Today, San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson finally solved an issue that has surrounded his team for the better part of the last two seasons. In two separate transactions with the Carolina Hurricanes, Doug Wilson acquired the oft-traded but talented Ian White for a second round pick in 2012 and sent Derek Joslin to Carolina for future considerations.
Pundits have long considered the Sharks top four defense below average, especially after the retirement of Rob Blake in the offseason. White addresses that need; he's a young, skilled two-way defenseman who will fit nicely into the top four spot that has been vacant for the better part of two years.
White may not have the star power or media allure of Tomas Kaberle, who was traded to Boston earlier this morning after what seemed like years on the trade block. However, White is a solid player with both offensive and defensive acumen, a player who will undoubtedly help the team compete for a playoff spot in the ultra-tight Western Conference race.
Ian White brings a myriad of offensive skill to the table. He has an excellent first pass, has a good and strong shot, and possesses a quick release with his wrist shot. He puts pucks on net, and for a Sharks team that has struggled at times on the back end due to the loss of Rob Blake's slap shot, White provides a good replacement offensively.
As we mentioned on our podcast two weeks ago, he's a player that is able to quarterback a power play, and will likely slide onto the second unit during the Sharks man advantage. White's inclusion onto the roster will allow the power play to not skip a beat without Dan Boyle, and reduces his minutes in this situation-- over the course of a game the effect will be minimal, but with Boyle's minutes so high, every little decrease will help his legs down the stretch. White can come in and play in excess of twenty minutes a night and hold his own, which instantly improves the Sharks depth and makes this acquisition an important one for San Jose.
Furthermore, White has a strong first pass and good skating ability. Doug Wilson has always touted those skills from a defenseman, stating that in the modern NHL a requirement is that players can skate. Although you won't see White going from the end line to opposing team's blueline as much as a player like Dan Boyle would, he instantly becomes the second best puck mover in San Jose and will help fuel the breakout.
Defensively, White is a mixed bag. He's known to commit turnovers in his own end when he attempts to stretch the play up the ice, and isn't a player who fulfills that defensive stopper role such as a Robyn Regehr or Chris Philips. His quality of competition numbers this season are down at the bottom of Carolina's depth chart, but historically, has been relied upon to see some top opposing players: in Toronto and Calgary White was handed the second hardest defensive tasks and performed well. He's definitely not the prototypical defensive defenseman that will play a rough physical game, but is more than capable in his own end and improves San Jose's defensive capabilities.
As far as pairings go, the logical fit for White would be with Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the second pairing. It allows White to showcase his offensive skills to a much greater degree, and gives Vlasic the opportunity to focus on the defensive side of the game that he has become extremely fluent in. It gives San Jose a nice 1-2 punch of adept puck movers in their top four (Boyle, White), pairs them with solid defensive counterparts (Murray, Vlasic), and puts all other defenseman on the third pairing in roles that they will be able to handle.
Because of all these qualifications, it's no surprise that Doug Wilson has been interested in acquiring White for a long time. As the trade deadline loomed, and other teams started making their moves, the Sharks General Manager decided this was the best time to strike. It wasn't a big surprise that the move remained quiet for so long, as Wilson is notorious for keeping his trade negotiations under wraps. Wilson's established working relationship with Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford likely made things easier; the two worked together on a trade for Niclas Wallin at the deadline last year. As was the case with the White deal, the Wallin transaction was also kept mostly off the radar.
The second round pick the team sacrifices in 2012 for White is no huge blow to the future of the franchise. And although you also have to consider Derek Joslin part of the package, losing the young defenseman isn't the end of the world, especially if White is eventually resigned. As a 26 year old, White still has plenty of productive seasons ahead of him. In addition, the emergence of Jason Demers and Justin Braun (and to a lesser extent Matt Irwin and Nick Petrecki) made stomaching a Joslin trade much easier.
White brings a cap hit of approximately $3.0MM with him to San Jose, which requires some roster adjustments. Jason Demers has been sent to the Sharks' ECHL affiliate in Stockton for the time being, but is likely to return to San Jose for the team's game against the slumping Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. This time of year can cause even the simplest roster move to ramp up speculation. However, we can say with confidence that the young defenseman remains a large part of San Jose's future plans. His youth, potential and affordable contract makes him too valuable to move for any type of short term solution.
Instead, these types of roster shifts (Benn Ferriero, Braun and Irwin up, Jason Demers, Nick Petrecki and Tommy Wingels down) are mostly complicated cap moves that shouldn't be parlayed into speculation of possible trades.Really, much of what the Sharks do in the near future hinges on the health of Antero Niittymaki; not only is he an important part of the roster, but his $2.0MM cap hit is substantial. A long term injury to the netminder would have some implications for the team, it's unlikely the Sharks make additional moves without considering this first. Something will happen eventually, as cap space remains tight. Still, don't read too much into any one move.
What's important right now, though, is that the Sharks are a better team on paper than they were this morning. As we mentioned above, if Marc-Edouard Vlasic is healthy enough to play Saturday (his upper body injury isn't expected to be all too serious per Working the Corners), we expect White to be his defensive partner. The combination of Boyle, Murray, Vlasic, White and Demers on the back end is a defense more fitting of a team who fancies themselves a Cup contender.
Although this acquisition is not the end-all be-all guarantee for sucess, the move better prepares the Sharks to compete for the championship which has eluded them in their twenty year history, without sacrificing their future.