With resurgence, Sharks’ Vlasic fends off the haters: ‘Who would have thought I can still play this game?’

With resurgence, Sharks’ Vlasic fends off the haters: ‘Who would have thought I can still play this game?’

SAN JOSE – San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has faced his share of criticism this season — and in previous years — for what’s perceived to have been a precipitous decline in play.

It’s been written in this corner recently that he’s no longer a $7 million a year defenseman, and going back, whether the Sharks should consider buying out the remainder of his contract.

But Vlasic, regardless of how many years he’s been in the NHL, still plays with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder.

When Vlasic was younger, it was perhaps because he wasn’t getting enough recognition as one of the NHL’s shutdown defensemen. Now at 36, it’s to fend off the haters who say he’s well past his prime.

At the moment, Vlasic’s showing that he can still be an effective player, especially for a team that needs a steady hand considering all of its injuries.

Vlasic scored for the third time in five games Tuesday as the Sharks overcame a sluggish start to post a 2-0 win over the Seattle Kraken, giving San Jose its fourth win in the last five games.

Vlasic’s goal came at the 7:27 mark of the third period, as he took a pass from Ty Emberson and fired a shot that got past the right shoulder of Kraken goalie Joey Daccord.

“I’ve been opportunistic. I’ve scored on the chances I’ve had,” Vlasic said. “I feel good. Skating, creating, joining the rush, and good things are happening.

“Wasn’t a perfect game, but we found a way to win. When you’re winning games, it feels good. Playing a team that is fighting for the playoffs right now. It feels good.”

Vlasic, in his 1,267th career NHL game, was third among all Sharks defensemen with 20:29 in ice time, marking the fourth time in the last nine games that he’s played over 20 minutes.

Quite the turnaround considering Vlasic was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions earlier this season, and as of early December, was averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time per game.

“I’ve played well. Like I said, I’ve been skating, making plays. Who would have thought I can still play this game,” Vlasic said, eying the person (me) who asked the question for a couple extra seconds.

The Sharks desperately needed someone to fill the void after Matt Benning had season-ending hip surgery in December, and both Mario Ferraro and Henry Thrun went down with injuries last week.

Vlasic and Jan Rutta have been the veteran presences on a roster that right now has four defensemen 24 years of age or younger, including Shakir Mukhamadullin, who played his second career NHL game on Tuesday.

Vlasic played seven shifts in the third period against the Kraken, including five in the final 10 minutes as the Sharks worked to protect their one-goal lead. Rutta then scored an empty net goal with 20 seconds left and now had three goals and three assists in the last five games.

“He’s played very well,” Sharks coach David Quinn said of Vlasic. “Obviously, it’s nice to see a guy get rewarded from a goal standpoint, but he’s never been judged by his points, but it’s always nice to have it.

“But he’s definitely played with more confidence, and he’s played his best hockey of the year in the last few weeks.”

Vlasic didn’t play from Dec. 10-17 as he took a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. He returned to the team on Dec. 16, but was still in and out of the lineup, unable to play, per a coach’s decision, in more than one game at a time.

Finally, after the Sharks were blown out 7-1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 9, a game in which he was a scratch, Vlasic got a chance to play again in his hometown of Montreal two nights later.

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In maybe his best game of the year, Vlasic played 20:49 that night, getting two shots on net and blocking three shots. The Sharks won 3-2, and now have a 5-3-1 record since that game. Vlasic hasn’t come out of the lineup since.

“He’s a prideful guy, and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer,” Quinn said. “The leave of absence did him good. It really did. He had some personal stuff he had to iron out and he came back a new man.”

The Sharks would love to see Vlasic, who has two more years on his eight-year, $56 million contract, keep it up. Practically speaking, it’s going to be difficult to trade him this year, considering his deal’s average annual value. A buyout of his deal would also be unappetizing to the organization, considering the amount of dead money it would create (close to $10 million next season, and $8 million in 2025-26).

Vlasic, credited for his professionalism all season, intends to play out his deal. Now in his 18th year, he’s showing he can still play this game.