Tomas Hertl, one of the Sharks best forwards through two games of the Stanley Cup Final, will miss the remainder of the series with a lower-body injury. We don't yet know what the extent of the injury is, but we know that if San Jose is to come back against Pittsburgh, it'll be without No. 48.
The short answer to the question posed in the headline is no, the Sharks absolutely can not. If they could replace Tomas Hertl, well, that player would already be in the lineup in place of someone else.
We can spout all the pseudo-macho nonsense we want about "next man up" and asking other players to "rise to the occasion" but the reality is the Sharks, like most teams in the NHL, don't have that kind of depth. When Logan Couture missed a long spell during the regular season, I wrote about the myth of depth.
I'm not saying depth doesn't exist, but for just about every single team that depth doesn't extend to its star players. Hertl may not be Joe Thornton or Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but he's extremely important to the success of the Sharks and losing him leaves an unfillable void.
But fill it the Sharks must. In games three and four, San Jose put Melker Karlsson on the top line with Thornton and Joe Pavelski while Dainius Zubrus drew into the fourth line. Zubrus played with Spaling and Matt Nieto on that fourth line in both games, but has played on the top line with the Joes at times.
So if the Sharks try something else in terms of forwards they have some options. Zubrus can play on the top line or on the fourth relatively effectively, so if he is not the forward replaced the Sharks have some flexibility. Here's the list of forwards scratches for games three and four:
- Ryan Carpenter
- Barclay Goodrow
- Nikolay Goldobin
- Micheal Haley
- Tomas Hertl
The best options for the Sharks of this group are Goodrow and Goldobin, if for no other reason than they're not Carpenter or Haley. Goodrow would be the most likely to draw into the lineup as Goldobin played in all of nine NHL games this season while Goodrow has 74 games of experience under his belt.
San Jose can call up Timo Meier, too, but the odds of the Sharks calling up a guy who hasn't played a single game in the NHL while down 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final sit pretty close to zero. So, realistically, if the Sharks make a change it should be Goodrow or Goldobin in for Nick Spaling in order to jumpstart the offense.
That won't come close to making up for the loss of Hertl, but the Sharks sit with limited options in the most important series in franchise history.