Turnover in the Tank (Part 1)

The Sharks have consistently been a force to be reckoned with in the regular season. They captured a Presidents’ Trophy in 2009 and owned the top seed of the Western conference for the past two seasons. Unfortunately, they have also consistently fallen short of the ultimate goal: winning the Stanley Cup.

With this in mind, GM Doug Wilson has made some major changes that will (hopefully) improve the team’s Cup chances.

Last month, restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson was tendered a four-year, $14 million contract to come to San Jose, but the Chicago Blackhawks matched the offer.  From the Sharks’ point of view, Hjalmarsson’s choice to go to Chicago is not a big deal. The Sharks’ defense was strong throughout most of last season and certainly throughout their playoff run.

Hjalmarsson offered more recent Cup experience than the newly retired captain Rob Blake, who won with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.

Cup experience is very important to winning it all; expect the Sharks to make a move at the deadline to pick up at least one player who has been to the Finals more recently than Niclas Wallin. The Sharks’ defense is strong without Hjalmarsson or Blake and can achieve the goal of winning the cup without them. On the Sharks’ blue line, are the confident and fundamentally sound Douglas Murray, Wallin, Dan Boyle, Jay Leach, Kent Huskins, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Jason Demers.

Murray is a strong physical defenseman who hits and shoots hard. He does a good job covering his man in the defensive end. He hits hard and clears the middle of the ice in front of the Sharks’ net. From the point, he brings a weapon, a loaded stick with a shot both accurate and powerful.

The recently re-signed Wallin is the only blue-liner who has appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals, winning the cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He is a veteran who knows how to get the job done. Wallin can step up in a big way from time to time, having scored an OT goal against the New Jersey Devils during the Hurricane’s cup run. He may provide the stability the Sharks need during the playoffs if he can stay healthy.

Boyle has great hands and even better feet. He has the ability to weave through opposing players when rushing the puck up the ice. He does a great job of feeding the offense with his stick-handling and passing abilities. He is an integral part of the dangerous Sharks’ powerplay, quarterbacking from the point. He has a nack for creating scoring plays by helping the offense deep in the opposition’s end. Getting caught deep in the zone has not been an issue with Boyle; due to his speed he can recover his defensive coverage very well.

Also recently re-signed, Leach can fill spots in the roster well, performing satisfactorily. He is dependable in the defensive end, nothing spectacular. Leach is a good guy to have when looking to fill a spot opening due to injury or to give a night off.

Huskins helps move the puck up the ice and does some work down low. When in a bind in the offensive zone, he does a good job of putting the puck on net. In his own zone he is sure footed and can physically handle the opposition.

Vlasic has been great for the Sharks. He is hard working, and an excellent all-around strong player. He is very good with the puck and is not a pushover in the defensive end. In the offensive zone, he does a good job of holding the blue line to keep the offense going.

Demers came off a rookie season in which he showed the hockey world that he can really play. He showed good hands and unwavering awareness of what takes place on the ice, and for the most part staying emotionally stable throughout the season and postseason.

The 2009-10 season iced a Sharks’ Defense that was physical, offensively helpful, confident with the puck in either end of the ice, plays hard and smart all year long. Keep your eye out for the Sharks to test out their newly signed defenseman Sean Sullivan. Originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, the 26-year-old rearguard could make a surprising impact in 2010-11.

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6 Responses to “Turnover in the Tank (Part 1)”

  1. johnathan kahn
    August 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Great article. You should write more often.

  2. Bobby Seabrook
    August 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    Super story, I was not a Sharks fan, that is until I read this well written story. I happen to like teams that are written about that have the potential to win the Cup, it makes the season more exciting to watch, seeing if a sports writers prediction will hold true. “Hey Sports Illustrated check this writer out.” Great job Mitch and God bless.

  3. ack
    August 17, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    Factual correction – Wallin is not the only Sharks d-man with Stanley Cup experience. Dan Boyle won it in 2004 with the Lightning. Also, Hjalmarsson did not choose to go to Chicago. His offer sheet was matched by Chicago. Once he signed the offer, all the decisions were out of his hands.

    I disagree with some of the analysis though. Murray’s a little slow and if his shot is so awesome, how come he had 13 assists? It’s because it’s not that great. You neglected to mention that Pickles’ offensive numbers dropped off this season. I think that’s due to a drop in PP time, but I’m not sure why he didn’t get those minutes. Demers was up and down all year, in and out of the lineup. At points in the playoffs, he was the 7th d-man dressed, with Wallin being the 6th. Lots of upside, but I wouldn’t call him established. He was hidden most of the time on the 3rd pair at even strength. Huskins is okay, but seems to be overpaid to me. Ditto Wallin, but that might be the market changing. Also, what about Derek Joslin? He’s looked good each time he’s been up and has performed well in the AHL.

