Retooling the Sharks part 2: tweaking the roster

Time to put the roster under a microscope. Before I do, however, a quick summary of major roster changes leading to and during the season, plus some of the post-season paperwork realities:

Key transactions

  • Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi
  • Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley

Free Agent additions:

  • Michal Handzus
  • Brad Winchester
  • Colin White
  • Jim Vandermeer

Free Agent Losses

  • Scott Nichol
  • Kent Huskins
  • Jamal Mayers
  • Ben Eager
  • Kyle Wellwood
  • Niclas Wallin
  • Ian White

Key trades during the season:

  • Jamie McGinn for Daniel winnik and TJ Galiardi

Injuries disclosed at the end of the season: 

  • Couture (shoulder, surgery)
  • Pavelski (foot, injected, thumb and knee ligaments)
  • Burns (ab straing)
  • Ryane Clowe (groin strain)
  • TJ Galliardi (lower back)
  • Michal Handzus (groin strain)
  • Doug Murray (groin strain)
  • Colin White (Shoulder)
  • Tom Wingels (Shoulder)

Looking into the offseason

Restricted Free Agents:

  • Tom Wingels
  • TJ Galliardi
  • Benn Ferriero
  • Andrew DesJardins
  • Justin Braun

Unrestricted Free Agents:

  • Dan Winnik
  • Torrey Mitchell
  • Dominick Moore
  • Brad Winchester
  • Jim Vandermeer
  • Colin White

Key no trade clauses:

  • Patrick Marleau
  • Dan Boyle (with a window where it goes on vacation)

So, now what?

In recent seasons, it seemed that the Sharks top six forwards played well — and the playoff series was lost by substandard play in the third and fourth lines. Fixing the third and fourth lines was a big focus of Doug Wilson and Coach McClellan — just look at the lists above and you can see the tinkering going on. And this playoff, to me, our third and fourth lines consistently outplayed the Blues, and this year, it was our first and second lines that got outplayed. 

It’s always something.

Lets start with goaltending. The Sharks brought Greiss back into the organization; to the surprise of almost everyone, he took Nitimaki’s job away, sending him away to purgatory, or Limbo, or wherever he ended up. When Greiss played, he played pretty well; his numbers in the regular season were comparable with Niemi’s. I liked what I saw, and I wish the Sharks had played him more when Niemi was struggling in the regular season. They didn’t, and Niemi played every minute of the playoffs, as expected. 

Niemi’s save percentage in the playoff matched his regular season. He was solid. His GAA was 2.45 — and he lost the series. On a “by the numbers” basis, there’s no complaint here. I felt there were a couple of key situations where Niemi could have made a difference and perhaps turned a game around — and didn’t. But goaltending wasn’t why the Sharks lost the series, and it’s a stretch to say it’s Niemi’s fault for not stealing a series the Sharks didn’t deserve to win. 

I suppose we could get involved in the Luongo sweepstakes; we could potentially upgrade our goaltending. Goaltenders don’t score and a different goalie wouldn’t fix the penalty kill. I would want to see the Sharks focus resources and energy elsewhere in the offseason, but I want Niemi both better and more reliable next season. He had some rough spots, and he has to be more consistently good. 

Defense. I like our defense. I think Brent Burns struggled early and looked good when it really mattered; criticism of him by some is overblown. And bluntly, getting him for Setoguchi (who I’d trade for a back of pucks and consider it addition by subtraction — look at his season in Minnesota) even a weak Brent Burns improved our team. 

Boyle, Murray, Vlasic are untouchables. Burns is almost untouchable. That foursome is a group of D most teams would kill for, with Vlasic hitting his prime and Murray hitting anything stupid enough to be caught. I like Justin Braun and Jason Demers as young and up and coming; Braun matured wonderfully this year and still has more improvement coming; Demers as less reliable but shows a lot. 

this is a damn good D corps. I’d leave it alone. 

Colin White was brought in, more or less replacing Ian white, who went to Detroit. All in all, that wasn’t an improvement. Colin White never really impressed me. he’s unrestricted, he won’t be back. I wouldn’t bring him back. The Sharks do need 2 Dmen to fill out this group and give us some depth. Jim Vandermeer (also unrestricted) isn’t the right solution for that, so the Sharks need to address this elsewhere. 

Third and Fourth lines. Okay, let me get this out of the way first. I miss Jamie McGinn. I understand why the Sharks traded him. He auditioned for a 2nd line role, and honestly, he wasn’t up to it. When  the Sharks needed to add depth to the roster, he was a player Colorado wanted, and he was expendable in San Jose. Anyone who puts him on a fantasy team based on his post trade “hey! I’m a scoring god now” time will live to regret it. What McGinn is is a pretty good third or fourth line banger who’s found a way to get a few goals in the net. He reminds me a lot of Jeff Odgers but with better hands, and that’s a real compliment coming from me, but he’s not a game breaker, and Im’ not convinced he’s going to have a long and fruitful career — but he will have a good and solid one. 

