NASHVILLE –- Now that the All-Star Game has come and gone, the next big event on the NHL’s yearly calendar is just ahead on the horizon.
The 2015-16 trade deadline is on leap day, Feb. 29, just three weeks and three days from Friday.
Will the Sharks’ roster look any different by the time the calendar flips to March? There’s always that possibility.
A case can be made that the Sharks -– as well as they’ve been playing for the past month –- are thin at left wing, defense and backup goaltender. Part of the reason they’re on an impressive 9-1-2 run in their last 12 games is that they are remarkably healthy for this time of year, with not a single name on the injury report. There are sure to be some bumps and bruises, at the very least, over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
Unlike last season there’s no question that the team will be buyers rather than sellers, considering the position they’ve put themselves in and how important it is for Doug Wilson and his staff to make it back to the playoffs.
Coach Pete DeBoer, though, suggested that his frequent communication with Wilson hasn’t deviated from the norm with the deadline creeping up.
“We have daily discussions on where our team is at, what our strengths and weaknesses are, what holes we would like to fill,” DeBoer said. “We’ve had those since day one. It’s not like those conversations are ramping up now. We’re on the same page, we both see it the same way. I really don’t have a lot to do with it. We know where we’re at. I really like our group, and we’ll see what happens.”
If the Sharks are to make a big move, it will almost certainly involve Patrick Marleau. The 36-year-old forward’s agent has reportedly been exploring options for Marleau, who earlier in the season was willing to accept a trade to either the Kings, Ducks or Rangers. New York, in particular, has been scouting the Sharks frequently in recent weeks.
When asked on Friday in Nashville if he expected to be with the Sharks after the deadline, Marleau replied: “I just worry about playing.”
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The Sharks’ most pressing need is probably on the blue line. While rookie Dylan DeMelo has made a good account of himself in 25 games, the Sharks have struggled when Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Justin Braun has been hurt. Their record when down one of their top four is just 1-6-1 with an abysmal goals-against average of 4.00. They haven’t had to play short recently, as DeBoer has had the luxury of dressing the same six blueliners for the past 23 games, but they could be one key injury away from defensive disaster.
That group could also arguably use a little more physicality. Although Brenden Dillon is always on the lookout for a big hit, the Sharks really haven’t had the kind of defenseman that can deliver a game-changing blow since Brad Stuart or Douglas Murray.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, though, disputes that notion that the Sharks’ defense core isn’t physical enough -– a necessity come playoff time.
“Physical is being hard on your stick, hard in front of your net – not necessary running guys through the boards. Winning the 50-50 battles. Sure, sometimes you want to make a big hit to get your team into it, but physicality most of the time is just being strong on the puck, strong on your stick, boxing out, getting guys sticks out from in front of the net. That’s physical. We can do that.”
Vlasic senses the Sharks can contend even if the current roster, defensemen or otherwise, is unchanged between now and Feb. 29. Considering the Sharks haven’t played a stinker since Jan. 2 against Winnipeg, he may be right.
“I think if [Wilson] wants to add, that’s up to him, but for now we have to concentrate on playing well and keep playing the way we have,” Vlasic said. “If this is the team we have going into playoffs, I feel really confident.”