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NHL Trade Deadline: Which San Jose Sharks Are Expendable?

Simon Cherin-GordonContributor IIIFebruary 23, 2012

NHL Trade Deadline: Which San Jose Sharks Are Expendable?

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    Two days ago, I published an article about why the San Jose Sharks must "stay the course."

    Now I'm discussing who is fair game to be traded. 

    While I still don't believe that the Sharks should completely tear down the walls, it has become more clear that this team is in need of a shakeup.

    What has changed in the last two days?

    For one, the Sharks were blown out by the NHL's worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. It marked their second loss in five days to a 15th-place team. It also marked the ninth straight game in which San Jose gave up at least three goals.

    The injuries are also starting to pile up. Douglas Murray, Dominic Moore, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Benn Ferriero and Jim Vandermeer have all been casualties of a nine-game road trip so far.

    For whatever reason, the Sharks seem to be coming apart, just after it seemed like they may have been coming together. And while they could always come back together again, they can't wait for that to happen. They are in a dog fight to make the playoffs at this point, and the trade deadline is four days away.

    However, this is still a delicate situation. A good trade could spark a Stanley Cup run, but a bad one could set this franchise back for years.

    Given that, let's take a look at who in San Jose is—and who isn't—expendable at this year's trading deadline.

Expendable: Antti Niemi

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    Why: Antti Niemi was signed to a four-year extension just about one year ago. This solidified his position as the Sharks' franchise goaltender.

    Until the second half of this season, everything was going according to plan. Niemi had a .918 save percentage, a 2.30 GAA and a 21-10-5 record at the All-Star break.

    However, it seems as if the wheels have suddenly fallen off. Niemi has allowed 25 goals in his last seven starts, good for a 3.57 GAA. One, two, even three straight bad games can be tolerated in the middle of the grind of an 82-game season.

    But pathetic performances in six of seven games, including three straight duds on a potentially season-defining road trip, mean that Niemi is no longer the surefire, consistent net presence that this team thrives off of.

    With backup Thomas Greiss playing well and plenty of organizational depth at goalie, Niemi is expendable. 

     

    In return: Obviously, Antti is still an NHL-caliber starting goalie. He's still a Stanley Cup champion. He's still won six of seven playoff series in his career. He will likely be an elite netminder for many more stretches, or even entire seasons, during his career.

    That means that his trade value is very high, and the Sharks won't give him up unless a big-time player is coming their way. Going into the season, this roster was constructed with a certain plan. That plan relied on certain players to carry this team to a Stanley Cup. Niemi was near the top of this list.

    So using common sense, Niemi is only worth dealing if in return San Jose lands a guy who can carry them to a Cup.

    Rick Nash or Jeff Carter could fit the billing. Few others could, especially considering the small number of sellers looking for a goalie.

Indispensable: Joe Pavelski

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    Potential trade value: Joe Pavelski's name has been brought up in connection to a Rick Nash trade. The Sharks made it clear that young star Logan Couture was not on the table, and conventional wisdom says that Pavelski would be the next-most coveted young center the Sharks have to offer.

    Due to his five extra years of life on Logan Couture and his relatively lower ceiling, a Pavelski-for-Nash deal would require additional Sharks heading Columbus' way.

     

    Why not: Joe Pavelski is not one of the NHL's absolute best power forwards. He hasn't scored 30 goals six times. Or even once. His best goal total would be Nash's worst since his rookie year. Joe Pavelski is obviously not Rick Nash.

    But Rick Nash is also not Joe Pavelski.

    Rick Nash has never won a playoff series nearly single-handedly, or have seven playoff game-winners. He's never even won a playoff game. He has never won 60 percent of his faceoffs. He's never been dominant in all three zones. He's never been the smartest player on the ice.

    Both guys do a ton of things that the other does not. But there's a prevailing value in each: Nash is a better guy to build a team around, whereas Pavelski is a better cog in a championship team.

    The Sharks want a championship. To trade their smartest, most versatile, most clutch, playoff-proven forward would be absolute nonsense.

Expendable: Ryane Clowe

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    Why: At the All-Star break, I wrote an article about the Sharks players who needed to step it up in the second half. In that article, I proposed that Ryane Clowe had lost his competitive edge. I also proposed it "at the risk of inspiring a ferocious second-half tear."

    Suffice it to say I did not.

    Clowe has just one goal since the All-Star break. His even plus/minus rating has not budged. His hit totals have barely increased.

    Most importantly and most tellingly, Clowe is currently nowhere to be found during a skid that has this team's Stanley Cup aspirations slipping away. In the past, Clowe would be the one guy who's scoring big goals, playing physically and playing with passion while the rest of the team struggles. He'd also be the first guy to vocally challenge his team and inspire a massive turnaround.

    That is Clowe's value to this team. Sure, he has some skills, too. He's a quality two-way power forward with awesome puck-possession skills, great stick-handling moves and the ability to finish around the net. But he means much more to this team than that—his leadership and edge make him one of the team's absolute indispensable players.

