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Did the San Jose Sharks improve during this off-season?

Sep 12, 2011, 9:30 AM EST

Sharks Canucks Hockey AP

Unless you judge success by Stanley Cup victories alone, you’d probably agree that the San Jose Sharks had a solid season, so it was surprising to see the team make such splashy moves this summer. Most instances of dynamic change occur when a) contenders need to shed contracts to stay under the cap ceiling or b) pretenders realize that they’re going nowhere and decide to blow shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start fresh.

Now, it’s true that the Sharks feature many of the same top players. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are still standout veterans while young players like goalie Antti Niemi and center Logan Couture provide important contributions.

Yet while many of the core members remain the same, some significant supporting roles have changed. Here’s a quick snapshot of their major moves during this summer.

Out

Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, Kyle Wellwood, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager and Scott Nichol.

In

Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, Colin White, Jim Vandermeer, Andrew Murray and James Sheppard.

Sharks players were as taken aback as anyone else as news of the moves circulated this summer, as they told the Mercury News. The ultimate takeaway is that the franchise took action instead of remaining idle – especially in their biggest area of need: defense.

“It shows that we’re not satisfied,” captain Joe Thornton said. “We want to get to the Finals and win the Cup. We’ve fallen short. But with these moves, I’m really excited to see this team play.”

(snip)

“What we did is not a Band-Aid situation,” McLellan said. “Brent Burns is going to be around for a long time. We hope Colin White and Jim Vandermeer can play for awhile here, too.”

Then again, the Sharks are a little biased when it comes to their own team, so let’s take a temperature of their offensive and defensive units to see if they’ve really gotten better. We’ll skip goaltending because they’ll employ the same Finnish duo as last season (although I must say that it would be surprising if Niemi avoids a regression after his red-hot second half of 2010-11).

source: APForwards

On paper, trading Heatley for Havlat is a clear downgrade, especially since Heatley has two 100+ point seasons on his resume. The thing is, many believe that Heatley’s best days are behind him and Havlat might be a little bit more versatile. Then again, Havlat’s injury history suggests that he comes with his own risks.

The Sharks might actually miss hot-and-cold winger Setoguchi more – at least in some ways. This move leaves Joe Pavelski as the only major Sharks forward who sports a right-handed shot.

Wellwood was actually a pretty solid fit for San Jose, so it was disappointing to see him go … until they signed strong defensive forward Handzus. The Sharks should be very familiar with the Czech-born center since he played all but one game in the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Adding Handzus was one of the most underrated moves of this summer, as he’ll give the Sharks yet another effective center. He’ll slide into the Manny Malhotra role from 2009-10.

Offensive outlook: Slight downgrade (Havlat is the wild card).

Defense

Burns is a lot like Boyle in that he’s adequate in his own end but earns his paychecks thanks to his offensive prowess. It’ll be interesting to see if the two right-handed attacking defensemen pair up with each other very often (beyond power play situations or when the Sharks are down a goal).

While Burns is the highest profile addition, White is a nice value. His foot speed and decision making can be concerns, but he’s a hard-hitting minutes eater with two Stanley Cup rings. That’s not bad for $1 million, which is the same amount they’ll pay middling addition Jim Vandermeer.

The Sharks have an interestingly dichotomous group of D-men. On one side, there’s the graceful guys (Boyle, Burns, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic); on the other, you have the plodding bruisers (Douglas Murray, White and Vandermeer). If you ask me, Burns and White are two shrewd additions that might not make the Sharks a top defensive group like they claim, but an above-average corps nonetheless.

Defensive outlook: Substantial upgrade.

***

If you ask me, the Sharks should be a slightly better team on paper next season, although the phrase “on paper” has haunted the franchise for years now. What do you think, though? Are they better, worse or did they just make a lateral move? Let us know in the comments.

  1. sharksfan754 - Sep 12, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Thank god huskins is gone! I’m not sad to see wallin go either, although I thought he played well in the playoffs. I absolutely cannot wait to see burns play, the guy not only has out of this world talent, he knows how to treat fans. I will miss setoguchi, he was a playoff stud

  2. sanjosecupcrazy - Sep 12, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    The thing you missed in this column is the fact that we got rid of two guys (Stetoguci, Heatley) who have done nothing but choke in the playoffs. Havlat is a point-per-game guy in the postseason. This team looks much better to me — cannot wait for the season to start.

  3. balewsquare - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Little bit of conflicting viewpoints from the 2 comments above :)

  4. jpelle82 - Sep 12, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    the havlat for heatley swap is a wait and see. havlat is running on spare parts in his knee and had an underrated world class center in koivu and still didnt put up the numbers so i dont know what playing with thornton is gonna do for him. heatley was at least consistent and stays healthy. like i said wait and see but burns was an absolute upgrade to any team

    • jpelle82 - Sep 12, 2011 at 6:11 PM

      *shoulder, ankle, and knee

    • herfules - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      Heatley was injured most of the time in his two seasons with the Sharks including both playoff runs. He hasn’t stayed healthy at all in his time with the Sharks.

      Getting something good for Heatley was a brilliant move. Doug Wilson would have had to buy out his contract after this season and get nothing for him. Otherwise singing Burns and Couture would have been problematic.

  5. polegojim - Sep 12, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Fact is, they’ve BEEN good enough talentwise to win the Cup, but not mentally.

    Yes, they lost some underperforming baggage…but anything can look better on paper. Did they improve in REALITY? That…remains to be PROVEN on the ice and only answered by hoisting a well earned Stanley Cup.

    Preseason San Jose hype has become the same redundant and empty mantra as all the ‘Washington Capitals can win it all this year’ headlines.

    At some point, you have stop waving the pom-poms and actually GET…IT…DONE.

    • herfules - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:28 PM

      They had the offensive talent but not the defensive talent. They had severe holes in their defense that needed to be addressed. And they have been addressed quite nicely in this offseason. :)

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