Trade Deadline passes, Sharks stand pat; Let's talk playoff line combos
Maybe the price wasn't right. Maybe Doug Wilson felt as if his team was as good as it was going to get. Maybe the fact that San Jose was at the upper limit of the salary cap hampered any potential move.
Whatever the case, the San Jose Sharks will enter the stretch run with the same roster they had yesterday.
Fear The Fin has advocated picking up a defenseman for the better part of the year. It is an issue for the team that I would have liked to have seen addressed as Evgeni Nabokov, in the midst of a Vezina-caliber season, has masked a lot of issues surrounding the unit as a whole. And with a poor Olympic outing from Nabokov now being thrown into the mix with his career playoff numbers, there is the distinct possibility that his play may not reach the level it was at before the break.
That being said, the team is still one of the favorites to make some noise in the Western Conference. As they were last season, as they have been since the lockout. A revamped third and fourth lines have done a good job of establishing a rhythm to the Sharks game, and has vastly improved the ability for role players to make an impact on games. Dany Heatley is a premier goal scorer who needs no introduction. Although Wilson did not make a splash today, the team is vastly different than the one who took the ice in April of last season.
And they are likely better.
The concerns are still there however; Niclas Wallin, brought in before the February trade freeze, does not seem to be the answer that can slide into the top four when Marc-Edouard Vlasic is healthy. The secondary scoring is still a potential issue, and although it has improved since I discussed it earlier this season, there is no telling how it will handle the rigors of playoff hockey when the skill level is much higher across the board.
San Jose has a .500 record against Western Conference playoff teams this season, discluding games that go the skills competition. That is an issue, and one that can no longer be addressed by bringing in non-organizational assets.
At any rate, with the roster essentially set, composing playoff lines now heads to the forefront of the discussion. As I mentioned yesterday, I have advocated splitting HTML up throughout the course of this year, as it spreads out your scoring punch. Devin Setoguchi immediately begins to get better looks, and as we saw against New Jersey yesterday, it has the potential to pay off:
Dany Heatley - Joe Thornton - Devin Setoguchi
Patrick Marleau - Joe Pavelski - Manny Malhotra
After that you get into what I like to call the "Malleable Marauders." There's literally about a million and one combinations you can come up with down here, and as TCY and I have discussed before on this blog, there is a possibility that Logan Couture gets the call up to San Jose. Whether or not that happens is up in the air, but if it does, and I think it should for reasons I will explain soon, you open up a third line that can do some damage:
Jamie McGinn - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe
Jed Ortmeyer - Scott Nichol - Torrey Mitchell/Brad Staubitz
First, the caveats-- Torrey Mitchell has really been extremely disappointing this season, and although I have my reservations about putting him on a fourth line that is supposed to take the body on the forecheck and cycle down low, it's really the only place left to put him. I have never been a fan of Brad Staubitz as he takes way too many penalties but, and this is a pretty bold statement considering how much I am concerned about him, Staubitz may be a better fit here than Mitchell. If Staubitz stays out of the box I would not be adverse to scratching Mitchell during the playoffs. He has not made an impact on a single game all season.
Frazer McLaren is also an option here-- I wrote an article explaining why I preferred him over then-Shark Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz earlier in the season, and those points still hold true today in my eyes. It's an area of the team that definitely has options.
The third line is great. It really is. Answers the secondary scoring question, can cycle down low as well as any third line in the league. Couture has excellent body positioning along the boards and protects the puck well-- same goes for the much maligned Ryane Clowe.
I do not like Scott Nichol on the third line with Jamie McGinn. McGinn needs a better centerman that can feed him the puck because as good of a role player Nichol is, he is a fourth line center through and through. This much is undebatable in my eyes. Unless Clowe manages to fight his way onto the second line and stick, Manny Malhotra deserves that spot. And if Manny Malhotra is not on the third line to work with McGinn, what better player to have on the roster than his former Ottawa 67 teammate?
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.
The defensive pairings are relatively up in the air-- Wallin is serviceable, as I mentioned when he was brought over, but I think Rob Blake, even with all his faults, might still be the better player right now. If McLellan continues to try Wallin out with Dan Boyle as he did last night, maybe you can compose a Brad Lukowich type pairing-- one premier puck moving Olympian defenseman, one average depth defenseman who will be asked to do nothing more than stay behind the red line.
I really don't know what to do with the blueline, and frankly, I don't think it is going to matter all that much. You have two 5 guys (Wallin, Blake) forced to play in the top four right now, and whoever pairs with Boyle (Wallin, Murray) means that Vlasic is either with a legit top four (Murray) or one who should be playing on the bottom pairing (Blake).
At any rate, there is no telling what level Vlasic will be at when he returns from his knee injury. Pairings need to be set now, and it's pretty apparent that he will be playing with someone who he is familiar with when he returns. So does McLellan take one more crack at Blake-Vlasic in the hopes that they rekindle the magic from last year, or does he play it safe and go with players who are beginning to mesh right now? My guess is he goes with what he is meshing together right now, but as I mentioned, I'm still not enamored with how these pairings look:
Dan Boyle - Hamburgers Wallin
Marc Edouard Vlasic - Douglas Murray
Rob Blake - Kent Huskins
Goalie is obviously Evgeni Nabokov. I'll have more on him early next week.