I may have taken a two-week layoff from writing on the San Jose Sharks, but it was definitely not a vacation.
On a professional level, I was participating in a training seminar for my paying job that is the necessary next step in getting a promotion. It was a grueling week with five eight-plus hour days, each followed by an hour or two of homework,culminating in a nearly four-hour test on Saturday morning.
enjoyed being in Toronto and having more than one hockey game per night
to watch, and found the city hospitable. More than that, I proved to
myself that I belong a hockey fan, since even after over six years in
the Bay Area, I can still endure sub-zero wind chills (Fahrenheit)--you
can take the boy out of Wisconsin, but you can't take Wisconsin out of
As far as my writing and the IRS are concerned, I was scouting the Sharks next opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs. At least that makes the over $100 Canadian (which is $102.50 American these days) worthwhile, as I watched them blow a three-goal first-period lead to the Vancouver Canucks at the Air Canada Centre.
of course, I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame and got my picture taken
with Lord Stanley's Cup--still can't figure out why they listed the Dallas
Stars as the 1999 champions. I hope Sharks fans are not offended that I
wore the Doug Gilmore T-shirt I bought for the game (for about $35: I
wonder if I
can write that off, too) in the picture since I hung my Sharks leather
jacket around the Cup's base.
As a two-way, gritty forward, he is one of my favourite players of all-time (though I confess I remember mostly his days after leaving Toronto since I did not really start following the NHL until the mid-to late 90s). He is in fact the type of player San Jose has been missing, and they may have added some grit to their blueline Sunday.
(See how I did that there? I went full-circle from a long digression to back on point.)
Niclas Wallin comes to the Sharks along with a fifth round pick in this summer's draft in exchange for a second round pick. Wallin has past his prime at 34 years old, but is a nine-year veteran who has won a Cup.
No one will mistake him for a two-way player--Dan Boyle had almost as many points last season as Wallin has for his career, and Wallin currently has just five assists in 47 games this season. And that is what the Sharks need most, with a lack of even one player on the unit who can generate offence outside of Boyle, especially now that Jason Demers was sent down to Worcester.
It was the only move that made sense, even though Demers has grown immensely in his own end, becoming one of the team's best shot blockers. Obviously, Murray and Boyle will not move from the top pair, but there were no good choices among the rest of the unit for scratching or sending down:
- Are you going to sit the captain, Rob Blake, who still is
marginally an asset on both ends as well as in the locker room and on
- How about Kent Huskins, who Todd McLellan has counted on not only for killing penalties, but to take on extra responsibilities on the third pair with rotating and inexperienced defence-mates? To make that decision harder, he has added a surprising amount of offence, with just two points fewer than the tenth-highest scoring defenceman of all-time, Blake.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic may be having an off-year, but he is still plus-14 with 13 points. He not only chews up minutes, playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, but his skating is essential for a unit that lacks it outside of Boyle.
- That leaves Jay Leach, who has been filling in admirably while
Vlasic is hurt--his defence is solid and he brings a physical presence. But more than that, you do not want to scratch a young player like Demers who needs playing time to develop, so when Pickles returns, Leach is an ideal insurance policy as the seventh defenceman.
Wallin adds a very good defender and penalty killer. He has a physicality that the Sharks will lack on the blueline outside of fellow-Swede Douglas Murray once Leach is scratched.
But the reality is the team's penalty kill is elite in the league, and what they lack is offence from the defence. Expect them to look to deal one of their defenders, for a puck-moving defenceman so they are not completely hosed (some Canadian vernacular for ya, eh?) if Boyle goes down.
After seeing the Leafs, I think a trade that would help both teams would be to reunite Vlasic with Ron Wilson in exchange for Francis Kaberle. Like Boyle and Wallin before him, he would likely gladly waive his no-trade clause to play for a contender.
Kaberle would be an immediate upgrade--he is not as good in the defensive end, but far better offensively. With Wallin, Huskins, and Murray, the Sharks have enough defence to cover for this. Meanwhile, Pickles would help the Leafs get younger.
Another option might be to move Huskins and a forward like Ryane Clowe or Devin Setoguchi, players the Leafs are desperately in need of. But Seto is starting to hit players, and San Jose lacks secondary scoring on the forward lines; Clowe is already a proven power forward the Sharks also lack.
In either case, what San Jose would give up would hurt, but what they would get would help more: I have a feeling we have not seen the last trade by General Manager Doug Wilson.
Other notes: The Sharks have gone 3-1-1 since my last article (2-0-0 on the road), outscoring their opponents by a narrow 18-15 margin. However, they have only played two teams currently in the playoffs: San Jose dug themselves a 3-0 hole with some sloppy turnovers against Chicago before battling back to take that one to overtime, and beat Nashville in an equally sloppy game, 4-3...
Expect Anaheim to make a run after adding Jason Blake to their thin forward lines. Vesa Toskala may not be Jean Sebastien Giguere, but he's not that much of a step back considering he may not even play ten games the rest of the season...Detroit's 4-2 victory spoiled a two-goal performance by Joe Thornton and sealed the season series for the struggling Red Wings, who came back from an early deficit for the second time this season. The Wings go for the sweep later this week in the second of a back-to-back for the Sharks, who seemingly always fly in to Detroit directly from Columbus after a game the night before.