The San Jose Sharks have not been deep at forward since trading Devin Setoguchi in June 2011
In the summer of 2011, the San Jose Sharks retreated in every sense of the word.
Strategically, general manager Doug Wilson decided to yield assets up front to bolster the back end. Military outfits have to do this sometimes, and given that the best blue line generally wins the Western Conference, it seemed a prudent move.
Wilson traded centre prospect Charlie Coyle and 30-goal scorer Devin Setoguchi for All-Star defenceman Brent Burns. In the process, they retreated down the draft in a swap of picks, retreated in the standings five places and were defeated faster than any playoff team in franchise history.
When Wilson traded the trifecta of resources—a top-six forward, their top prospect and the first pick they have—for one player older than anyone he let go, he envisioned immediate results. But that does not mean he should abandon the philosophy.
The reason the move did not succeed was because the Sharks forwards remaining did not perform well.
In the first six seasons with Wilson at the helm, San Jose had at least eight forwards with 10 goals. There were only seven in 2010-11, but all of them had at least 20 goals.
That is scoring depth. Contrast that with last season when only five Sharks forwards scored 10 goals, and it is easy to understand what was missing.
Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat are returning veteran forwards expected to produce more this season. But instead of going after more veteran talent as in years past, Wilson is giving some young talent a chance to fill out the checking lines.
New blood and new roles make the depth chart that much harder to figure out. Less than a week of training camp and no preseason games makes it worse.
In all likelihood, the line combinations will be very similar to what was outlined by CSN Bay Area as camp opened. Coaches will want to give players time to develop chemistry, only changing things hastily when they lose games: 2-5-1 used to be under 10 percent of a season and is now the equivalent of a month in a full season.
It is the same thing with injuries. Havlat's injury last season was 43 games. Five games less than the entire 2013 season.
Not only will play and injuries jumble the depth chart, but situations will. Ryane Clowe may be on the same line as Logan Couture, but he will not be on the ice in as many situations. Fourth-line penalty killers from checking lines may get more ice time than third-line forwards...
The more pertinent question is, who will be on the ice the most this season? The following list examines who gets the most time in the end of the season and why, factoring in injuries...for a prediction of how they will perform, check out the core and role-player projections written for Examiner.com.
Joe Pavelski is not the best San Jose Sharks forward, but he is the most versatile.
He is one of the best in the world in the faceoff circle, tied for the team lead in goals and led forwards in blocked shots. Being one of the top players in every situation gets him ice time.
That is why he led Sharks forwards in minutes last season and why he will again in 2013. The gap will increase because he may still be getting better—look for him to be a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2013—while all but one other core teammate just gets older.
Joe Thornton is arguably the best San Jose Sharks player both offensively and defensively. He wins key draws and uses his reach to defend well in addition to being known as one of the best passers in the world.
At 33 years old, it is unlikely he will see much drop-off this season and should have several productive years left after it. He is durable and willing to play through injuries like the Sharks will need him to.
Logan Couture was the only All-Star selected from the San Jose Sharks in 2012. He ended the season tied for the team lead in goals and finished second in blocks and third in takeaways among forwards.
Being very good to excellent at both ends makes Couture at least the second-best player the team has. Yet he was on the ice almost two minutes less than any of the three first-line forwards last season.
That will change in 2013.
Not yet 24 years old, Couture may get better. The Sharks also need to keep minutes down on their top line with two 33-year-old forwards. The weakest of that line on a given night may be replaced by Couture for key shifts, or he may see more action with a second line that should be improved.
Patrick Marleau is a physically gifted player who does not show much emotion. For that reason, he is seen as a soft skilled player.
In reality, he registered almost as many hits (84) as his other linemates (Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski) combined (92). That plus skating and faceoff ability make him an asset in various situations, leading to him being second in total ice time among San Jose Sharks forwards in 2011-12.
Still, in a scoring situation there are at least two better choices. In his own end he ranks in the bottom half of a good defensive forward unit. The three forwards ahead of him on the depth chart are top choices on both ends.
Ryane Clowe is passionate and physical. This makes him an asset on both ends—no forward on the San Jose Sharks had more hits and only four had more points.
Unfortunately, he is not very fast. He has improved as a skater and hustles, but that lack of speed still limits him on both ends.
His physical nature also makes it virtually impossible to avoid injuries that will be more frequent and result in more missed games in a condensed season. For that reason, there should be a large drop-off between Patrick Marleau and Clowe in total minutes played by the end of the 2013 regular season.
A real examination of variables shows that the importance of Martin Havlat was highly exaggerated last season. But there is no doubt that being short a forward changed the dynamic of the San Jose Sharks.
