Hockey is finally back. Players across the league took the ice alongside their teammates for the first time all season today as the on-ice component of training camps officially got underway. At their San Jose practice facility, both groups of Sharks players practiced in succession this morning and when the initial excitement wore off, it became abundantly clear that there's a lot of work to be done in sorting out the bottom half of the team's roster. Particularly due to injuries to Raffi Torres and James Sheppard, there are some tough decisions about bottom-six forwards that are going to have to be made in the weeks ahead. Here's how the line combinations and defense pairings stacked up to begin camp:
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Tye McGinn - Freddie Hamilton - Tommy Wingels
Micheal Haley - Adam Burish - Mike Brown
Barclay Goodrow - Melker Karlsson - Bryan Lerg
Scott Hannan - Brent Burns
Matt Irwin - Jason Demers
Taylor Fedun - Taylor Doherty
Unsurprisingly, the coaching staff is opting to keep the line of Marleau, Couture and Nieto that was easily the team's best in the playoffs against Los Angeles together to start the year. Beyond that trio is where things get interesting for this group. With Torres and Sheppard injured, it looks like offseason acquisition Tye McGinn and one of the team's best prospects in Hamilton will get the first crack at replacing those two on the third line. If the coaching staff is insistent on Pavelski playing wing on the top line (and it seems like they are, as we'll get to in a moment), McGinn and Hamilton are probably their best possible options on the third, unless someone like Goldobin or Tarasov really impresses in camp. It's also encouraging that Burish and Brown are lining up on what looks like the team's fifth or sixth line which is realistically where they belong on the depth chart. Unfortunately, given their contract statuses, I can't see that being the case for long.
Hannan being paired with Burns while Irwin skates with Demers is an interesting wrinkle given that, if Burns has to play on the blueline this year (something I remain skeptical is the best course of action, and it looks like Marleau agrees), skating him with Irwin on something of an offensive specialty pairing would make more sense. They'd be able to feast on attacking zone starts for which they'd line up behind the Thornton line while Hannan and Demers, who had a surprising amount of success together last season, would take the remaining minutes. Perhaps we'll see those configurations somewhere down the line but for now it looks like the coaching staff is content to ice Hannan in top-four minutes. I'm not sure how we got from Hannan being re-signed to be a "mentor" to Hannan playing a pivotal role on the blueline but it's safe to say that won't work out.
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Nikolay Goldobin - Chris Tierney - Tyler Kennedy
John Scott - Andrew Desjardins - Eriah Hayes
Daniil Tarasov - Travis Oleksuk - Ryan Carpenter
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Mirco Mueller - Matt Tennyson
Konrad Abeltshauser - Dylan DeMelo
Any hope that Pavelski would center the third line probably went out the window when the Sharks announced Burns would be returning to defense early in the offseason, but Day 1's line combinations confirm it. Injuries and slumps will certainly prompt changes throughout the lineup once the season gets going but, for now, Pavelski will play on the right side of sophomore sensation Hertl and ex-captain Thornton. It gives the Sharks an awfully top-heavy setup in a league where depth wins championships and hopefully management isn't banking on another 40-goal season from Pavelski or anything close because that's certainly not happening again.
Tierney's line looks ten times better than Desjardins' but, again, contract statuses and a preference for a fourth line that "brings grit and energy" over one that is "good at playing hockey" mean Scott, Desjardins and Hayes (with some combination of Burish, Brown and Kennedy occasionally rotating in for Scott and Hayes) have a much better shot at comprising the fourth line than the likes of Goldobin and Tierney. And granted, playing Goldobin in fourth-line minutes would be a waste of the first year of his (as of yet still unsigned) entry-level deal. Still, that should be a fun line to watch for as long as it remains intact during the preseason.
No real surprises on defense where Vlasic and Braun, probably the team's two best defensemen depending on how Burns fares in his return to the blueline, are paired while top defense prospects Mueller and Tennyson make up the "fourth pairing," with both having a real shot at making the team, although Mueller would have to unseat Irwin or Hannan in order to do so while the organization would probably be comfortable keeping the 24-year-old Tennyson up with the big club as a 7th defenseman.