A youngster at a crossroads, a veteran starting fresh, and a partially shaven Chewbacca-impersonator. The Sharks defense is diverse and for the first time in a while is making San Jose fans excited. What are the optimal pairings at the blue line this season?
Biggest Movers This Offseason
Scott Hannan has officially left the lineup and the youngsters are taking over. Mirco Mueller was closely watched last season and his struggles were well-documented. Questions over whether he was rushed to the big show are popping up all over. Now, he battles Matt Tennyson for the last spot on the roster after starting in the top four last year.
Then, there is Brenden Dillon who watched his stock plummet after he was re-signed to a somewhat-surprisingly long contract. Paul Martin’s arrival pushes Dillon down to the final pairing where he will have to drag either Tennyson or Mueller around.
While Justin Braun didn’t have a particularly good year in 2014-15, he still enjoyed his time next to one of the premier shut-down defenders in the league. Playing next to Marc-Edouard Vlasic makes just about anyone look pretty good. Braun is best suited to staying at home and his role with Vlasic will be well-documented. Over the past two seasons, his goals for percentage drops over ten percent when he is away from Vlasic. The corsi for percentage also takes a hit to the tune of around four percent.
The former Penguin joins the Sharks highest scoring defenseman on the second pairing. Martin joins DeBoer as alumni of the New Jersey Devils, a franchise that won championships behind their lock-it-down defense. Some might question Martin’s offensive numbers in Pittsburgh as a product of their high-powered offense, but his best years came back in New Jersey. But what makes this pairing so dynamic is Martin’s ability to stay at home. While Burns will undoubtedly remain an offensive catalyst, Martin will take on the role of last man back.
As mentioned earlier, there may be some rotation on this pairing. Mueller is far from a finished NHL product and Dillon is now a Shark for the foreseeable future. These two, while on the bottom pairing may have the most eyes on them. Dillon, will need to live up to his new contract and Mueller, well, he just needs to live up to something. Mueller will be doing his best to remain a Shark and not be demoted to Barracuda. Excuse the pun. The sophomore can be commended for his natural ability, but at times the speed of the NHL seemed to overwhelm him. The Sharks are hoping for another year wiser.
The Sharks have been pretty scarce in the minors in terms of defensive talent. Tennyson has been unable to sustain any sort of success at the top club, but his puck-handling ability is far superior to Mueller’s. For an injection of offensive flair, expect Tennyson to see some time with Dillon on the third pair. Other than that, the ranks go a bit quiet. Dylan DeMelo could crack the lineup if injuries require it. His hard shot would create more offense from the back. His game is solid on both ends of the ice, but he lacks the size and strength defensively to clear an NHL forward from his goalie’s crease. The gym should be his best friend this season.
Edit: An earlier version of this article included Timo Meier in error, it has been removed