In our second article on Joe Pavelski’s legacy with the San Jose Sharks, we’ll focus on the numbers and compare him to one of the most revered Sharks in team history. The first article looked Pavelski’s career growth. The third and final article will look at his potential with his new team, the Dallas Stars.
Joe Pavelski By the Numbers
Over his thirteen seasons with the Sharks, Pavelski was a model of consistency. He was durable, despite taking countless hits from opponents who objected to his presence in his sweet scoring spot in front of the net. Pavelski reached the 80 games played mark eight times in his career. At one point, he had a 499 consecutive games-played streak. He exceeded 50 points for the first time in his NHL career in his third season and from that point forward, never dipped below 50 points in a full NHL season.
His determination to go to the high percentage scoring areas enabled Pavelski to finish in the top-10 in shooting percentage three times. Over the last six seasons, he’s among the league’s best, with a 16% shooting percentage.
In the playoffs, he’s delivered 100 points in 134 games, with three overtime winners to his credit.
The late start to his NHL career will probably keep him from Hall-of-Fame consideration, but his numbers over 13 seasons put him in good company. He’s totaled 355 goals, 761 points and a plus-108 rating. While key milestones such as 500 goals or 1,000 points aren’t likely, they aren’t out of the question.
Pavelski had his best season on Joe Thornton’s wing in 2015-16. The line dominated the league (Thornton was the first player in five years to reach a 70% ‘goals for’ ratio). Pavelski finished with 78 points and a career best plus-25 rating. That season, the Sharks made their lone trip to the Stanley Cup Final. During the 2016 run, Pavelski totaled 23 points in 24 playoff games. His 14 goals were tops in the playoffs.
In Sharks franchise history, Pavelski is fourth in games played, second in goals and third in assists, points and plus-minus. In each of these categories, the Sharks franchise leader is either Thornton or Patrick Marleau.
A Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski Comparison
There are several lenses one can look at the Sharks career of Joe Pavelski. In this case, we’ll match him up with Marleau, the Sharks all-time leading goal scorer.
In some ways, there are great similarities between the two players. Both played centre and wing. Both spent the vast majority of their careers as a top-six forward, but were often not on the top line. They were both counted on to provide goal scoring. They were both extremely durable. Both had quick and accurate shots. Both were underrated passers.
Each even underwent a number change on their jersey, with Marleau going from ’14’ to ’12’ and Pavelski going from ’53’ to ‘8’. Both were Sharks team captains, both Olympians (competing against each other in the 2010 Gold Medal game in Vancouver). Of course, both began their careers with the Sharks. And both left in free agency in their mid-30’s.
In other respects, they were opposites. Marleau is big and fast. His skating is about as effortless as it gets. Pavelski, on the other hand, is not very fast and at times, he lumbers up the ice. He’s also a good bit smaller than Marleau. Yet, it was the smaller player, Pavelski, who decided to hang out in front of the net while Marleau tended to lurk near the danger areas without engaging as physically. As for expectations, Marleau was drafted second overall (behind Thornton), Pavelski was drafted 205th behind, well, 204 other players.
The most apt difference is this. Marleau is enormously talented while Pavelski is enormously skilled.
A Statistical Comparison
Marleau began his NHL career just months after being drafted at age 18. Pavelski began his NHL career at age 22.
In adding up totals, Marleau’s longevity (19 Sharks seasons over 20 years) outweighs Pavelski’s (13 seasons) and the numbers reflect that. But if we look at the players at the same age, we can get a better feel for the actual differences. Since Pavelski began his Sharks career at age 22, this is where we’ll start. And because he ended it at age 34, this is where we’ll end.
From age 22 through 34, Marleau played in 930 games, compiling 363 goals, 413 assists and a plus-14 rating.
In the same age range, Pavelski played in 963 games, posting 355 goals, 406 assists and a plus-108 rating.
In the playoffs, Marleau posted 55 goals, 40 assists and a minus-7 rating over 125 games. This compares with Pavelski’s 134 games, 48 goals, 52 assists and a minus-3 rating.
On the scoring numbers, Marleau is slightly superior. Very slightly. But in plus-minus, there is a major difference. While many have issues with the statistic, taken over the course of nearly 1,000 games, it isn’t a fluke. On this front, Pavelski is significantly superior.
Reviewing the Seasons
When reviewing the seasons, Pavelski got off to a modest start to his career, posting 28 points at age 22 and 40 points at age 23. From there, he posted a pair of seasons with point totals in the fifties. Beginning at age 26, Pavelski posted 61 points or more each season for the rest of his Sharks tenure (excluding the shortened lockout season). He peaked at 79 points and his top goal output was 41.
Marleau’s productivity followed a similar path. He also produced modestly in the three seasons from age 22 to 24, with point totals of 44, 57 and 57. After that, Marleau’s numbers took a step change upwards. He had one down season along the way (just 48 points in 78 games), but aside from that aberration, he was highly productive until age 34. His peak goal total was 44, his peak point total 85. His low total was 64 points (excluding the one aberrant season and the lockout shortened season).
Both players followed a similar scoring trajectory over their Sharks careers. Marleau posted slightly better peak seasons, but both were consistent with their productivity. In their three seasons between age 29 and 31, Marleau posted 119 goals and 227 points. Pavelski 116 goals and 227 points. Hard to get any closer than that.
Marleau and Joe Pavelski Intertwined
It is a bit simplistic to compare the statistics of two players and determine the better player, but taken over a long period and given they were teammates for 10 of the 12 seasons, the comparison is fair.
All told, Marleau is slightly superior on the scoring figures. Pavelski is significantly superior when it comes to the more comprehensive metric of plus-minus.
Marleau will generate serious Hall-of-Fame consideration (and probable induction), largely driven by his peak productivity seasons between age 22 and 34. Pavelski is a Hall-of-Fame longshot. Yet, through the heart of their respective careers, there’s a solid case Pavelski was both the more valuable player and the better player.
The Future Comparison
While the comparison between Pavelski and Marleau as Sharks ends here, there will be a temptation to continue the comparison of each player’s career at age 35 and over. Pavelski turned 35 in July. Marleau declined significantly beginning at age 35.
At age 35, Marleau posted a minus-17 season, then followed it with a minus-22 season. At age 37, he rebounded to a plus-4, all those seasons with the Sharks. Then he left to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. In Toronto, one of the league’s high scoring offenses, he’s scored 43 goals and 41 assists in two seasons, playing in all 164 games. In 2009-10, Marleau posted almost identical numbers in a single season, with 44 goals and 39 assists in 82 games.
Whether Pavelski declines or continues to produce effectively is something we find out together. But Marleau hasn’t set the 35-and-over bar too high.
The Deciding Factor
Pavelski’s Sharks career was excellent. This isn’t news to Sharks fans. The relatively late start to his career resulted in smaller career numbers and perhaps his career is underrated as a result.
This is why the Joe Pavelski comparison to Marleau is so telling. There’s no question Marleau set a high bar in San Jose. His career totals are likely to earn him a spot in the Hockey Hall-of-Fame. That Pavelski compares favorably to Marleau over the core of their respective careers gives an indication of his value to the Sharks. I’ll add one final figure which will tip the scales. Over the seasons in the comparison where there was a salary cap, Marleau took up roughly 20% more cap space than Pavelski.
While the better player is a close call, the better value isn’t.