Friday, September 4, 2015

Q Attack, Round 19 - Did the San Jose Sharks Change Enough to Win?
The San Jose Sharks have made off-season changes with familiar faces leaving the Bay Area and new players coming in to wear old numbers. The Sharks missed the dance last year; can they overcome their history to dance with the stars again? Tiger and Rabbit thrash out whether these changes are enough to transform the Sharks into the competitive team they once were.


Tiger: Hey Rabbit, check out what I’ve been working on.

Rabbit: ^looks at paper^ What is this, a math problem?

Tiger: No, it’s prospective line combinations for the San Jose Sharks. I’ve been trying to figure out where I’d put the new players.

Rabbit: Doug Wilson, the Sharks GM, was very active this summer and got a few new players while letting old ones go.

Tiger: Yes, it was a lot better than just picking up John Scott last year.

Rabbit: Speaking of John Scott, he was one of the players that was let go.

Tiger: About time too. Other players that are no longer with the team include goalie Antti Niemi and Defensemen Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin who were not offered extensions.

Rabbit: Forwards Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard were traded during last season as well.

Tiger: Congrats to Desi for winning the Cup too. He definitely deserved to get a ring but I was rooting against Sheppard’s team the whole playoffs.

Rabbit: That’s so mean of you.

Tiger: Sheppard was worthless for our team and was gifted the chance to play for the Cup. He didn’t take advantage of it and was given limited minutes during the playoffs. You gotta work to play.

Rabbit: Back to the other changes, the Sharks were active in adding players not only in the draft but also during free agency.

Tiger: The Sharks had their highest draft pick since they chose Logan Couture in 2007. With Pick number nine, the Sharks selected winger Timo Meier, a power forward from the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Meier scored 44 goals and had 90 points during the 2014-2015 season. He is the third pick in the last three drafts from Switzerland and is known for using his six-foot-one, 209 pound frame to play a physical style. He is also praised for his hard and accurate wrist shot.

Rabbit: This draft class was so deep that many players who fell to the second round would have been considered first round contenders in previous years.

Tiger: To this point, the Sharks traded up from 39th overall pick to the first pick of the second round to make their next selection. At 31st overall, SJ nabbed Jeremy Roy, a defenseman from the Sherbrooke Phoenix. The right-handed shooter is also a solid puck-moving defenseman and was ranked 21st among North American prospects by Central Scouting. Known for his smooth skating and on-ice IQ, snagging Roy was like getting two first rounders for San Jose.

Rabbit: While San Jose had multiple draft picks this year, Meier and Roy were the standout picks that could make an impact to the team in the immediate future.

Tiger: I really loved the pick for Roy even if he was pricy. The Sharks paid in full, trading the 39th pick, a second round pick in 2016, and a sixth rounder in 2017 to the Colorado Avalanche, just to acquire the 31st pick of 2015.

Rabbit: That is expensive; do you think he’s worth it?

Tiger: Roy is six feet tall, 188 pounds and was highly sought after. Roy describes himself as a two-way defenseman, skilled in both the defensive and offensive aspects of the game.

Rabbit: He also said he modeled his game after Drew Doughty.

Tiger: *groans* No! Not a Kings’ player!

Rabbit: Roy led all Sherbrooke defensemen with 43 points in 46 games this past season.

Tiger: I think his stock dropped when he suffered a lower body injury earlier this year but being a right-shot defenseman was a huge bonus.

Rabbit: Right-shot means the player keeps the blade of his stick on the right side of his body. These are highly sought after since most players shoot left.

Tiger: Roy also plays in every situation on the ice including powerplay, penalty kill, and as a shut-down player in the final minutes of the game. I actually think he’s the better of the two top SJS draftees. While Meier is skilled, he seemed like a safe pick but Roy has a ton of upside.

Rabbit: Speaking of Meier, the 18 year-old registered 44 goals and 46 assists with Halifax last season. He was named to the QMJHL’s Second All-Star Team and was awarded the Michael Bossy Trophy, given to the best professional prospect. At six-foot-one, the 210-pound native of Switzerland plays a strong game. He’s a solid skater that's known for his versatility on the ice. Meier also spent time on the international scene, representing his country in 66 games, including the 2015 World Junior Championship.

