Roller Coaster Year
The San Jose Sharks have had a roller coaster first half of the 2014-15 season. During an arduous road heavy start to the season they went just 10-10-4 in their first 24 games which included 16 of the first 21 on the road. In hindsight perhaps a .500 mark wasn’t so bad but losses to inferior teams like Buffalo, Columbus, Arizona, Calgary, and Florida were extremely disappointing efforts. The Sharks turned it around in December going 9-1 over a ten game stretch before losing four out of the next five. Now all of a sudden the Sharks have won the last two in a row. For the first time all year, the Sharks swept a back-to-back, beating Winnipeg and Minnesota on the road on back-to-back nights. Overall, a 12-4-1 record in their past 17 games would make one think the Sharks would be buyers come the trade deadline. It is hard to tell where GM Doug Wilson’s head is at with frequent posturing but my hunch says the Sharks will look to make a move to push them over the top. If that is the case, here are five options that could round out the Sharks lineup.
Charlie Coyle (C, RW) Minnesota
The only non unrestricted free agent on this list is Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle. While the right-handed shooting forward is still only 22, he has struggled to live up to the expectations so far. He was Minnesota’s crown jewel in the trade that sent Brent Burns to San Jose. With just 23 goals in 145 NHL games over three seasons, his shooting percentage has declined from year one to year two, and from year two to year three. With only three goals in 38 games this season, he doesn’t exactly solve the Sharks’ scoring woes but perhaps it is a matter of luck turning around. Coyle’s Fenwick-for percentage is 53.4, sixth best amongst Wild forwards and just .3 behind defenseman teammate Ryan Suter. Drafting Coyle 28th overall in 2010, the Sharks know Coyle’s abilities quite well even if he never played for them at the NHL level. The Wild and Sharks have connected on a number of deals in the past and there is an opportunity to work together again. Minnesota needs an established goaltender, and Antti Niemi is a pending unrestricted free agent that would fit their current need. Now because of the differing contracts, it may take more on San Jose’s side to complete a deal, but boils down to the fact Coyle can help San Jose and Niemi can help Minnesota.
Drew Stafford (RW) Buffalo
The Buffalo Sabres ought to be looking to move as many of their pending unrestricted free agents as possible. Stafford is in the last year of his deal and can still score goals despite many criticisms from Buffalo fans. The 29-year-old scored 13 even strength goals in 2013-14 for a bad Sabres team. Last year Brent Burns was considered one of the best even strength goal scorers with 20 last season. Playing with Joe Thornton, Stafford could easily bump that 13 number close to if not equal to Burns’ 20 number if he were a Shark for 82 games. The question in this case is what can the Sabres do in the market to bump up Stafford’s price? He is a much more dynamic player than say Paul Gaustad who fetched a first round pick in return a couple years ago, so will it take a first round pick and more for Stafford? Or will the Sabres have to settle for less? Buffalo certainly wouldn’t want to set their price too high and have teams fill their deadline needs elsewhere but they will want to get what they feel is fair value.
Cody Franson (D) Toronto
The biggest fish on this list is none other than Maple Leafs UFA defenseman Cody Franson. According to THW’s James Tanner, Franson has expressed interest in re-signing with the Leafs. However, we all know the mess the Leafs are in having fired their coach, having issues with one-way forwards and an overall bad possession team. Franson can certainly be apart of their rebuild but he isn’t 21 anymore either, he will be 28 next season. Signing him to a big contract only to continue struggling the next two or three years? Is that the wisest decision for Toronto? Maybe, maybe not. As for what it would take to get him, well considering he is arguably the top defenseman on the Leafs roster, a first round pick and a top prospect. Doug Wilson has made a point of not moving young players and picks for prospects but a first round pick and top defense prospect Mirco Mueller in exchange for Franson could help both teams tremendously. Certainly many Sharks fans will bemoan this idea as mortgaging future for the now but a move of this caliber would give the Sharks their best chance at a Stanley Cup in their history. Acquiring Franson would potentially allow Brent Burns to move back up to forward where he is a much bigger difference maker.
San Jose could then matchup toe-to-toe with the best of the best by rolling out a lineup of
Tomas Hertl—Joe Thornton—Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau—Logan Couture—Matt Nieto
James Sheppard—Joe Pavelski—Tommy Wingels
Barclay Goodrow—Andrew Desjardins—Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Cody Franson
Brenden Dillon—Justin Braun
Matt Irwin—Matt Tennyson
You would be hard pressed to find a better top three lines and top four defense in the league. Only Chicago comes to mind as a team with a case for a stronger group.
Jeff Petry (D) Edmonton
A cheaper option for defense help would be Edmonton Oilers pending UFA Jeff Petry. It is difficult to judge the 27-year-old Petry on standard or advanced numbers playing with the Oilers his whole career but he is an above average puck mover. He should come significantly cheaper than Franson but there simply aren’t too many rental puck movers available, so again it depends how much the Oilers are looking for and how much Wilson is willing to offer up. The Oilers are terrible again this year and should be looking to deal as many pending free agents as they can but the cost is yet to be determined. While Petry doesn’t bring the same imposing size of a Cody Franson, he is still a solid top-four option. Acquiring him would again potentially allow Burns to move up front to help improve the Sharks’ current scoring woes.
Andrej Sekera (D) Carolina
Just like Toronto and Edmonton, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t going to making a push to win the Stanley Cup any time soon. However, unlike Franson and Petry, 28-year-old Andrej Sekera isn’t a right-handed shot. The Sharks already have Vlasic and Dillon on the left side and Mueller up and coming. If Sekera can fit in on a second pair with Dillon than perhaps Burns could still be moved up. The Sharks love to match their pairs with one left handed shot and one right handed shot and so acquiring Sekera wouldn’t be the ideal fit. Now if the Sharks want to keep Burns at defense and acquire Sekera, he could be a third pair puck mover but that wouldn’t do much to help the Sharks scoring woes. The biggest question mark for San Jose is whether they can score enough goals. Stafford, Coyle, Franson, and Petry would all be more of a direct increase in puck possession/goal scoring.
Other options that could make sense for San Jose are either Jaromir Jagr or Michael Ryder of the New Jersey Devils, and Jiri Tlusty of the Carolina Hurricanes to add some depth at the forward position. With Burns’ ability to play multiple positions, the Sharks have options to fill their scoring hole up front by trading for a defenseman and move Burns up or keep Burns at defense and acquire a winger.