789:07:00 120:49:00

During that 376-game span, the Sharks tower over everyone else, with only the Carolina Hurricanes being within breathing distance. Yes, 325 minutes in 376 games is a notable edge.

Over that longer haul, the Sharks were high-ranking with a 2,036:49 power play time and faced low PK minutes at 1,711:34.*

Unpacking home vs. away for a moment

Is it all “home cooking” for the Sharks? Well, looking at 2016-17, they received 126 power-play opportunities at home vs. 120 on the road. If they’re getting an edge, perhaps “The Shark Tank” subtly intimidates officials not to call penalties on San Jose? They were shorthanded 99 times at home vs. 113 on the road. That’s not enormous either, but it’s still a difference.

That disparity isn’t particularly pronounced since the lockout, with the Sharks being shorthanded 507 times at home vs. 530 on the road. On the other hand, the opportunities are a little more pronounced at HP Pavilion: 644 at home vs. 591 on the road.

That’s not extreme by NHL standards, however, as the Stars saw 688 home PPO’s vs. 582 on the road through the same period. So … home-cooking doesn’t seem like a major difference-maker for the Sharks. Or at least it isn’t the only factor.

To hypothesize, some of the differences may stem from the Sharks hold onto the puck quite well while playing strong and responsible defense. Looking over almost as long of a period as that lockout range at stats.hockeyanalysis, the Sharks were the fourth-best team in “Corsi For” percentage; perhaps they enjoyed such an advantage after having tired teams chase them around while they hog the puck?

Ultimately, the greater takeaway might be that, if the Sharks can at least approach such an advantage again in 2017-18, they need to work harder at exploiting such advantages. They only converted on 16.7 percent of their power-play opportunities last season, placing them 25th overall in the NHL.

Again, a future PHT post will ponder the teams that spend more time killing penalties than they do on the man advantage. Spoiler: a California team’s rough style has its minuses.

* – Note: the Arizona and Phoenix Coyotes are treated as separate entities in the bigger list, gumming up the works a bit … but the differential comes to about -90 minutes, placing them in the lower-teens.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.