With their playoff chances growing faint, the Sharks' trade earlier today of James Sheppard to the New York Rangers for a 2016 4th round pick marked the beginning of what should be an interesting 18-hour fire sale period for San Jose prior to tomorrow's noon Pacific trade deadline. It's pretty safe to say Sheppard won't be the only Sharks player who will have moved out of the Bay Area by the time the puck drops for a game between the Sharks and Canadiens tomorrow night.
Tyler Kennedy, John Scott, Scott Hannan, Matt Irwin and Antti Niemi are impending unrestricted free agents too and while it's unlikely a trade market exists for Scott, Irwin and Niemi, Kennedy and Hannan should draw some interest. But what's additionally notable about the Sheppard trade is the spot it opens up at third-line center in the Sharks' lineup. According to Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area, there's a sense that part of the reason this deal was done was to afford Tomas Hertl a longer look at the center-ice position.
From what I’ve heard, part of the reason this Sheppard trade was done was to get Tomas Hertl more time at center #SJSharks— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzCSN) March 2, 2015
Of course, nothing prevented Todd McLellan from icing Hertl at center before; Sheppard is much more effective on the wing anyway. Regardless, Hertl getting an extended look at his natural position is as close to exciting news as it gets in what's shaping up to be a lost season for the Sharks in many ways. In four full games at center earlier this season, Hertl scored two even-strength points while the team carried a dominant 61.5% of even-strength shot attempts when he was on the ice. To some extent those sterling possession numbers were a result of playing with Tyler Kennedy, and it's unclear who will even be left on the roster for Hertl to center after tomorrow, but those were encouraging signs nonetheless and it'll be interesting to see if a forward whose development has stagnated at times this season can make a bigger impact in the middle.