San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson values depth. Despite letting five more regular players go than he added, he will still have at least eight more players with NHL experience than can be dressed on a given night.
So why does Bovada list their odds at just 20:1, just above the average for a 30-team league?
Because that is not the kind of depth that wins championships. Young players can step up to the fourth line, third pair or backup goalie position for a few games without any noticeable difference in impact compared to a veteran in the limited time they are on the ice.
Where you need depth is at the top of your roster. You need players who can fill in as top-six forwards or top-three defencemen. That way you have someone to fill the team's most important roles.
The perception is that the Sharks had unusual injury problems last season because of the 43 games missed by Martin Havlat. There are two things wrong with that approach:
1. Havlat is frequently injured and should have been expected to miss ample time. Last year was an example of why being thin among scoring forwards was unwise.
2. San Jose's blue line was relatively healthy, with just one game each missed by Dan Boyle and Brent Burns among the top three. That made up for Havlat's injury, leaving about 60 games missed between the top nine skaters and the No. 1 goalie for the third year in a row.
The problem was the Sharks went to battle with barely enough top-six forwards, even though two of those (Havlat and Ryane Clowe) had multiple seasons with significant injuries. This year has to be different.
For instance, with the team's current depth on the blue line, they are covered.
Both Boyle and Burns finished in the top 20 in goals vs. threshold, which measures how that player performed in comparison to the average reserve player in their same situation. They were also in the top 40 in Corsi that measures shot attempt differential while a player is on the ice.
Thus, if one defenceman goes down, the team is not without a true No. 1. The team also has good depth behind them to move up: Brad Stuart ranked 32nd in GVT and 49th in Corsi while Marc-Edouard Vlasic was 42nd and 38th, respectively. Either of them could handle the No. 2 role.
Moreover, all three players primed to rotate on the third pair are capable of being on the second. Douglas Murray remains a stout defender and entered last season on the top pair. Justin Braun is developing well enough to fill a major role (27th in Corsi last season among defencemen) and Jason Demers is one year removed from significant second-pair action.
The Sharks are not in the same boat elsewhere. If Antti Niemi loses significant time between the pipes, San Jose will be in trouble. Thomas Greiss has not even seen much time as a backup, and what can be expected from him as the No. 1 guy is an unknown at this point.
But few teams can afford to be prepared for such situations, and serious injuries in net are less frequent than with skaters. But if anything, the team is less prepared to handle injuries to the top-six forwards than last year, having lost 261 games played at forward from the roster that finished last season.
A team with the same deficiencies is likely to see the same results. That is why the Sharks must continue to look for one more forward that is able to fill in on the second line when someone goes down. My latest examination shows there are at least two good options available.
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