The San Jose Sharks have been one of the NHL’s busiest off-season teams for almost the fourth year in a row.
Their off-season acquisitions and trades, year in and year out during the summer leave puck fans more than anticipating October. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has been up to some of his best work in recent years this off-season. I can guarantee that no one in San Jose is more critical of Wilson than I, but this time it’s obvious that his teams second consecutive Western Conference Finals exit has left him more bothered than most fans.
The Sharks have had two fairly large transactions with the Minnesota Wild this summer, sending fan-favorite puck sniper Devin Setoguchi and prospect Charlie Coyle for defensive stud Brent Burns and an even swap sending Dany Heatley for the speedy Martin Havlat.
To thicken up the bottom six pairing, Wilson added sleek veteran Michal Handzus. It’s obvious that Wilson is looking to mold his lower lines into more defensive schemes.
So let’s talk about that bottom pairing for the Sharks.
It’s no secret that the Sharks have thrived for years off of the talent that their top lines bring them. That talent usually gets them 30 or 40 minutes of hockey a night, if they’re lucky. But the Sharks legs, effort, and presence disappears in the last 20 minutes of play.
So here’s where me getting critical starts.
Sure, Wilson has made some very, no, extremely smart moves with the additions of Handzus, Havlat and Burns. But as usual, the bottom pairs (which I honestly feel are the backbone of the team in most cases) have been ignored as usual.
The signing of Jim Vandermeer for instance. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, is not the type of signing you make on day one of the free agency market as Wilson did. Vandermeer is the kind of guy that I promise you would be available on one of the last days in August, even in the free agent frenzy we’ve seen this summer.
Take the most recent signing by the Sharks general manager.
The Sharks announced Tuesday their signing of 29-year-old center, Andrew Murray, who spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Murray collected just four goals and four assists in 29 games with the Jackets last season. He also missed 31 games with two separate injuries. In all, Murray has 23 goals and 13 assists in 181 total games with Columbus.
When Wilson signed Handzus I was ecstatic for the veteran to start captaining the Sharks third line for two simple reasons: he scores goals, and he stays healthy. All due respect, but I just simply do no share the same excitement with the newly acquired Murray. All I see is an injury prone, low percentage scorer that fits in with the scheme the Sharks are trying to get away from.
There’s also the fact that I, and I’m sure many hockey fans, have just simply never heard of Andrew Murray.
As Andy Bensch (@AndyBensch on Twitter), Sharks writer for insidehockey.com indicated, if we looked at the bottom two lines for a random game, they would most likely look like this if the puck dropped tomorrow:
Now that third line would work in virtually any case (considering McCarthy is re-signed), but the fourth line….
There is still a slew of free agents available that would fit perfectly into the Sharks bottom pair.
John Madden, Mike Grier, Scott Hannan, Owen Nolan, even the 40-year-old Kris Draper are players I’d personally consider to bring veteran talent and stability to the fourth line.
Doug Wilson’s recent changes in the teams roster indicate he’s only thinking about one thing: playoffs. The Sharks bottom pairings are lackluster at best right now, and require extreme tweaking still.
There’s still much time left for Wilson to improve the roster, and make his team Stanley Cup ready, but the focus must be on the bottom pairings.