The San Jose Sharks pulled the trigger on the deal everyone has been
speculating would take place for some time. Dany Heatley is on his way
to the Pacific Coast to be the scoring option Joe Thornton needs, and
the Sharks are shipping two younger players to Ottawa in return, Milan
Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo. San Jose also yields a second-round pick and gets a fifth-rounder in return.
Thus the Sharks lines project as follows:
- Heatley-Thornton-Devin Setoguchi, with Boyle and Huskins as the
first pair on defence. Heatley and Huskins are both upgrades from
Marleau and Lukowich, respectively. This gives the Sharks the deadly
combination of a sniper, playmaker, and skater on the forward line, and
Huskins' solid defence will compliment Boyle's skating and offensive
- Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe, with Blake and Vlasic as the second line of
defence. Marleau is the only change in this line, and he is a modest
upgrade over Michalek. Moreover, the second line maintains a wing
combination of great skating coupled with a power forward and a
well-rounded centre. On defence, Blake and Vlasic worked well together,
with Blake's experience steadying the great-skating Vlasic after a
tough sophomore campaign.
- McGinn-Mitchell-Staubitz, with Murray and Joslin as the third pair. This is not last playoff's third line, though the dynamic remains a skater, enforcer, and utility player. Moen was better on both ends than Staubby is likely to be in his first full season. McGinn may provide more offence than Grier but nowhere near the defense. Ehrhoff's turnovers drove me nuts, but Joslin is not as good a skater or offensive weapon (although at least he can hit the net!), and likely to make at least as many mistakes as a rookie.
- Shelley-Nichol-Ortmeyer is not as good as last year's line. Nichol represents a large drop-off from even the 2009 Jeremy Roenick in the scoring end, although he will be better defensively. Ortmeyer is only an average defender and a liability in the offensive end--a downgrade in both from Cheechoo.
- Goaltender: Nabokov-Greiss means a huge downgrade at the backup goalie position from Brian Boucher, and may also be one at the top--my theory is the 34-year old Nabokov peaked in the 2007-08 season when he earned (but was not given) the Vezina Trophy.
Thus, the Sharks are better at the top and not as good at the bottom. The first line plays the most and made the greatest increase, and the fourth line and backup goalie play little and have the only significant drop-off.
However, where the Sharks really get into trouble is among their reserves. No team goes through a hockey season without multiple significant injuries, and unless someone surprises in camp, this team lacks depth.
In the past the Sharks had players like Plihal and Goc to step in at the forward position. Both were excellent penalty-killers, with Goc being among the team's best in the faceoff circle. On the blueline, there was Alexei Semenov, who improved greatly from 2007-08 to last season, and Joslin was a reserve.
This season, the Sharks have invited veteran D Matthieu Dandenault and RW Dan Hinote to camp. I would expect both to make the team, but provide little in upgrade.
The Sharks are likely to rely more on Joslin in the every day lineup to avoid having two stay-at-home defencemen on the third line. Neither Dandenault (who is a slight upgrade over Semenov) nor Murray offer any offensive skill nor should see time on anything but the third pair.
I believe Hinote, who is a good defensive player and offers more experience and skill than Ortmeyer, will unseat Jed once he is officially retained. At best, this still does not make the fourth line what it was last year. Moreover, Ortmeyer is not as good as Plihal out of the press box, and Ryan Vesce nor Logan Couture appear ready to perform even at Goc's level.
If the Sharks suffer two forward injuries, expect them to play seven defencemen unless one of them is also hurt. A healthy Sharks team will travel with 23 legitimate NHL players, but they may not be able afford to go beyond that.
An upgrade on the top line and a shake-up of the roster may make this team better when it counts, but on paper this is a team that will struggle to win with the backup goaltender. If Todd McLellan puts Nabby in too much, he will wear out like he did in the 2008 playoffs (.899 save percentage before the 4-OT thriller).
That means a .500 team for about a dozen games when injuries are at their worst and a .500 team for about a dozen more when Nabby gets a rest. In the other 58 games, this team should be healthy enough to be elite, but would have to capture over 80 percent of the possible standings points to match last year's 117.
Barring other roster moves, I see this team being behind Anaheim in the Pacific. Whoever finishes in second in the Central Division (Chicago or Detroit) will earn the fourth seed, leaving the Sharks fighting for fifth or sixth with the second-place team from the Northwest (either Vancouver or Calgary).
In other words, being knocked out in the second round like usual would be an accomplishment.