What do you do when there are three days between Sharks games? Well if you’re Paul Gackle or Kevin Kurz you do a mail bag, because people actually read what you write and send you questions. Since we are, at least for now, not blessed with a deluge of questions about the Sharks, I decided to cover a few of the topics I’ve seen discussed on social media lately.
With only 16 games left in the regular season, I think we can officially refer to this as the home stretch. If you had asked before the season started where the Sharks would be at this point I would have said #1 in the Pacific. If you had asked in early December, I would have said they would be in a wild card spot. Turns out, it’s somewhere in the middle. To me, there are far more questions at this point in the season than there are answers, and that a little scary as a fan. Let’s take a look at some of the questions I have heard and seen.
Probably the biggest question throughout the season has been about goaltending. At this point the question would have to be, is our goaltending good enough to win a Stanley Cup? I think the answer, if you are looking just at the goaltenders, is No. I don’t think that means the Sharks have no chance at the cup, but they do win, it will be despite the net-minders, not because of them.
Jones and Dell have some of the worst save percentages in the NHL, and while Jones has shown some flashes of brilliance in the last two games, he has also given up some goals that he should have stopped. It seems he plays just well enough to keep the Sharks in the game, but you know that at some point a top shelf shot is going to get past him.
At this point though, the Sharks have to dance with the girl that brung em. There was no trade before the deadline either because Wilson decided not to try, or more likely because there wasn’t anyone worth getting at a price the Sharks could afford. At this point the team will need to play a game that best fits the goal tending they have, which means having a defense first mentality, and waiting on good opportunities to score instead of trying to force opportunities, leaving the goalies to do the heavy lifting.
The other big story all year has been Erik Karlsson. Interestingly, his season has been an allegory for the Sharks season as a whole. At the beginning of the season he seemed to struggle to find his place in the new system. This isn’t unexpected for someone who has spent a career playing for another team, and he eventually found his footing and quickly rose towards the top of the points board for the Sharks. Right before the All Star break he injured his groin, and the road back from injury has not been a good one, including a false start that may have set him back even further. There are three questions surrounding EK65 in my mind. When will he be back? Will he be 100%? Is he going to stay a Shark?
The first two go together. If I was the coach (which lucky for everyone I am not) I would hold him out, at least until the final week of the regular season. It might be worth bringing him back that week to test out his skating and give him a couple games to get back in playing mode before the playoffs. I don’t know that DeBoer will do this though. So far he has shown a deference to the player, and Karlsson is likely chomping at the bit to get back in and prove his worth again. If he’s back early, I think he’s not 100%. If they let him rest and heal, and come back in slowly, then I think we can see him in all his glory come playoff time.
The third question is harder. Before his injury, I thought we would know the answer right after the trade deadline. Now I think we don’t know anything until after the playoffs are over. This is probably a good thing for both the team and Karlsson. If he comes back strong and is a vital part of the playoff run without being re-injured I think he gets 11+ million a year to stay a Shark. On the other hand, if this continues to be a nagging injury throughout the playoffs, it might be best for the Sharks to offer him a lower contract, and if he sees higher offers from other teams, let him go. His contract would eat up a lot of cap space, space they need to keep Pavelski and other free agents on the team after the season ends. If there is some question as to his health, it might be better for the Sharks to let someone else take the risk and use that money elsewhere.
Pete DeBoer has a problem, but it’s a really good problem to have. He has to decide which of his talented forwards to scratch. Currently with Kane out the decision is a little easier, but once he’s back we may see some interesting shuffling in the lines.
I would say 5 of the top 6 are set at this point. The whole first line should stay in tact, and Kane/Hertl should stay as anchors on the 2nd line. After that, I think we will see a bit of a blender for a few games while they try and find the best line combinations going into the palyoffs. This is going to be a topic for our podcast on Sunday, so I don’t want to get too into detail of what I think the lines will/should look like, but I would expect to see a lot of shuffling right now.
To me, choosing how to round out the top 9 should go back to the defense first mentality. If you have to choose between a handful of decent forwards, choose the ones who are playing the best defense and being most responsible with the puck. Jones is going to need all the help he can get when the quest for the cup starts.
Well, that’s all I have for now. Tune in on Sunday 3/10 at 11am Pacific time to hear more SharksTalk916!