More Moves Lie Ahead for San Jose

The San Jose Sharks have been one of the most intriguing teams over the NHL offseason. Not only have they made two huge swaps with the Minnesota Wild, but by signing veteran center Michal Handzus they have clearly changed their third line philosophy to the more traditional shut-down defensive style (in sharp contrast to their offensive-minded third line of last season).

Combine the third line change with the two trades shaking up the top-four defense and top-six forwards, only the Philadelphia Flyers seem to have altered their roster more drastically this offseason than San Jose. (Sorry, but the Panthers don’t count.)

However, as detailed last week, the Sharks don’t have the third line wingers to complete the ideal third line group. Could both Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell have career years? It’s certainly possible, and if that were to happen, the Sharks would have a quality line. But they shouldn’t bet on getting that type of production out of two unproven players.

And to add to the unproven list would be the current fourth line make-up for the Sharks. Very rarely do we see a team with an unproven third line also own a highly thought of fourth line—San Jose certainly doesn’t.

If the Sharks played a game today, the fourth line could be any of the following combinations:

Frazer McLaren—Andrew Desjardins—Benn Ferriero/Tommy Wingels/John McCarthy/Ben Guite
Brandon Mashinter—Andrew Desjardins—Ben Ferriero/Tommy Wingels/John McCarthy/Ben Guite

There isn’t exactly a strong veteran presence in the group, and there aren’t even well-established younger players. Just for kicks, let’s put the two bottom lines together for what would be a random regular season game in December.

McGinn—Handzus—Mitchell
Mashinter—Desjardins—McCarthy

Out of this group of six, there is hardly anything that can be put in the bank in terms of performance. Each and every one of them has been effective at times in the NHL, and if they all play to the potential they are capable of, this group could be quite good.

Unfortunately, numerous problems are bound to arise given the fact Mashinter, Desjardins and McCarthy have combined for just 71 regular season games at the NHL level. McLaren has played in 32 and Ferriero’s laced up the skates for 57. McCarthy’s played fewer games (41) than Ferriero but is a more natural fourth line checker than Ferriero who is more of a scoring type player better fit to fill in on a scoring line in case of injury.

McLaren and Mashinter are enforcer left wing types, and although Mashinter has only played in 13 games, all came last season, as compared to McLaren who managed just nine games with the big club in 2010-11.

Clearly San Jose’s bottom six forwards aren’t nearly as strong or deep as would be expected of a Stanley Cup-contending team. After all, four of the current starting bottom six have yet to establish themselves as NHL-caliber players over a full season. And neither of the other two are trending upwards nor are models of consistency.

Something has to give here. Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s recent changes have been about one thing and one thing only—the playoffs. San Jose’s defense didn’t get the job done in the playoffs, so Wilson acquired Brent Burns.  Dany Heatley didn’t get it done in the playoffs so he’s shipped out for someone the Sharks feel they can better rely upon for clutch performances in Martin Havlat.

Wilson quite simply cannot be done tweaking his roster. It would seem quite odd to address deficiencies in defense and top-six only to ignore a newly opened one in the bottom-six.

Does that mean trading a highly thought of up and coming defenseman like Jason Demers? Maybe, maybe not. Plenty of pundits out there think that would severely weaken the defense that Wilson just improved. Now obviously Demers would be better apt to jump up into a top-4 position given injury than would any other of San Jose’s current defense or possible free agent pickups. However, given health, Demers is slated on the Sharks’ third defensive pairing.

Everyone speculating can differ on what makes sense as equal/ideal return for Demers but for the purposes of this article, let’s hypothetically say Demers was moved for a forward everyone agreed was of equal value.

San Jose’s third line would immediately become considerably better than what they currently have on their depth chart and to fill the void left by Demers, any number of free agent defenseman can fill in more than adequately on a third pair.

Names like Brent Sopel, Scott Hannan, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, and Jack Hillen remain on the open market. While many fans out there seem to criticize the likes of Sopel and Hannan as over the hill and washed up, the logic just doesn’t add up to support that argument.

Hannan for instance played in 78 games last year between Colorado and Washington, averaging 19:47 in ice time while being the most frequently used penalty killer for the Capitals. After scouring the web for Capitals news on the former Shark, most of the scouting reports give a thumbs up for what Hannan brought to the Washington defense. Most note that he isn’t nearly worth the $4.2 million dollar contract that he’s coming off of, but given the right price, Hannan would be an above average third pair defender.

