I’ve had a few people ask me my thoughts on the Sharks this year, so here are a few thoughts about them so far.
Overall, I’m satisfied with what i see. Â There are some rough edges, but name me a team in the NHL that doesn’t have them? We’ve been hit with some injuries, especially on defense, and that’s both shown that we have impressive depth in the organization, but that some of that depth is young. Justin Braun has been a real eye opener to me, he has a very rare ability to get a point shot through traffic and on goal, and isn’t afraid to do so — but he’s taken some time adjusting to the speed of the NHL, and he’s made some mistakes along the way. He pretty much singlehandedly gave up all of the goals in that bad Detroit loss, where the Wings schooled him and fed him his jock (but they do that to a lot of good players); he and the Sharks dealt with it appropriately, and he ratcheted back his pinching and played more conservatively, and he’s progressed very quickly. I expect he’ll go back to Worcester at some point, but he’s shown he’s got a good future as he continues to mature.
The two questions I seem to get asked more frequently are — what about our defense? and what about Nabby?
Nabby first. As big a supporter of Nabokov as I was, I felt the Sharks made the right move. Nabby wasn’t going to get better, and we’d seen what he brought to the team. With what his contract was going to require, I agreed with us moving on to another option, because goaltending that good was available elsewhere, and for less money, allowing us to spend more of the cap space on other needs. I’m not as convinced as some pundits that Nabby will end up back in the league this year, but he well could. Nittymaki was an adequate replacement for Nabokov, and when the Sharks got Niemi as well, I was thrilled. Niemi had a rough start, but he’s found his game, and he’s showing why he beat the Sharks in the playoffs last year. This is definitely an upgrade.
And on defense? we miss Blake, although I don’t miss his once-a-game 2 minute penalty for “I’m old” (usually a hook). While I wouldn’t mind an upgrade, I think the crew we have is good, when healthy. Wallin and Huskins as our 5-6 dmen is pretty good, but when we have injuries and they need to bump those two up to 3-4, it shows. Overall, though, I’m not worried. I like Jason Demers and he’s maturing nicely, and our top four D (Boyle, Vlasic, Murray, Demers) is pretty darn good. I don’t see much need to do anything, but if Wilson finds the right fit, I wouldn’t complain if he upgraded Huskins onto the black aces. the big thing is being healthy in the playoffs, and not depending much on the depth. Joslin is good as a physical body, Braun is a bit of a wildcard but in a year or so, watch out. I’m really impressed overall.
The player the Sharks really miss right now is Manny Malhotra, but I don’t blame them for not matching Vancouver’s money. Nicholl fills part of it and Jamal Mayers isn’t much of a downgrade on ice, but we miss Malhotra’s and Blake’s leadership and work ethic. The team is still figuring out who the new leaders are, and I think that shows in some of the inconsistency. I see no reason to panic, and I expect it to be sorted out by the playoffs.
Marleau is in one of his “enigmatic” phases, but I’ve come to realize at some point in every season we seem to wonder about Marleau, and at the end of the year, his numbers and contribution are there. He’ll kick it in and the questions will stop. Again. I expect that’ll be the way he is the rest of his career. Given the numbers end up being there and he shows up in the playoffs, I’ll live with it and not worry about it so much.
Thornton/Heatley is a great pair, and speaking as someone who was against the Heatley trade, I’m happy to say I’ve been proven very wrong on that deal, and I say that with great enthusiasm for what he’s done since coming to San Jose. Coture is a great pairing with Ryan Clowe, and ought to win rookie of the year. More amazingly, he actually might, despite playing out west were the eastern hockey media doesn’t see hi, regularly because the sharks games are up past their bedtime.
All in all, I give this team a B right now. I expect more, but this team will figure it out and bring it as the season progresses. I don’t see any glaring holes, I don’t see any significant problems that need to be fixed — but this isn’t a team beyond tweaking, and I expect at some point Wilson will. Most likely to not be in teal come the end of the season? Maybe Setoguchi, although I’m in no hurry to move him.
Final question: cheechoo? I think it’s great the Sharks have given him an opportunity in Worcester, but people who think this indicates Cheech might return to San Jose are thinking with their hearts and memory, not their heads and Cheechoo’s current abilities. The best Cheech could be in san jose is a part time player and black ace, if that. If he makes it back to the NHL, it’ll be with a lower tier team, and god help him, I hope it’s not the Islanders.