For the second straight day, defenseman Paul Martin missed practice, according to our own Brodie Brazil on Facebook Live.
Absence creates opportunity, and the beneficiary over the last two days was 26-year-old Swedish defenseman Tim Heed. Heed, who led the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda in scoring from the blueline last season, made the team out of camp as the seventh defenseman.
His track record from the AHL and an accomplished career in Sweden are impressive, but what Heed represents is arguably more important: A fresh approach.
Yes, Kevin Labanc is playing in a top-six role and fellow second-year forward Timo Meier made the team out of camp. Patrick Marleau’s gone, too, but for all intents and purposes, the roster that was bounced out in six games in the first round last spring has remained intact.
Through two games this season, things have already started to look stale.
The Sharks have only scored twice at even strength. The power play’s looked listless. The penalty kill’s bled chances. Martin Jones has struggled.
Head coach Peter DeBoer’s juggled the lines in an effort to change things up, but Heed’s potential entry into the lineup on Thursday against Buffalo represents a much realer opportunity for change.
Heed also skated on the first power play unit on Tuesday. His presence there fundamentally changes the approach of that group, which would feature two capable, puck-moving defensemen and three forwards, instead of the usual one and four.
It’s a much more notable difference than plugging Mikkel Boedker in for the departed Marleau. Such a revamp is probably also overdue, given San Jose’s drop from third to 25th in power play percentage last season. The previous approach hasn’t worked lately, and a subtly different one could get the power play going again.
Now, that’s not to overstate Heed’s importance. He skated with Brenden Dillon at practice on Wednesday, meaning he’ll begin the season on the third pairing. His potential may be considerably higher, but he’s currently a bottom pairing defenseman potentially set for some time on the power play. And, in all likelihood, he’ll leave the lineup once Martin’s healthy.
But for the first time this season, it feels like the Sharks are taking a different approach. Playing the youth is one thing, but deploying the roster differently has proven to be another. Heed could start to change that.
Alone, Heed won’t be enough to cure what’s ailed the Sharks so far. What he represents, though, just might be the start of what does.