The same can be said for Sopel, who played 71 games last year between Atlanta and Montreal. Sopel averaged 16:20 in ice time and was the Canadiens third most used penalty killer behind Hall Gill and another former Shark in Josh Gorges.  Sopel is just a year removed from being a key contributor the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship. At the same age as Dan Boyle, are we suppose to believe Sopel is already no longer worthy of a starting third pair role?

Well consider this: former Shark Niclas Wallin was apart of the Sharks’ top four last year and managed just 15:50 in ice time while being the 5th most used on the San Jose penalty kill behind Demers (at best an average defender in his own zone) and tied with Kent Huskins.

Right now the discussion is about adding Hannan and or Sopel (or Salei)—who are clearly more highly thought of defenseman than Wallin—and the discussion is about them playing on the third pair, not the second. Still sounds like quite the upgrade to me on defense even if Demers were moved.

With Demers or sans Demers, the Sharks’ defense pairs will be much better and more clearly defined than a year ago. Combinations like Vlasic-Wallin and Demers-Huskins or IanWhite-Wallin and Vlasic-Demers are things of the past. Certain games it was hard to tell which pair was two and which was three. How does the saying go? If you think you have two good quarterbacks you really have none?

Of course the Sharks can upgrade the bottom-six forwards without trading Demers. Certainly trading defenseman Justin Braun, draft picks or prospects could fetch a veteran third liner depending on the package but the return will undoubtedly be less than it would be if Demers was sent the other direction.

Either way, another trade of some sort is bound to happen. We just have to wait. Will we have to wait all the way until the trade deadline? Perhaps. But Wilson was steadfast in his belief that the poor first half San Jose had a year ago hindered their ability to perform in the playoffs. Plus it’s not like the mid-season deals in recent years have resulted in a Stanley Cup.

Sharks fans may be in a holding pattern for real news, but expect that trade and any subsequent signings to come before the puck drops in October.

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9 Responses to “More Moves Lie Ahead for San Jose”

  1. Charlie Passero
    July 19, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    I like Demers. Tough to trade him away when Burns is on a one year, no?

  2. Andrew Bensch
    July 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    Charlie, Burns is not going anywhere. they didnt give up the package they did for a one year rental. And if they did move Demers theyd do only do it if they were confident of extending burns, and i think they have to be.

  3. YoDave
    July 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    Giving up Demers for a third liner? No thanks. As far as offensive defensemen, that would leave only Boyle, and Burns. While we may extend Burns, the years may start to get lean for Boyle.

    We didn’t get Burns because he’s good defensively; we got him because he’s good both offensively and defensively. Dumping a two-way player in Demers for a one-way player in Hannan limits what you get out of your defensive corps. A major problem last year was the defense could not make plays in the offensive zone. With Demers, Burns, Boyle, you will always have a dman on the ice who can work with the forwards to create offense.

    Robbing Peter (2 way defensemen) to pay Paul (3rd line upgrade) will not make a *better* team, only a different looking team.

  4. Andrew Bensch
    July 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    More than a fair take from you point of view. The wild card in the whole scenario is if Justin Braun can make a similar leap defensively that Demers did last season. Nobody was calling Demers a good two-way defender prior to last season. Things change, players make strides and with Boyle, Burns, Demers and Braun, Sharks have four right handed puck moving defensman. Is there another team that has that? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. Sharks have a extremely thin (in more ways than one) and inexperienced bottom six forward group. Clutterbuck isn’t your typical third line wing, his two way game has potential for him to be a second line RW in his prime. In no way shape or form do I advocate that move for either team. I’m not a fanatic making demands from the stands. That said, could i see the demers-clutterbuck swap working out great for wild and horrible for sharks? Yes. Could i also see it working out great for Sharks and horrible for Wild? Yes. The chances each person puts on either scenario happening if the trade were to happen is each person’s opinion.

  5. RoneFace
    July 22, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Seriously, move on from Cal Clutterbuck. It isn’t happening. Find someone else to rosterbate over.

    As far as the free agent defensemen you listed it’s worth asking why they are still free agents. Almost every team could use more depth on the blueline and yet all those guys are available almost a month after free agency opened. Why is that? If Salei still had anything left why didn’t the Wings make any effort to keep him even after Rafalski left? They opted for Mike Commodore over Salei. Mike Commodore!

    All of those guys might be able to fill a depth role but I don’t think any of them have enough left in the tank to be reliable major contributors on a contending team. Skating ability is the most important attribute a defenseman can have in the current NHL and every one of those guys has questions surrounding that part of their game. The reason Boyle isn’t seen as being on his last legs despite being the same age as Sopel is because, unlike Sopel, Boyle is a significantly above average skater. If a player doesn’t have great skating ability on the back end and loses a step the decline isn’t steady over a period of years, it’s precipitous. As in NHL contributor one day, AHL veteran presence the next.

