Sharks tinker with forward lines, add Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager
Early Tuesday morning, the San Jose Sharks announced that they have added two forwards to their roster by acquiring Kyle Wellwood off waivers from the St. Louis Blues and Ben Eager through a trade with the Atlanta Thrashers. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has always had a penchant for making moves under the radar, and did just that twice today.
Although neither player solves the glaring need on defense, they solve a newly formed lack of depth forwards resulting from injuries and suspensions. Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, and Benn Ferriero are all out with injuries of uncertain length, while Scott Nichol has just received a four game punishment for a dangerous hit levied against David Schlemko of Phoenix on Monday.
Let's start with Eager, who was sent from Atlanta in exchange for a fifth round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He comes to San Jose for relatively little, in terms of both cap hit and the low pick that was needed to obtain his services.
He also has relatively little impact in the long run, as Eager has settled into his role of fourth line agitator so far in his career. He has always had the promise of something more though, something that Phoenix undoubtedly saw when they drafted him 22nd overall in 2002. To this point, Eager has been unable to truly capture that promise, scoring 11 goals in 2008-2009, 7 in 2009-2010 and just three to date in 2010-2011.
Aside from the potential scoring ability, Ben Eager is a forward who plays hard and plays physical. He also has Stanley Cup experience; his Blackhawks won the Cup last year if you weren't aware, eliminating San Jose in the Western Conference Finals along the way. That's a fact that wasn't lost on Doug Wilson.
The player described above would almost always be a welcome addition to your lower lines, but Eager's scoring promise and physicality come with a price. He's been known to take some questionable penalties over the course of his young career, as noted by Second City Hockey two years ago. In fact, the first game he plays with the Sharks will also be his first retuning from suspension. He was punished by the league for his cheap shot on Toronto's Colby Armstrong a few weeks ago.
Eager also doesn't add much defense to the forward group, he's seen middling to low level quality of competition throughout his career, and he doesn't play on the penalty kill. With Mitchell on the shelf and Nichol out for the next four games, that's a weak spot for San Jose's already struggling penalty killing unit.
Lastly Eager's cap hit, although under $1MM at 965,000, throws a bit of a wrench into San Jose's plans for acquiring a top three defenseman. Most players of the caliber needed will be making anywhere from $3MM-$4MM, and any excess cap space would have assisted in such a move. If the only move made today was for Eager, it would have left many in San Jose scratching their heads.
However, Doug Wilson made a better addition just hours later, stealing Kyle Wellwood off waivers from the St. Louis Blues. Wellwood, who had been playing in the KHL this season, was inked by the Blues just a few days ago. The Sharks snapped up the forward, who's contract will pay him $650,000 this season according to capgeek.com.
Wellwood is well known throughout the league for being a heavyweight, but in the purest form of the word. As such, he's been somewhat of a running joke among fans and the media alike. Still, we like the move to acquire him, as it adds legitimate scoring pop to a team that has had trouble getting production from its current group of lower line players.
For his size, he's actually a pretty decent skater. As we mentioned above, that skating ability coupled with his above average offensive talent could make him a threat; he's posted seasons of 18 and 14 goals with Vancouver over the last two years. Wellwood played time on Vancouver's power play during that span, and although he wasn't their first option, he still added 13 power play goals over the last two seasons.
Like Eager, Wellwood won't be contributing at all to the penalty kill. In fact, he won't contribute much at all to the physical aspect of the game. But he's cheaper than Eager and has a higher offensive ceiling, a very low risk move that could pay off for Doug Wilson in spades.
As a result of both moves, Andrew Desjardins, Brandon Mashinter and Justin Braun have been sent down to Worcester. John McCarthy, who has been out with a lower body injury for a few weeks, has been activated. Torrey Mitchell, however, will be hitting long term injured reserve with a recurring lower body issue.
In the long run, getting Eager and Wellwood do little to solve the pressing need for defense, and make limited sense on their own. Simply put, they add depth and the possibility of improved lower line scoring. These things help any team, but the Sharks other issues trump those by a wide margin.
However, the moves do grease the wheels for a possible trade of one of the Sharks current forwards in hopes of acquiring the much needed defenseman. To illustrate our point, here's how we think the lines shake out, with injuries.
Heatley - Thornton - Couture
Marleau - Pavelski - Setoguchi
McGinn - Wellwood - McCarthy
Mayers - Nichol - Eager
We've included Nichol, even though it's just been announced that he's received that four game suspension. Those lines are very capable, even before the return of Clowe, Mitchell and Ferriero. As soon as those players return, you're presented with quite a log jam. In our opinion, that's reason enough to believe that one or more of Setoguchi, Mitchell, Ferriero, McGinn, Desjardins or Mashinter will be shipped out to help acquire a defenseman.
At face value, today's roster moves mean little, and won't in their own right get San Jose over the hump. However, if they are in fact the precursors to a trade we believe to be on the horizon, they are solid depth acquisitions for an inconsistent group. We don't know when the other shoe will drop, but Doug Wilson has shown with these moves that he's not satisfied with his current roster. It appears as if he is unafraid to make the changes he feels necessary.
Something will give, eventually.