Now that the San Jose Sharks have confirmed the signing of Antti Niemi, the focus seems to be on the Sharks defense.
The general consensus seems to be that Niemi's success last season was not only due to his own talents but the Blackhawks' stellar defense. So let's take a look at how the Sharks blue line stacks up for the team's 20th anniversary year.
Why is everyone so down on the current state of the San Jose defense? This was a team that last year was ranked eighth in the NHL in goals against, at 2.52, and fifth in the penalty kill, at 85 percent.
While those numbers are very good, many fans worry whether the loss of Rob Blake will significantly affect them.
I don't believe so, and here's why.
First, Niclas Wallin was hampered by injury last season after he was traded to the Sharks, so he was only a shadow of his former self.
He had been a solid-yet-unspectacular stay-at-home defenseman for the Carolina Hurricane for years. He is healthy now and ready to prove Doug Wilson's faith and $2.5 million contract will be well worth the investment.
Jason Demers, as a part-time player last season, showed flashes of offensive brilliance and has the potential to have a similar skill set to Dan Boyle. His dedication to his own end steadily improved enough to get some significant playoff minutes. With a season under his belt, he has the ability to surpass Blake's offensive numbers and quarterback the second unit power play.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic seemingly had a down year last season. He consistently gets pitted against the other team's top lines, though, and can usually hold his own.
Even with a rough year, so to speak, he was tied with Patrick Marleau for the team lead in plus-minus with a plus-21. He still matched Duncan Keith, the best plus-minus defender on the Blackhawks. His objective this year is to pick it up on the offensive end.
Douglas Murray will never be known for his skating ability, but, as far has hitters go, he is one of the best in the NHL. When he is on the ice, opposing forwards must keep their heads on a swivel or suffer the consequences. Due to his lack of speed, his positioning must always be exact.
This has improved every year, and I don't see why he won't continue his upswing in 2010-11.
When Kent Huskins arrived from the Anaheim Ducks, he was injured and no one really knew what the Sharks had. Last season he proved to be steady third-pairing defenseman that plays within himself and understands his role.
The best thing about Huskins is that, after the game is over, you never hear much about him. He doesn't always show up on the score sheet, but with his consistent play he doesn't make a lot mistakes either.
Dan Boyle. What more can be said about him? All-star, leader, and power-play threat.
A young Derek Joslin and steady Jay Leach round out the Sharks' current defense.
Good enough to support a young and up-and-coming goaltending star in Niemi? I believe so.
Then again, the trade deadline always looms late in the year.
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