SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.
Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.
Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3.
In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position.
Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.
“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”
DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.
“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession.
“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”
Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.
It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.
“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”
Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.
If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.
Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.
“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.
But if not?
“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”