For the second year in a row, the Sharks will enter the season without the services of abrasive, useful third-line winger Raffi Torres. Last year, after Torres tore his ACL during a preseason game against the Ducks, Matt Nieto emerged to grab his lineup spot. Nieto had a great rookie season and eventually established himself as a top-six forward down the stretch, a role he currently still holds. With Torres once again sidelined, the Sharks are hoping someone at camp can step up and fill his shoes as effectively as Nieto did. Here's a look at various candidates, starting with those currently inside the organization but including some currently outside, for filling the energetic left winger's roster spot until he returns to health and possibly beyond.
As we mentioned when the Sharks first acquired the brother of former-Shark Jamie McGinn, Tye McGinn is a player who has found limited success in the big leagues, success that has mostly been built during his time playing with two elite players—Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. His time away from those two is less than impressive, though. According to behindthenet.ca, McGinn's most frequent linemates during the 2013-2014 season were Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, two forwards who are no slouches but obviously not quite on par with Giroux and Voracek. Last season, McGinn had a dismal shots/60 number of only 4.89, ranking him 14th out of 15 possible skaters who played at least 100 minutes for the Flyers. Not great.
However, there is promise. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, when McGinn spent the majority of his minutes skating alongside the aforementioned Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux, he put up a sterling 9.44 shots/60 minutes, which ranked him 1st among Flyers forwards who played at least 100 minutes. Should McGinn be the player called upon to fill the hole left in the lineup by Torres' absence (and given the line combinations the coaching staff has deployed so far in camp, this seems likely), it's not unreasonable to think that he could eventually slide up in the lineup and replicate those numbers alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
San Jose's first round selection this past draft, Nikolay Goldobin is easily one of the most exciting prospects the Sharks have had in their system recently. Strictly looking at the numbers, we can see that Goldobin was the 10th OHL player selected in the draft this past year, the 8th forward, but ranked 7th in points which is made even more impressive when you cut out players over the age of 18, putting Goldobin at 3rd in points by U-19 players (behind only Michael Dal Colle and Connor McDavid). Mind you, these numbers change around when they're sorted by points per game, but it's still impressive that a guy who reached almost a hundred points this past season fell to the Sharks at 27th overall.
Scouting reports of Goldobin are all relatively consistent. All praise his high-end hockey IQ and playmaking ability, and most (if not all) question his intensity and his defensive game (huge surprise that those comments would be made about a Russian hockey player, right?), although concerns about his defensive game likely stem from his abysmal plus/minus, and much has been written about the untrustworthiness of plus/minus, so those concerns are likely somewhat exaggerated. Still, if the concerns are to be trusted, it follows that it would likely make sense to place Goldobin in a somewhat sheltered role with players who can finish on the plays that he sets up. This is where using Joe Pavelski as the third-line center would come in handy and, if Goldobin somehow does make the team, having him flank Pavelski on the third line would probably be the ideal setup. However, despite his tantalizing skill, Golodbin probably isn't ready for pro hockey just yet and rushing him would be a bad idea.
Similar to Goldobin, Tarasov is another highly skilled Russian winger whose biggest flaws have been a lack of consistency and dedication to defense. In fact, the only notable differences between the two seem to be their age, their experience at the pro level, and the fact that Goldobin is regarded as more of a playmaker than Tarasov. Given his finishing ability, on display with two goals in the team's second camp scrimmage, and his ability to play either wing, Tarasov could be a candidate not only to replace Torres at third line left wing but to take Pavelski's spot alongside Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton, allowing Pavs to move down. Regardless, a third line featuring Tarasov and Wingels on either side of either James Sheppard (if he's healthy) or someone like Freddie Hamilton or Chris Tierney would produce at least a decent amount of secondary scoring.
With Sheppard currently injured, Freddie Hamilton is more a candidate for the third-line center job than this one. But considering Doug Wilson doesn't expect Sheppard to be out long, it's possible Hamilton could be fighting for the third line left wing spot instead before preseason is over. The only player on this list who actually saw time with the Sharks this past season, Hamilton didn't really find a huge amount of success at the NHL level (though his play for Worcester was pretty good, especially for a team that ran a bad record for most of the year), often bouncing around between lines, never really settling into a role on the team and eventually being surpassed on the depth chart by Eriah Hayes.
