Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sharks Forward Analysis

I was hoping to put off writing the second of my two-part analysis of the San Jose Sharks units until the Sharks were able to re-sign multi-dimensional forward Ryan Clowe. After all, we heard back in June that the two sides were near an agreement.

However, at this point one must really question whether this deal will get done. The team has little room left in the budget, and Clowe should easily command more than defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, whose deal was reported to be $9.3 million over three years.

Ehrhoff, while a favourite whipping boy of Sharks fans, is a solid young defenceman who was asked to do more than he should have been by coach Ron Wilson. He is a great skater who can move the puck and is already above average in terms of positioning on both sides of the ice. He has even worked on his physicality.

What he lacks is poise in front of his own net, and no doubt is responsible for a lot of turnovers under pressure. He also could not hit an empty net with a shot unless he was within several yards of it. And in his mind he has never committed a penalty.

These problems alone make him worth less than Clowe, who is physical and willing to put his face on the line to back up teammates, scores a variety of ways, and a major asset on both sides of the ice. The only thing he lacks is speed, and the Sharks have plenty of that.

One must assume that the Sharks made him less a priority is that he plays a position they are deeper in. Because he (like Ehrhoff) is a restricted free agent, teams will have to surrender draft picks to take him away from the Sharks. Presuming he will be worth anything more than Ehrhoff, that means giving up a first and third round pick; if he is signed to just under $4 million/year, compensation would also include a second round pick.

This leaves only Clowe and 2004 first round pick Lukas Kaspar on the restricted free agent list. Kaspar should be a cheap re-sign because he has played in only three games in his NHL career, all last season, and is -2 with no points.

But that doesn't exactly engender confidence, so the team is likely looking for someone else to step up. They have already said they are not re-signing Curtis Brown. This is probably because at his age and for what he costs with the team's budget, he is not considered a good long-term investment.

It is unlikely the team will be able to sign any significant free agent if they deemed Brown out of reach. One exception may be former Shark Mark Smith, who may want to return given his connection to the Bay Area, which includes being a guitarist for Bay Area band the Vinyl Trees.

Barring getting someone at a bargain, the team is short of NHL-level forwards to fill in. Leading candidates include 2007 first round pick Logan Couture and sparingly-used forwards Mike Iggulden and Tom Cavanagh (one game each in 2007-8) under contract.

There is also the potential the team may be able to re-sign unrestricted free agents Tomas Plihal or Graham Mink because they will not command much on the open market, either. Plihal has played in 25 games (22 last season) and is +4 with two goals, one assist, and four penalty minutes for his career. He also played in four playoff games in 2008, finishing +1. Mink has only five games of experience with Washington, with a minor penalty, no points and a -1 rating.

It is also unlikely the team would want to dress seven defencemen as former coach Ron Wilson frequently did, since any injury would leave them desperately thin at the position. Thus, there is likely to be at least one starting player who is a question mark going into the season and may require another forward to do some double-shifting. Moreover, the unit will be desperately thin in the event of injuries.

But most teams rarely play their fourth lines, and the Sharks top two lines will be as good as any in the league outside of perhaps Detroit and Pittsburgh; here's how I project them:
  1. Michalek-Thornton-Cheechoo: continuity and talent make this line one of the top five in hockey.
  2. Marleau-Pavelski-Setoguchi: two centres, two speedsters, and three scorers make this a dangerous line.
  3. Shelley-Mitchell-Grier: this would be one of the better checking lines in the game, with great defense and physical wingers.
  4. Couture(?)-Goc-Roenick: whoever plays left wing will likely not be relied on much, but there are still two centres, one with speed and another with scoring ability and experience.


Mike said...

and Clowe should easily command more than defenceman Christian Ehrhoff

I don't know how you can possibly say this. Clowe has played in only 91 career NHL games (19-25-44, 109 PIMs) where Ehrhoff has played in 264 games, the last three seasons full time. Clowe maxed out at 58 games two seasons ago, and is coming off of a major knee injury.

If Clowe turns into the player we all hope he can be- a strong physical winger with good hands around the net- then he will eventually eclipse Ehrhoff in salary. But now, I'd say he's roughly worth Patrick Eaves money- about $1.75M per.

MJ Kasprzak said...

Well, Mike, you were right--that's almost exactly what he is reported to be getting. But Clowe is much more of an impact player than Ehrhoff. RC scores big goals and lays big hits; CE couldn't hit an open net from ten feet and struggles with turnovers in his own end (though a great skater, which RC is not). However, I am glad to be pointing out his deficiencies rather than having to defend him--he is a favourite whipping boy of Sharks fans.