Tiger: The Sharks picked up a few other young players via trade and free agency.

Rabbit: One such player was Patrick McNally who was acquired via a draft-day trade with Vancouver. He just signed a two year contract as well. Playing for Harvard, McNally recorded 21 points and was a plus-16 on the blueline in 21 games. He also helped the Crimson win the ECAC Championship and was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Tiger: Team Teal acquired Mark Cundari and signed him to a one year contract. The 25 year-old posted 29 points in 50 games with Adirondack of the AHL. During last season, Cundari led all defensemen in points and goals as well as wearing an A on his sweater. Before turning pro, Cundari spent some time with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, under new Sharks Assistant Coach Bob Boughner. While there, Cundari helped Windsor win back-to-back OHL and Memorial Cup Championships.

Rabbit: I don’t know much about Cundari but I think McNally was a good pick up. He has already spent some time in the NHL, allowing him to get a taste of the big leagues. Now, he just needs to continue developing into a stable blueliner.

Tiger: For the price the Sharks paid, both defensemen were solid pickups. You always take a risk when signing young prospects or unproven players but the ability to bolster not only the NHL team but the new AHL team in San Jose, is a bonus.

Rabbit: Speaking of the AHL team, the Worcester Sharks are no more. They are now the San Jose Barracuda and will play in the SAP Center, along with their big brother team.

Tiger: The Sharks weren’t done with just bolstering their young talent, with the exits of Niemi and a few defensemen; the Sharks still needed to fill two major holes.

Rabbit: To that effect, they signed Martin Jones, the back-up goalie of the LA Kings.

Tiger: *glares*

Rabbit: What?

Tiger: Freaking LA.

Rabbit: It’s not my fault! I thought you were happy about this!

Tiger: I am but I’m not at the same time. Stupid purple-faced-

Rabbit: ^raises hands^ Look at the bright side. Technically, the Sharks acquired him from the Boston Bruins in exchange for the first round pick of 2016 and prospect Sean Kuraly.

Tiger: But the Bruins got him from LA!

Rabbit: Now he’s a Shark.

Tiger: Yes, at least he’s wearing a real color now.

Rabbit: Anyway, Jones had a phenomenal debut in the NHL when he went 8-0-0 in his first eight starts. In that span, he posted a 0.98 goals-against average and three shutouts, making him the first NHL goaltender to allow less than one goal a game. Before his time in the land we shall not mention, Jones played for Manchester of the AHL where he had a 2.42 goals-against average and a 0.920 save percentage. While he’s unproven as an NHL starter, it’s not a surprise to find that this kid has talent.

Tiger: Kid? He’s only a few years younger than we are.

Rabbit: Don’t forget that Jones has a gold medal to go along with his Stanley Cup Ri-

Tiger: *shouts* Stop! Stop! Stop! Don’t finish that sentence, please don’t.

Rabbit: ^silence^

Tiger: Jones posted a 2-0 record during the 2015 World Championships, where he helped Team Canada capture gold. He also won a silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships. He definitely has a lot of upside but I question whether he can handle the 82 game season as a starter.

Rabbit: SJS still has last year’s backup netminder, Alex Stalock. While he didn’t do well in relief of Niemi, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the young goalie and hopefully the competition from Jones will push the tandem to new levels of skill.

Tiger: With the goaltender situation settled for next season, there were still gaps to fill on the blueline. GM Wilson pulled a July 1st signing of unrestricted free agent, Paul Martin, the former defenseman from Pittsburgh.

Rabbit: At the age of 34, Martin was a stalwart on the blueline for the Pens. Not a flashy goal-scoring defenseman, Martin is known for his rock-solid defensive play. Always making the best choices, his hockey IQ is out of this world.

Tiger: Martin was signed to a shiny new contract and will wear number seven for the next four seasons.

Rabbit: Didn’t Niclas Wallin wear number seven?

