Micheal Haley

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should forward Micheal Haley stay or go?

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should forward Micheal Haley stay or go?

When the Sharks claimed Micheal Haley off waivers this past winter, everyone wondered when he would get into his first scrap.

He wasted no time, taking on Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby the very next day. 

After leaving San Jose in 2017, there was no better way for Haley to announce his return.

Love him or hate him, Haley comes as advertised. He's a no-nonsense kind of player whose job is to keep opponents in check when they try knocking his teammates around. And when it comes to laying down the big hits, he does so without hesitation.

Now, the 33-year-old forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Here's a look at why he might stay in San Jose, and why he potentially already has played his last game in teal.

Why he could stay

Fans have strong opinions toward Haley, but teammates and coaches love having him in the mix. San Jose wouldn't have brought him back otherwise. Even though Haley wasn't an every-day player, coach Peter DeBoer liked having him in his arsenal.

While many aren't fond of Haley's physical style of play, there's no denying he brings a level of toughness that most of the Sharks' lineup doesn't have. For San Jose to keep up with some of the West's meaner teams, it helps to have a player who doesn't mind playing with some grit.

Why he could go

With the opening of free agency rapidly approaching, San Jose will be busy moving players around in an effort to create salary-cap space to lock down some of its main players. With space being created so the Sharks can sign those high-priority UFAs, it isn't likely Haley would receive a long-term deal as a utility player.

The Sharks also need more skilled players in their bottom six. While having a physical player like Haley benefited the Sharks during their hard-hitting playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, what they really need next season is depth scoring. Haley tallied just three points in 19 regular-season games with San Jose, which doesn't quite help.

[RELATED: Sharks might be willing to trade Dillon]

The verdict

The Sharks might love having a player of Haley's caliber on their roster, but it seems more likely he'll play for a different team next season.

San Jose has a lot of work to do in order to sign some of its big-name players who are about to hit the market, so a bottom-six skater such as Haley won't take top priority. Additionally, the Sharks need more depth scoring after their bottom two lines had trouble producing deep into the playoffs.

So, with those two elements taking top priority, Haley's second tour in teal might be over.

Sharks offseason questions: How likely is Micheal Haley to return?

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Sharks offseason questions: How likely is Micheal Haley to return?

SAN JOSE - Micheal Haley had barely been back on the Sharks roster for 24 hours when he had to stick up for one of his teammates. 

San Jose got involved in a full line brawl with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 21, a day after Team Teal claimed the gritty fourth-liner off waivers from the Florida Panthers. As Pens captain Sidney Crosby began to tussle with Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon, Haley immediately skated to the scrum and took over fighting Crosby, eventually wrestling him down onto the ice.

That was just one example of Haley's dedication to sticking up for his teammates. Now, like several others on San Jose's roster, Haley is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. While Haley undoubtedly fulfilled the role he was meant to play for the Sharks at the tail end of the 2018-19 season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs, it isn't certain he'll be staying in the South Bay for another season.

Despite all the flack he caught from fans on social media, it really wasn't hard to see why San Jose picked Haley up ahead of this season's trade deadline. The no-nonsense forward was a familiar face to a bulk of the team, having played for coach Peter DeBoer for parts of two seasons from 2015 to 2017. He gave the Sharks more options for their fourth line, which rotated personnel on a regular basis. Most of all, Haley added that extra level of physicality San Jose was going to need once the playoffs got underway, especially in the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

However, the Sharks' needs for their bottom-six forwards might deter them from retaining Haley. After all, San Jose's fourth-line shuffling didn't lead to much postseason production.

Take away Barclay Goodrow's two goals during the Vegas series -- including the overtime game-winner that sent the Sharks to the second round -- and Joonas Donskoi's second-round clincher was the only goal San Jose got from its fourth line. After playing three teams in the playoffs that get scoring production from their bottom-six forwards, it's likely the Sharks will want to follow suit and add more skill to their bottom six.

[RELATED: Sharks' blue line facing ample uncertainty this offseason]

Keep in mind, adding skill to the Sharks' bottom six doesn't necessarily preclude Haley's return. The Sharks got added depth from having Joe Thornton center the third line this past season, and there's no guarantee Thornton will return next year, either. Nevertheless, the Sharks are going to try to improve upon the forward depth that got them to the Western Conference final, and finding consistent fourth-line contributors is especially important. 

Like with just about every player the Sharks have hitting free agency this summer, Haley's future is up in the air. Given the offensive needs San Jose has when it comes to their bottom six, it's possible Haley's comeback tour with the Sharks is already over.

Why Sharks' lines could look much different in Game 3 against Blues

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Why Sharks' lines could look much different in Game 3 against Blues

From the look of morning skate at Enterprise Center on Wednesday, the Sharks could potentially roll out different bottom six lines for Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues after falling 4-2 in Game 2.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t confirm whether those changes would stick come game time. He did say, however, that he was looking for a spark from his depth players.

“The playoffs are all about depth,” he told the media after Wednesday’s morning skate. “On the runs we’ve had and where we’ve had success here, it’s been about contributions throughout your lineup. From all four lines.”

From the look of Wednesday’s practice, San Jose’s top two lines manned by Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl will stay intact. In practice, Melker Karlsson moved up to Joe Thornton’s wing opposite Kevin Labanc, in place of Marcus Sorensen. Micheal Haley took rushes with Barclay Goodrow and Joonas Donskoi on the fourth line.

When pressed by the media as to why Sorensen may be out of the lineup for Game 3, DeBoer commented only on the status of his depth scorers as a whole and the fact he wants to see them play a more energetic game on Wednesday night.

“I think Marcus is like our whole group of forwards,” he said. “I think we have a good group that’s built for this time of year. They play an honest game, they play inside, they play with energy. So we’re looking for all of those things.”

While the changes at morning skate may have some fans scratching their heads, the new-look fourth line of Donskoi-Goodrow-Haley previously played together 7:37 minutes during the regular season according to Natural Stat Trick. Given that Donskoi has played well on that fourth line since returning to the lineup from an injury in the second round, it isn’t too surprising he will be kept on that line with Goodrow – particularly since the two generated four five-on-five goals together in the regular season.

[RELATED: Five observations from Sharks' 4-2 loss]

Melker Karlsson is also a player DeBoer has traditionally moved throughout the lineup when he’s trying to get the offense going, hence the reason he could start the game on Thornton’s wing. Thornton and Karlsson logged a little over 60 minutes in ice time together during the regular season, while Karlsson and Labanc combined for six goals in five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick.