When asked to rank the remaining priorities of the San Jose Sharks, I was flummoxed.
They need a scoring line forward. That is all.
Sure, I detailed five defencemen the team should sign last month. The Sharks have a great blue line through the seventh spot on the depth chart, but a total of six games of NHL experience below them.
They have needed at least 12 games played from the eighth spot and below in every season for which the team site carries stats. Since the inception of the current Pacific Division, most have required two to four times that. It would seem a lot more reassuring if the eighth defenceman was a known quantity.
But even over half a season, how much difference is such a player going to make over a player like Taylor Doherty? After all, we are talking about players who will be out there for about 15 minutes over a handful of games. How much worse can their presence make the team's goal differential?
Inexperienced players like Derek Joslin, Joe Callahan, Matt Moore and Justin Braun have filled in these roles admirably. Much like with Braun, the playing time could be important in Doherty's development.
Signing a veteran defenceman would be a luxury, but cannot be considered a priority.
Likewise, the Sharks are deep in net. They have two prospects that have been good enough to be called up previously, a backup that has shown the potential to be a starter and their top goalie has won a Stanley Cup.
That leaves a forward. But despite having six depth forwards come off their payroll July 1, the Sharks still have five more with NHL experience than they can dress on a given night.
Signing more of them will only stunt the development of some of the younger players, and, like on the blue line above, offer little upgrade. One of the ways low-budget teams compete is they save money, develop players and lose little in impact by letting the fourth line and sixth defenceman be manned by green talent.
In previous seasons when the Sharks had at least seven forwards worthy of being on a scoring line (2008-09 through 2010-11), they won the Pacific Division, had a President's Trophy and two conference finals appearances. When they had six or fewer scoring forwards (2005-06 through 2007-08 and 2011-12), they had only one division title and no more than six wins in any Stanley Cup playoffs.
That leaves the only priority a forward capable of playing on the second line. The problem is that Shane Doan is the only scoring line forward who fits that description.
It seems increasingly unlikely that he will sign a deal with San Jose. That leaves the Sharks few options. Andrei Kostitsyn and Petr Sykora are capable of playing second-line roles, but they do not fit the tough defender profile that general manager Doug Wilson has said he wants more of in San Jose.
Putting either on the second line and power play would mean sitting a better forward like Martin Havlat or Ryane Clowe. Thus, getting a good third-line forward that can hold his own on the second line in the event of an injury might be a better solution.
Either way, the Sharks must get the best player they can if they want to head back in the right direction.