  4. Mitchell Schaffer
    August 18, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    Dan Boyle’s playoff experience, along with former captain Rob Blake’s, came before the lockout. Boyle’s experience in the playoffs didn’t seem stick when he came to the Sharks. When he won with Tampa in 2004, he was still pretty new to the playoff scene. Blake’s experience was different, he was a “postseasoned” veteran. His attempts at winning the cup stuck with him; therefore, he was able to lead the Shark’s defense through a good strong run at the cup last year.

    Offensemen stay a little closer to the point that Murray plays to stifle his shot or force it off the mark. Murray being slow is not an issue. When he falls behind the play he usually brings an attacker vital to the rush with him. In the defensive zone, he is still able to contain opponents to the outside with his size and positioning.

    Pickle’s offensive numbers have dropped since Dan Boyle started quarterbacking not only the powerplay, but some of the even strength offense as well. Boyle showed that he can handle leading the offense up the ice, and played like he wanted those minutes more than Vlasic. Also, the powerplay was very good throughout the season with Dan Boyle. Why change?

    The regular season is long, all players have their ups and downs. The Sharks ultimately decided that Demers was their man for the playoffs. It was a good choice based on what we saw from him during the playoffs. He was able to contribute everything mentioned in the article during the playoffs. The Sharks may have seen that he would be successful in the playoffs early on and did not want to over work him during the regular season. For the Sharks, the playoffs are all that matters. Of course they need to get in first.

    Wallin was battling injuries last season. I was really talking about what he can offer when he is healthy and playing at the level he was playing on in 2006 with Carolina.

    They all seem overpaid to me.

    Joslin is a solid player, but young and questionable. Come playoff time is he reliable? We’ll have to wait and find out. He has not played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. The Sharks don’t want questions, they want, maybe even need to win the cup this season.

    It will be interesting to see how the defense will fare without Rob Blake.

  5. ack
    September 1, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    If you felt that Boyle’s previous playoff experience didn’t matter, you should have said that originally. It now comes across as trying to spin doctor things.

    As for Murray’s shot, I still think you’re out in left field. It’s not that good. He doesn’t get a lot of PP time. If he had such an awesome shot, they’d use it.

    Pickle’s offensive numbers have not dropped since Boyle showed up. They went up the first year, then down. IMHO, it’s the PP time, but Pickles was playing on the second unit, not the first where Boyle is. I don’t think it’s a case of Boyle wanting the PP minutes more, but do concede that Pickles might not want it enough. However, I’m not in the room, so I don’t know. Back to the numbers, a valid trend is the yo-yo of his points. That would lead you to think this would be a big offensive year for Pickles.

    As for changing the PP, what did it do in the playoffs? I thought it dropped off. And since the playoffs are all that matters for the Sharks, it’s something to think about.

    Demers spent some time as a forward on the 4th line, and as a 7th d-man in that run. I felt at the end against Chicago, they needed to decide if they wanted Wallin or Demers in the lineup and go with it. Rolling them regularly instead of as numbers 6 and 7 would have helped them.

    As for Wallin, he has to recover from his injuries. If he doesn’t, then the Sharks have paid for potential and gotten burned again. That said, I talked to a fan from Carolina in Vancouver at the Olympics. He asked me why we wanted Wallin. I definitely came away with the impression that Canes fans weren’t sorry he was gone. That might be from the injuries, but I just didn’t get that impression. (and this was from someone that lived down the street from Wallin.)

    Joslin’s contract is up after this year. It’s time to figure out something about his future with team. It’s not a question you can avoid, unfortunately.

    I do agree it will be an interesting season.

  6. Mitchell Schaffer
    September 1, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    If I spelled out everything I wanted to say in the article you’d still be reading at the end of next week.

    Murray is not nearly as good at moving the puck as Pickles or Boyle, so the shot doesn’t really matter as far as powerplays go. It was not Boyle coming so much as Boyle showing what he can do. I agree it could be Vlasic not wanting it enough. A big offensive year for Vlasic would be nice, he has the potential.

    In the playoffs, it looked the pp good as it did in the regular season for the most part. The opposition’s goaltending really did a number on their chances. Staring at the screen in disbelief was common when the Sharks were on the PP during the last postseason.

    The choice does need to be made, Demers or Wallin. Young or cup experience is the choice. Without Blake, the Sharks are looking for that experience.

    It is hard to win a cup with a weak link in the defense, the mistakes cost a cup. Wallin may not have been so solid throughout his entire career, but he does have a lot to offer. He offered quite a bit of help to win the cup. The Sharks signed him hoping some 2006 magic is left. So far the injuries to Wallin has not helped make anything clear.

    We’ll have to what happens with Joslin. He could play very well and earn a spot with the team. The outcome of this season will play a huge factor. A cup will probably allow him to stay if he keeps up his end of the deal. He can do it. Will He?