Are Sharks a defenseman short?


Are Sharks a defenseman short?

It was about this time last year that the San Jose Sharks decided that seven experienced NHL defensemen on the roster just wasnt enough.

Currently, the blue line consists of Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart, Brent Burns, Douglas Murray, Justin Braun and Jason Demers. Those are, however, the only defensemen in the system with any significant NHL experience. Should the Sharks stand pat with that group, they may be taking a significant risk when the 2012-13 season gets underway.

While the Sharks top five is among the strongest in the league, questions surround the remaining two in Murray and Demers. The 32-year-old Murray suffered through a number of injuries last season, missing 22 games total, and at times had trouble keeping up with the pace of play even when he was in the lineup. The Sharks are expected to have a much more aggressive approach to their penalty killing next season, too, and Murray's role could be reduced in that regard when you consider his lack of foot-speed.

Demers, although still just 24, saw his game take a step backwards last season after a fairly promising 2010-11 campaign. His stats fell from 24 points and a 19 rating in 75 games two seasons ago, to just 13 points and a -8 rating in 57 games last year.

The Sharks do have some young defensemen in the system that were recently high draft picks in Nick Petrecki (first round, 2007) and Taylor Doherty (second round, 2009), both of whom now have an extra year of experience under their belts. A veteran NHL scout recently told me that while Doherty could get in some games next season, Petrecki (still a restricted free agent) looks a ways off from being NHL-ready.

The 21-year-old Doherty, a 67, 235-pounder, had six assists and 76 penalty minutes in 63 games with Worcester last season. He has two years remaining on his entry-level deal, and the Sharks may be better served letting him grow his game in the AHL for one more complete season.

So, what do they do?

Last year, the Sharks decided to sign the veteran Colin White to a one-year deal on August 3, after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract. Hes still an unrestricted free agent, but its highly unlikely the Sharks will consider White after he struggled mightily for most of the season.

There are more attractive options still on the market.

One name that immediately jumps out is Phoenixs Michal Rozsival. The 33-year-old was a top-four defenseman on one of the NHLs strongest defensive clubs, playing more than 19 minutes a night on the reigning Pacific Division champions. As long as hes recovered from a hit he took from Dustin Brown late in the concluding game of Western Conference Finals (which reportedly caused no structural damage), Rozsival would be a solid fifth defender for the Sharks with the ability to jump up and play in one of the top two pairs if necessary.

While Rozsival would be an upgrade to the stay-at-home Murray, St. Louis Carlo Colaiacovo is a veteran of 370 NHL games over parts of nine seasons and is a puck-moving type that would be an improvement over Demers, who plays a similar style.

Sharks fans got a chance to see Colaiacovo first hand in the first round last season, when he had an effective series for the Blues in their five-game triumph over San Jose. A left-handed shot, Colaiacovo has the ability to play on the man advantage and might look good paired with the right-handed Braun on the teams bottom pair.

A more familiar name with a chance to return and provide some depth (and cost much less than either Rozsival or Colaiacovo) is Jim Vandermeer. Even with White struggling and Murray battling injuries, Vandermeer somewhat oddly played in just 25 games last season, but brought a physical edge to the blue line (and even a few times as a fourth-line forward).

Other notable free agent defensemen include Scott Hannan, Brett Clark, Matt Gilroy, Jaroslav Spacek, Pavel Kubina, Steve Eminger and Kurtis Foster. If the Sharks arent looking to sign a defenseman to a long-term deal with a salary cap rollback likely on the way, they may be able to get one of the veterans listed above to sign a one-year deal at a reasonable cost, much like White did this time last year.

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone


With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game. 

Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing like a visit with the Los Angeles Kings to get Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks on top of their game.

Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Jones made 35 saves in the Sharks' third straight victory over their longtime rivals, 4-1 Monday.

Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker ended lengthy goal droughts for the Sharks, who built a three-goal lead during another strong game by Jones against his former Los Angeles teammates.

The goalie who won a Stanley Cup ring as Jonathan Quick's backup followed up his 2-0 win over the Kings at the Shark Tank on Dec. 23 with another near-shutout of Los Angeles. Jones improved to 9-3-2 in 14 career appearances against his former organization, but he spread the praise for a comprehensive win throughout the Sharks' lineup.

"It's easy to prepare for games against these guys, or any division game," Jones said. "We know what the standings are like, and what these games mean. We play well as a team (against the Kings). When we play in the offensive zone that much, it makes everybody's job easier."

Dylan DeMelo returned from a three-game injury absence with two assists for his second career multipoint game for the Sharks, who were in control from the opening faceoff of a rare matinee at Staples Center. Joonas Donskoi also had two assists, and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal.

"You battle a bit more when you're playing a rival and a division team that's ahead of you in the standings," Tierney said. "That's what this team is built for, is playing those tight games where you try to lock it down."

Trevor Lewis ended Jones' shutout bid with 7:18 to play, but the Kings lost their fourth straight to match their longest skid of the season. Los Angeles has been outscored 8-3 in losses to its two California rivals since returning from the bye week last Saturday.

"We had some guys that were really off tonight," Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. "I don't know if the break affected us that way or not, but certainly something did. We've got to regroup here. I feel like we got some good efforts out of our key veteran guys, but they cannot do it on their own."

Darcy Kuemper stopped 29 shots in his first start since Dec. 16 for the Kings, who have slumped into third place after leading the Pacific Division for a good chunk of the season. With a 5-7-3 record in division play, LA is just one point ahead of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

"It's tough. We were ahead of the pack for a while there, and now we're right in the thick of things," Lewis said. "We've just got to figure it out in a hurry here."

The Sharks went ahead just 4:38 in when the Kings lapsed on defense, allowing Donskoi to make a pass across the crease to an unchecked Tierney for his 11th goal into an open net.

Goodrow got his third goal of the season midway through the second period, converting DeMelo's rebound in the slot. The goal was his first since Dec. 7.

San Jose had an extra step on the Kings throughout the first two periods and nearly added to its lead in the closing seconds, but Los Angeles defenseman Christian Folinstopped a shot with his skate on the goal line.

Boedker added his first goal since Nov. 24 in the third period, ending a 12-game drought.

Lewis got help from Marian Gaborik in scoring his 11th goal. The grinding forward scored a career-high 12 goals last season while playing in all 82 games.

NOTES: Kuemper lost in regulation for the first time in his debut season with the Kings. He is 5-1-3. ... Quick got the day off for the Kings after nine consecutive starts. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner gave up three goals in LA's loss to Anaheim last Saturday. ... Sharks D Tim Heed was scratched in DeMelo's place.


Sharks: At the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Kings: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in just their third game in 12 days.