PHT: Did Sharks improve this offseason?


PHT: Did Sharks improve this offseason?

Sept. 12, 2011SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEOJames O'Brien

Unless you judge success by Stanley Cup victories alone, youd probably agree that the San Jose Sharks had a solid season, so it was surprising to see the team make such splashy moves this summer. Most instances of dynamic change occur when a) contenders need to shed contracts to stay under the cap ceiling or b) pretenders realize that theyre going nowhere and decide to blow shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start fresh.

Now, its true that the Sharks feature many of the same top players. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are still standout veterans while young players like goalie Antti Niemi and center Logan Couture provide important contributions.

Yet while many of the core members remain the same, some significant supporting roles have changed. Heres a quick snapshot of their major moves during this summer.

Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, Kyle Wellwood, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager and Scott Nichol.

Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, Colin White, Jim Vandermeer, Andrew Murray and James Sheppard.

Sharks players were as taken aback as anyone else as news of the moves circulated this summer, as they told the Mercury News. The ultimate takeaway is that the franchise took action instead of remaining idle especially in their biggest area of need: defense.

It shows that were not satisfied, captain Joe Thornton said. We want to get to the Finals and win the Cup. Weve fallen short. But with these moves, Im really excited to see this team play.

What we did is not a Band-Aid situation, McLellan said. Brent Burns is going to be around for a long time. We hope Colin White and Jim Vandermeer can play for awhile here, too.

Then again, the Sharks are a little biased when it comes to their own team, so lets take a temperature of their offensive and defensive units to see if theyve really gotten better. Well skip goaltending because theyll employ the same Finnish duo as last season (although I must say that it would be surprising if Niemi avoids a regression after his red-hot second half of 2010-11).

On paper, trading Heatley for Havlat is a clear downgrade, especially since Heatley has two 100 point seasons on his resume. The thing is, many believe that Heatleys best days are behind him and Havlat might be a little bit more versatile. Then again, Havlats injury history suggests that he comes with his own risks.

The Sharks might actually miss hot-and-cold winger Setoguchi more at least in some ways. This move leaves Joe Pavelski as the only major Sharks forward who sports a right-handed shot.

Wellwood was actually a pretty solid fit for San Jose, so it was disappointing to see him go until they signed strong defensive forward Handzus. The Sharks should be very familiar with the Czech-born center since he played all but one game in the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Adding Handzus was one of the most underrated moves of this summer, as hell give the Sharks yet another effective center. Hell slide into the Manny Malhotra role from 2009-10.

Offensive outlook: Slight downgrade (Havlat is the wild card).

Burns is a lot like Boyle in that hes adequate in his own end but earns his paychecks thanks to his offensive prowess. Itll be interesting to see if the two right-handed attacking defensemen pair up with each other very often (beyond power play situations or when the Sharks are down a goal).

While Burns is the highest profile addition, White is a nice value. His foot speed and decision making can be concerns, but hes a hard-hitting minutes eater with two Stanley Cup rings. Thats not bad for 1 million, which is the same amount theyll pay middling addition Jim Vandermeer.

The Sharks have an interestingly dichotomous group of D-men. On one side, theres the graceful guys (Boyle, Burns, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic); on the other, you have the plodding bruisers (Douglas Murray, White and Vandermeer). If you ask me, Burns and White are two shrewd additions that might not make the Sharks a top defensive group like they claim, but an above-average corps nonetheless.

Defensive outlook: Substantial upgrade.

If you ask me, the Sharks should be a slightly better team on paper next season, although the phrase on paper has haunted the franchise for years now. What do you think, though? Are they better, worse or did they just make a lateral move?


NHL Gameday: Sharks expect better Blue Jackets this time

NHL Gameday: Sharks expect better Blue Jackets this time

Programming note: Sharks-Blue Jackets coverage starts tonight at 7pm with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California. Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz will appear on SportsTalk Live on CSN Bay Area, beginning at 5pm.


Sharks: 4-3-0, 8 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Blue Jackets: 2-2-1, 5 points, 7th Metropolitan Division


***Less than two weeks after their meeting in Columbus, a 3-2 Sharks win, the Blue Jackets visit San Jose to wrap up the season series. San Jose is coming off of a 2-1 overtime win on Tuesday against Anaheim in the first of a three-game homestand.

Columbus is 2-0-1 since losing to the Sharks, beating Chicago and Dallas and losing on Tuesday in overtime in Los Angeles.

Joe Pavelski said: “They are one of those teams that you know you’re going to get an honest game from them, and they’re going to play hard and try to come at you.”

***The Sharks led 2-0 after two periods in the previous meeting with Columbus before withstanding a push from the Blue Jackets in the third. 

Pete DeBoer said: “They didn’t lie down. They didn’t quit. They took it to us in the third period and put us on our heels, and I think they carried that into winning their last three games. 

“I’m sure we’re going to get their best game here tonight, and just watching their recent tape, they look like they’re playing with some confidence.”

***Martin Jones will start his fourth straight game in net, while Micheal Haley will remain in for Matt Nieto on the fourth line.

The fourth line generated some quality scoring chances against the Ducks, and took three shifts in the third period of what was a 1-1 game. Tommy Wingels, who moved to the wing from center before the game, said the approach doesn’t change whether it’s Haley or Nieto in their group, which now features Chris Tierney in the middle.

“Is it a different guy doing it, maybe more possession and not as much speed? Absolutely, but same mentality, same game plan, and same look to execute,” Wingels said.

DeBoer said: “I don’t judge those guys by goals or points. It’s, are they hopping over the boards? Are they creating energy? Are they wearing down the other team? I think that line did that all night.”


Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The defenseman scored a highlight-reel goal in overtime on Tuesday against the Ducks, flying past Corey Perry and beating goalie John Gibson. It was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman not scored by Brent Burns. Vlasic, who is coming off of his best offensive season a year ago with 48 points, has two points this season (1g, 1a) and an even rating.

Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski. The eighth overall pick of the 2015 draft (just before the Sharks chose Timo Meier), Werenski has five points in five games (2g, 3a) to start his NHL career. The 19-year-old is the first rookie in Blue Jackets history to have points in his first four career games, including a goal against the Sharks on Oct. 12.


Mikkel Boedker – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Patrick Marleau – Tomas Hertl – Melker Karlsson
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (confirmed starter)
Aaron Dell

Blue Jackets
Brandon Saad - Alexander Wennberg - Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Matt Calvert - William Karlsson - Josh Anderson
Scott Hartnell - Lukas Sedlak - Sam Gagner

Zach Werenski – Seth Jones
Jack Johnson – David Savard
Dalton Prout – Markus Nutivaara

Sergei Bobrovsky (confirmed starter)
Curtis McElhinney


Sharks: None.

Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray (upper body) is out.


“We were great. Just look at the chances. We controlled a lot of the play, other than the 5-on-3 [where] they had a few chances. There really wasn't much other than that." – Martin Jones, after the Sharks’ 2-1 overtime win over Anaheim on Tuesday

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.

For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.

While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.

“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”

The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).

Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.

“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”

David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.

Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.

Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.

“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”

The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.

As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.

“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”