Sharks' depth advantage on full display as NHL trade deadline draws near


Sharks' depth advantage on full display as NHL trade deadline draws near

The Sharks are in a unique position.

Not just because they’re riding a six-game winning streak, having just swept their way through Western Canada, and are now sitting atop the Western Conference -- although those are all pretty unique statuses. San Jose’s position is interesting in that they aren’t being led by one skater or one line that’s on a hot streak; they’re getting contributions from all throughout their lineup, and their depth is on full display.

“Right now, we’re getting a lot of contributions,” captain Joe Pavelski told the media after San Jose’s 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. “Four strong lines who are adding to the mix. Our game’s in a good spot right now.”

Logan Couture agreed. “Seems like that’s something that’s been happening on a nightly basis here,” he summarized. “That’s a big reason why we’re winning.”

It’s also a big reason this Sharks team, although it’s comprised of the almost exact same lineup, looks more dominant than it did at the start of the season. It also puts them in an interesting position just a couple weeks ahead of the trade deadline.

At the start of the 2018-19 campaign, San Jose had visible areas that needed to be improved upon. There were questions regarding their forward depth, and whether the goaltending needed to be beefed up. Heck, the expectations of the blue line were so high before the season opened up that even that part of the Sharks’ game was getting questioned. Back in November, there were fans calling for half the team to get shipped off. 

Now, moving pieces and breaking up chemistry seems almost unnecessary. San Jose’s depth from the top forward line all the way back to the net has made it an unstoppable force since the All-Star break, as the Sharks just became the sixth team in NHL history to sweep through Western Canada. (And they did it without Erik Karlsson in the lineup, to boot.) Those calls to pick the team apart have, expectedly, become quite faint.

Now, the Sharks' depth, hot streak and resulting confidence puts them in an interesting position as the trade deadline nears. It’s unlikely Doug Wilson makes a splash like last season when the Sharks acquired Evander Kane from Buffalo. But would San Jose sit back while teams around them wheel and deal?

There has been talk since the start of the season about San Jose potentially adding a bottom-six forward, but the Sharks aren’t likely to be in the running for anyone like Wayne Simmonds or Matt Duchene. There was also a ton of chatter through the first couple months of the season that San Jose needed an upgrade between the pipes, but with Martin Jones rounding into playoff-caliber form and Aaron Dell having an impressive start on the road trip against Edmonton, seeing a change in the crease isn’t too likely either. There’s been little-to-no worry regarding the Sharks’ defensive corps, since their depth players have filled in well for injured starters. Really, they’re just waiting to get Karlsson back healthy.

[RELATED: DeBoer thinks Karlsson close to returning to Sharks' lineup]

Long story short: Don’t count on the Sharks making big headlines come deadline day, but remember Wilson will likely have his eyes peeled.

In the meantime, the Sharks return home for a three-game stint at the Tank against the Capitals, Canucks, and Bruins. No doubt the expectations for this homestand are high, given San Jose's hot streak of late, and many parties will be watching with the trade deadline right around the corner. It will be interesting to see how the conversation evolves as the Feb. 25 deadline draws near.

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should Joakim Ryan stay or go?

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should Joakim Ryan stay or go?

SAN JOSE - To say that the Sharks' blue line got banged up over last season is a bit of an understatement.

In addition to the long stretch of time Erik Karlsson missed with a groin injury, Marc-Edouard-Vlasic and Justin Braun were sidelined with their respective ailments, and Radim Simek had his stellar rookie season cut short by a knee injury that required surgery. 

When it came to filling the void left by San Jose's blueliners, Joakim Ryan was one Shark who was called upon to pencil into the lineup, ending the season with 44 regular-season games under his belt.

Now, Ryan is set to be a restricted free agent on July 1, and his future with the team -- like just about everyone else's on the free agent list -- is unclear. Here's a look at why he could stay in San Jose, and why he could be long gone.

Why he could stay

San Jose's defense is short a left-handed shot after trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesay. With Jacob Middleton being the only other left-hander coming up the pipeline, Ryan might be the Sharks' only readily-available defenseman to fill that void. If Ryan stays, it's possible he and Middleton could fight for the same job.

Ryan also has experience playing alongside a Norris Trophy-winner in Brent Burns. The Cornell product had the difficult task of being "on call" for most of the season and most of that time was spent paired up with the Wookiee. Ryan was also the only defenseman coach Peter DeBoer put into the lineup during the playoffs when Erik Karlsson aggravated his groin injury.

Why he could go

Remember, Ryan started off the regular season alongside Burns before essentially being knocked out of that spot by Simek. Even as DeBoer called on him to fill in other times throughout the season, the coach still said on multiple occasions that he wanted to see more out of the 26-year-old who ended the season with seven assists and at a minus-15.

It's also highly unlikely the Sharks are done moving personnel around this summer as they make room to accommodate high priority free agents set to hit the market on July 1. Even with the Braun trade freeing up some cap space, San Jose can't keep every RFA and UFA on its current list of 21 players.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc -- both RFAs -- are likely to get locked into contracts before Ryan is.

The verdict

Although the Braun trade appears to leave the door open for Ryan to stay and get another chance at holding down a spot in San Jose's starting lineup, there's no guarantee the Sharks sign him to a deal. The coaching staff needed more out of him this past season, and the team is likely looking to sign other RFAs first.

With that in mind, it's possible Ryan could be playing somewhere else next season.

[RELATED: Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks]

For those worried about where that leaves the Sharks' defense, keep in mind: San Jose has a history of making trades over the weekend of the draft, so moves to San Jose's defense could still be made even within the week.

There's no reason to think the Sharks are done piecing next season's defense together just yet. Where Ryan could fit into that mix, however, is difficult to determine.

Sharks trade defenseman Justin Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks


Sharks trade defenseman Justin Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks

The Sharks kept retooling their lineup for the future on Tuesday as the team traded defenseman Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers.

In return, San Jose acquired a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Braun has spent his entire professional career playing for the Sharks, having been drafted in the seventh round in the 2007 draft. The left-hander scored 154 total points (24 goals, 130 assists) and was a plus-24 in 607 games played. He tallied 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists) in 78 games played in the 2018-19 season.

The Minnesota native has been a staple on the Sharks' blue line, spending a significant amount of time paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Braun averaged 19:56 minutes of ice time per game through nine regular seasons in teal and 21:01 minutes of ice time through 84 Stanley Cup playoff games. Braun was also a lock on San Jose's penalty kill, which ended the last regular season with a 80.8-percent success rate.

While the trade gives the Sharks a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, it also leaves them without a left-shooting veteran defenseman in their starting lineup. San Jose currently has left-handed shot Joakim Ryan, who is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, and AHL defenseman Jacob Middleton, who played three games at the professional level last season.

[RELATED: Why Karlsson skipped free agency to sign with Sharks]

Braun has one year left on his current five-year contract before hitting free agency. The trade increases the Sharks' projected cap space by $3.8 million, according to CapFriendly

The Sharks still have 21 players on their list of free agents. It'll be a busy summer for Doug Wilson and Co.