SAN JOSE- On Tuesday night in San Jose the Sharks knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout. Popular storylines for reporters after the game were the continued strong play of both Brent Burns at forward and Antti Niemi between the pipes. Some of the other leading storylines were the game’s general playoff feel and even the shootout winning goal by newest Shark Raffi Torres.
But for those of you whom have followed my Sharks coverage here on Inside Hockey all season, you know I like to shed light on stories that might otherwise go unwritten.
And that is why I asked Sharks head coach Todd McLellan to assess the performance of Scott Hannan in what was the defenseman’s first game back in a San Jose uniform since the 2006-07 season. (The Sharks reacquired Hannan on trade deadline day from the Nashville Predators for a conditional sixth round draft choice but Hannan had yet to play due to a combination of a neck injury and coaches decision.)
“I thought Scotty did a good job” responded McLellan. “For a guy who hasn’t played for a little while, to come into that intensity, he looked very comfortable. You have to remember he’s played 950 some odd games, he’s a veteran guy, he’s calm, he’s relaxed., he’s familiar with his surroundings. I thought he really played well and was proud to put the jersey on again.”
Hannan didn’t score, didn’t register an assist, had just one shot on net, was a plus-1, took 28 shifts and had 17:29 in ice time. Not exactly an eye catching stat line.
Therefore, if you’re a casual fan you might not have even noticed Hannan was making his second stint Sharks debut in place of rookie Matt Irwin.
However, the veteran defenseman went unnoticed in a good way. He did his job effectively. He was steady in his own end, pinched at appropriate times and most importantly allowed his partner Dan Boyle to be Dan Boyle. As the saying goes, a good defensive defenseman is doing his job if he goes unnoticed.
In one game, it is already blatantly obvious that Hannan offers this team much more than Douglas Murray. How Hannan fetched only a conditional sixth round draft choice when Murray fetched two second round picks (one conditional) is something that boggles the mind. Hannan has the skating ability to still play with a partner like Boyle. (Murray used to be paired with Boyle but hadn’t been for over a year and a half before being traded.)
Scott Hannan is simply more talented. There is a reason San Jose drafted him in the first round (23rd overall) in the 1997 NHL draft. He is faster, makes a stronger first pass, has a better defensive stick, and has better hockey sense.
With Hannan back in the fold, San Jose now has some healthy competition for the fifth and sixth defense roles in their lineup. Hannan has a good chance to remain Boyle’s partner with the way he played Tuesday against the Kings. While Irwin has impressed at times, he has made plenty of rookie mistakes in his own end that Boyle has had to clean up. Playing with Hannan, one could argue Boyle will be able to spend much more time creating than defending. Furthermore, if Jason Demers falters or gets injured, rookie Matt Tennyson has proved to be an adequate offensive defenseman replacement if needed. You could make the case, (even leaving Burns out of the equation) that the Sharks have eight legitimate NHL defenseman available to them.
This defense depth will bode the Sharks well as they (probably) head into the postseason.