It happens every year. Fans start thinking how great it’d be to make a trade and get back a lot more than they give up. San Jose Sharks fans are no different. But the Sharks are unusually resilient due to their depth, so trading away players could prove problematic. Depth has been one of the Sharks most underappreciated and important assets this season.
The Sharks Need Depth
The team runs eight players deep on the blue line and 15 deep at the forward spot. They’ve needed all of it. Among the players to miss time with injuries this season are Joonas Donskoi, Paul Martin, Melker Karlsson, Tim Heed, Barclay Goodrow, and Martin Jones. But in their place, mostly seamlessly, have stepped in players like Joakim Ryan, Dylan DeMelo, Aaron Dell, Ryan Carpenter, and Danny O’Regan.
The depth players have been essential. Collectively, they’ve been a net positive, exceeding what is required from players not among the top nine forwards and top four defensemen. Even oft-criticized and underachieving players like Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker are respectable players in the context of depth.
The Sharks Depth Benefits
San Jose has a terrific defensive group and outstanding goaltending. However, with limited scoring, this isn’t a team which can afford to have a weak link. The Sharks bench is not a weak link.
Being one of the league’s older teams, it is important that top players are not overused. This means rolling four lines and three defensive pairs. Competence on the lower lines and bottom defensive pairing enables the top players to stay stronger over the course of a game, with similar benefits over the course of a season.
Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks forwards in ice time this season at 18:24, on track for his lowest figure in a decade. Joe Thornton is below 18 minutes of ice time, on track for his lowest figure since he was a teenager. Even Logan Couture, now the top line center, is trending about a minute below his ice time highs. And this is coming after the departure of Patrick Marleau, a player who averaged over 19 minutes for eight consecutive seasons before last season. Marleau’s missing minutes are not adding to the burden of the top line players. The minutes are being absorbed by the Sharks depth, along with younger players like Chris Tierney, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier.
Every forward the Sharks have used this season has averaged over 11 minutes of ice time per night and all have played at least seven games. The Sharks’ depth is playing and making a difference.
The NHL season is a long one and most teams have to dip deeper into the organization than eight defensemen and 15 forwards. But as long as the Sharks don’t have to dig much beyond this, their depth means this team can compete even in the absence of some starters.
The Sharks have had a few poor games this season and there is a legitimate reason to wonder if they can compete against the league’s best. It is also easy to overreact to these games in the desire to solve problems. If the Sharks are to give up a quality asset, which the team’s depth clearly is, they’ll need a very good return. Quality depth is not something to part with for some modest return.
The Sharks have used depth to moderate the minutes of the top line players and to get through injuries to important players. It’s working. The Sharks roster has its challenges, but depth is not among them. Depth for San Jose is an important advantage.
• In the AHL last season with the San Jose Barracuda, Goodrow and Carpenter played on the same line. They exhibited tremendous chemistry, including a short-handed overtime series winner in the Calder Cup playoffs. This season, Carpenter has played in 14 games for the Sharks and Goodrow seven. At least one has played in 19 of the Sharks 25 games, but they have only played in the same game twice. The second time occurred on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Just 17 minutes into the game, Carpenter assisted on Goodrow’s first goal of the season. The third member of the line, Danny O’Regan, also spent most of last season with the Barracuda. He too had an assist on the score. Each line member was plus-2 on the night, every other Sharks forward finished as a minus player.
• Some called the first three games of the Sharks east coast road trip a revenge tour. Each team had beaten San Jose at the Shark Tank earlier in the season.
The Sharks played the Philadelphia Flyers in the road trip’s first game. Wayne Simmonds dominated the first meeting, posting a hat trick. In the rematch, a 3-1 Sharks win, Simmonds was almost invisible, except for a pair of trips to the penalty box. The Sharks’ first meeting against the Florida Panthers saw goalie Roberto Luongo post his first career shutout against San Jose. In the rematch, the Sharks’ goalie was the star, as Aaron Dell saved 39 of 40 shots in a 2-1 Sharks win.
Alas, there was no revenge in the rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The lone notable difference was when Tampa Bay pulled away. It came during the second period in San Jose and the third period in Tampa.
ZEKE is a native of the DC area where he witnessed the birth of the Capitals franchise. After graduating from Cornell University, which had seen hockey glory before he arrived, he moved west to San Jose. There he witnessed the birth of the Sharks franchise. His wait to witness a Championship from any of these teams finally ended in 2018.