The San Jose Sharks are just six weeks from the start of the 2015-16 NHL season and putting the finishing touches on the personnel that will battle for the goal of at least remaining alive on Memorial Day for the first time in franchise history. Their sudden activity led to CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz writing and posting reports of the additions of Steve Spott (coaching staff) and Frazer McLaren (players) half an hour apart on Monday, August 24.
San Jose’s earlier moves will dictate the success of the 2015-16 NHL season: Peter DeBoer being hired as the new head coach in May, the trade for Martin Jones in June and signing Paul Martin and Joel Ward in July. August is the time of the year to take care of little things, and Friday’s announcement reported by atombash.com that a new song would be used to celebrate goals is almost as significant to on-ice performance as Spott and McLaren will be.
That is not to say those moves were not worth doing. These moves were all the best ones available in August and should be positive for the Sharks.
Sure, San Jose could have brought back Christian Ehrhoff instead of watching him go to the Pacific Division-rival Los Angeles Kings. If he can stay healthy, he would be an upgrade over at least one player that will be dressed each night.
However, that has been a big if in his recent history. His playing time could actually backfire by stunting the growth of young blue-line talents Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson, Mark Cundari and Karl Stollery if two of them are going to be called upon when it matters because Ehrhoff is hurt again.
Sometimes the best moves made are the ones not made. Sometimes not making a move is the only wrong thing to do.
Like any business, it was bad for San Jose’s image to choose to associate itself with a convicted pedophile by celebrating with his song. That change is good but the only debate about its impact on team success is whether it has absolutely no impact or whether its extremely microscopic impact could be negative or even positive.
Signing McLaren has a much better chance of actually affecting goal differential during the 2015-16 NHL season. He signed a two-way contract and thus could spend the entire season with the AHL San Jose Barracuda, where it could be argued he would have about the same amount of minimal and indirect impact as new music in the Shark Tank.
However, the one thing McLaren can do as well as anyone in the NHL is fight. Chances are general manager Doug Wilson would prefer to keep other teams honest with punishing checking-line forwards like Mike Brown and Raffi Torres, but if he decides he needs more he now has a John Scott-level enforcer on his roster.
McLaren is not only huge (6 ft., 5 in., 230 lbs.) but an experienced enough pugilist to throw the gloves down with anyone in the NHL. He is also just 27 years old and thus unlike Scott, he could get a little better at the actual hockey part of his role on the team (102 career games, four goals, seven assists but 274 penalty minutes). It also helps to know he will mesh in the dressing room since he has been with the Sharks before.
Spott’s hiring will almost certainly have a positive impact, though how much relative to alternative assistant is impossible to measure. Familiarity and a common vision are good things on a new coaching staff, and he has worked with DeBoer on multiple occasions. He also has proven himself as an OHL head coach and has experience on the power play that San Jose needs.
Meanwhile, the Sharks got news that coach-turned-executive Larry Robinson had a growth on his knee that was diagnosed as melanoma and had to be removed. The blue-line legend has received a clean bill of health and is still expected to be in town for at least some of training camp, so this news should have no impact on the 2015-16 NHL season.
In fact, even San Jose’s earlier off-season changes will not impact the season as those the players already in the dressing room make since chances are that 17 of the 20 dressed players for any given game will be returning from the 2014-15 NHL season. The question is whether those players can step up.
Will Joe Pavelski indeed become captain and can he have more success leading this team than the playful Joe Thornton or the reserved Patrick Marleau? Can the former captains provide leadership support and most importantly, continue to perform in their mid-thirties? Can talented young players like Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Mirco Mueller make the strides to be effective on a consistent basis? Can Justin Braun return to his 2013-14 NHL season’s form? What others might step up into larger roles?
One veteran Kurz examined was Tommy Wingels. The hard-working, hard-checking forward has enough skating ability and the right mentality to defend well but also a net-front presence that helps him score in the dirty areas. If he can take a regular role on a scoring line or power play, more offensive contribution from him could be on the horizon.
Ultimately, the Sharks need more than four games of improvement to make it into the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. That growth will then be judged when and if they make their postseason return…getting there has never been the problem before in Wilson’s tenure, but doing something once in has.