Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…
Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)
The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”
That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).
Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.
So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.
Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)
I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.
I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.
One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.
As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.
But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.
What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)
I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.
But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.
I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.