With Marc-Edouard Vlasic signed, the future of the San Jose Sharks comes more into focus
For San Jose Sharks fans, the first week of NHL free agency had done nothing to redefine a team that was clearly headed in the wrong direction. Every move Doug Wilson made in the 12 prior months had either had no impact or backfired.
The ledger did not look good. They added Brad Stuart and Adam Burish, but Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, Torrey Mitchell, Benn Ferriero, Colin White, Jim Vandermeer and Brad Winchester were no longer on the team's payroll. It is unlikely any of those lost will be signed.
Even though the Sharks have players who can fill those spots, that totals a net loss for a team that needs to gain. There was a lot of smoke surrounding a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rick Nash to draw the focus of the public, but it looks now like the fire may have gone out some time ago.
The Sharks have turned their attention to upgrading their coaching staff with an unprecedented two defensive coaches brought in to fix the penalty kill, Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson. They have now also re-signed a forward and extended a defenceman.
With the abundance on the Sharks blue line and lack of young players, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was one potential piece the team could move. But he is off the books now because he has signed a long-term deal. (Details and analysis at the link.)
This should kill the Nash deal. The Sharks will get little or no immediate upgrade trading Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski for the winger to justify losing a good young, cheaper player. No one else will pry Nash from Columbus.
He may stay with his only franchise, the Phoenix Coyotes, if they can get their ownership deal in place soon enough to extend a proper offer. The Detroit Red Wings are strongly pursuing him, having lots of money and gaping holes left by the departure of Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom and Stuart.
But unless the Wings are willing to greatly overpay, the Sharks should be able to land him. If the Sharks can exceed a $4 million offer, it would beat what Phoenix can afford and leave almost $1 million under the cap, about as much as they are comfortable spending.
If the Sharks land this fish, the cards fall into place for the entire starting roster...
Shane Doan is the rare player who is skilled and physical, and that is why he is still scoring 50 points a season in the year he turns 35.
One of the reasons the San Jose Sharks are after Rick Nash is he is also that kind of player, and that dimension is exactly what this line needs. Joe Pavelski is a better player overall and good around the net but not as physical.
Matching the old guys up will give them someone whose speed and skill can break down a defence, a finisher who is a force in front of the net and someone that can control and dish the puck from behind the net or along the half-boards.
With their skill level, that is a very good line. But it might not even be the best line on the team...
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are both very good two-way forwards.
Both scored over 30 goals and 60 points. Couture was an All-Star in 2012 and Pavelski should have been a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the game's best defensive forward. (The right man won that award, no question.)
Join them with a very skilled, excellent skating play-maker in Martin Havlat and you have all the same elements of the first line: a skater and a net-front presence, a play-maker and two scorers, one right-handed shooter and two left-handed...in a little bit smaller and faster package.
This gets the team's best player in the circle taking the big draws. It also gives Couture more room to work. And if Havlat cannot stay healthy...
Ryane Clowe gives the San Jose Sharks a second-line player on their third line. This gives them protection against injuries (Martin Havlat and Clowe being among the most prone) and also gives them secondary scoring.
He also makes more sense on a checking line than Havlat, who had just six hits and 14 blocked shots in 39 games last season.
Andrew Desjardins was a very underrated forward for San Jose last season. He played in almost every game and scored about a point per 45 minutes of ice time, which is not bad for being mostly on the fourth line. He also held up reasonably well in his limited time on the scoring lines.
Last year was his first full season, and he is ready to take the jump to meaningful ice time. The team can already trust him in his own end: plus-12 in turnover differential (takeaways minus giveaways), plus-22 in the faceoff circle, had 93 hits and 49 blocked shots.
Clowe will elevate the play of both Desi and Tommy Wingels, who made quite an impression in his 33 games in San Jose. He is a great skater who had three goals and six assists, but 102 hits and many good battles for space in front of the net.
That gives the Sharks three guys who play the body well for their checking line, but also the same formula from the first two lines: one right and two left, the puck-controlling play-maker who excels along the half-boards dishing to a front-of-net presence...
Adam Burish was signed to play on the third line of the San Jose Sharks. The gritty forward fits the mold—a frustrating and physical defender who can score a little.
Michal Handzus was signed last season to rescue a penalty kill and anchor the third line. He failed to live up to that expectation, but scoring just over a point per three games would have been fine if he had been successful killing penalties. He will be in a scheme that gives him a chance at that this season.
T.J. Galiardi is a one-time 39-point player. He is a pest who was simply in the wrong situation in Colorado.
So why are these guys on the fourth line? Shane Doan gives the Sharks enough depth to have two No. 1 scoring lines and two good checking lines. I am not optimistic about much with this team in the last few years, but I think both Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels play their way onto the third line.
