Injuries pile up on Sharks blueline

All season long the Sharks depth on the blueline has rightfully been touted by pundits across the NHL as perhaps the league’s best. That very same depth is now suddenly going to be put to its ultimate test. With star defenseman Erik Karlsson already sidelined with a nagging groin injury, the Sharks suffered another significant blow Tuesday night in Winnipeg when Radim Simek’s knee buckled under him after getting pinned against the ice. News broke at morning skate today that Simek will undergo surgery to repair both his ACL and MCL, effectively ending his season.

Simek will undoubtedly be missed as he had developed impressive chemistry with the bearded one, Brent Burns. Similar to the impact Paul Martin had on Burns, Simek allowed Burns to feel comfortable to play his game because of the trust the two had built. Burns has

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flourished since the two were put together which may ultimately be the biggest loss here. Beyond the relationship with Burns, the Czech native also added some sorely needed physicality on the Sharks back end. In his absence, Brenden Dillon will be the Sharks lone d-man remaining that plays a similar imposing style of defense.

With two big pieces down, San Jose now faces a myriad of questions on the back end.

Who plays with Brent Burns?

In the immediate future it appears Joakim Ryan will slide back in alongside Burns as he was to start the year before Simek came in and stole his job. Ryan hasn’t played since January 22nd as Tim Heed has leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Only time will tell how long DeBoer gives this pairing to show it can work. Considering Ryan has been replaced by an aging Martin and somewhat unknown in Simek in consecutive years doesn’t bode well for this pair’s longevity. Should they fail to click, the Sharks could choose to pair Burns with any number of guys including Dillon, Braun, or Vlasic. This writer’s choice would be Vlasic given Vlasic’s struggles with both Braun and Karlsson this season. Vlasic’s defensive game seems to have gotten back on track lately which could help support Burns’ free roaming nature.

How effective will Erik Karlsson be when he returns? Can he stay healthy?

Color me skeptical that Karlsson’s transition back into the lineup will go off without a hitch. While he is clearly an elite talent, he’s already had two separate setbacks with the groin and the pace and physicality will only pick up come April. Thankfully for San Jose, they have proven the last few weeks they can win without him in the lineup, but will the same hold true come playoff time if he is unable to stay in the lineup? The other factor here is who DeBoer pairs with the dynamic Swede. The coaching staff’s desired Karlsson and Vlasic pair has continued to struggle despite limited time together. The smart play here would be to reunite EK65 with Dillon who he excelled with prior to the injuries.

Who comes out of the lineup?

Karlsson’s return will also necessitate removing either Heed or Ryan from the lineup assuming the other Sharks’ blueliners remain healthy (knock on wood). The bet here is that Heed will stay in despite being yet another right-handed shot. The coaching staff clearly favors Heed over Ryan as evident by the lineup the last couple of months. An argument could be made Heed’s gotten the action lately given he plays a style far more similar to Karlsson than Ryan. However, Ryan has been on a short leash since Opening Night, rarely logging more than 10-12 minutes of ice time. One wouldn’t expect the coaching staff to suddenly change their tune here unless they feel Ryan is the only possible fit with Burns.

How do the d-pairs ultimately shake out?

It will be fascinating to see how much tinkering if any DeBoer does with his d-pairs before the playoffs arrive to try and get a feel for what options look best. That mix and match game is of course further complicated by Karlsson’s absence who isn’t expected to return until either the playoffs or last few regular season games which severely limits the amount of time to experiment.

Based off DeBoer’s lineups the last few months, you will likely see one of the following options:

Vlasic – Karlsson

Dillon – Burns

Braun – Heed

Vlasic – Heed

Dillon – Karlsson

Braun – Burns

Vlasic – Karlsson

Braun – Burns

Dillon – Heed

However, yours truly would suggest the following pairs:

Dillon – Karlsson

Vlasic – Burns

Braun – Heed

The only consistent theme here is Heed over Ryan.

Regardless of how the pairs end up, the Sharks will perhaps be forced to lean on their offensive production even more so than they already have this season. Simek’s season-ending injury has undoubtedly dealt a significant blow to Team Teal, but don’t count this team out quite yet. They are still a force to be reckoned with.

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