Which Sharks Team Is Better: '08-'09 or '09-'10? A Pre-Playoff Look

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 04:  (L-R) Mike Grier #25, Ryane Clowe #29 and Milan Michalek #9 of the San Jose Sharks warm up before the NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at HP Pavilion on December 4, 2008 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With about two weeks off for the majority of the San Jose Sharks and for all of their fans, what better time to analyze the improvements (or lack thereof) from last season to this season?

Another regular season is coming to a close, as only 20 games remain after the Olympic break before the Sharks start the grueling grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Will the 2010 playoff lineup for San Jose be able to perform better than last year's when the stakes are raised?

Let's find out by going line by line, defensive pair by defensive pair and goaltender by goaltender.

First off, the following lineup is the group of 20 players that dressed for San Jose's sixth and final playoff game from 2009:

Forward lines:

Patrick Marleau—Joe Thornton—Devin Setoguchi

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Milan Michalek—Joe Pavelski—Ryane Clowe

Travis Moen—Marcel Goc—Mike Grier

Torrey Mitchell—Jeremy Roenick—Jonathan Cheechoo

Defense Pairs:

Dan Boyle—Brad Lukowich

Rob Blake—Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Christian Ehrhoff—Douglas Murray


Evgeni Nabokov

Brian Boucher

Next is a projected playoff lineup for the current group of Sharks.

Forward lines:

Patrick Marleau—Joe Thornton—Dany Heatley

Manny Malhotra—Joe Pavelski—Devin Setoguchi

Ryane Clowe—Scott Nichol—Jed Ortmeyer

Frazer McLaren—Torrey Mitchell—Jamie McGinn

Defense Pairs:

Dan Boyle—Douglas Murray

Rob Blake—Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Kent Huskins—Niclas Wallin


Evgeni Nabokov

Thomas Greiss

These are the two squads being compared and now I will take a look line by line, pair by pair and netminder by netminder.

First up is the top lines. Not much more needs to be said other than this year's Sharks have a top line showing to be much more dominant than last year.

Heatley already has more goals and more points this season in 62 games than Setoguchi had in 81 games last season. But statistics aren't everything and overall play has to be considered.

In that sense of the game, Heatley still comes out on top. Unlike Setoguchi, Heatley is a big body who is a force in front of the net and creates his own space by his sheer size down low. Not only that, but the Heater has been helping kill penalties all season long, something Setoguchi rarely if ever finds himself doing.

Combine Heatley's dominance over Setoguchi with Marleau and Thornton having better all-around seasons than they did last year, and the top line from this year's squad is by far the more dominant line.

'09-'10 Sharks: 1 '08-'09 Sharks: 0

The second lines for last year's team and this year's squad are basically a wash when you get down to the nitty gritty. Joe Pavelski has continued to be Joe Pavelski this season at both ends of the ice and being paired with Malhotra and Setoguchi isn't much different than being paired with Michalek and Clowe.

While Michalek brings more offensive prowess than Malhotra, the former Columbus Blue Jacket brings more intangibles to the table whether in the face-off circle or with more grit.

Setoguchi may bring more flash and play-making ability than Clowe but the Newfoundland native is much more consistent and stronger along the boards. Each brings different assets to the table and deeming one more vital than the other is an extremely difficult argument.

'09-'10 Sharks 1 '08-'09 Sharks: 0

When it comes to the third line, or "secondary scoring", many Sharks fans (including my colleague MJ Kasprazak) believe the Sharks are relying too heavily on the top line to score goals.

In fact, the top line for San Jose has scored 86 goals compared to 73 goals by the rest of the forwards in my projected playoff lineup.

But the whole argument over secondary scoring from last year doesn't necessarily mean that lines two-four have to score more goals. What it means is that the Sharks needed another player with a knack for putting the puck in the net.

They got that: His name is Dany Heatley. And the fact that the three most talented goal scorers on the team play on the same line doesn't matter.

This team can score up front; they don't need any more scoring. Last year's lines two-four may have scored 110 goals compared to 94 for the top line, but when you consider the top line is on pace for 113 goals this season, (three more than lines 2-4 scored last season) the Sharks don't necessarily need goals from lines 2-4.

In total, the Sharks are on pace for 209 goals from the forward group, compared to 204 goals scored by last year's group. It may not be much, but the offensive production is still higher than last year's.