Although his Hockey Analysis page doesn't quite mirror this thought, I seem to remember his most successful games coming when he skated on a line with Pavelski and Wingels. Given that Wingels was the only player I feel comfortable with replacing Pavelski on the top line, in my potential lineup for this scenario, the Hamilton-Pavelski-Wingels line isn't quite intact, but the closest thing to it is
A player whose start with the organization was marked with widespread surprise at his early draft selection, Tierney has steadily improved over his two post-draft seasons, going from a player who initially was notable due mainly to his defensive awareness to a player who's notable for a very solid two way game. As most scouts note about Tierney, his defensive game is one of his most notable qualities (as well as his overall high hockey IQ), but I think it's also important to note how his offensive production increased from season to season. A large part of why Tierney's selection at #55 overall in his draft year of 2012 was met with disappointment was his low point total for that year, a year in which he played mostly third line minutes for the London Knights. However, over the course of the last two seasons, his role with the Knights increased, as did his offense, taking him from a player who barely cracked half a point per game his draft year to one of only eleven 40+ goal scorers this past year in the OHL.
As with Hamilton, the spot Tierney is immediately fighting for is third-line center given Sheppard's injury. Given his highly touted hockey IQ, I'm sure he could play wing effectively (especially given that, if he wants to be a Shark, let's be real, he's going to learn how to be a center-turned-winger) and I imagine he could slot alongside Sheppard (or Hamilton) and Wingels and find some success.
Perhaps the most interesting player on this list, Dustin Penner inexplicably remains an unrestricted free agent without a training camp tryout just two weeks before the start of the regular season. Penner's a funny player, and that's not just because of his pancake related injury. During his time with Anaheim and Edmonton, he was a very productive forward, enjoying a career of 126 goals in 405 games (that's a ~25 goal per season pace), but that was temporarily ended when he was traded to Los Angeles.
Much like most other players on the Kings' roster, Penner did not have a ton of success offensively in L.A., watching his goals/82 games rate drop to around an estimated 8 goals per season. Penner seemed to be getting his game back when he was able to play the first part of this past season with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, but that changed during his time in Washington (for a look into possible reasons for that, check out this piece over at Japer's Rink). On the off chance that Penner is signed by San Jose, he could provide some puck possession ability to the third line. If he plays well enough, the Sharks could always flip him at the trade deadline as the Ducks did.
One of the best parts of "The Penner Plan" is that it allows the Sharks to bring a completely new forward into the organization who more likely than not would stick for the whole year, meaning that once Torres returns to health, the team's forward depth will once again be a big strength. I'm not sure this is a likely scenario, since the Sharks appeared committed this summer to giving their young guys first crack at roster spots, but that was before Torres and Sheppard both got injured.
So, looking at other alternatives for bringing in forwards to the organization, we can try to find some teams that maybe have a forward or two to spare. Going through each teams' CapGeek page, taking into account waiver status of certain players, and the usefulness of each teams' odd men out, I found that the Panthers, Islanders, and Devils appear to be the teams to talk to in regards to forward trade talks. So, let's look at some of the possible trade options that exist with those teams, starting with Sean Bergenheim.
As can be seen above, Bergenheim is hardly an offensive dynamo. However, what he is is a forward who, during the advanced stats era (starting in the 2007-2008 season) has always posted a positive Corsi Relative number, and has produced even strength offense at a rate of 1.5 points per sixty minutes (on average, over his past three NHL seasons). What do those things mean? They mean that he's basically a prototypical bottom six player, which is technically all the Sharks need right now, with Torres shelved for the first couple of months of this upcoming season.
However, I think we can all agree that it would be best if the Sharks could get something better than just a really good bottom six player in trade, especially when Dustin Penner is sitting on the market, and would cost no assets to acquire, as opposed to anyone acquired in a trade. All that being said, Bergenheim is a pending UFA on a Florida team that is overflowing with forwards, so I can't imagine the price to acquire him would be too high, and a team can never have too many really good bottom six forwards (especially since the Sharks have *maybe* three really good bottom six forwards right now).
Michael Grabner has been a topic of interest here at Fear the Fin in the past, and it's for good reason. Grabner is a versatile forward (has experience playing both wing positions) who has ranked in the top 6 of the Islanders' even strength points per sixty minutes leaders the past three seasons, is generally regarded as a good penalty killer (check out the "Special Teams" section of that article), and is an insanely fast skater. He's a player who could fit just about anywhere in the Sharks' lineup and make a positive impact on the team (yeesh, can we all just imagine a line of Nieto-Marleau-Grabner for a second?), not only at even strength, but on the PK as well. On top of all that, he's only 26 years old (heck, if Pavelski at 30 years old is considered one of the young guys on the team, then Grabner's practically a baby at 26), and has two years left on a contract paying him $4 million and $5 million over the next two seasons (but with a cap hit of only $3 million).
