Will the #SJSharks organization seriously look at the continued issues of the bottom six, or can the fans expect more of the same? (Ryan Bayer @81Bayer)
Sharks owner Hasso Plattner commented on the Sharks’ lack of depth on May 8, when he said: “We hope that some of our young players can make it this fall so that we have a three-and-a-half to four line team.” San Jose got virtually nothing from its bottom two lines last season, despite Todd McLellan trying every combination under the sun.
The bottom line is that the players just weren’t good enough, and the mixing and matching was an exercise in futility.
There are a few young forwards that Platter may have been alluding to, including Nikolay Goldobin, the 27th overall pick in last year’s draft who played in Finland last season. Rourke Chartier, a fifth round pick last year, is another prospect that could get a shot after he finished with 48 goals and 82 points in 58 games with Kelowna (WHL). Yet another name to monitor is Nikita Jevpalovs, a Latvian who has impressed in international competition and just completed a 49 goal, 100-point season in the QMJHL. The Sharks signed him in January.
Still, all of those players are still very young. Chartier is 19, Goldobin will be 20 on Oct. 7, and Jevpalovs is 21 on Sep. 9. The Sharks were guilty last season of rushing some of their younger players to the NHL, as Barclay Goodrow, Mirco Mueller, and even Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto looked like they could have used more seasoning.
There is at least one solid piece in place. Chris Tierney was among the Sharks’ best players down the stretch (after clearly benefitting from his time in Worcester), when McLellan made him the permanent third line center in early March. Tierney’s performance over the last few weeks was the single most encouraging sign for the future after it became apparent that the Sharks would wind up missing the playoffs.
Ben Smith also has one more year on his contract after he was acquired for Andrew Desjardins, and currently projects to start the season as the fourth line center. The 26-year-old former Blackhawk has potential despite a so-so performance after he arrived in Chicago.
Still, this isn’t an easy fix. The Sharks already have some aging veterans on their top two lines in Joe Thornton and a declining Patrick Marleau. Hertl and Nieto weren’t as good as management hoped they would be last season, and their ceilings are debatable. Melker Karlsson had some good moments as a rookie, but he benefitted from playing on a line with Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
Can the Sharks remake their bottom two lines, while ensuring their top two remain effective? It could take a major transaction or two, something that Doug Wilson has hinted at in this important offseason.
Also, one final note regarding the fourth line – it sounds as if the Sharks are leaning towards parting ways with John Scott. There haven’t been any talks of a contract extension with the big enforcer, so he’ll likely become an unrestricted free agent in two weeks.
Scott’s signing one year ago elicited some scoffs when he was the only notable addition after promises of a rebuild, but the six-foot-eight, 260-pounder was a good teammate and well-liked personality coming to a team that had, and still has, some culture and chemistry issues to overcome.