Sharks vs. Panthers: Eastern trip continues in South Florida

Thearon W. Henderson

Sharks travel to Sunrise for the first time in three years to face the Panthers.

The dissolution of the Southeast Division hasn't done much to make the Eastern Conference any more competitive but the Sharks will play their second of three straight road games against former-Southeast clubs tonight as they take on the Panthers in Sunrise. Despite playing in the weaker conference, Florida doesn't have much of a shot at a playoff berth this season, currently sitting eight points back of the final wild card spot. But they can take solace in the fact that they've been a far more competitive team under Peter Horachek, who replaced former head coach Kevin Dineen behind the bench on November 8th. Since then, the Panthers have controlled 52.4% of all unblocked even-strength shot attempts in score-close situations. Considering there are only two Eastern teams who have clicked at a higher percentage than that over the season to date, that bodes well for Florida's future.

Also boding well for Florida's future is their stable of young talent, including top-five picks Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Erik Gudbranson, fellow first-rounders Nick Bjugstad and Dmitry Kulikov and future Panthers like Vincent Trocheck and Quinton Howden. If Dale Tallon can ensure those players remain surrounded with important veterans like Brian Campbell, Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim and Tom Gilbert, they might finally have something down in South Florida. But since I couldn't care much less about the Panthers' success, I think the Sharks ought to take aim at one of those veterans: a familiar (and loathed, in some circles) one to Sharks fans in Brian Campbell.

We briefly discussed Dan Boyle's recent struggles in the scoring chance recap of Tuesday's game. He's been dreadful lately and while I think a lot of it can be chalked up to the effect of frequently playing behind an injury-decimated bottom six, the Sharks could use some insurance in case Boyle isn't able to rediscover his game this season. Enter Campbell, who remains one of the league's best puck-moving defensemen. A study on zone exits that compiled data from the past two seasons found him to be the fourth-best defenseman in the NHL at successfully breaking out of the defensive zone. The possession numbers bear out that he's still a terrific two-way blueliner and would be a massive upgrade over the likes of Brad Stuart and Matt Irwin who have occupied that #4 slot for much of this season.

I'm awful at this whole trade proposal thing so I can't really speculate on what the Panthers would want in return or if they're even trying to move Campbell in the first place. Dale Tallon doesn't exactly have a reputation as a particularly skilled trader, having let useful pieces in Michael Frolik, David Booth and Kris Versteeg go for next-to-nothing over the past few seasons. But the Sharks don't have any of Tallon's former draft picks to trade him and an even bigger impediment is Campbell's $7.14 million cap hit and San Jose's lack of cap space. Even if Tallon agreed to take on Brad Stuart's contract, the Panthers would need to eat close to half of Campbell's hit to make the transaction work under the cap. What would Florida need to make that worth their while? A first and a top prospect? It's unclear, but what is clear is that the Sharks could have used a top-four defenseman in Campbell's vein (a skilled puck-mover who can play the left side) even when Boyle was playing well earlier in the year. Now that his play has tailed off, it's an even more pressing need.

San Jose Sharks

@

Florida Panthers
29-12-6, 64 points
18-21-7, 43 points
2nd in Pacific
7th in Atlantic

4:30PM PST | BB&T Center | Sunrise, Florida
TV: CSNCA-HD | Radio: SJSharks.com, 98.5 KFOX
Know Your Enemy: Litter Box Cats

Projected Sharks Lineup

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Matt Nieto - Patrick Marleau - Tommy Wingels
Bracken Kearns - Andrew Desjardins - Tyler Kennedy
James Sheppard - John McCarthy - Eriah Hayes

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle

Alex Stalock
Antti Niemi

Projected Panthers Lineup

Sean Bergenheim - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Tomas Fleischmann - Nick Bjugstad - Scottie Upshall
Jonathan Huberdeau - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Krys Barch - Drew Shore - Jimmy Hayes

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Tim Thomas
Scott Clemmensen

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