There was some irony seeing third-liner Conor Sheary pot his fourth and fifth goals of the season for the Washington Capitals against the San Jose Sharks. This helped the Capitals to a 4-0 victory on Saturday night.
Last October, San Jose Hockey Now reported that the Sharks and then-UFA Sheary were talking.
GM Doug Wilson did not end up with Sheary, for reasons unclear. Did the Sharks pass? Or did Sheary opt for the Caps?
Whatever the reason, in December, on the eve of the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign, Sheary agreed to a one-year, $735,000 pact with Washington.
This might seem like much a-do about a veteran making barely above the league minimum. But that off-season was a different kind of off-season: Because of the pandemic, it was a buyer’s UFA market like we’ve never seen. So rest assured, while Sheary was making basically veteran’s minimum money in 2020-21, he was no fringe NHL’er.
Sheary proved that last season, providing secondary scoring to the tune of 14 goals in 53 games. The Capitals extended him before the playoffs, inking him to a two-year, $3 million dollar extension.
Safe to say, the San Jose Sharks could’ve used a Sheary on their third line last night. Or last year.
Nick Bonino, Kevin Labanc, and Matt Nieto have been San Jose’s most-consistent third line this season. Bonino has zero points through 17 games, the suspended-for-tonight Labanc has zero even strength points through 11 games, and Nieto has one even strength assist through 10 games.
The Triple Crown Line, they ain’t.
“Just have no answer as to why it won’t go in, to be honest,” an unhappy Bonino said of his slump last night.
For what it’s worth, there’s reason to believe that Bonino and Labanc will start to contribute more on the scoresheet soon.
“Yeah, not only did he miss the one on the backdoor, but he also is the guy that set [Couture] up on that empty net basically in front. He has terrible puck luck right now,” Boughner said of Bonino. “You got to figure it’s going to turn for him. He’s getting a lot of opportunities and that’s a good thing.”
Logan Couture confessed to apologizing to Bonino for missing on the empty net set-up.
“He’s doing some great things in other areas,” Boughner said, “it’d just be nice to see him be rewarded.”
And speaking of last year, center Dylan Gambrell was the Sharks’ most-regular third liner, operating between a rotating cast of fringe NHL wingers. Gambrell scored 12 points in 49 contests, and per Natural Stat Trick, his 1.02 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5 was third-worst among all regular San Jose forwards, ahead of only Marcus Sorensen and Patrick Marleau.
In a not unrelated note, Sorensen and Marleau are not playing in the NHL this season. Sorensen is back in the SHL on a line with top Sharks prospect William Eklund and the 42-year-old Marleau is at home. Gambrell himself actually started this year in the AHL, before getting dealt to the Ottawa Senators.
“Good teams, they’re getting some production from their bottom-six. It’s been a while since we’ve got that,” Boughner noted. “It’s got to be something that we find out and we figure out because you can’t depend on the same couple guys every night.”
The point of all this isn’t to extoll the virtues of Conor Sheary. He’s a good, not great NHL third-liner, who probably wouldn’t change the San Jose Sharks’ fortunes as a whole either way.
But he’s also a reminder of cost-friendly opportunities lost to correct a secondary scoring problem that’s plagued San Jose for three seasons and running now.
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