| Defensive questions
Sharks need to speed up quest for
Much can be said about how the Sharks defense
failed to contain the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals last
spring. Many expected the Blackhawks to create mismatch issues because of their
team speed, but when the dust settled, the Sharks succumbed to a flurry of
point deflections and interior goal scoring by Chicagos 2nd and 3rd line
Team captain Rob Blakes retired shortly after the
Sharks were eliminated by Chicago , created a bigger void in the blueline
corps. The retirement leaves the sharks without a captain, a power play
quarterback, a locker room presence, and most importantly, a defender that
brought tons of experience to the ice night after night.
up to Blake, who wasnt the Norris trophy winning defender that he was in
1998. He was however, a serviceable defender that provided a better option that
what the Sharks are left with.
That is unless one of the younger
defensive prospects starts to produce.
San Jose tried to address some
of their defensive deficiencies early this summer by signing Blackhawks
restricted free-agent defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a 4-year, $14 million
dollar contract. That was voided when the Blackhawks matched the Sharks offer,
retaining the rights to the young defender.
San Jose must now decide
if the 7 defenders that they have under contract will suffice, or if they want
to supplement their roster via free agency or trade. Outside of Dan Boyle, the
Sharks lack an offensive minded defenseman that can produce on a consistent
Jason Demers looked like a promising candidate to replace
Blake, but he struggled after the first two months of the season. Hell
certainly get his shot to pick some of the offensive slack vacated by Blake,
but thats a lot to ask from a young player with 51 NHL games under his
General Manager Doug Wilson also must decide if hes
willing to start the season with a defensive corps that lacks in speed. Niclas
Wallin, Douglas Murray, Kent Huskins and Jay Leach arent exactly
speed-burners on the backend. Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will see the
majority of ice time this season, but its hard to believe that Wilson
will stand pat with that group of defensemen.
If Wilson were to go the
free agent route, the pickings are slim. Former Sharks Andy Sutton is rumored
to be negotiating with a Pacific Division team, which could well be the Sharks.
Marc-Andre Bergeron is also another enticing option, who would fill more of an
offensive role than Sutton and would come at a lower price tag.
Beyond those two players, youd be looking at
lesser caliber free agents that provide no more of an upgrade over the current
group already in San Jose s stable. Names like Shane Hnidy and Willie
Mitchell just dont seem like an upgrade.
Sean Sullivan, Derek
Joslin (assuming he re-signs with San Jose ), Nick Petrecki, and Taylor Doherty
will all be given a shot to make the NHL roster, but if the Sharks waver early,
those guys may not solve the problem.
Tomas Kaberles name is
linked to the Sharks constantly, because the Sharks are seeking a defenseman
and Kaberle is on the block in Toronto , but if that happens, Wilson needs to
get ultra creative with his budget. Devin Setoguchi still isnt signed and
is likely to receive a raise from his $1.2 million pay check last season, but
the Sharks only have $5.5 million in cap space to play with.
has 19 players signed and if Setoguchi commands $2 to $2.5 million in salary,
theres no way Kaberles $4.25 million cap hit fits in the Sharks
payroll. That $5.5 million has to spread across at least three more roster
players, so the impending Setoguchi contract will leave you with roughly $3 to
$3.5 million to spread across two more roster spots. That assumes of course
that Wilson doesnt burn through that cap buffer by throwing a fat
contract at Setoguchi.
Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksas name has
also been tossed out given Vancouver s spending spree on defensive help.
His $3.75 million cap hit also doesnt work without another contract
getting moved. The Canucks are carrying nine defenseman (although Sami Salo is
out at least 6 months after tearing an Achilles tendon) on the roster and will
surely move someone in order to get under the cap (they need to shed $2.7
With two months to go before the start of training cap,
Wilson will need to be creative in how he addresses his defensive problem.
Hes also competing against teams that are in similar situations. Anaheim
, Chicago , Nashville , and New Jersey still have to decide on how they will
round out their defenses.
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