The Last Chapter
It’s time for the third and final part of the Saving the Sharks series. We have already discussed selecting a coach (which was a bit of bad timing on my part) and taken a look at the talent available in free agency this summer.
For part one, click here.
For part two, click here.
This last article will look at the optimal lineup for the San Jose Sharks. It will feature some moves that many fans have wanted for a long time and others that have not been thought about much at all. Again, this article is not meant predict what will happen, but rather provide an optimistic view of what the Sharks could look like using the people available to them.
For the sake of this installment, I will be using the advice I made in my previous two articles. This means Melker Karlsson, Brendan Dillon, and Matt Irwin are the only pending free agents the organizations elected to re-sign (no more Scott Hannan, John Scott, and Antti Niemi). It also includes acquiring Cody Franson and Michal Neuvirth in free agency and hiring
Dan Bylsma Peter DeBoer as the club’s head coach.
As I mentioned in my last piece, the forward group can be fixed with the players already on the team. Here is, in my opinion, the best 12-man forward group that San Jose can assemble:
Hertl – Thornton – Burns
Marleau – Pavelski – Wingels
Karlsson – Couture – Nieto
Goldobin – Tierney – Smith
Yes, Brent Burns is a forward. I’m not going to spend time discussing this decision because it has already been beaten to death by myself and a number of other commentators. Reuniting one of the most dominant first lines in the NHL is never a bad decision. But remember, this is what the lines could look like, not how I think they will look next season.
These combinations are stacked down the middle; Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture are all viable first line centers while Chris Tierney excelled in a third line role. Rather than being top-heavy and stacking the best faceoff men on the top two lines, the talent is spread throughout the lineup.
This group also allows Nikolay Goldobin to get a permanent roster spot on the squad. While he has not played much with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, some feel that he is ready to play at the highest level. Putting him on the fourth line with a skilled playmaker like Tierney would help his scoring abilities in the NHL without putting him against the opposition’s top players.
Using these lines emphasizes San Jose’s depth at the center position, spreads the scoring throughout all four lines, and frees up a spot on the blue line for a more defensively responsible skater. These forwards could help win a Cup.
By hypothetically acquiring Franson in free agency and moving Burns back to the forward position, the Sharks’ defensive group could be the strongest it has been in a number of years. Using the new acquisition, here is what the lines could be:
Vlasic – Braun
Dillon – Franson
Mueller – Tennyson
Let us take this one pair at a time.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun have earned a reputation for being one of the best shutdown pairings in the league. They are consistently sent out against their opponent’s top lines and do an excellent job at keeping them off of the scoreboard. There is no reason to split up a duo that has been so successful for the team.
Dillon struggled last season after having a revolving door of partners since joining the Sharks. He is still very young and developing into a top-four role, so pairing him with the unreliable Burns or rookie Mirco Mueller did not help him perform at his highest level.
By setting him up with Franson–a stable and possession-dominant defenseman–the young blueliner would be destined for a career defining year.
Also, having Franson on the second pair is a fantastic luxury. On many teams, he would be the number-one defenseman, but San Jose could utilize him as a number-three man.
Finally, there is the young pair of Mueller and Matt Tennyson. Putting these two together is definitely a risk, but both showed glimmers of hope last season.
Tennyson dominated on the second pair with Dillon while Braun was out with an injury and Mueller made a number of intelligent plays that will hopefully foreshadow his future in teal. They may make some mistakes, however getting them playing time will only help them improve. Plus, they will be the bottom pair and likely be faced against a team’s third or fourth line.
Matt Irwin would be on reserve in case a defenseman got injured. Everyone in the lineup has the ability to move up to a higher pair without serious complications, so Irwin could be slotted into either side on the bottom pair while everyone else would be bumped up the depth chart.
This is simple, Neuvirth would earn the starting role while Alex Stalock would be the backup netminder. San Jose has a history of riding their starting goaltender throughout most of the regular season, but allowing the two to split games more evenly–perhaps a 60-22 split–would benefit both players. If Neuvirth can prove his abilities behind a strengthened Sharks defense, he may be able to backstop Team Teal deep into the postseason. He has a bit of playing experience, and that could be enough for San Jose.
Sharks are Saved
The Sharks can be a deadly and competitive team next season if they take advantage of the free agency market. There is a plethora of talent available and they have the cap space to sign some of the best players out there. Doug Wilson and Hasso Plattner just need to be willing to spend the money to acquire them.
While DeBoer was not the head coach that I wanted the Sharks to hire, he was not a bad choice. He is a defensively minded bench boss that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. Maybe he will have a positive impact on the club and bring them farther than any other leader has.
What management will elect to do is a mystery. But one thing is for sure, a solid offseason could propel the Sharks back into Cup contention. They just need to make a few adjustments to the roster before October.
Drew Weber is a columnist for the San Jose Sharks at The Hockey Writers. He previously wrote articles and appeared on podcasts for Teal Town USA (formerly Pucknology) and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.