And then there was one. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the last piece of the San Jose Sharks high-priced defense. With Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson being traded since General Manager Mike Grier took over in July of 2022, Vlasic is now the Sharks’ highest-paid defenseman on the blue line. While his recent on-ice performance has not lived up to his lofty paycheck, his play last year under David Quinn did improve by leaps and bounds.
The question with Vlasic as he enters his age 36 season is how long before it’s gone. While Brent Burns is a certified freak of nature and still producing like one of the top defensemen in the league at the age of 38, Vlasic has seen his play plummet over the last few years. Once considered the best pure defenseman of his generation, Vlasic’s play has gone down as he seems to be half a step behind where he needs to be. There were plenty of signs of optimism with David Quinn behind the bench. Vlasic averaged 17:28 time on ice a night under Quinn and produced a goal and 17 assists in 78 games last season. But the defensive numbers improved, which is what Vlasic is there for.
As noted on Vlasic’s Evolving Hockey player card, he did a great job at limited actual goals and expected goals above replacement while playing third-pairing minutes at even strength. Vlasic was excellent on the penalty kill last year as well. The issue with Vlasic is that you are paying for top-pairing minutes but getting (albeit great) third-pairing results. Vlasic spent 60% of his even strength time playing with Matt Benning last year, and the pair accounted for a solid 46.1 CF%.
Where does Vlasic fit?
If Vlasic can continue to turn back the clock, he should be a solid defensive piece for the Sharks again this season. While Grier has added a lot of soon-to-be-ready NHL pieces on the blueline in Shakir Mukhamadullin, Henry Thrun, and Nikita Okhotyuk. Don’t expect Vlasic to turn over his spot quite yet. Vlasic has been paired with Mukhamadullin for most of the training camp to help the young Russian defenseman get prepared for an eventual big role with San Jose. Vlasic was always known for his perfect positioning and ability to read the play. If that can rub off on Mukhamadullin, who has all the physical tools but is still working on the finer aspects of playing defense, this could set up San Jose for years to come.
This year, Vlasic will probably have a similar role for the Sharks as he did the last couple of seasons as the Sharks fourth or fifth defenseman, who will be expected to play a major role on the penalty kill. While Benning and Vlasic were partnered up last season, Quinn should experiment more with a potential Mario Ferraro-Vlasic pairing that produced a CF% of 55% last season in about 100 minutes played. Without Erik Karlsson on the team this year, Quinn will be looking for offense by committee from the blue line, and while not known for his scoring ability, the craft Montreal native can chip in from time to time.
What’s next for Vlasic?
Marc-Eduoard Vlasic has three years left on his $56 million contract that he signed in 2017 and kicked into effect in the 2018-2019 season. His contract has now entered the three-team trade clause after the first five seasons with a full no-movement clause. Don’t expect Vlasic to go anywhere. Unless Vlasic states that he wants to go play elsewhere, no team is looking to add his $7 million contract. The Sharks have also used up two of their three retained salary slots with the Burns and Karlsson trades.
While Vlasic was a popular buyout candidate two offseasons ago, that ship has sailed as the Sharks start to enter a post-pandemic salary cap era where they will have plenty of capspace to utilize if they choose to do so. It doesn’t make sense, financially, to buy out Vlasic at this stage as the Sharks 1) won’t be competitive and 2) do not need to create room. Expect Vlasic to be here for at least the next two seasons and if he asks for a trade in the final year of his deal, it could be more feasible with the cap going up and Burns’ retained contract coming off the books.
Bold Prediction: Marc-Eduoard Vlasic continues his bounce back under Quinn and remains a plus defenseman for the Sharks.
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