ST. LOUIS –- Throughout the Sharks’ impressive run since early January in which they’ve posted a 13-3-3 record in their last 19 games, the team has stayed generally healthy. That’s helped mask some of the depth issues that have been apparent since training camp.
On Monday, general manager Doug Wilson addressed his team’s greatest need – adding another defenseman in the burly Roman Polak, as well as winger Nick Spaling from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a pair of second round picks in 2017 and 2018 and Raffi Torres, who was included to keep San Jose cap-compliant and whose pro career may be over anyway due to a wonky right knee.
The team has put itself in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup. Monday’s trade is a continuation of Wilson’s message from the offseason that the Sharks are going for it, one year after a rare playoff miss.
“Our group and our players and our coaches have really worked their butts off to add some players that can help,” said Wilson, citing the Sharks’ 20-9-2 road record, as well as their ability to stay afloat without center Logan Couture, who missed 30 of the first 35 games due to injury.
While a pair of second round picks is a significant return for the rebuilding Leafs, it was important to Wilson that they were not picks in the upcoming 2016 draft. The Sharks are already down their first rounder (Martin Jones trade) and third rounder (Brenden Dillon trade), but selected nine players in the most recent draft, including highly regarded prospects Timo Meier and Jeremy Roy.
“Big aspect of this deal, is, yes, you give up assets to make this happen. Very important that those picks were the future, two and three drafts from now. It gives us ample time to replenish those picks,” said Wilson, who also left the door open for more moves between now and the Feb. 29 deadline.
“The other part of it is, it adds to our team without taking anybody out of the lineup or taking any of our young players or prospects that we drafted from the last two years, because we’re really pleased with our prospects.”
Polak will likely slot in on the right side of the third pair with Dillon, who is expected to return from an upper body injury on Wednesday in Colorado. Dylan DeMelo is the most likely player to come out of the lineup, while Matt Tennyson could be headed for the waiver wire.
Spaling could potentially push either Melker Karlsson or Matt Nieto out of the lineup, as both have struggled to consistently produce offensively despite ample opportunities on scoring lines. It will be much harder for Mike Brown to get playing time, too.
Pete DeBoer coached Spaling in juniors, while assistant coach Steve Spott is familiar with Polak, having coached him in Toronto.
“I’ve always admired [Polak’s] game, what he brings,” DeBoer said. “He’s hard to play against, plays with an edge. You know you’re playing against him. You know you’re going into a corner with him, you know you’re going to be in a battle in front of the net with him. That’s an element that I think we’ve been trying to be harder to play against all year, and I think he fits that bill.
“Nick Spaling, I am familiar with. … He’s a very versatile guy, can play center, can play wing. I think he can help our penalty kill. He’s also skilled enough and skates well enough he can play up and down your lineup. There’s a lot to like there.”
Someone else that’s familiar with Polak is Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who had him for four seasons in St. Louis. In the 2012 playoffs when the Blues dispatched the Sharks in five games in the first round, Hitchcock cautioned the Sharks to not “open that Roman Polak door” after he pummeled Justin Braun late in Game 2.
The Sharks have opened that figurative door in another way, and Hitchcock was nothing but complimentary of his former player.
“He's a no-maintenance, great team guy, holds other people accountable, holds himself accountable,” Hitchcock said. “He's a real pro. He's not fun to play against. He's a tough guy. Players love him, teammates love him, coaches love him. He's got zero maintenance. It's a great add.”
The Sharks are hopeful that Polak and Spaling are able to play on Wednesday against the Avalanche, although there are some visa issues that may need to be worked out. Polak will wear uniform number 46, while Spaling will be number 16.
The Sharks play the Blues on Monday night, one of 25 games left on the regular season schedule.
“There’s a real push here,” DeBoer said. “I think the message is that we think we have a chance. Management is going to do what they can to try and help the group out. Now it’s on us to get them together on the ice and deliver the proper results.”