Mar 8, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin (52) celebrates with center Tommy Wingels (second from left) and left wing James Sheppard (15) and defenseman Dan Boyle (22) and left wing Raffi Torres (13) after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Where Do The San Jose Sharks Need Roster Improvements?

It’s been a while since the depressing misery that was the San Jose Sharks this postseason, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to move on.

Tonight is the first hockey I have watched since the Game 7 loss, and it’s nice to get over that loss and finally watch some good old-fashioned playoff hockey.

But now, it’s time for my third favorite part of the hockey season. That’s right! It’s offseason time! That means the draft, and free agency which are just gold mines. It also means the Sharks can plug holes they can fill and maybe someday figure out a way to win a Stanley Cup.

So, where do the Sharks need improvements? Let’s take it step by step.

Forwards

The only roster improvements they need forward-wise are better lines. They had some weak lines in the playoffs and weren’t using their forwards to the best of their abilities. When they had Pavelski at 3rd line center, they were arguably the deepest team (forward-wise) in the conference, and easily the deepest team in Sharks history.

But, due to injuries for most of the year for Torres and Hertl, they couldn’t keep those lines and then it led to some debate when it came playoff time. Had they kept the lines they had before Hertl’s injury, they would probably be playing in the second round. But the injury put that doubt in their mind that maybe Pavelski works better with Burns and Thornton.

SPOILERS: It didn’t. Overall, the Sharks were a great team forward-wise. They don’t need to mess with anything there. Maybe swap out Havlat or Kennedy for some more consistency, but even if they left those two on the roster, I wouldn’t be upset.

Defense

Since the horrendous 2012 playoff loss, the Sharks have been working on getting better defensively.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic has become a stud and one of the best defensemen in the league, Justin Braun has replaced Vlasic for the most underrated defensemen in the league, and Jason Demers, who has been on the top of my ridicule list for a few years, had a breakout year and finally showed signs of being more than just a good puck handler. He actually turned into a good defenseman. Great to see that from him.

But this is still the No. 1 area the Sharks need to improve on this offseason. First things first, Matt Irwin needs to become a consistent member of the defensive corps. I don’t understand what management saw from him that they thought was worthy of being benched a majority of the year, but hopefully after he was the only player who scored in Game 7 against the Kings, and played a very good game, they’ll use him more. The only worry I have about Irwin is that every time he’s in the lineup, he plays with Dan Boyle. Boyle has been a constant help to Irwin’s game and makes sure he knows what he’s done right and what he’s done wrong. However, odds are that Boyle will not be in San Jose next season, so Irwin would have to play with a new defenseman. I have faith that he will be fine, but that is a concern some might have.

Step 2: Get rid of Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan. Getting rid of Scott Hannan is easy to get rid of considering he only signed a one year deal so the Sharks just need to not resign him.

Brad Stuart has another year on his contract and a $3.6 million dollar cap hit. That cap space could be much better used for someone who is not bad at hockey. I know that Stuart is the only real “big hitting” defenseman the Sharks have, but why is that a good thing to have on the team? Douglas Murray and Brooks Orpik are big hitters on the Canadians and Penguins, and they’re human turnstiles night in and night out. Stuart is the Douglas Murray of this year’s team, and he needs to go. Now, if you put Irwin in the lineup and take out Stuart, Hannan, and Boyle, the Sharks only have four starting defensemen. Most hockey teams like to use six starting defensemen, so the Sharks need to find two more this offseason.

There are in-house options. They could bring Matt Tennyson into the lineup, as he has played a few times with the Sharks, and they also have 19-year-old Mirco Mueller, who the Sharks are very excited about. However, replacing bad defensemen with young and inexperienced defensemen is not a good way to fix the problem.

But there are options in free agency and a possible trade. One option is to bring back Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff was a member of the Sharks for the beginning of his career, but due to an issue with then Sharks coach Ron Wilson, he left and went to Vancouver where he would then go to Buffalo. He signed a 10-year deal with Buffalo, and still has seven years left, but his cap hit is the same as Stuart’s and, unlike Stuart, he is a good defenseman. Finding a veteran defenseman like Ehrhoff would be a better fit than Tennyson and Mueller for the Sharks to win a Cup right now, which I still believe they can do.

Goaltending

I love Antti Niemi, but it is time to make a change in net for the Sharks. I have some excellent Niemi memories with him in a Sharks uniform, but it’s time for Alex Stalock to become the Sharks starting goaltender.

Was Antti Niemi the reason the Sharks blew their 3-0 series lead? Absolutely not. But Alex Stalock showed time and time again this season that he is ready to take the reins as the starting goaltender. He made a playoff start in Game 6, and played very well until one bad call made the entire Sharks skaters in front of him completely unravel. He doesn’t have a big contract, and trading Antti Niemi frees up cap space that the Sharks can use, and gets them something back in return that can help the team. Trading Niemi has nothing to do with his play at all. But it’s silly to use his cap space when there is an equally good goalie that can replace him, and at the same time use his contract to get help defensively.

People may think that the Sharks window has closed. Every single year analysts will say, “This is the last chance the Sharks have to win a Cup.” But don’t fret Sharks fans. It’s not. It’s not even kind of. The Sharks roster is still littered with great talent, great coaches, and has a great chance year in and year out to win a Stanley Cup.

Tags: Antti Niemi Brad Stuart Dan Boyle San Jose Sharks Todd Mclellan Tomas Hertl

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