    If Hannan or Sopel or Skrastins want to take a minimum deal to be a 7th/8th defenseman I’d be fine with taking a chance but there’s no way a team looking at a cup should pencil any of those guys into a top 6 role and then find out they’ve got nothing left. That would surely be a bigger hole to fill than a penalty killing third liner. The Sharks are deep enough in the top 6 and on the back end to wait until closer to the deadline to see who drops out of contention and might be interested in trimming some salary so there’s no reason to make a lopsided deal just because it might address a current need.

  6. Andrew Bensch
    July 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    roneface, this wasn’t about clutterbuck. you’ve made your point clear that you would hate that trade. This was hypothetically saying what would happen if an equal quality forward was swapped for demers. And if you want to talk about players not being signed yet? Look at Manny Malhotra and Kyle Wellwood as examples of players left unsigned going into training camp but were significant contributors for good teams once they finally found an NHL home (both in SJ mind you). All this talk about players being done can motivate certain guys to prove those critics wrong. We just don’t know what’s going to happen. Vandermeer was signed day 1 of FA, does that mean hes a better defenseman than hannan/sopel? I don’t think so.

    Could Sharks wait till deadline to improve any weaknesses? Of course. Especially if Niittymaki plays well in first half and a team needs a goalie bad, there is a swap to make. But in terms of acquiring key players, it sounds as if Wilson wants to build his team mostly before the season than wait till the deadline. He always says the team isn’t done being put together till the trade deadline but he also didn’t like that the first half last year hurt their chances in the playoffs.

  7. Andrew Bensch
    July 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    plus, i fail to be convinced that Washingtons most used penalty killer of a year ago in Hannan will be worse next season than Wallin (SJs 5th used penalty kill dman, 7th most used overall) of a year ago.

  8. RoneFace
    July 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    You’re confusing lack of a better option with actual high level production when you look at how Washington used Hannan last year. Who are/were the other penalty killing options on that team?

    Malhotra was available because nobody thought he could score, like, at all. And as it turns out he can’t score, like, at all. However he can win faceoffs and kill penalties and there’s value in that to a team with a loaded top 6 (just not as much value as the Canucks are giving him). Also interesting to note that Wellwood is still available. Again.

    I understand the logic of your arguments I just don’t think it’s a good idea to put yourself in a position to potentially have James Van Der Beek AND Hannan/Sopel in your top 6 defensemen when you’re A. trying to win a cup, and B. trying to reduce Dan Boyle’s minutes. With the cap space he had available at the time, and has now, if DW thought Hannan/Sopel were better options for a physical depth defenseman role why didn’t he sign them? Logic would suggest it’s one of 3 possibilities:

    1. They didn’t want to come (or in Hannan’s case come back) to San Jose.
    2. They weren’t willing to take a reduced salary and reduced role.
    3. DW thinks both are unlikely to be able to contribute to the team.

    In a more general sense I think you’re underestimating how valuable a puck moving defenseman who can skate is while overestimating how valuable a defense first guy can be. Guys with Demers’ skill set are like starting pitchers in baseball; you can never have enough. I’d rather see the team sign Wellwood (or another current FA) to a cheap deal and look for an upgrade during the fall and into the season than trade Demers for a guy who is unlikely to contribute to anything other than the penalty kill. If a trade absolutely has to be made why trade Demers and not Braun, who is far more unproven?

  9. Andrew Bensch
    July 23, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    Certainly washington wasnt known for defense, but hannan helped turn that team around defensively. They were atrocious in their own end and second half were much much better. Hannan was apart of that. The point is Hannan averaged nearly 4 minutes more per game than Wallin, don’t see how that still wouldnt be an upgraded defense having a hannan-braun third pair after last season having wallin and huskins out there.

    I also think you’re forgetting a 4th and highly likely possibility that a hannan/sopel werent sought after by SJ early in FA because Wilson figured they would be out of his price range. Perhaps as free agency wears on, the price drops, and they would be the right fit. Obviously if Malhotra was offered what he ended up making with the Sharks on July 1, he wouldnt of signed the deal on July 1, he would have held out for better offers.

    If you are a Sharks fan, yes why wouldnt u prefer giving up braun? He has less value right now and Braun for Clutterbuck or whomever would be giving up less than if you trade Demers. But the return for Demers would be higher, thats why you trade him and not Braun. It depends what caliber player they seek in return an what they think is good value return for each player.