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What’s Doug Wilson Doing with Sharks Forwards?

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Credit: flrent (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If the San Jose Sharks are done this off-season, they’re not going to look remarkably different up front next year.

I don’t mean in terms of names and faces. San Jose legend Joe Thornton going to Toronto is change enough. Meanwhile, long-time penalty killer Melker Karlsson is also gone.

I mean in terms of proven NHL ability.

In October 2019, the San Jose Sharks had, by my count, 10 NHL-proven forwards:

  • Logan Couture
  • Evander Kane
  • Timo Meier
  • Tomas Hertl
  • Kevin Labanc
  • Marcus Sorensen
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Joe Thornton
  • Melker Karlsson
  • Barclay Goodrow

The 2019-20 Sharks finished last in the Western Conference.

One year later, San Jose has…wait for it…10 NHL-proven forwards:

  • Logan Couture
  • Evander Kane
  • Timo Meier
  • Tomas Hertl
  • Kevin Labanc
  • Marcus Sorensen
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Stefan Noesen
  • Ryan Donato
  • Matt Nieto

Of course, it’s not simply about quantity, it’s also about quality. Assuming Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl, Labanc, Sorensen, and Marleau at least hold serve — a big if considering the 41-year-old Marleau’s advanced age — we’re weighing Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow.

Safe to say, neither trio is to be mistaken for the Legion of Doom.

Donato has second-line upside but was a fourth-liner on an average Minnesota squad. On youth and upside, I’ll give him the edge over the 41-year-old Thornton, who is a question mark as a potential third-line center with the Maple Leafs.

Colorado leaned on Nieto on the PK as much as San Jose relied on Karlsson there. Nieto also adds an element of a speed and perhaps a touch more offense, so the Long Beach native should be a small upgrade.

Goodrow and Noesen isn’t really a comparison. Goodrow has proven to be an ace penalty killer and a Stanley Cup-caliber role player — Noesen, up to this point in his career, is a fourth-liner who hasn’t displayed any special teams value. While both are ultimately bottom-six forwards, Goodrow is clearly the more valuable NHL player right now.

So is Donato, Nieto, and Noesen versus Thornton, Karlsson, and Goodrow perhaps a wash? It’s close either way. Anyway, this isn’t point: The point is, right now, are the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks appreciably better at forward than the 2019-20 version?

I’m not convinced.

I haven’t forgotten about Joel Kellman, Noah Gregor, Dylan Gambrell, or Antti Suomela, but while they have NHL experience, I don’t consider any of them NHL-proven. Gregor may also be the only forward in this group who has legitimate middle-six upside.

Fredrik Handemark, John Leonard, Lean Bergmann, Alexander True, Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski, and Jayden Halbgewachs should also be in the mix, but they’re all huge question marks at the NHL level because of their significant inexperience. Blichfeld, Chmelevski, and Leonard own middle-six potential, but Blichfeld has three NHL games to his name, Chmelevski has zero and just one full pro season on his resume, and Leonard has zero professional experience.

So here’s the question that San Jose Sharks fans are rightly asking: What’s Doug Wilson doing?

The Sharks have about $3 million dollars in cap space. It’s the stingiest free agent market in recent history, meaning bargains a-plenty.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Carl Soderberg, Erik Haula, Josh Leivo, Dominik Kahun, and Conor Sheary are among the cost-friendly middle-six UFA forwards still available.

Last summer, San Jose made the mistake of heading into the season relying on too many unproven forwards. Besides Bergmann and Gambrell, Peter DeBoer was forced to dress Danil Yurtaykin and Lukas Radil on opening night.

“Looking back,” Wilson admitted last week, “maybe I didn’t have enough depth and competition last year, early in the season.”

By March, of the aforementioned group, Gambrell was the only NHL regular.

And granted, last off-season, the Sharks didn’t boast significant cap space, it wasn’t a buyer’s market, and Kane was suspended for the first three games of the season.

That’s not the case here: It’s a buyer’s market and San Jose has money to spend.

