Let’s start with a basic assumption I’m making in this post: I like the top six as currently constructed. Patrick Marleau looks much more like his old self when up with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski and the Logan Couture, Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi line kicks ass. So if you disagree with those basic ideas, the rest of this is probably a waste of time.
With Tomas Hertl out for an extended time, the bottom six needs retooling. The Sharks started with the following lines in the bottom six for Friday’s game against the New York Islanders:
Mikkel Boedker - Chris Tierney - Matt Nieto
Micheal Haley - Tommy Wingels - Kevin Labanc
No, this is not going to be a 500 word post bagging on Micheal Haley. Relax. Let’s take a good, hard look at these lines and see if they can be improved by adding, subtracting or simple reshuffling. Let’s start at the center position, the spot where San Jose is most hamstrung by losing Hertl and playing Marleau on the top line.
Chris Tierney has performed admirably as the third line center. He deserves to stay there until Hertl comes back and quite frankly there’s no one left to challenge him for the spot. Wingels has been uninspiring as the fourth line center and may be injured. He only played five minutes on Friday. If he stays in the lineup, leaving him as the center is okay, for now.
The wings need to be adjusted. Mikkel Boedker was demoted to the fourth line during the game and I think that should become a more permanent status. Kevin Labanc has played well enough since joining the team that he deserves a shot with better linemates like Tierney and Matt Nieto.
Here’s the deal: Boedker hasn’t been terrible in terms of possession play, really. He also isn’t scoring. He might find his scoring touch again, but the drought has gone on long enough that I feel putting a young player in a position to succeed takes precedence. So move Labanc to the third line and see if Boedker finds himself on the fourth.
As for Long Beach Native Matt Nieto... He should stick on the third line because his strong possession game makes a fine accent to the scoring touch of Labanc and the all-around style of Tierney. Nieto found himself in DeBoer’s dog house this season, for seemingly no reason, but has played well.
That leaves Haley. All things considered, the Sharks can do worse (and have) in the past than Haley as a grinder on the fourth line; but they can also do better. Every spot in the lineup matters — all of them. Every spot you punt on is an opportunity wasted and every time DeBoer ices Haley, the Sharks waste an opportunity to take an edge on their opponent.
He makes the players around him worse. He does not get enough ice time to justify putting him in the lineup. The Sharks have guys who can fight if the need arises (and let’s be honest, it hasn’t). Haley does not serve as a deterrent, and whether guys in the locker room feel “safer” on the ice when he’s in the lineup really shouldn’t matter that much. They don’t get a vote.
Of course, neither do I. But if the Sharks want to take the development of their prospects seriously, they should play them. Nikolay Goldobin is ready to play. Timo Meier is close. Barclay Goodrow can play in the NHL. Rourke Chartier deserves a shot at some point. There are other options and when the Sharks don’t use them, they waste a chance at making themselves a better team.
The Sharks are a very good hockey team, so let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill. But if San Jose wants to make another deep run in the playoffs, every lineup spot has to matter. If the Sharks make those moves now, they’ll be a well-oiled machine come playoff time. The Hertl injury (and Melker Karlsson’s absence) hurts San Jose dearly; but the Sharks can generate a silver lining out of this situation. Now let’s see if they do it.