San Jose went into the offseason banking on Tavares, and that obviously didn’t come to fruition. But, the show must go on.
The Sharks had twelve players last season who hit 30 points or more (the most in the league), and all but one of those players had more than 10 goals. Depth isn’t a problem for the Sharks, it’s a lack of elite top line talent to push them that one step further.
I don’t think Doug Wilson is done tweaking yet. The team still has $7 million left in salary cap space, and only Chris Tierney left to bring back, who has chosen arbitration and the date is set for July 20th.
Throughout this, I’ve italicised the line I imagine the Sharks will ice at the beginning of the season, and followed it up with other options that I don’t doubt we’ll see if we unless get the concrete, unshakeable chemistry of, say, the 67-37-88 line in Boston.
Kane-Thornton-Pavelski / Kane-Pavelski-Donskoi / Kane-Pavelski-Meier
The biggest question for the top line come October will be Joe Thornton. He’ll be continuing to rehab his knee injury over the summer, and returning to the lineup in the condition he did last season would be the ideal situation. Before tearing his ACL and MCL, Thornton was on a 62 point pace, which would have put him third on the team in points, one behind the recently extended Logan Couture. Admittedly, he was shooting an insane 17.3%, his highest since 08-09 and the fourth highest of his career.
I can see them starting the season with Thornton on the top line, and then if it’s clear he can’t produce at that level anymore, they’ll demote him to second line centre duties and either shift Pavelski to the position he played while Thornton was injured, or bring Couture up.
Hertl-Couture-Donskoi / Hertl-Couture-Labanc / Hertl-Thornton-Meier
The second line has a myriad of options, that again bank on what Thornton brings back to the lineup. Couture and Hertl spent the most minutes together of any forwards on the roster last season, so expect to see them together again this season. Hertl went into the offseason remarking that he wants to get even stronger, so hopefully that leads to an improvement on his 46 point season, which matched a career high from 2015-16.
I had a lot of trouble pinning down three combinations for both this line and the third line, as DeBoer has a habit of blending his lines on a game by game basis. It’s a toss up of wingers at this point, and it’s not impossible that Couture spends games playing wing.
Meier-Tierney-Labanc / Meier-Tierney-Donskoi / Meier-Tierney-Karlsson
I’d like to see the Meier-Tierney-Donskoi line become a little more permanent. With Kane and Hertl clogging up the LW depth chart, Meier is pushed down to the third line, where he and Tierney saw a lot of each other last season, particularly after the Sharks picked up Kane. However, if Kane gets injured (as he has a habit of doing), I imagine he’ll see the top line again. DeBoer likes Hertl as the second line LW, so that’s why I see Meier getting the promotion over him. I haven’t listed it as an option, but it could be possible we see Thornton at 3C.
Sorensen-Goodrow-Karlsson / Sorensen–Gambrell-Karlsson
Ideally, we’d see some players get a call up later into the season, but Sorensen stepped up in the playoffs in a way I don’t think many of us expected. If Gambrell makes strides in the minors, there’s a chance he gets a few more games this season in the 4C position. Karlsson and Sorensen play both wings, so they’re interchangeable here
I wouldn’t fix what isn’t broke. They have three functioning defensive pairings, and if Burns doesn’t mirror last year’s slow start, then all the better. I don’t expect to see much movement in the defensive pairings for San Jose his season, so, without further ado:
Ryan doesn’t need to score when he’s playing on a pairing with Burns, so his 12 points aren’t an issue. I like this pairing even if I was hoping the Sharks would make an upgrade to their LHD this offseason.
Braun and Vlasic are the ‘defensive’ defense pairing, given a lot of the tough matchups against the best competition. For example, in the 17-18 second round series, Vlasic and Braun saw more time on ice with the Karlsson-Marchessault-Smith line than any other players.
Dillon-Demelo / Dillon-Heed
DeBoer doesn’t seem to like Tim Heed, which is why I was initially surprised that the Sharks let Demelo go to free agency instead of extending him his qualifying offer. Things made sense as soon as they brought Demelo back for $900k and two years. Heed might see a few games as the seventh D, just as he did last year, but DeBoer will likely rely on Dillon-Demelo as their third pairing for the bulk of the season.
A lot of San Jose’s line combinations look like they’re just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. The wingers I’ve predicted at the third line bounced up and down the lineup all last season, Karlsson and Labanc even played on the top line, however brief that may have been.
The top 9 is a coin toss on any given night, and I predict that the most stability we’ll see regarding the forward lines will be in Kane as the first line LW and from there it’s chaos.
Feature image credit: NHL.com