Wilson, however, countered yesterday: “Would it be nice to add some things? We probably have to re-establish certain areas of our game and earn some things to be added.”

That sounds like Wilson is planning to start the 2020-21 season with this forward group as is.

He also added, of 2019-20’s rotating cast of young forwards: “We have some guys who had a taste last year, they’re now going to be a year older. So we think they’re ready to compete.”

Wilson isn’t wrong here and should know his internal assets better than anybody else. A lot can change in a year. But he also burned credibility last season with his reliance on in-house help that didn’t help.

Okay, so we’re at least two-and-a-half months away from the start of the season. There’s still plenty of time for Wilson to add to his forward group and at a reasonable price. We should always be careful about taking a GM’s public statements at face value.

But right now?

Safe to say, there are more questions than answers in this San Jose Sharks’ line-up.

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nolan612

You hit the nail on the head here. Saving money for the deadline just means dealing away assets later. Why not make your team as good as possible going into the season? Makes zero sense.

Orrnumber4

It depends. If players are willing to sign for one-year, then there is almost nothing to lose. But some may want some term, and that is always a cost.

Jackson Edward

I asked about Tierney in another comment thread, so I might as well ask again. If he’s on the trade market do you think DW goes after him to continue the SJ reunion?

Jackson Edward

If part of the argument for being ok with Jumbo leaving is allowing Cooch to take full control of the locker room, it would make sense to bring in friends and people he’s gone to war with. If OTT wants to deal rather than pay Cobra (totally something I can see them doing, btw), then I say getting him back is money well spent. Plus, having a solid 3C like Tierney will lock down our top-9 for years; rookies can cycle in with no pressure other than the pressure they create, while Scorensen and Noesen lay in the cut playing… Read more »

david barnard

i see OTT more willing to keep Cobra than either Duke or Brown (the other pending RFA’s). EW pre-Covid contract projection had Tierney’s most probable at 4×4.3M with 2×3.54M as the next likely. maybe that number’s fallen to slightly over 3M on a 2-3 yrs deal but i don’t see it sliding much more. Tierney has solidified himself as 40 pts player with around 17 mins ATOI on a bad team. he topped out at 48 pts playing with guys like Dzingel and Stone. his points production fell some when those players moved on, and he shared center duties with… Read more »

david barnard

well, this 1 didn’t age well. OTT re-signs Connor Brown to 3×3.6M deal. Duke’s representing himself in FA, so that part’s still accurate and Tierney remains unsigned.

Gary To

Seems like Wilson is banking on his core players to outperform last season and that one or two young players rises into regulars. Like I said In another post, assuming they don’t add another middle sixer, I wouldn’t return too if I was jumbo.

Orrnumber4

1) If Karlsson can match that aforementioned play over a full season + playoffs 2) If goaltending is at least league-average 3) Players in general “return to form” (no declines from Burns/Couture/Hertl) Then this is a Stanley Cup contender. Karlsson in his prime was the best defenseman the league has seen since Ray Bourque, and one of the top-3 players in the league. Shutting down top players every night, dominating in the offensive zone, and being impossible to coach against. Look at what he did for Ottawa in 2017, and this is a much better supporting cast. I’m sure if… Read more »

david barnard

Chekhovich had a bad season but i think he and Sasha are as close to “blue chip” F’s the Sharks have in their pipeline (close to NHL readiness that is). i know where they were drafted, but the skill is there-it’s just a matter of consistency in some areas as well as getting NHL strong-and some of their tools were rated top level. i also think Leonard is an NHL ready F whose gonna surprise fans who haven’t heard much about him. i think he could lock down a position at wing in the bottom 6. i’d still like to… Read more »

david barnard

so just to be clear on your position, are you placing Sharks prospects into tiers indicated by whom they are loaning out to Euro clubs? i.e. Chekhovich must not be considered a top tier prospect who might play with the NHL club this season? rather than it just being a case of uninterrupted development opportunity due to the uncertainty of an AHL season?

Munin2000

What about New team Seattle? Who can we or cannot protect?

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