And that being said, since the overall offensive production is higher, isn't it huge that the "bottom-six" forwards for this year's team are younger, tougher, work harder, and bring more energy than last year's?

The third line specifically features Clowe, Nichol, and Ortmeyer. Last year's third line players combined for just 19 goals compared to the 25 scored by the current third unit. To be fair, Clowe hasn't played the majority of the year on that line, but the offense he brings to that line is evident.

Which fans in their right minds would prefer last year's third line over this year's? Clowe brings much more to the table than Moen. Nichol brings much more energy and tenacity than Goc, and Ortmeyer is a younger and healthier version of Grier.

'09-'10 Sharks: 2 '08-'09 Sharks: 0

This year's fourth line for San Jose features McLaren, Mitchell and McGinn against last year's Roenick, Mitchell and Cheechoo.

Since Mitchell is the constant, looking at McLaren and McGinn versus Roenick and Cheechoo are the main comparisons. Roenick was great for San Jose but he just couldn't keep up at his age and Cheechoo was continuing a steady decline into obscurity.

Both McLaren and McGinn are much more suited for fourth-line duties and with younger legs will prove to be much more valuable on that line moving forward.

'09-'10 Sharks: 3 '08-'09 Sharks: 0

Defensively, the Sharks have a top pair that, when healthy, is an improvement over last year's top pair.

Dan Boyle is still Dan Boyle, but Douglas Murray is younger, stronger, healthier, and better defensively than Brad Lukowich.

This pair is a perfect match of offense and defense.

'09-'10 Sharks: 4 '08-'09 Sharks: 0

The second pair, while exactly the same (Rob Blake, Marc-Edouard Vlasic) as last year, is significantly worse.

Blake is having a down year both offensively and defensively compared to last year, and Vlasic has regressed offensively while maintaining his solid defensive play.

Neither one has played up to expectations and this is the part of the current Sharks team that needs to be improved before the playoffs.

'09-'10 Sharks: 4 '08-'09 Sharks: 1

Rounding out the defense is Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin against last year's third pair of Christian Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray.

While Huskins and Wallin are solid veterans that can more than hold their own defensively, neither one brings much offensive game. As critical as yours truly and the rest of Sharks fans were over Ehrhoff's all-around game, his offensive talents are a huge thing missing from this current group.

As a third defensive pair, Huskins and Wallin are a great pairing, but the Sharks still are trying to find a way to make up Ehrhoff's point totals and for that reason alone, last year's third pair was much better in an all around game.

'09-'10 Sharks: 4 '08-'09 Sharks: 2

Starting Goalie:

Evgeni Nabokov is still the dominating force in net during the regular season, and while he is having a better year statistically, he is still the same guy with the same weaknesses.

For that reason, neither team has an advantage in starting netminders since they both have Nabokov in goal.

'09-'10 Sharks: 4 '08-'09 Sharks: 2

Backup Goalie:

Brian Boucher finished last season with a .917 save percentage. Currently Thomas Greiss has a .918 save percentage at this point in the season. With such little on-ice action as backups, I have the same confidence in Greiss that I had in Boucher last season considering Greiss' impressive play this season.

Neither team has an advantage in backup netminder.

'09-'10 Sharks: 4 '08-'09 Sharks: 2

Strictly by the numbers, one would have to say that the current Sharks squad has a better all-around team than last year.

More forward scoring, better energy guys/role players, and a better top defensive pair are three huge improvements. With the goaltending remaining quite similar, it is clear that this year's Sharks are better when you consider they are stronger in more aspects of the game than last year's team.

However, can offense and defense be treated equally? This year's Sharks have more scoring, but last year's Sharks have two of the three better defensive pairs.

In the postseason, defensive play becomes much more crucial than in the regular season. Can this year's team even compete with last year's squad in the overall game from their top-six defensemen?

How much value can we put in all-around defensive play?

In all fairness, one can't really make a judgement about whether or not this year's team is better than last year's team because everything boils down to the fact that one end of the ice has been improved, while the other has become weaker.

Until the playoffs are over, we as fans won't be able to say by how much the offense was better and how worse the defense became.

But one thing could end the debate. If the Sharks trade for a young puck moving defenseman who plays solid defense, this year's team would then definitely be better than last year's squad.

Hopefully, GM Doug Wilson can make that move to end this silly debate.