Derek from over at Fear The Fin was nice enough to oblige my request for today's three questions -- which, I know, I haven't been really good about as of late. Please make sure you head over there, check out their game day coverage, and say hi. Let's admit it -- Sharks fans are hard to hate. Their team is just as wonked up as ours is this year, and they also dislike the Blackhawks. Common ground!
1. Both of our teams seem to be having a very similar season so far. Our fans are having problems putting our fingers on the cause -- do you guys have a feel for the Sharks' issues?
The Sharks' problems start and end with forward depth. Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joes Thornton and Pavelski have been every bit as good as we expected (at least in terms of production, since Thornton's overall game has slipped a bit over the past few weeks) but literally no one else up front has made substantive contributions. Martin Havlat is, shockingly, injured. Ryane Clowe has been a liability in his own end, hurts the team in the neutral zone and has zero goals on the season. T.J. Galiardi has been given soft minutes to exploit, hasn't done so and as a result has found himself in and out of the lineup. Michal Handzus and Adam Burish are just flat-out not good at hockey. Tommy Wingels has spent too much time on Handzus' wing to rationally assess whether he's taken a step forward from an impressive rookie season. Tim Kennedy has scored twice since his call-up, which is much more than I can say for most of these other players, but needs to be heavily sheltered to ensure his sub-par two-way play doesn't harm the team. It's really only James Sheppard and Scott Gomez who have been net positives on the bottom two lines and even they have just one goal between them. Antti Niemi is having a fantastic season, the team's defense has been elite and the penalty kill has gone from one of the worst units in the league to one of the best. The issue is offense and that's entirely a result of decrepit forward depth. The Sharks have four guys who can reliably provide scoring and that just doesn't cut it in this league. They've certainly missed Brent Burns, whose presence on the breakout allows for smoother zone entries and resultant transition chances that this team has been unable to generate, but without the addition of more forwards who can play in the right end of the rink and put the puck in the net on occasion, it's tough to see the offensive woes being rectified.
2. What do you think of Burnside's pick of Antti Niemi for Vezina?
I think it's spot-on. Niemi is unquestionably the Sharks' MVP at the season's midpoint and, really, has been one of the only reasons they've won games since the last week of January. I could see cases being made for Craig Anderson and Corey Crawford but neither has had to face as heavy a workload as Niemi due to injury. I'm not convinced Niemi will be able to sustain this level of play for the entire season but he's been the difference in most of San Jose's wins.
3. The trade deadline's about a month or so away. Do you see anyone getting shipped out, brought in, or do you think the Sharks'll maintain status quo?
Ryane Clowe is likely on the trading block but it's unclear, given his performance this season and his contract status as an impending UFA, how much value the Sharks will actually be able to get in return. It seems incredibly unlikely Doug Wilson will ask Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton to waive their no-movement clauses and even more unlikely that enough interest would be there to justify Wilson requesting Martin Havlat to waive his. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, presumably the core this team will attempt to build around as Marleau, Thornton and Dan Boyle age, probably aren't going anywhere, which really only leaves the potential for someone like Jason Demers to be dealt. As I mentioned above, this team certainly needs forward depth but management will need to get creative in order to add it because there isn't a whole lot in terms of tradeable assets either on the roster or in the cupboard. Something like a 5th round pick for Wojtek Wolski seems more probable than a major shake-up, at least in-season. If there's a big move in the Sharks' near future, it will likely come in the offseason as they try to shed salary to become cap-compliant. Boyle, whose no-trade clause is limited, could be shipped out then.