A grinding schedule the past few weeks have left the San Jose Sharks in prime position to capture the Pacific Division. The Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, however, will likely have a say as all three teams have yet to separate themselves. San Jose’s schedule may appear favorable but are not out of the woods. The grind will continue as the Sharks still have eight back-to-back games on tap.
Calvary is on the way for the Sharks as Tomas Hertl is nearing a return to the lineup. Previously, Hertl was skating on his own without gear to test out his knee. Now, Hertl is taking contact during practice as he continues to make strides in getting back. His return will be under the eye of coaches as I have written about Hertl not being able to hit his potential with the Sharks. With injuries hurting his young career, health will certainly be a factor moving forward with his status.
Hertl can make an impact once he finds his legs after a few games. Last season, Logan Couture missed a significant amount of time due to an injury. He returned as the trade deadline ended and his performance certainly felt as if he was acquired. Couture became a critical factor during San Jose’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Like Couture, Hertl was also injured last season and came back near the end of the Sharks’ season. He was perhaps the Sharks’ best skater during the final, but an injury early in the series against the Penguins ended his season. Hertl could well have been the difference to propel San Jose over Pittsburgh.
Waivers Likely to Happen
When Hertl returns to the lineup, Peter DeBoer will have decisions to make with the current lineup. The Sharks certainly could use more offense as the team sits 18th with 2.6 goals per game. General manager Doug Wilson will have decisions to make as the Sharks are up against the salary cap. An obvious choice would be to send a player to the Barracuda, but the impact all current rookies are making has paid dividends so far.
Timo Meier would be the likely candidate to the Barracuda. Despite scoring only two goals since his debut, Meier continues to do what Sharks’ coaches ask. He puts shots on net and is constantly looking to get to the net for scoring chances. Despite a small sample size, Meier has shown he belongs in the NHL and will only get better in the coming seasons.
The most likely option will be a current veteran getting placed on waivers. Matt Nieto was first to undergo waivers by the Sharks and was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche. He certainly looked to get the best of his former team with a quality scoring chance on Saturday night. However, Martin Jones robbed Nieto of giving his new club the lead in the Avalanche’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks. He will have another chance against the Sharks on Monday night at home.
Tommy Wingels may be next to fall victim to waivers. Despite improvement the last few games, Wingels no longer fits into DeBoer’s system. Like Nieto, Wingels could benefit from a change of scenery. He certainly is a tough, physical forward which any NHL team would want. With the Sharks, however, the budding talent in the Barracuda ready to make an impact are pushing veterans out the door. Should Wingels get placed on waivers, an NHL team will pick him up.
Wilson Should Stand Pat at Trade Deadline
Calls for a backup goalie and recent rumors of the Sharks’ interest in the Arizona Coyotes’ Martin Hanzal are only noise. The current Sharks’ roster has all the makings for another trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Wilson should know by now not to gamble the future by keeping talent in San Jose.
Aaron Dell all but proved he could handle backup duties after standing tall in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning — an Eastern Conference team capable of making another deep run in the playoffs despite their struggles this season. His team was coming off a big win over division rival, the Los Angeles Kings, and were struggling to find their legs. Dell was up to the task when called upon and secured two points for the Sharks.
What Wilson decides to do is his decision alone to make. He should let the current roster remain intact. Veteran presence is abundant on the current Sharks’ roster with the right mix of young players. For now, Wilson is better off not answering the phone.