It’s only July 2, but the Sharks’ roster is starting to bend and take on a different shape.
Whether that bending is enough to catapult San Jose into the playoffs next season still remains to be seen because, well, the start of the season is still a couple months away.
But additions and subtractions are being made to fill out San Jose’s roster in an effort to mold it into a more productive product.
I admittedly waited until late Wednesday, after the first day free agency shenanigans had concluded, to even start writing or obsessing over any moves, on the off-chance that the Sharks made an off-the-wall acquisition or trade in the evening and caused me to scrap a whole story. (Which of course didn’t happen.)
So without further ado, here’s how things are shaping up in Teal Town since the end of the draft and the opening of free agency:
On the blue line
San Jose added a couple of Martins to their roster this week, and we will start by addressing the one who will, hopefully, beef up the blue line.
Of all the Sharks’ issues on the ice last season, a lack of defensive cohesion was at the forefront. Hopefully the moves that they have made this past week will fill their blue line out.
Head coach Peter DeBoer has reportedly likened acquisition Paul Martin to Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis, with whom Brent Burns was paired with in Worlds a couple months ago. For how much Burns couldn’t adjust to being moved back to defense over the course of the regular season, he seemed to find an anchor in his new defensive partner that allowed him to play better — even snag top player honors. Martin, 34, is an edgy vet, one who could temper Burns’ tendency to get himself into penalty trouble and ultimately hurt the team.
If in fact the Martin-Burns pairing is a suitable match, that would reduce the mix-and-match we saw on the Sharks blue line last season, which when paired with injuries resulted in a lack of symmetry. Considering that Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin are all but gone, we can guess as to what the best pairings could be in the fall.
A successful Burns-Martin match allows for the Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun to stay together, and the latter pair plays their best hockey when teamed up.
The third pair — remember, these are just probable lines — would arguably be Brenden Dillon and Mirco Mueller. The two found a bit of chemistry at the tail end of the Sharks wonky 2014-2015 campaign. Dillon’s play improved in the last month or so of the season, clawing his way to fourth-ranked in blocked shots (110) on the team. The push no doubt helped his case in signing a five-year contract that will keep him in San Jose and make him a fixture on the blue line.
Plus, Dillon flexed a little veteran muscle by sticking up with partner Mueller, who will hopefully step up now that his rookie campaign is in the books.
If those pairs can fire on all cylinders once the season gets under way, there’s a better chance of keeping the puck out of San Jose’s zone, and taking a little pressure off the Sharks new starting goaltender.
Between the pipes
While many were biting their nails down to the quick after the Sharks left Florida without a starting netminder, it is hard to disagree that, at least on paper, they have found a suitable replacement and upgrade to Antti Niemi in youngster Martin Jones.
The six-foot-four, 190-pounder is a wire between the pipes, and held his own when getting the start for the LA Kings over Jonathan Quick. One argument is that the sample size of his play is too small to tell if he will be the most suitable starter. This is true to an extent, because no goaltender is going to get much time when they are backing up a healthy Quick. However, Jones spent the time he wasn’t starting in LA his first season improving his craft with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. His career thus far appears to be building towards him getting a starting job.
Now it is just a matter of watching Jones and Alex Stalock compete for that starting position in training camp and preseason play. Regardless of who gets tapped for that role, there is a possibility that we will see a bit of a tandem in net with the Sharks’ schedule containing several back-to-backs this season. That’s something we should get a better feel for once the season gets underway.
On that note …
Offseason speculation tends to build up expectations to crazy proportions, and the present is no exception. Yes, the Sharks have made some seemingly positive moves so far this summer. But this team ended their last campaign on a sour note, and it still remains to be seen if the changes made to the coaching staff and roster are going to completely improve on that.
We don’t even know how the team is going to react to a new coaching staff, let alone whether or not they’ll find their way back to the playoffs next spring.
The bitter end to the Sharks 14-15 season was highlighted by grumbles about on-going personality clashes in the dressing room. The issue, at least from the outside, encompassed the core players on the team, most of whom are returning in the fall. Whether a new coach and a couple new pieces brought in to help San Jose win more games is the answer to relieving those off-ice tensions is still a mystery.
The best we can do for now is wait and see if the Sharks make any more tweaks over the next two-plus months. Who knows what else might happen between now and the opening of training camp.