With a new coach, comes changes. Changes to philosophies, styles and even coaching cliches:
We want to be a structured team that plays with freedom.— JD Young (Content Boi) (@MyFryHole) July 26, 2022
San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier has been busy grocery shopping this off-season, trying to make a casserole out of the leftovers from a previous regime, using coupons and savings wherever he can. The shopping is almost done, with the exception of new contracts for Mario Ferraro, Noah Gregor and Jonah Gadjovich, and it’s time for newly named head coach David Quinn to get to work in the kitchen.
With a new chef, some recipes or ingredients may not be used the same. We’ve already seen Grier make changes by shipping off Brent Burns, buying out Rudulfs Balcers and not re-signing Jonathan Dahlen. Which players might David Quinn look to slow cook or put on the back burner?
What seemed like a near lock for an opening night roster spot back in April now seems much more in flux. This may have less to do with Quinn and more with it being a numbers game. The Sharks currently have Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Logan Couture, Nick Bonino, Alexander Barabanov, Matt Nieto and Kevin Labanc all returning to the forward group, plus the additions of Nico Sturm, Steven Lorentz and Oskar Lindblom. Then there's Scott Reedy, Jasper Weatherby and Jefferey Viel, who all played at least 30 games last season but are still waivers eligible.
And this doesn’t even include Noah Gregor and Jonah Gadjovich, who both are waiting to sign new deals. And, of course, William Eklund who will also be fighting for a job after making the Sharks out of camp last season before being sent back to Sweden after a nine-game tryout. Grier and Quinn want a competitive team and while Bordeleau will eventually win a job on the Sharks, Quinn will most likely lean towards the veterans to start things off.
Going to start off by saying it's unlikely Quinn will bench Karlsson or force him off the team by the season’s end. But I am curious about what the relationship between Quinn and Karlsson will be. After the press conference to announce Quinn's hired, Grier mentioned that some of the New York Rangers players have a larger personalities and that can be difficult for coaches. Erik Karlsson is not shy about things and is known to have one of the larger personalities in the dressing room — even more so with Burns now in Carolina.
How will David Quinn manage some of Karlsson’s quirks and his tendency to go for the home run play? There are nights where Erik Karlsson is easily the best player on the ice, but mounting injuries and inconstancy have started to rob the Swede of his days. If Quinn and Karlsson don’t click, could this be the beginning of the end of the Sharks/Karlsson marriage?
Nieto has become a staple on the Sharks' penalty kill since his return to San Jose. Last season, he ranked fourth among forwards in penalty kill time on ice, but with the additions of Luke Kunin (fifth shorthanded TOI on the Nashvilla Predators), Oskar Lindblom (sixth shorthanded TOI on the Philadelphia Flyers) and Steven Lorentz (ninth shorthanded TOI on the Hurricanes' top rated PK unit), Matt Nieto’s specialization could be replaced. All of these players either add more offensive capabilities (Lindblom) or versatility in playing both the center or wing (Kunin and Lorentz) and have more money invested in their contracts.
Nieto is entering the final year of his two-year contract worth $850K. They could try to waive him for AHL reassignment or possibly trade him to a team looking for more help on the penalty kill.
Merkley has shown flashes of pure brilliance in his time in San Jose, but has also shown plenty of moments of folly that landed him in Bob Boughner’s dog house on multiple occasions. Merkley has a major opportunity — now that Brent Burns and his 2100 minutes of ice time are gone — to really put a claim on being the second-pairing defenseman. Markus Nutivaara is most likely his main competition for ice time, as the right side should look like:
Markus Nutivaara/Ryan Merkley
Nutivaara is left-handed, but is comfortable playing on either side of the ice as one very handsome media member asked him during his recent availability:
Markus says he is comfortable playing both sides of the defense and Iitu is coming to San Jose.— JD Young (Content Boi) (@MyFryHole) July 19, 2022
Nutivaara is coming off an injury that cost him his 2021-22 season, with the exception of one game, but is expected to be ready for training camp. Ryan Merkley has a chance with a new coaching staff and a fresh start to try to realize his full potential with a coach who helped Adam Fox win a Norris.
This might come as a surprise, as well. Timo Meier is entering the last year of his four-year, $6 million annual contract. He has a $10 million qualifying offer in the 2023-24 season. The Sharks already have $63 million tied up for next year in 13 players on the roster, not including Mario Ferraro’s upcoming deal. The same song and dance that Sharks fans played with Tomas Hertl last season is about ready to happen again.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old is going to be looking at what Johnny Gaudreau (seven years at $9.75 million) and Matthew Tkachuk (eight years at $9.5 million) received and expecting something in the same ballpark. The assumption is that Timo Meier is going to fit a Chris Kreider-type role in the offense, but if Meier comes out of the gates poorly or doesn’t like his role on the team, will he and the Sharks look to part ways prior to having to pay him a long-term deal?
Mike Grier has provided David Quinn with plenty of groceries to choose from, it will be interesting to see how players get used, which players don’t fit into the recipe book and which ones might need to simmer in the AHL before making their Quinn debut.