Sharks Management Must Make up Their Minds

Swimming in Circles

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Over their last seven games the Sharks have beaten the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Vancouver Canucks, and lost to the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames. This is a trend that has been a part of San Jose all season long. They play up to the level of top caliber teams and down to the level of lesser teams. Not to mention a general inconsistency to regularly beat the division leading Ducks but struggle with teams right behind them like Vancouver and Calgary.

Being in the bottom third of the NHL in even strength scoring, nobody in their right minds would bet on the Sharks making any significant noise come the postseason. The one player that turned their five on five scoring from putrid to phenomenal during the 2013 lockout shortened season by moving from defense to forward is once again firmly entrenched on the blue-line. That of course being Brent Burns, who, in all fairness can certainly be a quality top pair puck mover and in time should clean up his defensive zone deficiencies to the point where he is a positive even strength player again. However, for the time being the Sharks never replaced his offensive production up front, and that, along with Patrick Marleau’s terrible luck this year have drastically hurt the offense. Defensively Justin Braun has struggled, Jason Demers, who was great a year ago, was traded back in November, and so the blue-line at best is as good as a year ago. Between the pipes Antti Niemi has not had the bounce back season many expected being in a contract year.

Currently Sharks management, led by GM Doug Wilson, have been steadfast in saying the team will not trade future (picks nor prospects) for immediate veteran help. If that is indeed the plan, than their current lineup usage makes little sense. At the forward position the Sharks continue to roll out John Scott, who scored just his fourth goal of his entire career against Calgary on Wednesday. This in spite of the fact Scott’s fourth line in the previous game against Edmonton was hemmed in their zone every shift for two periods before being benched for the entire third period. With Scott in the lineup, the Sharks have gotten AHL call up Daniil Tarasov into just one NHL game. Tarasov had been scratched in three straight games before playing against Vancouver. Furthermore, veteran defenseman Scott Hannan continues to play and while he hasn’t been as terrible as some would suggest, his minutes would be more useful to get a read on younger players. And finally since this team clearly isn’t going to win the Stanley Cup this year as currently constructed, why not see what backup goaltender Alex Stalock can do playing 20 out of 25 games? Currently behind Niemi, Stalock is only getting in on the rare occasion, primarily on back-to-backs. If the Sharks have decided he isn’t the future answer in goal, than why not see what Worcester goaltender Troy Grosenick can do at the NHL level?

Commit One Way or Another

Melker Karlsson San Jose Sharks
Melker Karlsson  (Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sharks have gone to a more youthful lineup this season but they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. And that is getting them nowhere. They aren’t maximizing ice time to see what they have in all their young players and they don’t have enough quality established players to get the job done. Case in point, Melker Karlsson was called up a few weeks ago and found his way into a full time role on the top line. Nobody, not even the Sharks management could have forecast such an immediate impact. Had they expected the 24-year-old rookie Swede to be this good, he would have been up much sooner. Sometimes, certain young players just need a chance at the NHL level to prove they belong. It wasn’t as if Karlsson was lighting up the AHL but for whatever reason he has been a fit for this Sharks team. Perhaps other guys from AHL Worcester, like the aforementioned Tarasov, would also be a fit. However these types of young players simply aren’t getting that opportunity.

In the 2014 playoffs San Jose lacked a clear identity. They kept flip flopping Joe Pavelski around the lineup and started Alex Stalock cold going into Game 6. This season they still don’t have an identity. Are they going young or are they trying to win right now? Trying to do both does not make this team better in the present nor does it maximize future growth. The trade deadline is just a few weeks away and if the Sharks simply stand pat, that will be a colossal mistake. If they aren’t going to give up future for needed immediate help like a Cody Franson type, then they ought to move on from veterans like Niemi, Hannan, and others and see what their young players in the organization have to offer. If those young players struggle and the Sharks miss the playoffs, then Team Teal will have a higher draft position. If they play well enough so that San Jose still makes the postseason, they will gain valuable experience going into next season. However, making the playoffs in the current fashion and losing in the first or second round would be a travesty. Not getting young players experience and missing out getting a higher draft position would be a waste.

15 thoughts on “Sharks Management Must Make up Their Minds”

  1. If the season ended today: the sharks would play Calgary or Vancouver in round 1 (games in hand). How can the Sharks not go for it this year knowing if they can beat either of those 2 teams would get to play Anaheim in next round (4-0-1). I find it very hard to believe players like Niemi will be traded because the playoff picture format could favor the a Sharks a tad bit. And who knows maybe a Minnesota or LA or someone in that group upsets Anaheim in the first round making the road a tad bit easier.

  2. Andrew, explain again how Marleau having a terrible year is bad luck? Really bad luck? Injured no, playing with bad players on his line, shots hitting the goalposts nope. As for the inconsistent play, name a single year in the last 4 where we have not seen this the entire season. Last year it was always one bad period, the year before the same thing. Inconsistency in case you haven’t noticed is not new to the Sharks. A team that plays 3 great playoff games, then 2 lousy ones followed by 2 okay ones is inconsistent. So then you have to say why?

