They have had forwards like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture and a bevy of defensive combinations that were among the best third pairs in the NHL. They have countless players in the "Worcester Shuttle" that takes them back and forth from the AHL to the NHL Sharks.
The idea that this works is one of three major myths Wilson and coach Todd McLellan are operating under. The others are that Martin Havlat was the key to team success and heavy workloads benefit goalies.
(The first link goes to an analysis on San Jose Sharks Examiner and the second is a Fear the Fin analysis that is very technical—perfect for numbers geeks like me. Further support for this theory is in the article and comments of my interview with Randy Hahn in 2010.)
Depth helps. Perhaps the lack of third-line depth was the difference in a double-digit drop in points and a five-game playoff last season. But it was not for lack of trying.
San Jose played the following forwards more than 30 games on the checking lines in 2011-12: Michal Handzus, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell, Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins, Andrew Murray, Benn Ferriero and Tommy Wingels. They had Justin Braun, Jason Demers, Colin White and Jim Vandermeer on the third pair.
The best seasons among them were all from players under the age of 26. The youngest (McGinn) Wilson traded away while adding Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi before the trade deadline.
That depth was not helpful, but it was costly: San Jose gave up picks, prospects and payroll that had no return. While the Sharks are talking about financial losses, they are making poor financial decisions.
Teams like the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes make the playoffs because they know that $2 million-plus forward has little more chance of success than their $700,000 minor leaguer. Moreover, younger, cheaper top-two lines/pairs players are found by giving those players opportunities sooner.
It is not better to be the budget-conscious team. It is better to take their efficiency and add that one more player for the second line or pair player that can step up when there is an injury to a key player. The wealthiest teams can afford that extra player to be a first line/pair guy and spread out the minutes.
The Sharks have that extra player on their blue line, with two players capable of No. 1 and No. 3 roles and three more that are worthy of a No. 5 role. If the forward they add is a depth guy, who will they have to fill in for the 40-plus games typically lost each season by scoring line players?
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