Having said all of that, the Sharks could have used him in these playoffs. But I don’t think trading him was a mistake. We’ll see. I’d like to see the Sharks bring back both Winnik and Galiardi, because I like what they bring to the team, too. 

For the 3-4 lines, I like Andrew Desjardins. he’s going to improve, but I don’t think he’s more than a 3-4 liner. I like Tommy Wingels. I’d like to see Galiardi and Winnik back. Michal Handzus should be in the mix, also. 

Martin Havlat. If he can stay healthy, that will really help this team. Will he? That’s the risk. You solve that risk by having depth to cover the times when he’s out.  One thing the Sharks struggled with was that the depth wasn’t there when they needed it. 

Torrey Mitchell? Disappointing year. I think his star had faded. He’s unrestricted. Bring him back? no. 

Brad Winchester? also unrestricted. Good soldier, aging vet. I think he’s near, or at, the end of the line. Sharks need to look elsewhere. 

Dominic Moore? Thanks, but no. 

Benn Ferriero? Good, not good enough to consistently crack the roster. I think he’ll play in the NHL, just not a top tier team like the Sharks. 

So the Sharks have three bodies under contract and two more i want to see come back in the bottom six. That leaves a couple of roster spots to fill, plus depth. Some work to do here, but I like the core. 

And that leaves — our top six forwards. 

The first two lines.

Joe Thornton. Logan Couture. Joe Pavelski. Ryane Clowe. These four are untouchable. 

And then there’s Patrick Marleau. He has a no-trade clause, but the war drums are out in the local media and among the fans and pundits around the league that it’s time to move him elsewhere. 

For the first time, I’m not saying “no, don’t do it”. but I’m not calling for it, either. I’m conflicted. 

Marleau has, since his first year as a Shark, had periods of the season where his play was — enigmatic. And every time that happened, someone grabbed the war drums and started beating them to do something about him. And every season, Marleau ended up with really good numbers and was a playoff performer, at which point the war drums got pointed at Joe Thornton instead. 

This year,  Joe Thornton carried this team through the playoffs, and even his detractors admit that — and Marleau had an enigmatic playoff. 64 points, 30 goals and +10 in the regular season, he was a non factor against the Blues. Is he the problem? Or the scapegoat? 

I’m conflicted. I think reality is “some of both”. What I’m unsure of is whether what we saw was the “new, real Marleau”, or whether it was an aberration. Is this the start of Marleau’s decline? Or will “mr enigmatic” be there for the playoffs next year? 

The biggest challenge Marleau has with the fans is he seems too — mellow. Fans would like him to be Owen Nolan. That’s not going to happen. I honestly don’t see his level-headedness as a weakness. It’s what he is, but the segment of fans who aren’t happy unless players are putting opponents through the glass at every opportunity take any weakness in play as a chance to  beat the war drum of “everyone must be maniacs”. 

That said, I’m just unsure what Patrick Marleau we’ll see next season, and whether we’ll be happy with the results. He has a lot to prove, and I don’t know if, at this point in his career, whether he can. 

Those doubts are going to affect his trade value. That, and the fact that he has a no trade clause, makes me think the Sharks will decide to ride it with him. I don’t think the Sharks want the same kind of criticism aimed at them that Tampa got when they forced Boyle out (for which we Sharks fans still thank the Lightning). If the no-trade didn’t exist, I bet the Sharks would at least explore options. With the no-trade in place, I think the Sharks will stand pat unless Marleau privately asks them to look at options and volunteers to waive the no-trade. I don’t expect the Sharks to force the issue, which will upset some fans and annoy some media pundits. But treating their players well is part of the Sharks management philosophy, and that’s one reason why free agents want to come play here. Screwing around with Marleau’s no-trade clause can hurt that reputation — and leaving it alone might upset some in the short term, but in the long run will be seen as a positive by players considering coming to the Sharks. 

So I think Marleau will be in teal come opening night. Is that the right call? I think so.

I also believe the Sharks need to commit to putting Marleau in as the 2nd line center, and leave him there. I don’t think he’s’ as comfortable or as effective at wing, and that’s part of the problem with Marleau. His speed and his vision make him a really good center, and his speed is somewhat negated playing at wing, so going into next season, put thornton at center on the first line, Marleau at forward on the 2nd, and don’t mess around with it very much. 

The top six forwards were the big weakness in the playoffs, our scoring simple disappeared. three goals in five games from our top six? Not acceptable. But five of the spots are defined out, and the players we can can be, and need to be, better. 

So, my priorities going into next season?

  • Priority one, as I mentioned yesterday, replace Trent Yawney’s experience behind the bench.
  • We have to figure out who is the sixth (and seventh) players covering the top six forward spots.
  • We have to make sure we have more defensive depth, but we don’t need impact-type (top 2, top 4) defensemen. A couple of good, solid veterans, stay at home times, would be nice.
  • And we need to fill out the rest of the roster, 2-3 bottom-six forwards and black ace depth guys. 

What we don’t need to do is panic, over-react, and start tearing up this roster and rebuilding it. 

Yet. 

I think this roster can pull it together and be better next year. If that doesn’t happen for some reason? Then we’ll have a different discussion….