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Sharks reportedly looking to add forward depth

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Doug Wilson may pass on the top-line players available, but some second-liners are on his radar.

Feb 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds (17) during the second period against the Edmonton Oilers at Wells Fargo Center.  Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is just around the corner and since acquiring Erik Karlsson just before the start of the season, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has been pretty quiet.

But with the Sharks heating up and not only potentially making a run for the Pacific Division title, but a deep postseason run through a weak Western Conference, Wilson is reportedly looking into adding a depth forward to put them in the best possible position.

The addition of Karlsson and Evander Kane over the last year puts the Sharks in a tight spot with the salary cap, and that may make the top-line talent that’s available too expensive, both in salary and in the players going the other way. But according to Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, there are several second-line forwards who may fit the bill of what Wilson is seeking.

Zuccarello and Wayne Simmonds may have to wait until the Duchene/Stone/Panarin situations settle. A mix of similar teams looking at both: Boston, Calgary, San Jose, maybe Pittsburgh and Vegas. New Jersey GM Ray Shero was aggressive with Brian Boyle, and it sounds like he’s done the same with Marcus Johansson. I’ve heard Columbus, Edmonton, San Jose and Vancouver as teams who have checked in. Possibly Washington, too, since they know him. The Canucks are the odd fit, but they looked at Andre Burakovsky, too. So maybe they are thinking about something for the future or are trying to replace the injured Sven Baertschi.

The 31-year-old Mats Zuccarello is in the final season of his $4.5 million contract, so the New York Rangers are likely looking to move him while they can still get value in return. The alternate captain has tallied 11 goals and 26 assists so far this season and his 37 points are fourth overall on a struggling Rangers squad. Even more impressive is that his .84 points per game pace is a career high.

If the Sharks are waiting out the bonafide top line players that will be available in Matt Duchene, Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin, then Zuccarello is the best player available to give the Sharks an embarrassment of riches in their lineup.

Viz by Sean Tierney, data from Corsica
Zuccarello is still scoring at a top-line rate this season.
HockeyViz

Another rental option has been rumored to be on the Sharks’ radar before: Wayne Simmonds is in the final year of his $3.97 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Though he has fewer points than Zuccarello (27 points), he has five more goals than the Rangers forward, with 16. Of course, it should be noted that Simmonds has a reputation for being a power play specialist and five of his goals have come on the man-advantage.

The easy comparison is to Mikkel Boedker, another power play specialist who struggled to fit in the Sharks’ system. But perhaps with the high-event strategy that the Sharks have taken on this season, Simmonds could provide some use.

Viz by Sean Tierney, data from Corsica
Simmonds is trending downward, but could still be of benefit in a bottom-six role.
HockeyViz

The difficulty in understanding this move would be in acquiring a special teams player when special teams aren’t much of an issue that the Sharks are facing right now. Their power play is 24.3 percent effective, ranking sixth in the league. Their penalty kill is at 81.8 percent, eighth in the league. Simmonds might only marginally improve the third line, but adding him to special teams play could backfire, attempting to fix an issue that doesn’t exist.

Finally, the Sharks checked in on New Jersey’s Marcus Johansson, who may be least effective addition of these three players. The 28-year-old produces pretty consistently at a second-line rate, but nine (two goals, seven assists) of his 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) this year have come on the power play. He does little to drive production at 5-on-5 and would be a clear step down from either Simmonds or Zuccarello.

Viz by Sean Tierney, data from Corsica
Good news: he’s consistent!
HockeyViz

Since the Sharks are looking to fill the same role they’ve rotated players in for the last three seasons, Friedman offers one other option the Sharks might visit — or revisit, as it were.

With Minnesota in sell mode, would it surprise anyone if San Jose revisited Eric Fehr, who fit in very nicely with the Sharks during the 2018 playoffs? The Evander Kane/Erik Karlsson trades limit what they can do, but GM Doug Wilson will try to add a winger. If trade values drop for the secondary group because Duchene, Panarin and Stone are available, it plays into Wilson’s hands.

Fehr worked out well for the Sharks last season, surprising everyone by providing stability on the fourth line, after spending the first half of the season in the AHL. In 14 games after the trade deadline last season, Fehr tallied three goals and one assist, and added one of each in ten postseason games. The 33-year-old has just 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 49 games with the Minnesota Wild this season.

The change in the Sharks’ playing style this season may not make Fehr the perfect fit, but the familiarity with his former linemates in San Jose and his cheap one year, $1 million contract might be enticing for Doug Wilson.

The good news about impending trades is that Doug Wilson knows what he has in his prospect pool. After a couple years of sneaky good drafting, teams are going to start asking on some of these players. Friedman is certain Alexander Chmelevski will be of interest — and will also likely be untouchable.

Someone is going to ask San Jose about Sasha Chmelevski, who scored five goals on Monday for OHL Ottawa in a 6–3 win over North Bay. The Sharks are going to say no. Chmelevski fell to the sixth round in the 2018 draft, and teams are already regretting it.

It’s hard to imagine that Ryan Merkley and Ivan Chekhovich aren’t also among the prospects San Jose won’t entertain trading.

Finally, in off-the-wall options: Micheal Haley was placed on waivers by the Florida Panthers yesterday.

Despite the organization clearly moving toward younger, faster and more skilled players, local media can’t seem to move past the idea that the Sharks need grit, despite the several players who are both physical and also contribute offense that are already on the roster.

Haley, 32, has played in just 24 games this season with the Panthers, after undergoing the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program in October. He has posted three point (one goal, two assists) in those 24 games.

Though Haley would come at no cost, it’s hard to believe he would add anything to this Sharks roster. As mentioned, Evander Kane and Timo Meier are two very physical forwards and players like Joe Thornton and Brenden Dillon haven’t been afraid to throw their bodies around, either. Barclay Goodrow has dropped the gloves four times this season, while also notching five goals and eight assists. A warm body designated for physicality just isn’t needed on this roster.

More importantly, playoffs are a foregone conclusion for the Sharks. They don’t need someone to push them over the edge into the postseason: they need someone to help them win a cup. Haley isn’t a player that has traditionally been trusted with ice time in the postseason, because his role becomes unnecessary. It’s time to let go of this weird hang up on a fourth liner.

Ultimately, the Sharks could stand pat and still have one of the most competitive rosters in the league. But adding a player to play a hair below their pay grade — like Zuccarello or Simmonds — would only make them deeper for the postseason push.

It all, of course, depends on the cost. The Sharks don’t seem willing to mortgage their future on a rental and given the age and contracts of the rumored players they’ve shown interest in, it’s unlikely San Jose sees any of them as long-term additions. If Duchene and Panarin drive up the market, San Jose may sit this deadline out.