Todd McLellan is in trouble after the All-Star.....wait, what's that you say? A photoshop to get things started? Sa-weeeeet.
My favorite photoshop of all time- well, until Mymclife one-upped me
Anyways, time to make the jump again people. Much like yesterday, I'm not catering to your time-efficiency needs any longer*.
* Truth be told I'm just in bad mood cause the Sharks don't have a game until Tuesday. Damn All Star Gimmick- why do you mock me so?
The San Jose Sharks are loaded with talent.
The only problem is, where do you fit all this talent? For the sake of discussion, let's take a look at some of the players who have made their way in and out of San Jose this season.
Derek Joslin: Probably the most unmemorable of the four (which was a good thing), Joslin played well enough with the big club for me to be content with him sticking around. That being said, it's just not going to happen. He was sent down yesterday, and it seems as if his time in San Jose will most likely be done for the remainder of this year (barring an injury to one of our seven defensemen). Semenov has gotten the green light for the duration of this bad boy- God save us all*.
* Honestly though, Semmy has looked respectable lately. Big ups to the big man.
I liked what Derek brought to the table- he was physical in the corners, made smart and conservative passes on the breakout, was rarely out of position, and could skate decently well- a solid player for our bottom pairings in years to come, with the potential to get top-four minutes on a fairly deep blueline.
Brad Staubitz: I'm fairly enamored with Staubitz's play- he has good hands for a fourth liner, can fight, lays on the body during the forecheck, and brings an energy to the team. Also, his Corsi numbers are very good for playing a checking line role.
I would bet Staubitz sticks around next year full-time, and we groom him to replace Jody Shelley once his contract is up.
Jamie McGinn: Another solid player, I liked the energy he brought to the table (much like Staubitz). McGinn looked hungry every game he was up in San Jose, and generated some decent scoring chances playing primarily on the lower lines. I think Worcester will help him work on his skating (don't you get the feeling that guy has the potential to fly?), and improve his shot. Wrist-curls baby, wrist-curls.
Lukas Kaspar: Probably my least favorite player out of the group, the former first round draft pick looked lost during his brief stints in San Jose. For the sake of time, I'll quote myself from a previous article:
Lukas Kaspar looked winded towards the end of his shifts, and I'm not sure he's ready for big-time minutes on the top line with Thornton and Gooch. There was a couple times when he would just get outworked for a puck, and as a result, the first line was effectively ineffective in the third period.
Also, he was loathe to drive to the front of the net (think Milan Michalek in season's past). That's a staple in McLellan's offensive philosophy. In fact, it's a damn near staple in every offensive offense across the NHL.
I wouldn't be surprised if he was dealt at the upcoming draft for a pick(s); a former first-rounder has to be enticing for some clubs looking to get some young talent in their system, and the Sharks need to restock the cupboard.
With a half-assed recap of some notables out of the way, let me say this:
Claude Lemieux looks like he will be here to stay. And I'm really warming up to it.
I've poo-pood the idea all season long. Yesterday I even brought up the fact that he hasn't played multiple games in a row- how will his legs hold up? Can he keep up with the pace of an NHL season?
In retrospect, I'm an idiot.
The guy has played hockey all his life, and as JonHaven pointed out rather eloquently, he's doing it for the love of the game, and in excellent shape to boot. Dustin's look at Mats Sundin the other night also put got me thinking- Mats didn't "earn" his spot based off his recent play. He was handed it because of his past accolades. Claude worked his ass off to get here.
Granted, you have two completely separate situations. Mats played last season- Claude hasn't been in the NHL for five years. But consider the fact he went to China with not an ounce of complaint. Consider the fact he played "amongst kids half his age, traveling to play 3 games in 4 nights of minor league hockey" and didn't raise a stink.
The guy has been a class act through this whole situation. He is hungry, hell, starving to get on the ice and contribute on a team loaded with talent.
That's the kind of player we need in the locker room. The years past have shown us that the Sharks tend to crumble when adversity strikes (Detroit game six 2007 being a perfect example).
Claude Lemieux was, is, and will continue to be a competitor. Sure he's been labeled "The Most Hated Man In Hockey". But don't you think it's time the Sharks had one of those instigators around? On a team filled with nice guys (Marleau, Thornton, Boyle, Pavelski, the list goes on and on) isn't it time to throw a little grit out there? Make teams think twice before slashing Joe Thornton night in, night out? Have someone who is going to stir the pot, get that checking line rolling, even generating scoring chances like they did against Vancouver when Lemieux made a nice touch pass to set up Jody Shelley?
I think a perfect example of what he brings to the team, besides the absolute playoff clutchistry (if that's not a word it really should be) happened two nights ago. I don't remember what period it was in, but I do remember the moment.
There was a replay of Lemieux skating through the neutral zone to chase a dump in. At the beginning of the frame, he ever so slightly jabs the 'Nuck with his stick in the stomach. It wasn't malicious, it will never be called, and it wasn't hard enough to cause anything close to injury.
But it was filled with intent. It said, "I'm going to get in your kitchen and remove you from playing your game, then take advantage of it."
That's the kind of player the Sharks have lacked in May.
So with the Sharks roster almost set, what happens in mid to late February when everyone will theoretically be healthy? Some tough calls for D-Dubs and Sweeney Todd in the future.....
