Antti Niemi

Sharks limp home after tough road trip, Nash-less trade deadline

Things have certainly fallen apart for the San Jose Sharks lately. After a nightmarish 4-3 loss that ended the Sharks 2-6-1 road trip, the team’s plane back to the Bay Area had to be grounded due to mechanical issues. The Sharks were forced to spend the night in St. Paul, Minnesota before flying back to San Jose on Monday.

Road weary and most certainly humbled, sitting on a plane was not the way San Jose wanted to spend their Monday, especially considering the Sharks have a game at HP Pavilion versus the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. Ask any traveling salesmen (if they still exist) – flying cross country all day certainly doesn’t equate to a day of rest.

This road stretch has proven to be the perfect storm for the Sharks – Their 71 points on the season has them 2nd in the Pacific Division behind the Phoenix Coyotes and 7th overall in the Western Conference. When the road trip started, their lead in the Pacific was by a few points and they sat comfortably at 3rd in the West. They now have the Dallas Stars nipping at their heels by only a point in the conference race and the Los Angeles Kings are sitting 3 points behind. Should those two teams get a few wins in hand, the Sharks will find themselves on the outside of the playoff race looking in for the first time in what feels like forever.

The wounded and weary

To make matters worse, the road trip did the Sharks no better on the injury front. Newly acquired forward Dominic Moore is still out after injuring himself blocking a shot in Columbus. Douglas Murray, although he has taken back to skating, is still missing time due to a fractured Adam’s Apple.

Logan Couture – suddenly the most coveted young star in the NHL, as we’ll talk about later – suffered an undisclosed injury in Minnesota after getting checked hard near the end of the game. Marty Havlat, although also back to skating, is still out with probably the lamest hamstring injury in the history of the National Hockey League.

And as if all that isn’t bad enough, head coach Todd McLellan took an errant stick to the head during the Minnesota game and had to be taken back to the locker room for treatment. GM Doug Wilson said they’re still not sure if McLellan will be well enough to coach against the Flyers on Tuesday.

Panic Room

Bad vibes are starting to pick up steam for the Sharks, and it seems that the Teal faithful are getting restless. Questions about whether the Sharks might miss the playoffs altogether are starting to ring in my ears.

My natural inclination would be to panic right about now, but instead I’ve decided to be reasonable. It’s natural for teams to go through rough patches during the NHL regular season. Thanks to the SAP Open invading the Sharks’ living room for several days, San Jose’s resident hockey team was forced to venture out on a long road trip — one that couldn’t have ended up any worse. The hope was that the Sharks would end the road trip strong after a win in Toronto. Yet, they fell flat on their face Nashville and then Minnesota punctuated their pain by stealing the final game.

Now they’re home, and they’ll be here for a while. 12 of the final 20 games of the season are at the Tank – that should give the Sharks plenty of home ice chum to feed on. Their next four games are in San Jose and those are wins that the Sharks will need, not only for the standings but for their confidence as well.

The Sharks usually dominate in the regular season, so this year has been different … rather than bad. If they get hot in the final month, they could carry that momentum into the playoffs. The 7th seed isn’t a place the Sharks find themselves in very often, but with that being said, the playoffs have started early in San Jose. Let’s see if this turns out to be a healthy change of pace.

Trade deadline moves

The Sharks made their final trade of the 2011-12 season less than an hour before the deadline, sending Jamie McGinn to the Colorado Avalanche for Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi. The Sharks also sent two futures to Colorado – Michael Sgarbossa and Mike Connelly.

Let’s start with what the Sharks gave away. Jamie McGinn, 23, has been one of the bright spots this year, especially after a 2010-11 season that saw an anemic amount of production: 1 goal, 5 assists in 49 games. McGinn has been a standout this season on the lower lines, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists, a career high in both categories. He provided a burst of energy for the Sharks because of his physicality and his roughneck attitude. McGinn loves to hit and he goes hard for the puck. As a result, he was at the peak of his trade value, so Wilson decided to ship him off.

In return the Sharks got two guys similar to what they now have in Dominic Moore. They certainly aren’t flashy pickups, but both Winnik and Galiardi are fast, defensive-minded forwards who can penalty kill with the best of them.

Winnik has 5 goals and 13 assists on the season with a -11 goal differential. He was averaging almost 15 minutes of ice time with the Avalanche. Galiardi is having a down year, scoring only 8 goals and 6 assists on the season with a -6 differential. It should be remembered in this trade that Wilson was looking for defensive presence at forward, rather than snipers.

Nothing new for Nash

Despite an inordinate number of teams making a play to Columbus for Rick Nash, the trade deadline came and passed without the star forward getting moved. As the final hour closed Monday, it looked as if the Sharks had returned as co-front runners for Nash along with the New York Rangers, but the Blue Jackets decided to pass on all offers.

The Sharks came up in the twit-o-sphere early Monday morning to also be in the running for Philadelphia Flyers forward James Van Riemsdyk. Darren Dreger of TSN tweeted that the Sharks had offered Antti Niemi to Philly. Later it was reported that the Flyers were asking for Logan Couture in exchange for JVR, which quite frankly would have made absolutely no sense. That makes Philadelphia the second team to request Logan Couture in a trade, with Columbus being the first. Either way, it proved to be a non-starter for the Sharks’ brass.

Whether or not they actually offered up Niemi in a trade package, only Doug Wilson really knows. Part of me says thinks it’s possible, considering Niemi’s most recent struggles, how well Griess has played and the Sharks need for more firepower. The other half knows that trading Antti Niemi would be far too much of a knee-jerk reaction – something a fantasy hockey GM would do, not a real general manager.

It also stands to be mentioned that these rumors all came from Twitter, a machine that gets to spinning wild fallacies every time the word “trade” is uttered. Now that the trade deadline has passed, the Sharks seem to have made solid moves as opposed to rash decisions. They didn’t trade away Joe Pavelski, Niemi, or anyone else from their upper core of talent. Instead, they added to their points of weakness by solidifying some defensive presence at forward and strengthening their penalty kill.

If you’re a Sharks fan, now is a good time to take a deep breath. Don’t stress – just relax. There’s a month of hockey left and all hope is not yet lost for Team Teal.

You can find more of Kyle McLorg’s writing at Ruthless Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Ruthless_Sports.

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