With Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich Gone, Sharks Appear Weak on Back End
When San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson traded away Christian Ehrhoff this offseason, an overwhelming majority of the Sharks' fanbase rejoiced. Fans were often tired of his inaccurate shot from the blue line and his constant turnovers.
However, the great thing about Christian Ehrhoff is when he turns the puck over, he has the speed to make up for it and get back into position.
Can Douglass Murray do that? No.
Can the Sharks' 39-year-old captain Rob Blake do that? No.
Can Kent Huskins or Jason Demers do that? No.
What about the two fastest San Jose defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle—do they have the speed to make up for turnovers? Usually they can get back into position, but not nearly as easily as Ehrhoff can.
Now the trade that sent Ehrhoff and fellow defenseman Brad Lukowich to the Vancouver Canucks for prospects Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi is assumed by many to be simply a salary dump.
The prospects the Sharks received aren't predicted to make an impact in the NHL any time soon, so what did the Sharks really get out of the deal?
Well, the move essentially allowed the Sharks the cap room to trade for superstar Dany Heatley.
Therefore, since the Sharks' latest blockbuster acquisition has already contributed 10 points in seven games, it is difficult to claim that the Ehrhoff trade was a mistake.
When the Sharks collapsed in the first round of the playoffs last season, the inability to score was just as big of a problem—if not bigger—than the problems they had defending the Anaheim Ducks.
Consequently, Wilson felt it necessary to make an offseason trade to bolster his offense. However, doing so has put the Sharks in a fishy situation when it comes to their defensive corps.
Lukowich, who did battle some injury problems, was still a major force on San Jose's blue line last season. Although he failed to score a single goal in his lone year with the Sharks, the former Stanley Cup champion was the definition of steady Eddie.
His name was rarely mentioned by broadcasters because he wasn't noticeable on the ice. And as a physical, defensive defenseman, that is exactly what you want: someone who does his job without making mistakes and coincidentally goes unnoticed.
The combination of speed, physicality, and quality defensive play that these two veteran NHL defenders bring is exactly what the current Sharks defenders are lacking.
Even though some fans may say that Ehrhoff isn't a quality defender in his own zone, he actually was a plus-19 in his career as a Shark. And that is after a down-year defensively last season where he finished minus-12. Before the '08-'09 season, he was a plus-31 for his career.
All in all, Ehrhoff and Lukowich finished a combined plus-24 as Sharks and their defensive abilities are what the current San Jose defensemen are missing.
The current group of Sharks defenders are a combined minus-four. And although Vlasic and Blake bring the group down with their combined minus-six, it is the play of both rookie Jason Demers and Kent Huskins that has really been frustrating.
So far on the season, Demers had been given top unit power play time, but the Sharks' power play has been in a slump and the rookie defender is nowhere close to being one of the team's top weapons.
Why the Sharks are waisting a valuable power play position with a rookie defender is absolutely ridiculous when their current lineup includes at least seven better options than Demers. Plus, that is not even including Joe Pavelski, who makes eight better options when he comes back from injury.
Demers appears to be trying to emulate himself after Boyle, but in doing so he is costing the Sharks turnover after turnover. Especially being the sixth ranked defenseman on the team, the Sharks need Demers to be more of a Kyle McLaren/Scott Hannan type than a Dan Boyle.
Not only is Demers playing like a rookie, but Huskins looks to be completely out of sync out on the ice. Two of the Capitals' four goals on Thursday night were a direct result of Huskins being too focused on the puck and not picking up his man.
First of all, instead of defending the two-on-two properly, Huskins stabbed at the puck, missed, and couldn't get back into position to prevent Ovechkin's tap in goal.
Secondly, on Matt Bradley's third period goal that sealed the game at 4-1, Huskins was mesmerized while watching Nabokov stop a shot from the point. Instead of tying up Bradley's stick, Huskins easily allowed the former Shark to slip the rebound past Nabokov, which ended up killing any momentum San Jose had at that point.
However, this particular goal against wasn't just Huskins' fault, in the article photo you can see Demers taking a random stroll behind his own net. On the play, Demers turned the puck over and then failed to defend a soul as he simply appeared to be skating aimlessly in front of Nabokov.
If San Jose wants to right their ship defensively, these two in particular are going to need to get their game going. As Sharks TV commentator Drew Remenda likes to say, they need to "get their heads on a swivel."
Granted the Sharks' top scoring line has put up goose eggs in back-to-back games, the offense has shown signs of how good it will become.
Once Pavelski comes back from injury and the lines start to get some chemistry together, the offense will be potent.
They've already shown glimpses of what they can do and it is just a matter of time before they gain that consistency.
However, the Sharks' defense has yet to show the ability to shut down anybody. Other than against Anaheim, Sharks defenders haven't played a quality all-around game.
The only reason they allowed just two goals combined against both the Wild and Coyotes was because Nabokov was flat out dominant in those two games, bailing the Sharks out time and time again.
With a record of 3-3-1, the Sharks have some work to do. But it is still very early in the season, and sprinting out of the gate at the top of their game last season didn't fair them well come playoffs.
Perhaps some growing pains and injury bugs in October will help them be better prepared for the playoffs than last year, when they cruised through the beginning of the season and struggled down the stretch.
But one thing is for certain: If the Sharks want to be hitting their peak at the right time this season, they're going to have to shore up the defensive corps because they no longer have the benefit of an experienced back end.
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