With training camp two months away, the Sharks’ roster appears to be set. The team has made it abundantly clear that any replacement for Patrick Marleau will have to come internally. The starting lineup and the units, however, are open questions, as is everything ranging from Joel Ward’s starting spot to Timo Meier’s linemates. I’ll do my best here to crack some of these questions.
Here are two different forward lineups for the Sharks centered around Tomas Hertl’s placement. The individual wingers will likely be flipped throughout the season, but in the interests of space and attention span, I’ll just list those as variations of the first theme.
The likely lineup, with a few different winger permutations
Timo Meier-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen-Tomas Hertl-Mikkel Boedker
Joel Ward-Chris Tierney-Melker Karlsson
Timo Meier, as has been mentioned before, was a shot generation machine in his rookie year and actually finished 19th overall in the NHL with a 56.7 Corsi-For% despite being dogged by mono. Though questions remain about his decision-making with the puck and his ability to translate his junior scoring exploits to the big leagues, early returns are promising and players that shoot as frequently as Meier typically turn out to be very good forwards. His spot on the opening-night roster is a near-lock, and pairing him with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski was the intention last year before mononucleosis struck. It’s hard to see that changing now.
Mikkel Boedker is not a good possession player by any stretch of the imagination; his strengths lie more in his scoring ability and the elite-level speed the Sharks so badly lacked against Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, and he was brought in for that. This also means that he needs a player like Hertl to carry him at even strength, however. In 58 minutes of ice-time together, the Hansen-Hertl-Boedker trio had a 5.15 GoalsFor/60 rate (!) and had a 55.7CF%. If kept together, they could end up being San Jose’s version of Pittsburgh’s lethal HBK unit that tormented the Sharks.
This, of course, leaves Kevin Labanc and Joonas Donskoi on Logan Couture’s wing. Questions might be asked about this pairing, but a healthy Donskoi is a solid possession player who has always shown good chemistry with Couture. Kevin Labanc, on the other hand, possesses one of the hardest shots on the Sharks and could fit in very well with Couture and Donskoi; in 75 minutes of ice time last year, the trio scored at a clip of roughly 4 goals/60 minutes. This leaves a 4th line of Ward, Tierney, and Karlsson, with Sorensen as the 13th forward. If everything goes as planned, the forward core would be extremely deep and would give the Sharks 4 solid scoring outlets.
For the sake of space, I won’t list out all the permutations that could happen with this, but suffice to say that Boedker, Hansen, Meier, and Labanc might all swap roles without anyone being surprised. Throughout the season, it’s likely that we’ll see every permutation of those 4 wingers across the 4 different slots they occupy; Hansen or Labanc will occasionally go to the top line and Meier and Boedker might play on the second at times. Ryan Carpenter is another interesting option to fill in for an injured center, as is the quietly excellent Danny O’Regan. For now, however, I expect both of them to stay with the Barracuda, with Marcus Sorensen serving as the
Joel Ward old guy injury replacement.
Hertl to the top line, are we doing this again?
Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen-Chris Tierney-Kevin Labanc/Joel Ward
Mikkel Boedker-Ryan Carpenter-Melker Karlsson
In this version, one of Joel Ward (likely), Mikkel Boedker (possible), or Kevin Labanc (sigh) is going to have to sit out due to the need to insert another center into the lineup. Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski formed the most dominant top-line in the league back in 2016, but if the Sharks view Hertl as a center, it makes sense to play him there, especially as he can carry a line on his own. Still, this could become a tempting option if Joe Thornton isn’t up to his usual standards.
The main problem with this lineup is that everything else is thrown out of balance. As we saw in the 2016 playoffs, Chris Tierney barely treaded water possession-wise as a third-line center. Although he’s certainly improved as a player, the fact remains that Tierney is nowhere near the center Tomas Hertl is, and this option makes the Sharks considerably weaker down the middle, especially considering the untested Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line. This lineup only makes sense if the Sharks need an urgent top-6 scoring boost, but with the top line’s dominance (3.56 GF/60 and a CF% of 56.3), it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a good second option to have if things don’t begin well for the Sharks.
Because screw you, that’s why. #grit
Melker Karlsson-Joe Thornton-Mikkel Boedker
Jannik Hansen-Logan Couture-Tomas Hertl
Joel Ward-Joe Pavelski-Joonas Donskoi
Brandon Bollig-Chris Tierney-Barclay Goodrow
Just kidding. This isn’t even an option. Pavelski hasn’t played 3C in years, and nobody in their right mind would play Brandon Bollig, right?
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Paul Martin - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Dylan DeMelo
Seeing any deviation from this would be a major shock. There’s a certain argument to be made that Tim Heed could supplant DeMelo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this happen a couple seasons down the line (or in the middle of the season if we hit a major funk), but for now, it’s safe to say that the pairings are locked in and the 7th option will likely be Tim Heed. Unless, of course, we find a taker for Paul Martin’s contract.
Starter: Martin Jones
Backup: Aaron Dell
I’m not going to waste your time explaining this.
There’s a lot of pessimism regarding the team’s chances with Marleau leaving, and it’s clear that for any chance at contention, both Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will have to take big steps forward. In the best-case scenario, Joe Thornton stays healthy and the transition for the young players goes as the organization expects. They see three 30-goal scorers in Pavelski, Meier, and Couture, with Hertl and Labanc in the mid-20s and Thornton potting 70 points. Boedker, Braun, and Donskoi rebound after down years, Burns continues his excellent play, and the Sharks seriously contend for the cup. In the worst case, however, Thornton continues to decline, Labanc and Meier struggle with the transition, and the Sharks are stuck in bubble hell.
The expectation, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. But where’s the fun in that?
All statistics courtesy of Puckalytics.com