Martin Havlat remains the biggest question mark on the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks
The back end of the San Jose Sharks is deep and talented, leaving few question marks for the upcoming season.
First off, they have a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal. Even though they have almost no experience backing him up, both goalies have been on the roster. Alex Stalock has played well in two of his three NHL appearances and if that does not work, Harri Sateri gives them another possible option.
They also had one of the best blue lines in 2013 with Dan Boyle as the Sharks' top-scoring defenseman over the past five seasons and the team possesses solid veterans and young players ready to make their marks as well.
The unit was so deep, in fact, that the Sharks moved Brent Burns up to forward during the 2012-13 season. However, that move was not to make way for San Jose's young talent. It was because the Sharks have a questionable forward corps. Outside of their top four, the talent was scant.
Even after the switch, San Jose simply did not have enough weapons to score enough goals to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs once Martin Havlat went down. It is likely that he will never play for the Sharks again, who clearly feel let down. At the very least, he will miss much of the 2013-14 season due to his injury.
When you have a questionable unit and make no additions to it in the offseason, it leaves a lot of questions. However, if the Sharks can find answers to their biggest questions on each line, they should be playing past Memorial Day for a second straight season.
Note: See the link for line projections and reasoning behind them.
Brent Burns was one reason for the resurgence of scoring for the San Jose Sharks in March. He had nine goals and 11 assists in 23 games at forward.
Still, he had not played the position since he was an AHL prospect. He skated about and created chaos, but that is far different than playing the position. The difference was exemplified in his disappointing four-point, 11-game run in the playoffs.
Even if it costs him a little scoring production from the torrid pace that he set in the 2012-13 regular season as an unknown, he needs to be a better forward this season. Knowing what he is doing in all three zones will bring more improvement for his line.
As well as he played last season with Joe Thornton, the great playmaker can get even more out of Burns if he is more structured.
Most of the forwards on the scoring line for the San Jose Sharks are fairly well-known quantities.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau may be aging, but neither is so old as to expect much of a performance drop-off. Joe Pavelski is a veteran nearing his peak and even Logan Couture is already a star who has been among the best players on the Sharks for a couple of seasons.
While Pavelski will probably start on the third line to make room on a scoring line for another forward, the other two forwards who certainly belong in the mix are Brent Burns and Tyler Kennedy.
If Burns stays with Thornton, he is the question mark on the top line and Kennedy is the second line's biggest unknown. Not only does he have to fit in with new teammates, but Burns has to understand that the Western Conference requires that even scoring-line forwards defend.
If Kennedy can find his chemistry and defensive responsibilities before the playoffs begin, a healthy Sharks team will have three good lines.
The real question is, who will flank Joe Pavelski on the third line?
Tommy Wingels seems the likely choice or the right side unless he is on the second line. He is a good skater and the top-hitting forward on the Sharks since becoming a regular in 2012-13. He also has enough offensive skill to keep teams honest.
The other spot is tough to call.
Unless 19-year-old rookie Tomas Hertl is ready for a role on the scoring line, Raffi Torres will probably be on the second line. Former Wisconsin Badger teammate Adam Burish showed no signs of being able to be a scoring threat.
That leaves Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard. Desjardins is a 27-year-old grinder who has never scored more than 17 points. Sheppard is a 25-year old who was the No. 9 overall pick in 2006 and has two seasons of scoring more points than Desjardins while Sheppard was with the defensive-minded Minnesota Wild.
Desjardins may even get more ice time because he is a supreme defender while Sheppard is merely capable. But if the Sharks are going to have a dangerous third line, they will need Sheppard to find his highly touted talent within him more often.
Expecting a pick in the second half of the first round of the draft to perform a scoring-line role in the next NHL season without having played one shift of North American hockey is a bit much. Yet there are many projecting it for Tomas Hertl, including CSN Bay Area insider Kevin Kurz.
Perhaps this is because even normally tight-lipped San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson could not contain his optimism when talking to Kurz's colleague, Jim Kozimor, after prospect camp. Hertl is even known as a good defensive forward on a bigger surface, so he might even be able to handle his responsibilities in his own end at the NHL level.
Still, that only gives the Sharks the chance to play Hertl on the fourth line and second power-play unit while filling in on scoring lines in the event of injuries. That way, they can work him gradually into the NHL.
Hertl will have solid and smart defensive forwards with him in Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish. Neither possesses much offensive skill, but they are at least competent enough to help Hertl on the attack.
If he has answered questions about being able to play well in the more physical NHL game played on smaller surfaces and provide a legitimate scoring-line option for the Sharks, San Jose should be a Western Conference finalist for the fourth time in 10 seasons.
The San Jose Sharks have reserves capable of being reserves. There is no real prospect ready to make a leap at the position, nor any veterans that might have a little left at some higher level.
Bracken Kearns played in a few 2012-13 playoff games for San Jose. Matt Pelech also has a few games and the added benefit of versatility, having been switched to forward from the blue line. John McCarthy is another player with more games than both combined, but is still a career reserve.
Between them, the Sharks should be fine for a few games here and there, but if more than one goes down, the fourth line will be almost worthless.
The Sharks need someone to step up to answer the question of whether there is any reserve capable of filling a significant role in the event of an injury. It could make the difference for gaining the all-important home-ice advantage once the playoffs begin.
MJ Kasprzak is the original community leader and a featured columnist for Bleacher Report on both the stock-owned Green Bay Packers and the San Jose Sharks. He is paid to cover the latter and Bay Area Christian issues for Examiner.com.