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.