    His skill set is still strong, and his image around the league as a gritty guy who can also score make him a coveted player. Considering right now he's not much more to the Sharks than a struggling wing on a dysfunctional second line, why not try and move him?

     

    In return: If Clowe is moved, San Jose will need to receive a power forward in return. The loss of Dany Heatley makes Clowe the best power forward on the team, and he isn't good enough to be the best power forward on a championship team.

    So how can Clowe net the Sharks a guy who does what he does better?

    For one, Clowe could be packaged with Antti Niemi. The combination of an experienced, proven top-six forward still under 30, a potential franchise netminder and a couple prospects could be enough to land Rick Nash, who is an upgrade not only on Clowe, but likely on Heatley (at least at this point in Dany's career).

    The other, more realistic option would be to move Clowe along with Justin Braun or Jason Demers to Edmonton for a guy like Ales Hemsky or Ryan Smyth. The Oilers have plenty of young forwards in their top six and aren't looking for another. Rather, they want a young defenseman with upside, as well as a veteran, two-way forward who has multiple years remaining in their prime and on their contract.

Indispensable: Any Top-4 Defensemen

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    Potential trade value: Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns and Douglas Murray have varying levels of trade value.

    Boyle's age means he'd almost certainly not be desired by any seller. Murray's lack of offense, likely plateaued growth and injury problems make him a complimentary trade chip at best.

    Burn's big contract may hurt his value, but his explosive shot, huge frame and two-way capabilities make his value rather high (he netted Minnesota a top-line forward in June).

    Vlasic by far has the most trade value. His age (24), rare defensive abilities, decent offensive potential and insane career plus/minus mean that he could be a big part of a big-time trade.

     

    Why not: The answer to "why not" is similar to the answer to "why group these four together?"

    The talk about this team this season is always centered around forwards and goaltending. That is because, relatively quietly, the Sharks have one of the NHL's most complete, dangerous top fours on defense.

    There are several qualities teams look for in a top-four defenseman.

    The first is two-way ability. Can your heavy-minute players make a positive impact on both ends? Well, Brent Burns is one of the league's better two-way D-men, and Dan Boyle isn't far behind. The second is puck-moving ability. Boyle is elite here, and Burns is well above average. The third is defensive responsibility. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray are two of the best in the business.

    The Sharks top four also possess speed (everyone but Murray), size (Murray and Burns) and guys who block a ton of shots and clear rebounds (all four).

    If any of these players are moved, the entire blue line immediately crumbles, as does this team's Cup chances. The Sharks' blue line was so overmatched by Vancouver last year that Doug Wilson moved Devin Setoguchi to bring in Brent Burns. Now the hole is at forward, but to fix it by breaking up the blue line once again would be idiotic.

Expendable: Jamie McGinn

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    Why: I might be Jamie McGinn's biggest fan. I thought that his promotion to the third line was a brilliant one before the season even started. Once he scored five goals in the first two weeks of December, I thought that he could make our third line better than last year.

    McGinn is now sitting at a career-high 12 goals and 11 assists now, with almost twice as many hits as any Shark besides Douglas Murray, more takeaways than giveaways and, most surprising of all, only seven minor penalties.

    He's only 23, and he could become a top-six forward if he continues to grow.

    Why, then, would McGinn be expendable? For all of those very reasons listed above. Simply put, McGinn's trade value is higher than his value to the Sharks.

    That's not a knock on his value to the Sharks. He's the biggest reason San Jose's third line is clicking this year. His points, hits and plus/minus make him the Sharks' best depth forward by a mile.

    But the fact is, when the GM of a rebuilding team looks at McGinn's offensive numbers, speed, strength, simplified game and age, they will see not just an elite bottom-six forward, but a future fixture of their top six.

     

    In return: The Sharks should have two major objectives if they choose to move McGinn.

    The first would be to replace his third-line grit with equal top-six grit. McGinn is the only reason the Sharks aren't dead last in the NHL in hits, and they're still pretty close. His hustle and intensity makes San Jose's third line their best energy line, so the player coming back would have to bring that same energy to the first or second line.

    The second objective would be to not move him along with his third-line replacement. If McGinn is dealt, the Sharks will have a big hole to fill at third-line winger. If Martin Havlat returns and gets his offensive game going, Ryane Clowe would likely fill McGinn's void. This means that Clowe can't be moved with McGinn.

    If Havlat returns but struggles, he'll go to the fourth line, meaning Andrew Desjardins or Benn Ferriero will replace McGinn. Meaning these guys must stay in the fold if McGinn is to be moved.

    Ultimately, McGinn should be moved only as part of an Antti Niemi trade, or along with Justin Braun/Jason Demers and prospects. And no matter who he's moved with, the player coming back must not be a depth forward, because McGinn is as good as it gets as a depth forward.

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