Do the Sharks add another defenseman before opening night, or do they keep the spot open for a young guy? (@SWoodworth74)
Are the Sharks looking to sign another depth d-man? Anyone on their radar? #SharksTalk (@tim_lamascus)
It was about this time last year when the Sharks announced that they were bringing back veteran Scott Hannan on a one-year, $1 million contract. They’ve already announced that Hannan won’t be back, but I could see them adding another veteran before training camp.
The top four seems set, considering Peter DeBoer already envisions newcomer Paul Martin with Brent Burns. Regular partners Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun should be the pair that gets the most even-strength minutes, provided Braun plays better than he did last season as his five-year, $19 million contract kicks in.
That leaves Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson as the remaining blueliners (keep in mind Tennyson is on a one-way NHL contract next season).
Dillon is obviously a lock to make the NHL club, so he’ll play a regular role. Tennyson and Mueller, though, are question marks. The former never seemed to get into the good graces of former coach Todd McLellan, while the latter was rushed into the NHL as a rookie.
I tend to think Mueller will start next season on the AHL Barracuda roster, and that’s probably a wise move. That’s not a knock on Mueller – he could even end up being this year’s version of Chris Tierney, as someone who gets some much needed experience playing in all kinds of situations in a lesser league and comes up in the second half to be a significant contributor. But he needs some more polish.
Looking further down the depth chart, two names to keep an eye on in camp are Mark Cundari, a 25-year-old free agent addition who has spent most of his career in the minors, and Patrick McNally, a 23-year-old Harvard grad who was added via trade with Vancouver at the draft. Perhaps one of them makes a push in camp. Perhaps not.
Whether the Sharks are actually on the lookout for another defenseman is unclear. Salary cap space is a bit of an issue right now, as they are only about $1 million under according to generalfanager.com. That number includes Mueller and Raffi Torres’ $2 million salary, though, and Torres’ status for next season is uncertain. If Torres can’t go, and the plan is to start Mueller in the minors, the Sharks should have plenty of flexibility to bring in another depth defender. They would be wise to do so.
See Hertl finally playing center? (@onerivas)
I don’t see that happening just yet. Hertl simply didn’t have a very good year last season. There were some encouraging moments while he was playing center, but he didn’t do nearly enough to show that he should be there on a full time basis at this stage of his career. The emergence of Tierney late in the season, and the addition of Ben Smith from Chicago all but ensures Hertl will start on the wing this season.
It’s an important year for the 21-year-old, who will be in the third and final year of his entry-level contract. He could very well return to the form he showed in his rookie year before the Dustin Brown hit, or he could find himself on the Barracuda if he struggles with his confidence and consistency again. There will be competition for his roster spot (see below), so he’d better be prepared from Day 1 of camp.
Do the Sharks have too many forwards? Could you see one being moved? (@AaronDerek)
Well you can never have too many of anything, but the Sharks should have some decent competition among the forward group in training camp as there could be some young, lesser known players vying to make the opening night roster. That should be a compelling storyline in September.
Assuming there are no more changes to that group, I’d break it down as follows:
Locks: Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward, Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson, Ben Smith.
Probables: Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney, Tomas Hertl, Mike Brown.
That leaves probably two open spots among a group that includes Barclay Goodrow, Nikolay Goldobin, Rourke Chartier, Timo Meier, Nikita Jevpalovs and Joonas Donskoi. If one of the youngsters makes the team and pushes one of the regulars out, the Sharks may be able to unload a forward or two during the season for other assets. That’s a long way off, though. For now, I'd guess that they are content with the group that they have.