    What’s been the reason the last 4 or 5 years this happens? Players? Coaches? Etc.., and no it’s not bad luck the team plays inconsistent in the playoffs. The one consistent to me is lack of leadership. Starting from the absentee owner, to a GM who changes philosophies every off season, to a coach who changes lines more the. He changes socks to players who sometimes play hard and sometimes don’t. Is it Mr. inconsistent Patrick Marleau who before this year his worst ever. Would score 7 or 8 goals over 10 games, then go scoreless for 10 games.

  3. fwiw, I don’t think the Sharks need to decide anything this minute. Yes, time is getting close. But injuries and player growth all have a role to play. Hertl, Wingels, Braun, Raffi, Karlsson are all guys whose status isn’t all that clear. Karlsson has been really good, will it last? Hertl hasn’t come all the way back, but he’s looking better, will he continue to improve? Will the injured return and come back fully rested and crisp?

    Other teams have similar issues. Does Winnipeg move the injured Kane, for example? The time to talk is now, the time to make a deal is still a few weeks out. Unless there is an offer DW can’t refuse.

    • Fair, if you wait too long though, sometimes other teams find trade partners elsewhere. Example, Niemi would have been a better fit in Minnesota earlier in the season, although maybe since they are getting hot again, that is a destination possiblity once more

  4. I regularly attend Sharks game and the level on inconsistency is maddening. I’ve attended games where the expectation walking in was going to be a loss (against Chicago) and they played a well rounded 60 minute game and then I endured the Edmonton game and was wondering if I was really watching the same team.

    At this point, you’re right, they’ve got to choose a direction…but how can they be expected to rely on youth when their prospect depth could be rated at a C+ at best. I’m not advocating a rebuild (they’ve got a great young core to avoid and EDM or Buffalo tear down and rebuild) but something needs to give because at this point, they’ll probably make the 2nd round at best and be knocked out.

    But what is out there? Is there a goalie out there that is really an upgrade over Niemi? There are some defensemen out there but are they really an upgrade over what they’ve got or even willing to give up?

  5. Hannan has not only been unterrible but he has been very good for most of the season so far. True he has reached the point of exhaustion and is starting to get beat more often but I’m sure they never planned to use him every game and it has been a mistake to do so. But I’m sure he has been a big factor in the improvement of the junior guys this year, including Irwin who is much improved over the season and hasn’t even played all that much. Now as to Burns, he doesn’t have the skating skills or the smarts ever to be very good defensively. It will always be a question of how best to protect him while giving him enough minues to contribute his offensive magic.

    • There are clear deficiencies on this team from the end of last season and they still haven’t been fixed. Re-signing Brown and signing Scott in the offseason but not addressing the defense depth or the hole left by Burns up front, the last 9 months Wilson has been more like a bottom 5 GM than a top 5 GM. He’s built a great core but year after year fails to finish the job with a well rounded out roster.

  6. A few things worry me, a few encourage me. Being in the bottom 3rd in 5 on 5 scoring is bad because power plays in the playoffs are greatly reduced. The fact that they are something like +5 overall goal differential is also worrisome. Their reliance on Niemi to keep games close or even steal games because the defense is porous is bad too. On the plus side they are getting pretty good production out of the defense and 3rd and 4th lines and a lot of the young guys are really stepping it up. I still think they are one solid defenseman away from being a real contender, and their focus seems to wane at times, they are poised for another postseason appearance and you know what they say, just get in and anything can happen.

    • Just get in and anything can happen? Sure, i hesitate to use that in conjunction with this SJ team, LA was mediocre both regular seasons they won the cup but got huge impact players at the deadline each time, carter, richards in 2012 and gaborik in 2014. 3rd and 4th lines arent good enough to compete with other teams when Pavelski isnt at 3C.

  7. Sharks played 6 rookies last night, and won going away. OK, Vancouver seemed to sleep walk (sleep skate?) thru the game and that won’t happen very often. Still, I think, with the exceptions of Burns who really should be at F and playing Marleau minutes like he’s 28 instead of 35, Sharks mgmt is doing what is needs to do. Figuring out which guys are ready for the NHL and which guys aren’t. Unfortunately, they are finding that most guys who are NHL ready are just barely there. Goodrow, Tierney, Mueller, etc are marginal roster players. Sharks really needed a few guys who are legit top 6-9 types (or top 4 d-man) and only Karlsson fits that bill.

    If we see enough growth from guys like Mueller, Tennyson and Karlsson, plus the return of Wingels and Braun, then DW has reason to be a buyer. But we’ve got a huge hole where Marleau used to be and unless lines 2 and 3 get competitive again, its probable that DW is a seller.

    The whole thing is distorted by one player — Joe Thornton. Jumbo has refused to let father time take away from his game and he remains the team’s best player. When his game finally does go away, this team will suffer a bunch. The question, is DW going to squander Jumbo while he is still playing at a high level? Because that meter is ticking and when he stops being really good, this team won’t have a chance at being a Cup competitor.

    • the young guys you mention are all better than their veteran counter parts. Plus, we know what Niemi can do, hes above average. Since they havent re-signed him, seems to make most sense to me to trade him and see what either the young guys can do between the pipes so if they arent the answer, they can find some other goalie in the offseason.

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