SAN JOSE – Hang around any NHL team for a few days, and you’re bound to hear the head coach mention how he would like to be able to roll four lines at any given time.
Pete DeBoer is no different, but lately the Sharks haven’t been able to do that. On their just completed six-game six-win road trip, the coaching staff has significantly shortened the team’s bench while competing in close games late, particularly with some forwards.
Part of the reason that Dainius Zubrus was brought in was to avoid those kinds of situations in the future. The 37-year-old, who agreed to a one-year deal on Tuesday, will don a teal sweater for the first time on Wednesday against Chicago skating on the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Mike Brown.
Does the addition of Zubrus move the Sharks closer to becoming that four-line team that DeBoer prefers?
“I think so, absolutely,” DeBoer said. “That’s going to be up to him. We’re providing an opportunity, but I’m excited about him coming in and I feel he can help.”
Zubrus said: “You want to play well and get energy, and be a line that the coach can trust, and be responsible in your own end. Maybe that way you get a little bit more minutes.”
[RELATED: Sharks sign Zubrus to one-year contract]
Tierney, who will start as Zubrus’ center, was just two years old when his linemate broke into the league as a Flyers rookie in 1996. After a promising rookie year in 2014-15, particularly in the final few weeks, Tierney’s sophomore season has been bumpy. The 21-year-old is still looking for his first non-empty net goal on the season, with six points (2g, 4a) and a -5 rating.
Perhaps Zubrus, he of 1243 games NHL experience, can help spark Tierney.
“Even today in practice he’s just giving me little tips and stuff, and I can ask him about things – what do you think of this play, or that play,” Tierney said. “He’s seen a lot of it.”
“The fourth line, when we’re out there, we want Pete to trust us and we want to be out there, and show that we can play in big situations late in the game. We’ve still got to earn that, and we’re working towards that. I think [Zubrus] can add some more trust.”
Zubrus will also be involved in the penalty kill, which is 20th in the league at 79.1 percent.
“He PK’d for me in New Jersey, and we had a real good penalty kill in New Jersey most of the time we were there,” DeBoer said. “He knows the expectation, and he’s comfortable. I think he can help us there, too.”
Zubrus said: “I’ll be any role that the team sees me in.”
While the signing of Zubrus isn't exactly the sexiest move, there's another benefit that might not be immediately noticeable. As long as the team stays healthy, guys like Nikolay Goldobin – who was reassigned on Sunday – and Barclay Goodrow can continue to hone their skills in the minor leagues. There’s a good chance that neither of those two players will be back on the NHL roster this season, especially when Logan Couture and Ben Smith get healthy, and if Raffi Torres ends up with a roster spot when his suspension ends in mid-January.
Conversely, if Zubrus doesn’t work out, the two-way stipulation allows the Sharks to cut ties with him without experiencing a salary cap hit for his reported $600,000 price tag.
Zubrus, though, is pleased to be able to extend his career in San Jose after getting bought out by the Devils in the offseason and then failing to make the St. Louis Blues after a tryout there in October.
“I’m back in the league playing with the best hockey players. Very happy to be back,” he said.
“I think my legs can get me on the forecheck. I’m [six-foot-four and 225 pounds], so battles around the walls, puck possession, getting to the front of the net – things like that I think I can still do. I’m going to try to fit in, and hopefully I can.”