Of course, missing games is commonplace for Havlat. He did nothing to quell his reputation for being soft by managing just six hits, 14 blocks and 19 takeaways in the 39 games he did play.
He must find a way to not only be in the lineup more, but do something more than use his skating ability to get in the way of the opposition. Otherwise, he may be passed on the depth chart by one of the younger, developing Sharks forwards.
Tommy Wingels found his way onto the second line in 2011-12 while Martin Havlat was injured. Thus, he is the young San Jose Sharks forward most ready for an increased role in 2013 despite playing in just 33 games.
In addition to great skating ability, Wingels was physical on both ends. Even though he had only three goals and six assists, he was effective on the attack in space and close to the net. He led Sharks by a wide margin in hits per game even though 16 players averaged more minutes per game for San Jose.
Michal Handzus is a very good defensive centre who still possesses enough skill to be an asset on the offensive end.
Handzus has been known to be better on draws than his plus-11 differential last season. He can use his size for reach (28 takeaways in 67 games), getting in the way of shots (59 blocks) or checking (52 hits).
He managed just 24 points last season, but he was playing through injury. Chances are he will be healthier and be able to perform well enough to anchor the third line and kill penalties. That means seeing him on the ice for over 15 minutes a game.
Adam Burish was an effective checking line forward for both the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. He was brought to the San Jose Sharks for his physicality, championship experience and killing penalties.
Early indications are he is starting on the fourth line, but those assets and his contract (eight-highest paid forward) suggest he is destined for extra ice time. It also does not hurt that he is one of just three right-handed forwards projected to be dressed regularly for San Jose.
The last hope the San Jose Sharks have to make their deadline trade with the Colorado Avalanche not among the worst in franchise history is T.J. Galiardi. He has speed and talent and has been known as difficult to play against.
If he can recapture the production he had in his first two years, San Jose may have a forward who can play on a scoring line. If he plays like the last two seasons, he may find himself moved down to the fourth line or scratched.
Andrew Desjardins is already a reliable centre for the San Jose Sharks. He skates well enough and is willing to do the dirty work necessary for those lacking offensive skills to get ice time at the NHL level.
At 26, it is also possible those offensive skills will develop. He managed 17 points despite playing under 10 minutes a game—mostly on the fourth line and penalty kill. He had the third-most hits (94), fourth-most blocks (49) and was in the top half for takeaways (37) in 2011-12 among current San Jose forwards.
Coach Todd McLellan told CSN Bay Area he needed a deeper bench to combat the heavy workload of the condensed 2013 NHL schedule. Desjardins is a perfect candidate, especially if he can develop more on the offensive end.
The Minnesota Wild saw enough in James Sheppard to draft him ninth overall in 2006. He played over 200 games with them, scoring as much as 24 points on a checking line of a low-scoring team.
Then a non-hockey-related accident left him facing rehabilitation for most of 2011-12. Rather than wait it out, the Wild traded him to the San Jose Sharks for a third-round pick.
He managed only four minor league games last season, but he has 24 points in 34 games in Worcester this season. Given his capabilities on both ends and the extra value of a centre, it seems likely he will play more than any of the remaining forwards under contract by the Sharks.
The Worcester Shuttle is the term for those players shuttled between the San Jose Sharks and their AHL affiliate in Worcester, MA. It has generally been crowded with mediocre forwards because of the many veteran role players general manager Doug Wilson is fond of signing, but it is less crowded this season.
Frazer McLaren battled injuries last season but played in seven games. The fact that he remains on the San Jose roster suggests he may see more action in 2013 despite the abbreviated season, and it is entirely possible he will not go back and forth from the NHL to the AHL this season.
McLaren is what he is: 6'5" and 235 lbs, he bangs bodies and sticks up for teammates. But his potential to be more than a goon was evident in 2009-10, when he had a goal and five assists in limited action over 23 games.
John McCarthy is also likely to see time at the NHL level—perhaps fewer than the 10 games he saw last season. In 2010-11, he played in 37 games and recorded two goals and two assists, and the Sharks thought enough of him to sign him to a two-year contract that becomes one-way next season.
If there is more than two injuries to a forward, the Sharks are likely to start seven on their deeper blue line (provided injuries have not changed that dynamic) than go deeper into their forward pool. Thus, Bracken Kearns is the only other player likely to be in San Jose this season.
The 31-year old played his first five NHL games last season with the Florida Panthers, so there is not much hope for him developing into anything more than an emergency reserve. But this makes him ideal for press-box duty while younger players continue to develop in the minors.
If the Sharks do need to go deeper than their top 15 forwards, right wing Tim Kennedy would seem the next best choice. He has NHL experience and was the lone AHL All-Star for Worcester.