The San Jose Sharks probably made their last off-season moves with the signings of Jason Demers and Taylor Doherty Wednesday, July 16. That acknowledgment and the logic of doing a summary of the pictured moments defining the team's summer stated by Examiner.com Thursday was corroborated by a CBS Sports review of the Pacific Division posted the same day.
The chips have settled. These will be the Sharks moving forth—at least for now, for better or worse. This is not a team looking to build in NHL free agency, as is consistent with their lack of significant moves for players from other teams.
The time is right to take a look at the roster. for the 2014-15 NHL season The only change at goalie from last season is more of an open, healthy competition for the top spot. Previous Examiner.com columns have projected San Jose's lines, and Wednesday's moves made projecting a blue-line depth chart possible through a photo list to Thursday's piece. All are worth a further look.
The blue-line depth chart did not reveal pairings but a first-to-reserve projection, but it would make sense to reunite the great-skating, shut-down defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic to his partner in the 2011-12 NHL season—the offensively-gifted/minded Brent Burns. Another skating, shut-down defender (Justin Braun) can anchor the offensively gifted Matt Irwin while Demers can bring dynamic skill to a third pair with either Matt Tennyson or Scott Hannan.
Hannan should be in the press box on the first game of the 2014-15 NHL season against the Pacific Division rival and Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings October 8. If he is on the ice, the Sharks better be dressing seven defensemen because otherwise someone is hurt, the prospects could not handle the next level or coach Todd McLellan is robbing young talent a chance to develop for the marginal advantage a 35-year old already looking worn down last spring provides now.
That being said, Hannan is a good seventh man on San Jose's blue-line depth chart. He does not need to play constantly to keep his game sharp or developing, so he can step in when called upon. He is consistent and reliable—his teammates know he will be in the right position, can play a physical game and is willing to block shots. This makes him a good influence for the younger players and he also happens to be a good presence in the dressing room.
The only other players on the unit with NHL experience are Tennyson and Taylor Fedun. Both have played just four games, but one of them should be ready to play a more regular role. If not, there is a chance that 2013 first-round draft pick Mirco Mueller might be ready or that Doherty can take a step up.
Mueller probably will not make the Sharks, mostly because he cannot be sent to the minors. He could play 10 games before going back to juniors, but after that they would have to keep him for the entire season. Why waste the ice time that can go to a player that needs the development for the 2014-15 NHL season?
Tennyson's four games were with San Jose, so he would seem to have a leg up but for the likelihood his games (and one for Nick Petrecki) would have gone to Doherty if the former second-round pick had been healthy. Expect both to get a look in the NHL, fighting with Hannan for ice time. Fedun was not retained by the Edmonton Oilers—a team in more need of blue-line help—and will likely need to catch up but could get a look if there are multiple blue-line injuries.
Having even three of the potential five Sharks capable of earning the sixth spot on the depth chart is exceptional. Irwin may not be ready for a second-pair role, but this is still a solid unit heading into the 2014-15 NHL season.
It is not as good as the blue line that lost to Los Angeles in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals after Brad Stuart was traded and Dan Boyle not re-signed, but general manager Doug Wilson has said the focus is on developing talent. That is a sensible goal given those two aging veterans were not worth what they were being paid at the end of last season and both have been a part of at least three of San Jose's 10 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff failures.
Moving out the old guard for players with potential is easier when a solid unit is still there. Burns should be at least as good as Boyle was last season. There is a chance that a prospect could be more of an asset moving forward than Stuart would have been.
If Wilson's goal was to improve the unit that was exposed in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, he would deserve blame. Instead, he deserves credit mostly for cultivating the home-grown talent that allowed him to make room for that youth without much short-term sacrifice.
The forwards will be able to endure losing Burns to the blue line with the improvement of developing rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto as well as young veterans Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard. The Sharks will not even notice the absence of Matt Pelech or Bracken Kearns if they do sign elsewhere, as was the case with John McCarthy.
San Jose is probably better of without Marty Havlat, who only seemed to be giving it his all when he was hot and was at the very least a defensive and injury liability. Still, Wilson cannot really get props for replacing them with John Scott, Tye McGinn, Michael Haley and even less-capable minor-league players.
It also means little given the potential none of them make the roster for the opener at the Kings. The Sharks have 15 forwards still under contract that played for them during the 2013-14 NHL season.
With more developing than aging talent, San Jose should be almost as good at forward as it was in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. That makes this a solid summer for Wilson despite the tumultuous nature of it.
Did he go the wrong way with signing Scott and Mike Brown to a team that already has perhaps a better Adam Burish for that role? Perhaps, but those moves might not make enough of an impact to cost the Sharks a single point in the 2014-15 NHL season standings.
Did it make sense to sign Hannan when there is young talent that needs playing time? If he even makes the team, he is a good person for the press box.
In the end, those moves will not cost the team any more on the ice than the Ice Team controversy. Considering that story will not die—warranting a column on the editorial page of the San Jose Mercury News Thursday—it is the team's only significant bad off-season news unless Wilson's rhetoric was actually enough to create problems. If that is the case, the problems he called out are bigger than he is letting on.