Tiger: *rolls eyes* Don’t remind me. Martin is nothing like Wallin. His offensive numbers won’t wow you but his amazingly detailed style of play will have an immediate impact on the ice. Martin does all the little things right like angling players to the boards, using his stick to control the play, and making the simple passes that have a high probability for success rather than trying something flashy.

Rabbit: I haven’t seen him play too much since he played predominantly in the Eastern Conference, but he reminds me a bit of Rob Blake. Not only is he a skilled player but he’s touted as being an exceptional leader. I’m excited to have a mentor like him for youngsters such as Mirco Mueller and the D-men we mentioned already.

Tiger: The only thing I dislike is his almost five million cap hit for the next four years. The Sharks had plenty of cap space to play with but the fact that he’s already 34, a four year contract seems a bit long to me.

Rabbit: I think the expertise and experience he adds to the locker room will be totally worth the price. The Sharks seemed done building the team yet there was one thing still missing…

Tiger: An identity winger! I was calling for them to sign a winger from the very get go.

Rabbit: And they got exactly that when they signed Joel Ward to a three year contract.

Tiger: Ward will be removing his red, white, and blue sweater of the Capitals and replacing it for Teal when the season starts this fall. Known as a clutch player, Ward is physical and competitive.

Rabbit: Everyone raves that he’s a great guy to have in the locker room too.

Tiger: When you talk about identity players, he’s one of the first ones to come to mind.

Rabbit: Not only can Ward impact the game with his hard-nosed brand of hockey, he has the ability to score when it really matters.

Tiger: Just like he did in the playoffs last season when he scored with 1.6 seconds left in the game to give Washington the win.

Rabbit: He is going to add a dimension to the Sharks that they haven’t had since Torres was taken out.

Tiger: I actually really love these three signings. Last year the Sharks tried to reset the team with a focus on younger players but the team showed that they still needed help if they were to get into the playoffs. The Martin and Ward signings show that Wilson is dedicated to winning now while allowing the young guns time to mature. I think this blend will help balance the team and hopefully right the terrible course the team has been on for the past two years.

Rabbit: The players aren’t the only things changing in San Jose with head coach Todd McLellan and his staff moving to Edmonton. The Sharks searched near and far for a new coach before selecting Peter DeBoer, former leader of the New Jersey Devils.

Tiger: He had a tough task in New Jersey, guiding an average team but was able to eke out the potential of most of his players. DeBoer is also touted for his strong communication abilities and isn’t afraid to have a firm hand when needed. He focuses on puck-possession, something the Sharks have been known for but have gotten away from in the past couple of seasons. Downside, DeBoer doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience in the postseason yet he has earned a Memorial Cup title in 2003 with the Kitchener Rangers.

Rabbit: SJS also added Bob Boughner as an assistant coach and Johan Hedberg as an assistant/goaltending coach. Boughner spent ten seasons in the NHL as a defenseman and was the head coach for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. He was named OHL and CHL coach of the year in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, when he led the team to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles. Boughner also worked with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Tiger: Hedberg played 373 NHL games and is currently ranked 3rd in wins among Swedish-born netminders. He’ll be working with Jones and Stalock as they battle for the number one starting position. There was one last late addition to the coaching staff and that was Steve Spott.

Rabbit: Spott will be joining the team as the second assistant coach. He recently spent the last season as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before that, he was the head coach of the AHL based Toronto Marlies. They made it all the way to the Calder Cup before losing in seven games.

Tiger: Spott also coached alongside DeBoer when they were with the Plymouth Wahlers and Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
Rabbit: With so many changes made to not only the roster but the coaching staff, do you think it’s enough to propel the Sharks back into the postseason?

Tiger: I really liked the additions, while I complained that Martin’s contract is too long, you cannot overlook the impact a veteran defenseman can have on the team. The team has obviously been missing beloved Dan Boyle on the backend and Martin will be to fill that void. Plus, the idea of having number seven and number 88 paired together absolutely thrills me. Burns is a force on the blueline but he’s also prone to overemphasizing offense at the expensive of defense. Martin should be a calming influence for Burnzie and I think they’ll make a great pair.

