The Sharks will wrap up November with a very respectable 14-9-0 record, sitting just one point out of first place in the Pacific Division. Still, many out there think some improvements can be made to the roster. The latest mailbag…
With [Joonas Donskoi] and [Melker Karlsson] playing so well, who is odd-man out when [Logan Couture] comes back? You know I think [Matt Nieto] is the obvious choice. #sharkstalk (@THEdpedroza)
There is the potential that Nieto could find himself out of the lineup when the team’s forwards are healthy. Pete DeBoer has already said that Patrick Marleau would go back to the wing, so expect Couture to center the team’s second (top?) line with Marleau and Joel Ward when he’s ready.
That would bump Donskoi – who has outplayed Nieto – to the third line, with Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels, although both of those players will have to build off of their strong games on Saturday.
That leaves Nieto, Mike Brown, Chris Tierney, Ben Smith and Dainius Zubrus to choose from for the fourth line.
Zubrus is the most likely of that group to remain on the ice. Brown will keep his roster spot (likely prompting more grumbling from the advanced stats community), and although you can make the argument he shouldn’t be playing every night, DeBoer seems to like what he brings.
Smith’s status is difficult to ascertain with his concussion. Tierney looks like he could use more time in the minors, and he’s the only player out of that group who is waiver-exempt, so perhaps he gets reassigned if Smith is healthy.
Regardless, it’s fair to wonder if Nieto’s spot in the active lineup is in jeopardy.
The Sharks depth on D is non-existent. Do you anticipate a trade/upgrade sooner than later? #sharkstalk (@shrxfan89)
This was a hot topic last week, especially after the Sharks’ performance against Chicago with Justin Braun out. The team was much better defensively in the 5-2 win over Calgary, but the Flames may have been San Jose’s weakest opponent of the season.
Are there depth issues on defense? Absolutely. The Sharks’ lost all three games when Paul Martin was out and the first with Braun missing, and although that’s a pretty small sample size, the defense looked flat out confused at times during those four losses. It looks like Braun’s injury isn’t long term, which is good news, but it’s worth mentioning that Martin has run into some injury issues in the past and isn’t getting any younger at 34.
Mirco Mueller should probably get more time under Roy Sommer, plain and simple. (For whatever reason the Sharks still seem like they want to rush their young players like Mueller, Nieto, and Nikolay Goldobin, who had no business being on the recent road trip). Tennyson got his minor league seasoning, but the jury is still out on him as a full-time NHL player.
The lack of defensive depth, though, falls primarily on the shoulders of the team’s amateur scouting staff. Here’s a list of defensemen drafted by the Sharks from 2008-12: Samuel Groulx, Julien Demers, Jason Demers, William Wrenn, Taylor Doherty, Dominik Bielke, Isaac MacLeod, Konrad Abeltshauser, Lee Moffie, Justin Sefton, Dylan DeMelo, Clifford Watson, Joakim Ryan. Only Demers (Jason, not Julien) is currently in the NHL, and we didn’t even mention 2007 first round draft pick Nick Petrecki, who proved to be a bust. (To be fair, the Sharks did unearth Braun in the seventh round in 2007, but it sure seems like the current scouting staff has had trouble identifying amateur blue line talent in recent years.)
Could the Sharks dangle one of their young forwards or prospects for a defenseman? I could see that happening. Doug Wilson probably needs to make the playoffs to keep his job, so if that means surrendering a young asset or draft pick for immediate help on the blue line, I could seem him pulling the trigger on that kind of deal. That’s easier said than done, though, as there are always NHL teams searching for depth defensemen. The price may not be right at the moment.
Now that Torres' suspension is halfway over, what's the Sharks plan for him? Is he coming back, or are we done here? #sharkstalk (@davidmlipinski)
Raffi Torres has 18 games left on his suspension, so he’s still eligible to return on Jan. 14 at home versus Edmonton.
Considering that Torres is taking morning skates with the team and has a locker at SAP Center, I don’t think there’s any doubt anymore that the Sharks will add Torres to the roster when they can. And, why shouldn’t they? The team has struggled to find an effective fourth line combination, and Torres may still be able to play. Even if he gives the team just 20 solid games down the stretch, that would be helpful.
And, let’s face it, if you’re on the opposing team, aren’t you a little weary of being on the ice with the player who is the NHL’s poster child for dirty hits? If that provides the Sharks an advantage, they’ll want to use it.