There's an influx of players coming back- Luko, JR, and Mitchell are the big names, while Cavanagh and the rest of the aforementioned Worcester gang are possibilities (although very unlikely ones).
Personally, the All-Star Break is my signal to start thinking about playoff seeding and setting the roster for yet another Cup run.
Damn that sounds good.
Current Defensemen: Rob Blake, Dan Boyle, Christian Ehrhoff, Douglas Murray, Alexei Semenov, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Returning From Injury: Brad Lukowich
Possibles: Derek Joslin
What gives?: It's just about a sure thing that our current defensemen (Lukowich included) are the ones we stick with in the playoffs. We'll see how Luko performs after surgery, but it's highly unlikely we bring Joslin up (they are very similar players) in replacement- in fact, I don't know why I even addressed that possibility. It's about as likely as me bedding Adriana Lima this weekend.
Alexei Semenov is going to be our seventh D-man going forward, a fact that has been made slightly more desirable considering his play lately ("I'm going to shoot the puck into the rafters against Vancouver on a dump in to shake things up a bit" notwithstanding). I doubt DW sends him through waivers and allows another team to claim him in order to make room for Joslin- they seem to believe in his potential more than anyone else in San Jose does. Nothing like a warm cup of faith to start your day.
Basically, what you see is what you get with the blueline. However, that's not the case with the forwards.
Current Forwards (top 2 lines omitted): Jonathan Cheechoo, Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Claude Lemieux, Tomas Plihal, Jody Shelley
Returning From Injury: Torrey Mitchell, Jeremy Roenick
Possibles: Lukas Kaspar, Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz
What gives?: The good news is that Mitchell and Roenick can return from injury and find a place on the roster, barring any unforseen salary cap difficulties I may have missed when looking at Cap Central (although they do still have Lukas Kaspar on the squad). The bad news? Well, one of them might not be slated in right away.
In fact Torrey (and I hate to break the Mitchell fans hearts- hell I'm one of em'), may have some trouble finding consistent playing time, especially with his most recent setback.
Let me explain- our penalty kill currently sits at fifth in the league, and has done an excellent job all season long. It would be nice to give Patty some rest seeing as he's logging about 2:23 minutes shorthanded a game, but he's been extremely effective and on a mission to prove his merit since day one of the season. Keep in mind Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg log significant time for the Wings on the PK (a worthy duo to wage a comparison if I ever saw one).
I think it's fair to say that Mitchell's biggest asset to the team isn't a pressing need. Not saying he wouldn't help- he and Grier did a fine job last year. But the question we need to ask ourselves is not would he be an asset (he would), but is he the best asset we can put into place with the current makeup of our potential playoff roster?
With the exception of the hit on Kurtis Foster last season, he wasn't known for bringing the heat physically. In fact (if you are willing to look back), I remember him playing much more tentatively following that unfortunate incident. He wasn't the same player. Add this to the fact that he hasn't played a single game in San Jose this year, hasn't been skating in the system (though he has had the opportunity to watch and observe), and isn't an obvious fit for a checking line role.....well, let's just say it will be an uphill battle for him to grab serious playing time.
Lemieux has (temporarily at least) thrown my previous line combinations into a tailspin.
All this being said, I do believe Mitchell will provide spot duty. He will be on the roster, and will get a shot to play when other forwards need a night off. Every team needs a role player, and Mitchell can do just that for us. Hell, who knows- he may light it up when he gets here and earn his spot back. That's the key though. He's going to have to earn it. No one is keeping his spot warm for him to get back, and the starting twelve is looking mighty deep these days.
Roenick is a different situation- I see him sliding into a fourth line role and producing right away. He's played the system, and carried out his checking line duties admirably before the shoulder injury. JR chips in when it counts the most (second in the league behind Ovechkin last season with 10 GWG's, one of the leaders on that BTP system I should really update, seventh game heroics against Calgary etc). With Roenick in, Plihal comes out and the third line rolls Cheechoo, Goc, and Grier. That's one helluva third line. Sniper, playmaker, grinder. Shit, it's just like NHL 09.
The fourth line though, is truly where you see how dangerous the Sharks can be in the playoffs. More depth than Jenna Jameson's.......er, yeah. They've got a lot of depth.
Jeremy Roenick centering Claude Lemieux and Jody Shelley. Nasty. That line can grind in the corners, manhandle people on the forecheck, and score some timely goals (with the exception of Shelley, who will probably just try and punch the puck into the net). Honestly, a fourth line doesn't need point production- it's hard not to be content with them eating up minutes, wearing down the other team and keeping pucks out of our defensive zone. But the potential to score is there, and if that line is able to chip in a goal every couple games, it will go a long way to making the Sharks downright scary.
As for the call-ups, it's unlikely we see any of them the rest of this year (barring injury). Mitchell and Roenick fill out our roster at 23, and we let loose on the NHL with a fully stocked cupboard. If someone on the fourth line needs a night off you drop Grier down to line four and throw Mitchell on a wing up with the third line. If someone on the third line needs a night off you do the same thing (sans dropping Grier).
If nothing else, this article gives us an opportunity to kick around something Sharks-related during the All-Star Weekend.
The great thing about this team is that it's extremely versatile, something that's going to pay off dividends down the stretch run. So let's kick the tires and light the fires big daddy, because I can smell February. And that means March is right around the corner, which means April is just around the block.
Okay. I guess we're not that close. But we are closer than we were when you started reading this. Take that to the bank.