'Unique' Timo Meier heart of Sharks' offense amid NHL trade rumors

'Unique' Meier at heart of Sharks' offense amid trade rumors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Timo Meier isn't going to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game in Sunrise, Fla., on Feb. 4, but he certainly deserves to be there.
 
As of Jan. 24, Meier is second in the NHL with 223 shots and tied for fourth with 12 power-play goals and eighth with 28 goals.
 
Looking under the hood, per Natural Stat Trick, Meier is tops in the NHL at 5-on-5, 300-plus minutes played, with 15.11 Scoring Chances and third with 6.64 High-Danger Shot Attempts Per 60. So his shots are dangerous and he's not just living off the man advantage.
 
Per SPORTLOGiQ, there aren't many offensive categories where Meier doesn't lead the Sharks. At the midseason point, the Swiss winger led the team in these micro-stat categories Per 20 at 5-on-5, NHL rank in parentheses: Offensive Zone Possession, OZ Dekes (9), Zone Exits, Zone Entries (11), Dump-In Rate, and Offense-Generating Plays.
 
So Meier dominates the puck for the Sharks in all three zones. The Sharks' star carries it from blue-line to blue-line (Zone Exits and Entries). He carries it in with possession (Dump-In Rate). And in zone, he rules the puck, too (OZ Possession and Dekes).
 
The catch-all for his offensive dominance is Offense-Generating Plays, which are, per SPORTLOGiQ, "made up of all plays that lead to scoring chances. In other words, they're plays that move the puck into high-danger areas or situations, recovering pucks for your team, and putting high-quality shot attempts on net."

The 26-year-old still is getting better too. Last year, Meier ranked 140th in the NHL in OZ Dekes. That's not bad, but nothing special. This year?
 
"In dangles?" Meier said with a smile when I told him he's in the top 10. "It's something I try to work on, maybe not dangles, but I think trying to protect the puck and hold on to pucks instead of, there's sometimes a tendency where I throw away pucks. I've been trying to hold on to pucks more and create more time for my teammates to get open."
 
It feels impossible to imagine the Sharks' offensive attack without Meier, but that's a looming reality for the franchise.
 
The pending restricted free agent is one of the hottest names going into the March 3 NHL trade deadline. Sharks general manager Mike Grier hasn't put out any rumor flames by offering the prolific winger a contract extension or declaring him off-limits.
 
It doesn't mean that Meier is gone, but there's no doubt that the Sharks are willing to listen to offers for him.
 
That's a sad commentary on where the Sharks are as a franchise, that it might be the best decision for the organization to part ways with an elite, homegrown winger in his prime.

Nonetheless, missing the NHL playoffs for three straight seasons -- soon to be four -- forces a franchise to confront some hard truths about what might be best for the team's short- and long-term health.
 
But indeed, this is why teams draft prospects, to see them become what Meier has become. It wasn't easy for the 2015 first-round pick, either. After a breakout 30-goal campaign as a 22-year-old in 2018-19, Meier struggled to be the face of the franchise as they moved on from the likes of Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.

"I think maybe he tried to play a little more on the outside through those years instead of going through people," Sharks captain Logan Couture, who has watched Meier go from teenager to the team's top forward, opined. "For a little while there, he was maybe struggling with confidence on the ice."
 
"Through your career, you're gonna go through some stuff. There's gonna be some adversity. Had some good seasons and then maybe not so good," Meier acknowledged. "There's sometimes adversities that you face and you gotta find a way to get out of these."
 
But Meier's All-Star Game nod last season and his All-Star caliber work this year speak about a player who has arrived and arrived for good among the NHL's best.
 
The confidence with which Meier is playing now is evident to Couture.
 
"He believes he can be a very good player," Couture observed. "He carries the puck a lot more. He realizes how strong he is, that he can beat guys with his speed and he's stronger than a lot of players in this league. Now he drives the puck through people. Very difficult to stop and defend."
 
"You got to be in a good spot mentally and obviously have that confidence, not just saying it, but doing it. Those are things you can get through practicing and working hard and in the gym. That's where I got my confidence, and then obviously, once you go on the ice and you get rewarded and sometimes there's stretches where you don't get bounces, you just got to continue to work," Meier, who's always been known for his off-ice work ethic, said. "I always believe when you put in the work, you're gonna have the result. That's what I'm trying to do and not overthink it."
 
Wherever Meier plays in March or next season, that team is getting someone special, a true game-changer. There simply aren't a lot of scorers who can control the puck all 200 feet of the ice as Meier can.
 
"Timo's a unique player," Sharks head coach David Quinn said. "You've got that type of size and skill. There's a physicality to his game."

RELATED: Sharks' Mike Grier willing to trade or keep Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier

Quinn certainly doesn't want to imagine the Sharks without Meier. But it won't be his decision.
 
"If you're starting a team from scratch, and you got a chance to grab someone like Timo, you're going to take him and put him on your wing and forget about him for the next 10 years," no less than Grier said two weeks ago. "That being said, he's the type of player that teams want, especially teams that are planning to be in the playoffs. He's big, he's fast, he can score, so yeah, there's plenty of interest in him. We'll see how it goes."