(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
SAN JOSE- If the 2013-14 Sharks had to come up with a wish list right now, I believe it would take a lot of thinking. They are 2-0 against the top-ranked team in the league now. They might have a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” though Todd McLellan is probably making some adjustments to his fourth line today. Nothing drastic, nothing GM Doug Wilson would have to get involved in.
Saturday morning, Ducks’ Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had some thoughts about what the Sharks need:
You give these guys space, they’re gonna burn you. They can skate, they’re big, they’re strong, so you have to play a perfect game or San Jose is going to eat you up.
Space. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, and it is the kind of thing everybody appreciates. Good call, Coach Boudreau.
The Sharks do have some good space-makers. Most conspicuous of these is Brent Burns. He isn’t a new addition to the team but he is in a relatively new role. He has had some frustrating injury troubles in the last couple of seasons, and he was missed. If he can finally be a mainstay as a forward, he almost counts as a new acquisition.
Brent Burns isn’t what Doug Wilson said he wanted when he traded for him:
“Brent is an elite first-pairing defenseman that is just coming into his prime,” Wilson said. “We feel that he gives our blueline tremendous depth and versatility… -SJ Sharks press release
So Burns has not become the defenseman Wilson wanted then, but he is what the Sharks need now. The team wins more, scores more, does better with Burns the forward in the lineup. He is fast, strong, aggressive and unpredictable on the ice, and he brings intangibles that might be less obvious to the naked eye.
Of playing with him, Joe Thornton said:
He’s so big and so strong and he has such a good shot… and he just has so much fun out there. It’s so fun being a part of his line, you know I just have a smile on my face most of the game because the stuff he does is amazing.
Without Burns in the lineup, the team has scoring punch and can win plenty of games, but they do score more with him. He makes space and incites chaos that San Jose’s considerable offensive talent can take advantage of. Apparently he puts people in a good mood too.
I always say the same thing, I never want a lineup to change, but this year, I think I might finally be right. The Sharks shouldn’t need any more pieces to make this their most effective season to date. The have depth and experience on the blue line that must make most NHL teams green with envy. They have to sit defensemen that other teams would gladly play into the ground.
San Jose has a wealth of talent on their forward lines. It is safe to call the third line overqualified, with Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Kennedy settling in there. The only lingering doubts are which wingers to use on the fourth line, which McLellan seems to answer on a game by game basis. Despite being a natural center, John McCarthy has been very effective as a winger there. The Sharks give Andrew Desjardins the edge as a center, but McCarthy has the experience to slide over if needed, since that is where he mostly played in Worcester and college.
Still, it is fun to play the “what piece would make the difference? There must be someone to add, shopping season is coming!” Some of those pieces are already in place in the form of a retasked Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl the wonder-rookie, and the evolution of Tommy Wingels’ game.
Wingels is clicking at a higher rate and more consistently than ever before. He hits, he shoots, he grinds and crashes, all with increasing polish and precision. He has moved flawlessly up and down the lineup, fitting in an scoring on all top three lines.
If additions and improvements like that don’t make enough difference, then the team is hopeless. If you still need more, remember the team has Raffi Torres in the shop, and they sent Matt Nieto back to Worcester. This is why the Sharks need space: they have a lot of players playing well, and reserves in the hold.