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Who’s Better, 2018-19 Sharks or 2019-20 Golden Knights?

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San Jose Sharks, Erik Karlsson, Kevin Labanc
Credit: Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire

In May, Peter DeBoer called his Vegas Golden Knights “the most talented team I’ve had in my coaching career.”

Sound familiar?

Last year, DeBoer said pretty much the same thing about the 2018-19 San Jose Sharks.

Now understanding “coach speak” — I mean, what’s DeBoer going to do, praise his former team, and in the process, demean his current team? — it’s a question worth pondering.

So let’s hash this out: Who’s better, the 2019-20 Golden Knights or the 2018-19 Sharks?

FORWARDS

Credit: Evolving Hockey (WAR)

The 12 forwards selected from each team represent those mostly likely to be used by DeBoer. Jason Pothier of Sinbin.Vegas advised me on how DeBoer has used his players in Vegas. It’s also worth noting that I’ve pro-rated the Golden Knights’ statistics for their forwards, defensemen, and goaltending over a 82-game season.

The 2018-19 San Jose Sharks scored 49 more goals than the pro-rated 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights. That’s a significant difference.

It comes down to depth, that’s where the Sharks have the edge. Max Pacioretty-William Karlsson-Mark Stone might be the best line, by a hair, that either side can send over the boards. But Vegas would have a tough time matching a third line of Marcus Sorensen-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc, 2018-19 versions, and a fourth line that features Joonas Donskoi.

On aggregate, Evolving Hockey’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has both forward groups at a dead heat.

Credit: Hockey Graphs

This model does agree with my assessment that San Jose boasts the depth — 10 1+ WAR fowards as opposed to 8 from Vegas — but the Golden Knights feature the best forwards in this match-up in Pacioretty and Stone.

This is close, but…

EDGE: San Jose Sharks

DEFENSEMEN

Credit: Evolving Hockey (WAR)

Shea Theodore has enjoyed a breakout campaign, but Erik Karlsson, in just 53 regular season games, and Brent Burns put up vintage seasons in 2018-19.

I think it’s hard to argue against San Jose’s group here. Their high-end is better and their depth matches a solid Vegas top-six. Brenden Dillon flourished next to Karlsson, Radim Simek did the same with Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic proved to still have game in the post-season.

According to Evolving Hockey’s model, however, Justin Braun was the second-worst worst defenseman in the league in 2018-19. I don’t agree, but regardless, even saddled with Braun’s unsightly -1.9 WAR, the Sharks come out ahead of the Golden Knights.

EDGE: San Jose Sharks

GOALTENDING

Credit: Hockey Reference (GSAA)

This year’s Vegas skaters are good, but not as good as San Jose’s in 2018-19. However, the Golden Knights’ goaltending is more than capable of making up the difference.

Under DeBoer, Marc-Andre Fleury started five games, Trade Deadline acquisition Lehner got three. Fleury and Lehner are splitting the four exhibition and round robin games. So while it’s still up in the air who will emerge as the Vegas No. 1 in this post-season, by any measure, Lehner or Fleury are better options than 2018-19 Jones and Dell.

It’s worth noting, Lehner is the only netminder here with a positive Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA).

Of course, 2018-19 Jones did beat Fleury and a strong Golden Knights squad in the playoffs. So anything can happen. Regardless…

EDGE: Vegas Golden Knights

VERDICT

In this hypothetical match-up between this year’s Vegas Golden Knights and the 2018-19 San Jose Sharks, I’m going with the Sharks — if Martin Jones makes some saves. If he doesn’t…

It’s close up front, San Jose has a big edge in the back-end, Vegas has a larger edge between the pipes.

In short, DeBoer wasn’t talking out of turn when he says his Golden Knights are his most talented team ever.

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Kristian

I’m still periodically doing “what if” mental exercises on this team. That was probably the last chance for this generation. It’s fairly depressing to think that if that team ultimately failed, how can we expect any other in the near future to succeed.

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