In the wake of the recent trades that sent forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild for forward Martin Havlat and defenseman Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks suddenly find themselves solidifying their prospects for a Stanley Cup championship.
During the previous two seasons, San Jose has enjoyed tremendous depth with its top forwards, often placing potent goal scorers on third lines to provide varied scoring threats. In the 2010-11 campaign, the Sharks had a total of seven forwards who notched at least 20 goals. However, all that scoring prowess did not make up for the lack of defensive presence and speed, forcing San Jose's exit from the Western Conference Finals against the Vancouver Canucks.
The subsequent trades executed by General Manager Doug Wilson offloaded some of that scoring talent, along with some hefty contracts, giving the Sharks an opportunity to shore up the defense by adding Burns and creating salary cap space to perhaps make further acquisitions.
Perhaps more importantly will be the new roles assigned to some of the Sharks forwards. It is reasonable to assume that both forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will anchor a number one line alongside Havlat who has shown respectable numbers during previous seasons in Ottawa, Chicago, and Minnesota.
In addition, the second line should be bolstered by the ongoing presence of forwards like Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and emerging star Logan Couture.
In previous years, Clowe, Pavelski, and Couture had bounced around on the Sharks top three lines pending match-ups and had seen their respective roles changed as the season progressed. Now, they can enjoy the probability that their roles should remain consistent in 2011-12.
While more shall be expected of them offensively, the increase of ice time and consistent line-mates should be an added bonus.
In addition, San Jose signed former Los Angeles Kings forward Michal Handzus to a two year, $2.5 million deal. Handzus will most likely be expected to anchor the Sharks' third line and contribute on the penalty kill, an area where the Sharks struggled last season.
Handzus, who played on the fourth best penalty killing team last season, should fill that role nicely, adding both size and scoring ability to San Jose's third line.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan is also given options to shake up his front three lines depending on how his forwards perform. In the past this has happened with mixed results, but with heavier expectations and bigger roles assigned, San Jose's forwards should hopefully respond in kind. In addition, the Sharks put their faith in defensive forwards Jamie McGinn and Ben Ferriero by signing the two restricted free agents to contract extensions.
One of those two should be able to fill the void left by Setoguchi's departure and subsequent line changes.
Furthermore, San Jose's defensive upgrade with Burns provides the Sharks with two offensive defenseman. Defenseman Dan Boyle can still maintain his role on the first defensive pairing and power play unit while Burns can now give the Sharks scoring depth on the second pairing. Hopefully their presence will continue to improve the development of young defensemen Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
With San Jose's recent efforts to clear salary cap space, there also may be room for added defensive improvement. The Sharks could still use another shut down type of defenseman capable of shot blocking and griding out other teams' top forwards.
Currently, the free agent market on defenseman is fairly limited and such an acquisition may have to come from a trade. However, recent moves have shown that the Sharks are not afraid from pulling the proverbial trade trigger.
In the meantime, San Jose's offseason moves have given them more solidarity while keeping multiple options possible heading forward in the upcoming 2011-12 season.