The cost of acquiring him is where things likely get dicey though. As mentioned before, the Isles have a looooot of forwards, so they're likely looking to jettison one or two, but who knows how much they'd be asking for in a trade centered around Grabner. They're also pretty set in terms of depth on defense (though they lack high-end guys there), so it's not like the Sharks could just trade them a #7 dman, and they have a ridiculously stacked prospect pipeline, so who knows if they want draft picks coming back. Still, speculating as to what the exact price is is somewhat irrelevant. I can't imagine that Garth Snow would ask for too much, and Grabner is basically the perfect solution to the problem the Sharks have at hand here (well, aside from the fact that he isn't also a left handed top four defenseman).
Speaking of the Islanders, former 9th overall pick Josh Bailey is a player who's never quite reached the expectations that were placed before him at his draft position. His best season offensively came last year, as he reached an impressive 30 assists, but only scored 8 goals. Now, if you're like me, your first thought, seeing that stat line went something like "wow, that guy must've had terrible shooting percentage luck." Not so. One of the reasons Bailey's never had fantastic scoring numbers in the NHL is his ridiculous aversion to taking shots on goal. Over his 6 year NHL career, Bailey has averaged 4.79 shots/60 minutes. To put that into perspective, Joe Thornton, over the same span, has put up 4.7 shots/60 minutes. When you're putting up just 0.09 shots/60 minutes more than Joe Thornton, and you're not an elite playmaker, then you're not taking enough shots on net.
Still, it is somewhat interesting imagining what a line of Bailey-Pavelski-Kennedy could do, what with Bailey's playmaking ability, Pavelski's two way play, and Kennedy's tendency to be a high volume shooter. Especially if Bailey could repeat the kind of season he had last year possession-wise, posting a +9.4 CorsiRel while only starting his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone 46.2% of the time. How much of that is due to his playing with stud Frans Nielsen is up for debate, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think he might be able to replicate that with Pavelski as his center, in somewhat sheltered minutes.
Much like with Grabner though, it's again hard to tell what the cost of acquiring Bailey would be, though his contract might make it easier to give up an asset or two for him, depending on how you view him as a player. Bailey's signed for four more years at $3.3 million, which is a pretty good value if he continues to be a solid possession player who can put up 35+ points a season, but is a pretty big overpayment if it turns out he isn't that player. I lean more towards the former scenario as being the most likely so I feel that, especially at only 24 years old, he could definitely be a good add for the Sharks now and could fit into their long-term plans.
With their signings of Marty Havlat and Mike Cammalleri this offseason, ex-Swiss league star Damien Brunner has become somewhat of an expendable player for the New Jersey Devils. Although the 28-year-old pending UFA certainly has some promise (and would likely be a good value buy-low acquisition, at only a $2.5 million cap hit), his scoring numbers seem to indicate that he's suited for more of a sheltered scoring line role at this point in time, which is exactly what the Sharks could use him in, on a third line with Pavelski and Kennedy, perhaps, or with Sheppard and Wingels. Neither line hardly sounds like one that could handle itself possession-wise against anything but tertiary and lower competition though, and given that the only other option with Brunner seems to be putting him on the wing with Thornton, I'm just not sure that Brunner would really make sense with the Sharks. Though it's entirely possible he and Thornton could do well together, I imagine the coaching staff would like to give Jumbo a right winger of higher quality than Brunner, especially with Wingels readily available.
The final name we take a look at is one that interests me quite a bit. Michael Ryder will never be confused for a multi-dimensional player. Unlike some other players on this list, he isn't noted for his amazing two way play, or his immense size, or his crazy speed, but he is noted for his work in the offensive zone. Although some of his more successful seasons have come with the assistance of some pretty healthy shooting percentage numbers, there's no denying the fact that no matter what team he's been with, he's produced offense. And as a player who could likely slot alongside Thornton on the top line with Hertl, I feel pretty optimistic about the numbers he could put up. Be it on the first or third line, I feel Ryder could certainly fill a role on this team, not only at even strength, but on the power play too, as I'm sure the second unit would welcome his contributions. Ryder is a pending UFA this year on a Devils team that has quite a few one dimensional scorers on its roster, so I'd guess that acquiring him couldn't be insanely difficult or costly, and it could entirely possibly end up being a high reward move.
So those are some of the options the Sharks have at hand when the time comes to decide who will replace the injured Torres on the roster for the first couple months of the season. Who do you feel is the best option presented above? Do you prefer bringing in someone new to the organization or do you favor giving the prospects a shot in this "rebuild" era that the Sharks are now in? Should the Sharks simply have a veteran like Tyler Kennedy slot into the third line until Torres returns? Can this all be fixed by just playing John Scott on all four lines? Get involved with the discussion and vote in the poll below.