This line also works for balance. What Handzus does bring to the table offensively is similar in style to Joe Thornton, Burish provides a net-front and physical presence and Galiardi is a great skater. None of them will have great seasons, but they will be good enough to put out there 10 minutes a game.
With the Sharks blue line depth, they might well dress seven on the blue line frequently. Jason Demers is likely to see some fourth-line right wing action, as he is better suited for scoring than defending.
At some point, Dan Boyle has to start showing his age. (More on that in the next slide.)
Brent Burns elevated his game over the end of the regular season and was easily the team's best defenceman in the playoffs. He is ready to have the top role.
While he gambles (like Boyle), he brings a lot to the table defensively: 117 blocked shots and a blue line-leading 25 takeaways. He has shown to be a physical player when not on a team deathly afraid of taking a penalty.
His partner last season, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, just signed a long-term extension is the natural pair with him. They began last season paired but spent increasingly less time together as it wore on.
Nevertheless, his defensive responsibility will cover for Burns' gambles and the two of them will be able to play more minutes than the older pair. Nothing says "top pair" more than who is on the ice more.
Since joining the San Jose Sharks four summer ago, Dan Boyle is the highest-scoring defenceman in the NHL. But some San Jose fans think that because last season was the lowest total in teal he is about to become worthless.
(Some of the same fans think that despite the fact they do not value him, someone else will enough to trade away a young player who is already a top-3 defenceman to get him out of San Jose. Even if that were true, he can limit the Sharks options of where to send him.)
Discounting the nine scoreless games before he adjusted to playing with a broken foot (not even all the games with it!), he scored at a better rate than the season before when he was second in the NHL in ice time per game.
Those last two years do not suggest a player who will no longer be elite. But he will be 36 next season, and he has to drop off a little—maybe 22 minutes and just a point per two games. Those are very good No. 2 defenceman numbers.
Brad Stuart is an impact player on both ends of the ice, cut in the same mold as long-time Boyle defence partner Douglas Murray. He throws his weight around, and would have been top-four on the Sharks blue line in every category: goals (third), assists (fourth), hits (first), blocked shots (third) and takeaways (second).
This pair could be a top-pair elsewhere, but would be edged out slightly by their younger compatriots. The team would rely heavily on the top two pairs, but would be set behind it...
Douglas Murray began last season on the top pair and was the fourth best player on the San Jose Sharks blue line last season. With his shot-blocking (143) and intimidating hits (126), he is capable of playing a top-four role.
So is Justin Braun. He got a three-year deal at a cap hit of $1.25 million as a restricted free agent last month because other teams recognized that the skilled defenceman had become steady and reliable in his own end. And while he scored just 11 points in 66 games, he had 11 in just 28 games the season before.
Similarly, Jason Demers showed scoring prowess prior to last season, with 45 points in 126 career games prior to a disappointing 2011-12 campaign (13 points in 57 games). He offers offensive potential on not only the fourth line right wing, but the blue line. There his presence will work not only as a fill-in due to injury, but a chance to occasionally rest an aging Murray.
Antti Niemi will almost certainly remain the San Jose Sharks No. 1 goaltender. With just nine back-to-back games, he may get to play nearer to his preferred heavy workload, but that has yet to work out well for San Jose in the playoffs with either of their last two starters.
Considering Thomas Greiss will be a low-cost backup who could be more, the Sharks would be wise to give him enough playing time to know what they have. But since San Jose is likely to be in a dogfight to win a very good division (or at least grab home ice in the first round), it is likely Greiss will play in a number of games somewhere in the teens.
At some point there is likely to be an injury to one of them. Alex Stalock will probably be called up, but there is a chance Harri Sateri could be ready for a new level and get some of that action, himself. Thus, while Niemi is the only goalie worthy of being a No. 1 guy, the Sharks have plenty of depth at the position.
The same is obviously true of a blue line that will fight to find enough playing time for seven worthy players. Taylor Doherty is also on the cusp of playing in the NHL, and Matt Pelech has a few career games under his belt. It is also possible Nick Petrecki will finally find his game that made him a first-round pick.
That is plenty of starting and emergency talent. But how are the Sharks situated at forward?
The addition of Doan would give this team very good depth. Not only would there be a very capable forward sitting at times to find room for Jason Demers (T.J. Galiardi, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels being the leading candidates), but former everyday players in James Sheppard and Tim Sullivan.
After today's signings of John Matsumoto, Frazer McLaren and John McCarthy, the Sharks have seven forwards with NHL experience in reserve.
In short, the Sharks would once again have depth. They would once again have front-line talent they have not had both since the year they won the President's Trophy.