New-Look Sharks Will Have Options Aplenty

The conventional wisdom is that the San Jose Sharks are not done making moves this offseason. With over $6 million in cap room and assets to trade, it would be difficult to find perhaps just one hockey follower who believes there won’t be any more newcomers to San Jose this offseason. But while players, management, analysts, columnists and fans alike wait for actual news to discuss (whether a signing or a trade), why not speculate on what’s to come in exactly three months from Friday?

San Jose’s first game of the 2011-12 season will be at home against the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 8 but when San Jose GM Doug Wilson continues to bring in elite talent to his club in recent offseasons, one can’t but help to remain excited for the duration of the summer months. The constant flux and re-tooling is one of the many reason the Sharks have such a large following here in the Bay Area.

Think of the last four offseasons, for example…

After the 2007-08 campaign when Brian Campbell played half a season with San Jose before leaving via free agency, the fans on the street realized how desperate the team needed a puck moving defenseman. That offseason, Wilson traded for Dan Boyle.

After San Jose’s tremendous regular season in 2008-09 ended in a President’s Trophy, they failed to win a single series in the postseason. Despite being the best team in hockey, the Sharks fell to the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks. The wildly popular notion was that the Sharks needed an elite go-to scorer to play with top-line center Joe Thornton. That offseason, Wilson traded for Dany Heatley.

After reaching the Western Conference final for just the second time in franchise history in 2009-10, the Sharks were swept by the lower seeded but deeper Chicago Blackhawks team who eventually lifted the Stanley Cup that season. The prevailing (well, maybe not prevailing but certainly popular) notion was to make a change between the pipes. Long-time netminder Evgeni Nabokov was due for a new contract but so were Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Talking to fans that year, it was clear the Shark faithful wanted Marleau and Pavelski back, while mostly being indifferent on Nabokov. When it turned out Nabokov still wanted a hefty long term contract, Sharks fans were essentially united in moving on.

Doug Wilson replaced Nabokov with Antti Niemi, while keeping both Pavelski and Marleau.

And finally, after this past season (2010-11) when the Sharks were ousted in the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row – this time at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks – the need for San Jose was abundantly clear. They did not have a true No. 2 defenseman to go behind Dan Boyle. Fans could tell just as well for themselves without us “columnists” pointing it out, that the Sharks needed a defensive upgrade.  So what did Doug Wilson do? He traded for All-Star defenseman Brent Burns.

But to put the cherry on top for Sharks fans, Wilson also traded away Heatley, who had fallen out of favor both with those in the organization and with a majority of the fans. Thought to have a fully intact no-trade clause, nobody saw this move coming, but with the window in the contract allowing Wilson to move Heatley and his $7.5 cap hit, a large majority of Sharks fans rejoiced. With money saved and a quality top-six player (Martin Havlat) received in return, another popular was move made by the Sharks GM during the offseason.

Plus considering that the players elected to be kept around continue to produce versus those sent away having been inconsistent, some of the moves from Wilson sound as if they are made in the NHL video game.

Boyle, Burns, Pavelski, Marleau, Havlat, Niemi are Sharks. Heatley, Setoguchi, Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and Evgeni Nabokov are not Sharks.

Hard not to like what the Sharks have done over the years.

But back to that speculation point, with all these moves how will the Sharks look lineup wise in three months from now? Now seeing as that yours truly can remember all of one line combination from San Jose’s opening night in Sweden last season (Jamie Mcginn-Thornton-Setoguchi), debating what line combinations will take place in October is much ado about nothing.

Come April and May, lines will probably be completely different but as Shakespeare shows us, much ado about nothing can still be vividly entertaining. So what will the forward lines and power-play combinations look like opening night? Any fans guess is as good as mine and please feel free to comment your thoughts below but for what it’s worth I’ll give my two cents.

My gut feeling is that the Sharks open the season not wanting to tinker with the chemistry between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and between Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture.

Furthermore splitting up their two fastest top-six skaters in Marleau and Havlat at-least to start the season sounds like a route the Sharks may take. Certainly arguments can be made for overloading a certain skill on one line and for spreading it out. To start though, probably split the two up.

Thus, my projected top two lines to begin the season are as follows:


Havlat’s play-making style certainly gives the Sharks an enormous amount of flexibility as nearly any trio is possible amongst these six skaters. Say the Sharks hit a major rut and need a big change in lines. With Marleau’s ability to play center, lines of Couture-Thornton-Pavelski, Clowe-Marleau-Havlat wouldn’t be out of the question.

Personally, after watching Thornton set up the likes of Glen Murray in Boston and both Cheechoo and Setoguchi in San Jose, to me it makes the most sense to continue pairing him with at least one right handed forward, another reason why I like Pavelski on the top line .

