SAN JOSE - Other than a maybe a handful of players, there probably wasn’t too much apprehension in the Sharks’ dressing room in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday. The team has a comfortable lead in the Pacific Division, is a lock to make the playoffs again, and is, of course, coming off its first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final last June. The core has shown it can make a deep run.
There were not going to be any drastic overhauls of the roster, considering, too, that the team prides itself on having a tightly knit dressing room.
Still, the biggest hole – which we mentioned here a few times leading up to Wednesday’s deadline – was at the wing position. Yes, the Sharks have some depth there in the system, and a few young players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier that could arrive shortly on a full-time basis. But for a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations again, it would have been a risk going into the postseason with that kind of inexperience in the top six, or even the top nine.
Just how Pete DeBoer utilizes new acquisition Jannik Hansen remains to be seen, but the guess here is he’ll be the latest player to get a chance on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Last season, that line, with Tomas Hertl on the left wing, was the Sharks’ most consistent throughout the playoffs. This season, with Hertl likely to be the third line center, they needed another body since no one's locked it down yet.
Labanc has done some good things there, including Tuesday against Toronto when he was among the Sharks’ more effective players. But he’s still on the small side, hasn’t scored in 23 games, and it’s questionable whether he can hold up during the rigors of a March schedule that will see the Sharks play 16 games, or a physical playoff series against a heavier team like Anaheim or St. Louis.
Meier isn’t even on the team right now, remaining with the Barracuda. Although he oozes talent and has good size, one scout recently told me that he needs a little bit of work on his hockey sense at the pro level.
The addition of Hansen increases that tool that coaches love – internal competition for playing time. While that’s been palpable since the start of the season, with Hansen’s arrival and Joonas Donskoi nearing a return, it’s about to be ramped up even more in the final 20 games.
“Our goal was to acquire depth, and good depth, and then have competition up here to play every night,” DeBoer said. “That’s my goal, it’s not to put guys down in the minors and get more games. Everybody that’s here right now I think looks like NHL players, to me. If they end up falling out the bottom and going down there, that’s the last resort, but I think the goal of putting this group together was to create a lot of depth and competition and see what happens.”
Doug Wilson simply wants the Sharks’ young players to “continue to grow their game,” and didn’t shoot down the possibility that guys like Labanc and Meier could spend more time now in the AHL with the addition of Hansen.
“You see when Labanc went down and got some games under his belt he came back rejuvenated. Same thing with Timo,” Wilson said.
“We have a lot of ingredients that Pete can draw upon on a daily basis. Ultimately we have a lot of depth and a lot of options, which is competition. … We’re trying to build this in a way that allows us to go a long, long way. We’re going to need 30 players. The young guys, we need them on top of their game so they can give us a boost.”
Considering the schedule, and the fact that the Barracuda are in the same building, it should allow the Sharks’ young players – including Marcus Sorensen, who is currently on recall and was effective against the Maple Leafs – to get some valuable practice time on the AHL side while the NHL team will likely opt mostly for days off between games. That luxury for the organization should make the young guys much more ready for possible NHL playoff action than if they were forced into the Sharks’ lineup on a nightly basis, as Wilson indicated.
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The development and potential of guys like Labanc, Meier, Sorensen and Danny O’Regan are what made former first-round pick Nikolay Goldobin expendable.
Goldobin could end up becoming an NHL regular at some point, but he wasn’t a fit in San Jose anymore. His two-game stint earlier this month did nothing to change his position within the organization. Frankly, it’s a wonder what Vancouver saw during that showcase that made him a target of theirs.
The 21-year-old is simply not NHL ready, and the Sharks are a team pushing for a Stanley Cup. There was no reason to believe that if they needed him at some point in the playoffs that he was going to be able to handle it. Dealing him for a feisty, gritty player that can contribute now was a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned.
Wilson acknowledged Goldobin’s potential on Wednesday, saying he’s “a good kid who we think will have a heck of a career,” but also indicated that he wasn’t an option for the current group, either.
“The roles that we were looking to fill, maybe he wasn’t the perfect match at this time,” Wilson said. “He’ll go into Vancouver, he’ll pay a lot and do really well. We want him to do well.”
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In goal, it became more and more evident with every passing day that the Sharks weren’t likely to replace Aaron Dell as the backup. Although they acquired James Reimer last season, allowing Martin Jones added rest for the playoffs, there are too many differences between this season and last that a comparison is misguided.
Last season’s original backup, Alex Stalock, was having a disastrous campaign. He didn’t look like an NHL goaltender anymore.
Jones, while having a decent season as a first-year number one, was an unknown as far as the playoffs. Now, the Sharks know he can steal games when they are most important.
Dell is signed through next season, too, so they can expose him for the expansion draft while protecting Jones.
In danger of overworking Jones, DeBoer should give Dell more starts down the stretch, and hinted on Wednesday that he will. Based on the way Dell has played that shouldn’t be an issue, although I’d like to see Dell get at least one or two games against higher quality teams than he’s faced so far. Now that he’s here to stay, give him more experience in case he actually is needed.