Year after year under general manager Doug Wilson, the San Jose Sharks are one of the most active teams at the trade deadline. The first day after the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to have more than one trade came on Sunday, March 2—three days ahead of the deadline for the 2013-14 NHL season.
The five pictured players remain that would most benefit the Sharks, but all could come at too high a cost—including players they currently rely upon. They have the depth to move role players, but it is unlikely Wilson will find anything more worthwhile unless the injury report changes significantly in the one game remaining before the deadline is reached.
So far, all the trades after the Sochi Olympics have involved the top teams in the Central Division. With apologies to the better-than-expected Colorado Avalanche, the Pacific Division winner in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs will play either the Chicago Blackhawks or St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals.
The Blues made the big splash by trading Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a prospect and a couple high picks for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Both active players are a little older, a little grittier and a little more consistent, but they do not fundamentally upgrade a team that already has the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Sometimes it takes a team a while to gel, especially with a new goalie. Nevertheless, they should have no problem doing that by the Stanley Cup playoffs and should be able to overtake their two-point deficit with Chicago thanks to three games in hand. If neither team makes any further moves, they are the team to beat in the Central Division.
Meanwhile, Chicago has moved veteran role-players Brad Winchester and Pierre-Marc Bouchard along with young Brandon Pirri for a minor-league defenseman and three mid-round picks. This also does not fundamentally change this team unless it faces a plethora of injuries that challenge their still-solid depth.
This may be about clearing room and acquiring picks to make a more significant move. That should worry most of the league, as the two-time Stanley Cup champions will have Marian Hossa back before the end of the 2013-14 NHL season and know how to get it done in playoffs.
Yet if no further moves are made, San Jose is the team to beat in the superior Western Conference. This team is just getting healthy, and those additions and returns have the feel of trade deadline reinforcements for a Stanley Cup run.
Alex Stalock is playing well enough to create controversy for the Sharks in net. They would prefer a proven goalie against (most likely) Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Nevertheless, Antti Niemi has opened that door by struggling beyond the October. If he regains form by April, San Jose has one of the top-10 goalies in the world and a former Stanley Cup champion. Given his history and Stalock's current season, they are the goalies that will be relied on the rest of the way.
The blue line could see an additional offensive player and could afford to lose a defensive role-playing veteran or prospect. However, the Sharks are strong on the back end.
Dan Boyle appears to have lost a step but brings intensity, leadership and one of the best offensive skill-sets in the world at the position. Because of it, he has scored more points than any other NHL defenseman since joining San Jose. He leads the team with eight goals and is second with 25 points despite missing seven games from a nasty injury that he has since admitted he came back too early from.
Just four goals behind him is Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who Mike Babcock could not take out of the lineup for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics despite his lack of scoring. He is an asset offensively but not much above average on that end. However, his skating, endurance and high hockey IQ make him one of the best defenders in the world.
Yet the fact that Justin Braun averages one more shift per game because he can skate and defend speaks volumes of the team's depth. Jason Demers has become solid enough on the back end to get the ice time he needs to lead the team in blue-line points.
The bottom of the depth chart is filled with players that are better than the fifth defenseman on many teams. Brad Stuart is having an off year and begins the post-Sochi break out with an upper-body injury, but is still a good shot-blocker and hitter with experience. Scott Hannan is playing as well as he has in almost a decade. Matt Irwin is palatable defensively and has a dangerous shot from the point.
Similarly, the Sharks have a glut of depth forwards and top-end centers. Joe Pavelski is tied for fourth in the NHL in goals and often centers the third line. From top to bottom, these forwards defend or they wind up watching from the press box. All four centers are excellent defenders. Every line will have speed and the top three will be a threat to score.
Even when Tomas Hertl returns, the one thing this team lacks is additional scoring-line forwards. He and Brent Burns are legitimate scoring forwards but only work on the first line because of Joe Thornton. Tommy Wingels on the second line is more of a checking-line forward with just enough scoring ability to jump up to that role—much like Raffi Torres since he is obviously already dialed in after missing the first 59 games.
The hope was that Marty Havlat could be that scoring-line forward. He cannot be counted on to avoid, fight through or work his way back from injuries, nor be consistent when he has played. Thus, general manager Doug Wilson traded for Tyler Kennedy last summer; that experiment also failed and he is a candidate to be scratched given San Jose's depth.
If Matt Nieto is able to fill the left-wing role on Thornton's line into the playoffs, Hertl may return. Even if not, there is enough depth to hold up so long as the goaltending does. The Sharks have the edge over the Blues in recent games thanks to Maxim Lapierre's dirty hit on Boyle, and the change in this rivalry smells like the one that took place two years ago against the Vancouver Canucks.
Even Chicago might be losing the edge with two losses in a row to San Jose—one in each rink. Teams also start to feel it when they play deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs in consecutive years.
That only leaves the defending Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks. They have similar depth and talent to the Sharks, but more older and/or injury-prone players they are relying on. They lost in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs and will not have key players like Couture and Torres on fresh legs.
All that makes it unlikely that any trade involving the Sharks will generate much buzz. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.