Even though Setoguchi’s career shooting percentage is much higher (.117) than that of Pavelski’s (.094), the latter averages more shots per game (3.14 versus 2.67). And as Sharks fans know, Pavelski has a deadly accurate wrist shot. Pavelski with Thornton could make for a interesting combination.

As for the power-play units, my thoughts would be to split up the 5-on-5 forward lines into different units.

Therefore when it comes to the man-advantage, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Sharks open up the season with the following:

First Line PP: Boyle, Burns, Thornton, Pavelski, Clowe.

Second Line PP: Jason Demers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Couture, Marleau, Havlat.

For whatever reason, Ryane Clowe hasn’t become known for net-front play like Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom has seemingly always been known for, but sticking the big Newfoundland native in front of the opposing goalie still makes the most sense in my eyes. Boyle and Burns manning the points are slam dunks, Thornton setting up on his off wing boards, Pavelski and Burns opposite looking for one-timers.

As for the second line unit, Marleau makes most sense net front as he’s the biggest of the group. Vlasic and Demers handling the points with Couture and Havlat setting things up. Perhaps Couture swaps with Demers if the play develops a certain way and Sharks look to get a one time right handed shot closer to the net on the off wing.

Wilson’s tinkering has given the Sharks numerous options, and with the offseason still young, who knows how many more develop. However, as it stands, not only are the Sharks still one of the elite teams in the league, they are now one of the most flexible.


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5 Responses to “New-Look Sharks Will Have Options Aplenty”

  1. RoneFace
    July 9, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    I agree with you on the ES line combos but I disagree with the PP units. I think they will probably split up Burns and Boyle just to create two strong units, with Braun and Demers filling out the pairs. One of the big problems the Sharks have faced in recent years is that Boyle has to play so many minutes he gets worn out, but the addition of Burns means that there is always another equally viable option to go to. Expect to see a real reduction in Boyle’s minutes this season. As long as the Sharks can get by without playing Boyle and Burns together I think that has to be the goal.

    I also think that using the forward combos makes it so much easier to transition in and out of ES that it makes too much sense not to try and keep them intact. If you split them up then you’re frequently going to have PP guys who were just on the ice and you’re going to have to go back to your 3rd or 4th line coming out of a PP. Obviously when things are not working we know McLellan will have no hesitation to mix them up, and he certainly has a lot of possible combos to work with, but I think he will try and go with his normal top 2 lines and start the PP with whoever has been on the bench longer.

  2. Charlie Passero
    July 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Good point Rone. I’d like to see the Sharks experiment more with Couture and Thornton on the same lines. They both have patience in the offensive zone and could work well together. Bensch makes a good point about lefties and righties tho. I think we can all agree the Sharks have one of those “good problems”

  3. Andrew Bensch
    July 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Very interesting. I understand Braun on powerplay obviously he showed an innate ability to get the puck through to the net last year but my feeling is vandermeer starts the year in the lineup, thats why i suggested vlasic. As for splitting up Boyle and Burns on powerplay, not sure I see that happening. What may happen is those times when boyle used to stay out for all 2 minutes, it will be Burns doing that at times to save Boyles legs. Most of Boyles minutes saved will come at ES however.

    Certainly keeping lines intact for power play leaves for a smoother transition.

    thanks for sharing.

  4. RoneFace
    July 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Agree with you about Van Der Beek, unfortunately. I was all for adding someone to the blue line but I think there were some better options available that wouldn’t have cost a lot more money. If you’re signing someone with the intent of actually playing him he has to be a better player than what you’ve currently got, and in the case of Van Der Beek vs Braun I’m not sure that’s the case. (and yes, I plan on calling Jim Vandermeer James Van Der Beek all season)

    The other thing with splitting up Burns and Boyle, and keeping the top 6 intact on the PP, is that the other team is going to come out of the PK with whichever offensive players don’t kill penalties. They’ll be fresh, they’ll be skilled, and they will be looking to swing momentum. If you split up your top 6 you almost have to go with a 3rd or 4th line, and if you play Burns and Boyle together for an extended period you probably have to go with your 3rd pairing. That means the Sharks 3rd or 4th line and 3rd defense pairing against a top scoring line, and I don’t think that’s a situation the coaching staff favors given how often they like to go strength vs strength.

  5. Andrew Bensch
    July 10, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    Fair enough. Although if first unit doesnt score, at least boyle/burns will be off half way through most likely and can get a rest while the other unit is on. And if top pp unit scores in first minute of pp, I’m sure Burns could stay out for a shift with vlasic.