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Tomas Hertl is skating, taking contact in practice

The Czech forward may be nearing a return

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tomas Hertl last played on Nov. 17 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Sharks’ 17th game of the season. San Jose is set to play its 48th game of the season on Monday and (mercifully) the Czech Republic skater has begun taking contact in practice and is “very close” to returning according to Friend of the Blog Kevin Kurz.

He may return to the Sharks against the Chicago Blackhawks after the All-Star break before San Jose’s NHL-mandated bye week. Let’s guess conservatively and say Hertl doesn’t come back until Feb. 2 at Vancouver. By then we can optimistically say Timo Meier is also back in the lineup, at this point guessing the Sharks have their full litany of forwards at their disposal.

With that in mind, here’s how the Sharks should line up by one blogger’s estimation (it’s my estimation):

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Joonas Donskoi - Logan Couture - Kevin Labanc

Timo Meier - Tomas Hertl - Joel Ward

Mikkel Boedker - Chris Tierney - Melker Karlsson

The Sharks scratch Micheal Haley and waive Tommy Wingels. Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow get sent back to the San Jose Barracuda and the Sharks dress one of the best fourth lines in the NHL.

Tierney’s greatest strength (his playmaking) is best utilized as a center and reuniting the Captain Line makes a lot of sense based on its previous success. Hertl played very well while on the third line as the center and Donskoi-Couture-Labanc made a very nice second unit. The only players who might sweat a little are Boedker and Karlsson, and even then I think their futures are safe.

Sending Haley to the AHL and hanging on to Wingels makes the most sense from a hockey perspective, but considering Wingels’ salary I think it wise to see if a team will claim him so the Sharks can recoup his entire salary. Besides, Haley is getting into the lineup on a regular basis while Wingels isn’t so the choice has already been made.