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Defensive help on the way?
After 40 games, it's time to recognize weaknesses
1/16/10 - By Mike Lee -

It appears that it took a six game-losing streak and hitting rock-bottom in the Pacific Division for Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson to figure out that his defense has some holes. If you believe the rumors, he’s made inquiries with Toronto regarding Francois Beauchemin’s services. If we know anything about Wilson, there are always more irons in the fore. Question is, what would he have to give up to bolster his blueline?

Wilson is in the precarious position that desperation creates when your team underachieves. The perennial playoff participant is on the outside looking in at the season’s halfway point and trade suitors are well aware of the defensive issues that his current roster presents.

The defense has been so bad in fact, that it’s affected the offense. His big line players have had to focus so much attention on plugging holes in the blueline that it’s taken away from their offensive numbers. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi are a combined -64 plus-minus rating.

So not only are they not producing offensively, their defense isn’t preventing other teams from scoring either. It wouldn’t matter is the second and third lines were picking up the slack in terms of goal scoring, but that hasn’t been the case.

The first thing Wilson needs to do to solve his scoring ills is to let his forwards focus on what they do best. That requires that they need not have to worry about stopping the opposition.

Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips is another name being thrown into the mix. The NHL’s first overall draft pick in 1996 would bring more veteran leadership to the blueline. Perhaps too much experience.

Phillips is playing in his 13th NHL season and isn’t regarded as an exceptional skater. He’s a solid stay at home guy that wears an A for the Senators, but it looks as if Ottawa may be willing to part with the blueliner. The Senators don’t have the Sharks depth, but his -20 plus-minus is a concern. He can’t play defense by himself, but it’s not like that statistic is that bad for no reason.

If the Sharks do add Phillips, he’d share the team lead for worst plus-minus on the team.

Phillips also provides no offensive upside. He’s assisted on 3 goals for the Senators this season, one coming on the power play. Not that the Sharks need an offensive defenseman, but it’s always something to consider.

Wilson has been trying to find that defensive answer for the past two season, adding Kent Huskins and Niklas Wallin, but neither has given the Sharks a go-to guy to act as the stopper that the Sharks so desperately need.

Beauchemin is better skater than Phillips, but his contract creates a slightly higher cap hit. He also has one more year remaining on his contract. Bringing Phillips into the fold means adding a defenseman that you’ll probably lose at the end of the year and he’s 2 years older than Beauchemin.

If teams like the St Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets were to continue fail in their pursuit of the playoffs, they could become sellers. A player like Barrett Jackman would be another possibility. His contract is in the same vicinity as Beauchemin’s and he’s a year younger.

Fedor Tyutin would be a cheaper option, but the Blue Jackets would probably be less eager to move the defenseman because of his age (27). He also comes at more attractive price tag at $2.9 million per over the next two seasons.

Grabbing any of these players means that he has to give something up. That’s where things get interesting. Teams like the Blues and Blue Jackets are more interested in building with younger players that they can grow. Devin Setoguchi is the name that everyone is interested in.

Wilson is hand cuffed to some degree, because he’s mortgaged the Sharks development system in the past by giving up top draft picks. If the Sharks were to falter, those picks become even more valuable because of the fact they’ll be at the beginning of the line, rather than the end.

The worst case scenario is that they give up a pick for a player and they still don’t qualify for the playoffs. Losing a top 10 pick is just bad business in the grand scheme of things. That’s the kind of move that sets a franchise back multiple seasons because of the value that a top level draft pick can bring.

And that’s a mistake the Sharks can’t afford to make.

One thing is clear though. Wilson needs to do something. He indicated earlier this week that head coach Todd McLellan is safe, but anyone else’s job is fair game. Hopefully Wilson lands the defensive help his team needs, so that McLellan can get back to implementing the offensive style of play he’s more comfortable coaching.

It would be nice to see this team be able to work in that mode, rather than having to worry about if they’re capable of keeping the puck out of their own net.


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