After yet another early exit from the postseason last year, Sharks GM Doug Wilson promised some "significant changes." Rumors were flying about that at-least one of the Sharks' "big three" including Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Evgeni Nabokov would have a new employer come the 2009-10 season.
However, as the offseason unfolded this year, it seemed as if Wilson wasn't going to stick to his word and make those "significant changes". Deep into August, the "big three" were still with the team, and only minor roster changes had been made, including mostly the releasing of role players.
But as August came to a close, the Sharks finally made an much anticipated move. On Friday August 28, the Sharks shipped out their much maligned defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to the Vancouver Canucks.
The trade was a move expected due to the Sharks salary cap issues and Ehrhoff being owed $6.2 million over the next two seasons. Unfortunately for Sharks fans, fellow defenseman Brad Lukowich was sent to Vancouver along with Ehrhoff for two prospects. Despite being an effective force on the blue-line, Wilson must have felt it necessary to shed another $1.5 million in salary.
With both Ehrhoff's and Lukowich's contacts off the books, Wilson now had the flexibility to make the biggest splash of any team this offseason. Just over two weeks later on September 12, the Sharks acquired perennial all-star winger Dany Heatley (and a fifth round draft choice in the 2010 draft) from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forwards Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a second round draft choice in the 2010 draft.
As news hit the bay area, fans rejoiced that their GM finally came through with the "significant" change they were looking for. However, with these two trades came just one player (Heatley) who pencils into the top 18 skaters. Yet the Sharks sent four players (Michalek, Cheechoo, Lukowich, and Ehrhoff) that were amongst the top 18 skaters on last year's roster.
Coincidentally, the Sharks have been left with even more roster spots available for prospects and camp invitees to fight for. They already had numerous spots unspoken for when they decided not to resign role players like Mike Grier, Travis Moen, Marcel Goc, Tomas Plihal, and backup netminder Brian Boucher. Plus, that is not even mentioning the retirement of team leader Jeremy Roenick.
Therefore, even though the "significant change" has been made, the rest of the lineup appeared to have some significant holes.
Although, inviting former Blue-Jacket Manny Malhotra to camp makes the Sharks potential opening night lineup just that much clearer.
Assuming the 6' 2" 217 pound native of Mississauga, Ontario makes the roster, the Sharks' bottom six forward group looks a whole lot stronger than it did before Malhotra was in the picture.
After being cut by the Stars in 2003, the Columbus Blue Jackets picked him up and signed him to a contract just a few days later.
Prior to this offseason, Malhotra has spent the majority of the last five seasons with Columbus and has been extremely productive as a bottom six forward, including being excellent in the face-off circle.
Not only has Malhotra been an superb face-off man throughout his career, but he managed career point totals last year (35) combined with winning an incredible 58% of his faceoffs last season, good enough for sixth best in the entire NHL of centers who played in at-least 50 games.
Malhotra's 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points last season were more than the point totals of Mike Grier and Marcel Goc combined. With his ability to chip in offensively as a third line center, the Sharks may now actually have a stronger bottom two forward lines than they did last season.
Now even though Malhotra's presence will probably move another talented face-off man in Torrey Mitchell to the right-wing, the change in position would allow the speedy Mitchell to focus more on developing his offensive game.
Joining Malholtra and Mitchell on that third line might be none other than the up and coming energy man Jamie McGinn. In 35 games last year, McGinn only managed six points (four goals, two assists) but provided much needed energy and showed an innate ability to grind along the boards and keep possession of the puck.
The combination of an young energy man, a veteran and faceoff whizz at center, with a speedy right wing could give the Sharks the makings of a quality third line. If this line were to come to fruition, fans will soon start referring to it as the "M" line.
But not only does Malhotra's presence create the possibility of a strong third line but it allows veteran enforcer Jody Shelley and his protege, up and coming enforcer Brad Staubitz to play where they belong: on the fourth line.
With Malhotra taking the third line spot, Shelley and Staubitz will sandwich another first year Shark and face-off wiz in Scott Nichol. With two enforcers on the wings and a center who also isn't afraid to drop the gloves, the fourth line for San Jose could possibly be a line that no team will want to mess with.
Essentially, with Malhotra now in the mix, the Sharks lineup at the moment would look as follows come opening night.
Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi
Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe
Jamie McGinn, Manny Malholtra, Torrey Mitchell
Jody Shelley, Scott Nichol, Brad Staubitz
Dan Boyle, Kent Huskins
Rob Blake, Marc Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray, Derek Joslin