The San Jose Sharks are once again one of the top teams in the NHL this season, and they have arguably their best all around roster in their 18-year history.
Top six forward wise, the Sharks have the most dynamic group they have ever had. Dany Heatley added to the mix this year, along with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and either Ryane Clowe or Manny Malhotra, who will make up the top two scoring lines come postseason.
Furthermore, whichever top six caliber forward finds themselves as bottom six player, he will add scoring punch to a third line that has been money all season. San Jose may rely heavily on their top line for goals, but unlike years past, their third line has brought tenacity and energy all season long. With either Clowe or Malhotra skating alongside Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer, San Jose's third line has been strong at both ends of the ice.
Finally, the Sharks have so much depth at the forward position this year that they could go many different ways with the fourth line come playoffs. Torrey Mitchell will be on the line one way or another, but the other two spots could be manned by any of the following: Brad Staubitz, Jody Shelley, Jamie McGinn, Frazer McLaren, or Logan Couture.
All five bring something different to the table, and it will be interesting to see who lands the most postseason playing time.
Goaltending-wise, the Sharks are set with Olympians Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss.
However, while the performances in net and up front more than make up for the loss of defense from last season's squad, all around play from the defense is still a major area of concern.
San Jose is clearly an all around better team this season with the additions at forward, but the defensive talent is clearly inferior to last year's group.
Last offseason, the Sharks made a salary dump and gave up two of their top six defensemen in Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich, the latter of which was a solid physical force, and Ehrhoff brought offensive upside and speed to the table.
Without these two in the lineup, the Sharks were expecting big things from Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but "Pickles" hasn't performed to the level the team expected him to reach this season.
Combine that with the fact defenseman Rob Blake has seemed to age five years since last season, and the Sharks defense has taken a serious hit this season.
Even with the improvement of Douglas Murray, the defense has significantly declined overall.
In order for San Jose to get over the hump and at least get past the second round of the playoffs this year they will need to add a top four defenseman.
To be more specific, a trade to acquire a left-handed puck moving defenseman would be ideal. A player of this caliber would be able to take over the offensive role that Ehrhoff filled last season.
Without further ado, here are the top five defensemen the Sharks should target to fill that role.
Forget Hurricanes veteran Niclas Wallin, those trade rumors not coming true are probably the best thing for San Jose. Wallin would fit well as a fifth or sixth defenseman, but the Sharks need more than that.
Joni Pitkanen brings much more offensive upside with his 33 points on the year and, being just 26 years old, could be a veteran presence for years to come in San Jose.
Carolina is tied for last in the Eastern Conference, and shipping out some key players is only natural for a team performing way below expectations.
At 6'3", 210 pounds, Pitkanen also brings some much-appreciated size along with his offensive game.
If the Sharks trade with Carolina, Pitkanen would be a much better acquisition than Wallin.
Habs defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron remained a free agent for quite some time this offseason and, while he may be small in stature and not necessarily known to be great in his defensive zone, the Quebec native has a cannon of a shot.
While the former Oiler, Islander, Duck, and Wild defenseman has only reached a high of 35 points in a single season, he has the potential to be a 15-goal, 30-assist defenseman.
Unfortunately for Bergeron, he just hasn't landed in the right spot to truly let his offensive abilities shine.
Playing with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, and Rob Blake, it is hard to think Bergeron wouldn't reach his offensive potential in San Jose.
In 390 games over the course of seven seasons, Bergeron has averaged nearly a half-point per game with 188 career points. Of his 72 goals, 42 have come on the power play.
So far this season Bergeron has posted 10 goals and 18 assists, but since Montreal currently sits in sixth in the East, they might not want to trade him away.
However, as a left-handed shot at the point, Bergeron would be a welcome fit to San Jose.
Let's face it, after making their first ever playoff appearance last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are once again one of the worst teams in the Western Conference.
Their head coach, Ken Hitchcock, has been fired due to the team's disappointing season thus far, and the chances for a turn around aren't looking good.
Nine points out of the playoffs with six teams to climb and just 22 games remaining shows that the Blue Jackets will once again be hitting the golf courses earlier than they had hoped.
Steve Mason is having a rough sophomore campaign, and even Rick Nash isn't quite playing up to the level he is capable of.
In order to compete in the future, extra draft picks and prospects would be something Columbus should be very interested in acquiring.
Meanwhile, first-year Blue Jacket defenseman Anton Stralman is a commodity that could be shipped out of town.
While he isn't a left-handed shot, his puck moving abilities would be a huge boost to a Sharks defensive corps that is looking to add offense to a back end that is carried by Dan Boyle.
With Boyle quarterbacking the top power play unit, Stralman could fit right in quarterbacking the second unit instead of relying on Vlasic/Murray/Demers/Huskins playing alongside Blake at the point.
So far on the season with Columbus, Stralman has six goals and 23 assists for 29 points, with 20 coming on the power play.
At 6'1", 180 pounds, he may lack some size, but he makes up for it with defensive and offensive abilities. He can log 20 minutes a night and take pressure off of the rest of the defense.
Another right-handed shooting offensive defenseman, Marek Zidlicky would be a great fit in San Jose. The veteran defenseman would bring an added offensive punch to the Sharks blue line and be able to handle the pressures of the playoffs due to playing in 14 postseason games, despite spending his whole career on playoff bubble teams.
So far this season Zidlicky has posted four goals and 29 assists for 33 points, 16 of which have come on the power play.
Depending on who it would take in return, Zidlicky might be a viable trade option considering that Minnesota is another team most likely bound to miss out on the postseason.
Of all the defensemen that could fit well in San Jose, Atlanta's Tobias Enstrom would be the best addition the Sharks could make.
In order to acquire the third year defenseman, the Sharks might have to part ways with top prospect Logan Couture, but in return they would be getting the perfect left-handed compliment to Dan Boyle.
At 5'10", 180 pounds, Enstrom may lack size, but his five goals and 41 points as well as a plus-seven plus/minus rating on team like Atlanta, is quite impressive.
Considering that the Thrashers are in the bottom third of the league standings and are yet again going to miss the postseason, Enstrom could be a piece moved if the price is right.
For the Sharks, picking up a young, puck moving defenseman who could be around for years to come would truly give San Jose the most complete team in hockey.