Rabbit: Vlasic and Braun, and now Martin and Burns; yes that looks to be a solid top four D-core.

Tiger: Braun needs to up his game though, he had a middling season last go around but I’m hopeful he’ll be able to regain the glory of his better play. That leaves the third pairing up to Dillon and whichever youngster makes it out of camp. Mueller is still in play but with McNally and Cundari, they could be mid-season call-ups.

Rabbit: Don't forget about Dylan DeMelo who got called up from the AHL team last year but didn't get the opportunity to play. There's a strong possibility that we'll see him with the big club, maybe even right out of training camp.

Tiger: Then there are the forwards, Marleau had a terrible year and the sophomores had very little impact. I’m expecting big bounce back years from Patty, Hertl, and Nieto; along with better overall play from the bottom six forwards. I don’t think we’ll see Karlsson on the top line with Thornton and Pavelski this season, I bet he’ll slide down to maybe the third line with Tierney and Wingels. Who plays with Jumbo and Pavs? Who knows, Goldobin has a great opportunity to make the team out of camp. I’m not saying he’ll be slotted there, but it would be interesting to see the young offensive force with the league’s best passer.

Rabbit: Do you think it will be Couture centering the second line with Marleau and Nieto? Or does Ward take that spot?

Tiger: Hard to say, I’d personally rather see Patty down on the third line since he didn’t earn his minutes last season, but he may bounce back. We have to remember that Torres is a possibility too, though I’d say it’s doubtful since he hasn’t played in two years. Maybe slot Hertl on the third line with Tierney and have Wingels back up with Cooch. Then there’s Smith, Goodrow, and Brown that could round out the fourth line but I doubt Goodrow will stay with the big club the entire season, there are too many good young prospects that I think SJ will give a chance to play.

Rabbit: I’d go Ninja-Jumbo-Pavs, Patty-Cooch-California Kid, Ward-CT-Juicebox, and Goldobin-Smithy-Milkman. Then have the D as Pickles-Brauny, Martin-Burnzie, Mules-Dill.

Tiger: That’s an interesting choice of bottom six. It’s hard to say since we don’t even know who’s going to make it out of camp but I definitely can see something similar when the season starts. Down the middle having Jumbo, Cooch, Tierney, and Smith makes sense. I sort of want them to give Hertl the opportunity to play C again, that is his natural position and he looked good the couple of games he did play center. I like the D-pairings but feel that Mueller needs a full year in the AHL before making the jump. There’s no reason to rush him right now when you have Tennyson and the other acquisitions able to take some ice time.

Rabbit: I’m not sure they made enough changes to the team in all honesty. Many of the reports point to Thornton and Marleau inciting a lot of the friction around the team. The Sharks have more issues than just not being skilled enough on the ice. They have a serious issue inside the locker room and that was apparent both on and off the ice last season. Things need to change internally before their game can really get to the level it needs to be in this league.

Tiger: I think DeBoer will name a team captain right after training camp, which is something that should help heal the rift. The Sharks need a leader to hold them accountable but also to take responsibility and I think Pavelski is that person. I was surprised when Vlasic was given an A, I think they should give one to Wingels.

Rabbit: A little surprised Couture didn’t get one, he’s been very vocal but he also sounds like he causes friction of his own.

Tiger: Last season was the ugly continuation of letting a 3-0 lead evaporate in the playoffs. It literally felt like 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 was one long, freakishly ugly season. I think adding veterans Martin and Ward will shake up the locker room in a good way. I believe that creating internal competition for positions, especially the position of goalie, will force players to really bring their A game every single night. I’m tentatively optimistic that the Sharks will be able to turn it around. They have a new coach, a new starting goalie, they’ll have a new captain, and a new opportunity to finally put the last playoff run behind them.

Rabbit: There's only one question left to ask; is it October yet?

Did the San Jose Sharks Change Enough to Win?

Tiger     vs     Rabbit

No comments:

Post a Comment