The San Jose Sharks made their final roster moves, including cutting veteran defenceman Andreas Lilja to make room for young players at the position like Mike Moore. Rookie forwards Tommy Wingels and John McCarthy are also on the roster.
"With the Andreas Lilja situation, a couple of our younger players stepped up and played really well throughout training camp and they deserve to carry on," said coach Todd McLellan. "In fairness to (Lilja), if we kept him here longer he would lose out on some chances he has in the NHL or around the world. We did what was right for him and what was right for our team."
Unfortunately, this leaves the Sharks without much experience on the blueline, the one place where age still is often considered a good thing. Only Niclas Wallin (35), and Dan Boyle (34) are at least 24 years old and have more than three full years of experience in the league.
However, three other defencemen are hardly green: Kent Huskins (31) and Douglas Murray (30) have played parts of four seasons, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (23) has nearly four full years of experience (309 games). The bigger issue on this unit is the lack of a true leader on the second pair, and unless someone steps up, the lack of a number two player on the back end will hurt against teams deep at the forward position.
The Sharks will have to trim one more player from their roster once they return to the United States, and the odd-man out appears to be Thomas Greiss. While he has outplayed Antero Niittymaki (six goals on 33 shots) this preseason, he can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.
Since the Sharks signed Niittymaki this offseason to be the projected starter before Annti Niemi became available, and they are not likely to give him up so easily. Of course, applying the same logic they used on the blueline, sending Greiss down will only reduce the development of netminding prospects Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri.
Here are my choices for line and defence pairings:
- Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe, Boyle and Murray. Marleau has been playing better than Thornton, and this line has a balance of size and speed as well as being responsible on both ends of the ice. However, it is more likely that Thornton will start between Clowe and Setoguchi, which does give the team a big body (two actually, but Joe plays a finesse game) and a scorer to go with a playmaker.
- Heatley-Thornton-Setoguchi, Vlasic and Wallin. This would provide Thornton two targets to pass to and make it hard for teams to cover both. Vlasic and Wallin provide a skater and a banger to provide solid defensive presence. However, Pavelski is likely to center the second line between Marleau and Setoguchi, giving this line a lack of physicality.
- Couture-Mitchell-Mayers, Huskins and Demers. Couture is a scoring threat and capable in front of the net, Mitchell provides speed, and Mayers a physical presence. Huskins and Demers not only provide the offence/defence combination you want on a third pair, they worked well together last spring in the playoffs.
- McGinn-Nichol-McLaren, with Niemi and Greiss in net, although my guess is Niittymaki will get the backup role. This gives little Scotty two big bodies and provides the Sharks a hard-checking energy line. Nichol and McGinn do all the little things, and McLaren provides immense size (6'5″, 250 lbs.) to wear down opponents.
In other news, former Sharks Richard winner Jonathan Cheechoo has signed a tryout to play in Worcester, the Sharks minor-league affiliate. This gives the team the chance to bring in someone who has chemistry and experience with this team for a playoff push, and who might contribute on both ends of the ice.
The Sharks also have not officially settled on a captain. Expect Dan Boyle, a veteran who showed more leadership than most others, to be wearing the "C" this season, with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski as alternates.