Are Sharks a defenseman short?

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Are Sharks a defenseman short?

It was about this time last year that the San Jose Sharks decided that seven experienced NHL defensemen on the roster just wasnt enough.

Currently, the blue line consists of Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart, Brent Burns, Douglas Murray, Justin Braun and Jason Demers. Those are, however, the only defensemen in the system with any significant NHL experience. Should the Sharks stand pat with that group, they may be taking a significant risk when the 2012-13 season gets underway.

While the Sharks top five is among the strongest in the league, questions surround the remaining two in Murray and Demers. The 32-year-old Murray suffered through a number of injuries last season, missing 22 games total, and at times had trouble keeping up with the pace of play even when he was in the lineup. The Sharks are expected to have a much more aggressive approach to their penalty killing next season, too, and Murray's role could be reduced in that regard when you consider his lack of foot-speed.

Demers, although still just 24, saw his game take a step backwards last season after a fairly promising 2010-11 campaign. His stats fell from 24 points and a 19 rating in 75 games two seasons ago, to just 13 points and a -8 rating in 57 games last year.

The Sharks do have some young defensemen in the system that were recently high draft picks in Nick Petrecki (first round, 2007) and Taylor Doherty (second round, 2009), both of whom now have an extra year of experience under their belts. A veteran NHL scout recently told me that while Doherty could get in some games next season, Petrecki (still a restricted free agent) looks a ways off from being NHL-ready.

The 21-year-old Doherty, a 67, 235-pounder, had six assists and 76 penalty minutes in 63 games with Worcester last season. He has two years remaining on his entry-level deal, and the Sharks may be better served letting him grow his game in the AHL for one more complete season.

So, what do they do?

Last year, the Sharks decided to sign the veteran Colin White to a one-year deal on August 3, after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract. Hes still an unrestricted free agent, but its highly unlikely the Sharks will consider White after he struggled mightily for most of the season.

There are more attractive options still on the market.

One name that immediately jumps out is Phoenixs Michal Rozsival. The 33-year-old was a top-four defenseman on one of the NHLs strongest defensive clubs, playing more than 19 minutes a night on the reigning Pacific Division champions. As long as hes recovered from a hit he took from Dustin Brown late in the concluding game of Western Conference Finals (which reportedly caused no structural damage), Rozsival would be a solid fifth defender for the Sharks with the ability to jump up and play in one of the top two pairs if necessary.

While Rozsival would be an upgrade to the stay-at-home Murray, St. Louis Carlo Colaiacovo is a veteran of 370 NHL games over parts of nine seasons and is a puck-moving type that would be an improvement over Demers, who plays a similar style.

Sharks fans got a chance to see Colaiacovo first hand in the first round last season, when he had an effective series for the Blues in their five-game triumph over San Jose. A left-handed shot, Colaiacovo has the ability to play on the man advantage and might look good paired with the right-handed Braun on the teams bottom pair.

A more familiar name with a chance to return and provide some depth (and cost much less than either Rozsival or Colaiacovo) is Jim Vandermeer. Even with White struggling and Murray battling injuries, Vandermeer somewhat oddly played in just 25 games last season, but brought a physical edge to the blue line (and even a few times as a fourth-line forward).

Other notable free agent defensemen include Scott Hannan, Brett Clark, Matt Gilroy, Jaroslav Spacek, Pavel Kubina, Steve Eminger and Kurtis Foster. If the Sharks arent looking to sign a defenseman to a long-term deal with a salary cap rollback likely on the way, they may be able to get one of the veterans listed above to sign a one-year deal at a reasonable cost, much like White did this time last year.

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.