Could Andreas Lilja crack the Sharks lineup with a strong camp?

Maybe. But my question is will it really change things all too much.

Now don't get me wrong here-- there is absolutely nothing that says this training camp tryout is detrimental to the team, the organization, my mental health (and subsequently your mental health), or anyone even remotely involved with breathing oxygen on planet Earth (except maybe Jay Leach-- more on that later).

It's a solid play by Doug Wilson-- invite a veteran blueliner into camp, push the young kids to prove themselves, generate some healthy competition, and see if Lilja fits into the plans for next season. The downside is exactly zero when it comes to tryout contracts, and the fact that he is familiar with Todd McLellan could also be considered a plus.

As of right now the Sharks have seven NHL defenseman under contract-- Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Jason Demers, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, and Jay Leach. That's a full squad of guys who fit into certain niches amongst the blueline, contributing in their own special way to help the team win hockey games.

I've covered this all offseason so I'm only going to briefly summarize my position here. Boyle, Vlasic, and Murray are top four players and will provide stable minutes all season long. After that you get into a situation where you're asking a guy to step into a role (second pairing) that they're fairly unfamiliar with-- Demers, Wallin, Huskins, and Leach are all bottom pairing players as of right now, and the only one I can see developing into a top-four guy down the road is Demers (who is still a season away from being consistent enough in his own end to warrant 20+ a game-- his TOI during the playoffs is a good indicator of that I think).

So can Lilja step into the top four? By the looks of it over the last three years, I'm going to go ahead and say probably not-- if anything, he's a stretch, just like Demers, Wallin, or Huskins would be:


Andreas Lilja vs. Teammates, 2007-2010

Year
Player Team GP Qualcomp GFON/60 GAON/60 +/- ON/60
PTS/60 PK TOI PK GAON/60 PK GAOFF/60
07-08 Lilja
DET
79
-0.009 (4th)
2.17 (6th)
2.32 (7th)
-0.15 (6th)
0.67 (6th)
2:53 (3rd)
5.50 (4th)
4.99 (4th)
08-09 Lilja DET
60
-0.060 (5th)
3.41 (1st)
2.67 (5th)
0.74 (4th)
0.97 (4th)
3:20 (2nd)
6.42 (1st)
9.25 (2nd)
09-10
Lilja DET
20
-0.109 (7th)
1.96 (6th)
2.69 (7th)
-0.73 (6th)
0.49 (7th)
1:51 (5th)
1.66 (1st)
5.56 (5th)

What we have here is a guy who is a solid penalty killer, a good depth guy who would be completely fine in sheltered minutes on the bottom pairing. Essentially he's a Kent Huskins/Niclas Wallin with a Stanley Cup ring...oh. Huskins and Wallin both have Stanley Cup rings? Got it. So basically he's a Huskins/Wallin type player.

Again, no drawbacks to this training camp tryout. It's a good move in principle. But it does very little to address what the Sharks actually need on the backend (top three defenseman)

If Lilja does end up making the roster, I think you see a situation where he ends up making a league minimum salary. Jay Leach is demoted to Worcester to free up that roster slot. If that's the play the Sharks are looking at here it's a solid one-- Lilja will definitely be a better addition to the roster than Leach would be, and his credentials as a stable bottom pairing player only improves your depth in the event of injury. There's no chance San Jose gives him more than a one-year deal, which won't prevent a prospect from making the team next year.

If Lilja is signed however, it does make it more difficult for a guy like Derek Joslin, Mike Moore, Matt Irwin (et cetera) to get a call-up during the year considering the Sharks would be pretty loaded with NHL capable players on the roster. There's always the chance an injury or two hits, and a young guy does get his shot, but with Lilja on board it does make that a less distinct possibility than it was two weeks ago. There was a logjam of bodies then as well, but a guy like Jay Leach probably would have been left in the press box in favor of getting Joslin/Moore some NHL time if one of the starting six had to rehabilitate an injury.

In essence, it's a safe play, and one that really doesn't have any drawbacks. Increase the competition level, assess your roster, and see which historically bottom-pairing defenseman is most suited to take on a role bigger than the one they're used to. It's not the guy San Jose needs, but it's a guy they could use.

Just don't expect Lilja to come in and start slaying top-end competition anytime soon.

 

Go Sharks.

The initial Fanshot breaking this story can be found here.

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