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Play of McGinn & Couture could help determine outcome of playoffs, offseason

Spoke to Sharks front office source two hours ago and they said it was pretty quiet for them after making Wallin deal. They like their kids pushing in Demers and Couture, etc… I suspect they might do something if it’s a great bargain but otherwise stay put.

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN

And so that’s what happened. Doug Wilson couldn’t find a great bargain (in a day that few teams could), and chose to stick with his team.

However, one pre-deadline deal that the Sharks did make changed the landscape of the team. By moving Jody Shelley for a conditional draft pick, the Sharks freed up enough roster space to carry prospects Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, Jason Demers and others.

We’ve discussed Couture and Jamie McGinn as the season has progressed. Plank presented our optimal line combinations Wednesday, and you’ll notice that the third line includes both McGinn and Couture. That combination seems even more likely now, with Nichol suffering what looked like a troubling shoulder injury at the hands (and stick) of Maxim Lapierre. Until he returns to the lineup, it’s a perfect time for Couture and McGinn to prove themselves.

It’s not just that we’re high on these players, but it’s also reflective of the talent they’ve shown in both the AHL and NHL levels. McGinn would likely have close to 20 goals with consistent line mates and the ability to practice with the NHL club. Couture, who has admittedly less NHL experience to back up our assessment, impressed us in training camp, and is one of the top scoring rookies in the AHL (48 P in 37 GP). At that pace, he’d have scored 77 points in 60 AHL games, which would be good for third in that league.

I’m not saying that it’s a guarantee that Couture would have played 60 games as a better than a point per game player. What I am saying is that his play in the AHL is deserving of an NHL roster spot. Once there, he and McGinn could change the perspective of Sharks fans going forward.

The Sharks have not recently had a prospect with quite as much AHL scoring acumen as Couture. Pavelski (18 P in 16 GP) and Setoguchi (19 P in 25 GP) were close, but Logan now has more AHL experience and a better resume to this point in his minor league career.

He’s ready for the big time.

So is McGinn, but we’ve seen that. While he’s gotten more NHL ice time than his former Ottawa 67’s teammate, he’s been playing with the Nichol’s and Shelley’s of the world. The times that he’s played with those forwards he’s shown how electrifying he can be as a forechecker, he hasn’t really had a chance to show off his offensive skills. As Plank said yesterday:

Before Manny Malhotra was signed at the beginning of this season, I wrote an article explaining that Jamie McGinn is going to be a key to success for the San Jose Sharks in the scoring department. I don’t think anything has changed. He will be a key fixture on how effective the team will be during The Months That Shall Not Be Named, and Logan Couture can help him get there. Scott Nichol, unfortunately, cannot.

So, a line combination where Couture and McGinn get to play off the chemistry they’ve established is optimal for not only their success, but also the success of the San Jose Sharks. In a recent interview with Fear the Fin, McGinn talked about the benefit of playing with Couture.

“We played together a lot in Ottawa, and before he got injured we were playing a lot together here in Worcester. It didn’t take long to get the chemistry back. He is one of those guys where I seem to know where he is on the ice at all times, and he knows where I am. He just seems to be able to put the puck in the net and be able to put it on my stick and vice versa. It’s nice to have that.”

If Couture and McGinn can translate that success to the NHL, I’ll be much more comfortable with the Sharks heading into the playoffs. Although Heatley, Thornton and Marleau will be counted on for much of the scoring, the second and third lines will have to chip in offensively to lead to any postseason success. We saw what a lack of secondary scoring can do to a team last year. I would hate to see the same problem rear its ugly head this year. Couture and McGinn do not guarantee that scoring, but they are much more capable of putting up points than a combination of Jed Ortmeyer and Scott Nichol.

I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the defense too, but those issues aren’t really addressable in house. Leach, Huskins, Joslin and Demers are practically interchangeable on the bottom pairing, with each one contributing a different skill set to the mix. None of them, though, are expected to bring the impact that Couture and McGinn could. Now that the deadline has passed, that’s pretty much the teams best option going forward.

This needs to happen soon, not only to see what the duo can contribute down the stretch, but also to figure out their place on the team going forward. This offseason, although it will be stressful regardless of what happens, could be made easier knowing Couture and McGinn are able to play effectively on the NHL roster.

(Note: I know I’ve harped on people for talking about trades over the last few days, and I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here. However, this will be the last time I mention the offseason and the moves we’ve made or will need to make, so bear with me) We’ve talked at length about trading Ryane Clowe and his $3.625MM cap hit to facilitate the increasing contracts of RFA’s Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi and the expiring contracts of UFA’s Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov. Wouldn’t that be easier if you knew his scoring could be replaced by that of McGinn or Couture? Manny Malhotra, a player who signed at a price significantly below fair market value, is also a pending UFA. His contract could probably be accommodated as well, if Clowe was moved in favor of the younger prospects.

The Sharks also have some issues on defense that need solving in the offseason. The average age for the current starters on the backend (including 22 year old burgeoning star Marc-Edouard Vlasic) is 31, and both Wallin and Blake will be free agents at the end of the season. Although it’s expected that Blake (and possibly Wallin) will be resigned (god willing, at a lower price), there will be changes to the blue line. Wilson might feel confident enough in Demers or Joslin to make them a starter, but I doubt that he doesn’t try to find an upgrade, especially if the Sharks fall short again.

To this point, though, Wilson felt confident enough with his rookies not to trade assets for a rental this season. Here’s hoping that confidence continues, and he gives those players a chance to prove him right.

Go Sharks.

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