DEFENSEMAN DOUGLAS MURRAY, FUTURE BOYLE D-PARTNER? - PHOTO JON SWENSON
A CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF ROB BLAKE D-PAIRING WOULD OPEN A FEW EYES
The July 4th holiday weekend was a busy one for the San Jose Sharks and general manager Doug Wilson. In the span of 48 hours on Thursday and Friday, the Sharks traded defenseman Craig Rivet, Matt Carle, Ty Wishart a 2009 first-round, 2010 fourth-round, and 2010 seventh-round draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich and 2009 and 2010 second-round picks. The Sharks also signed free agent defenseman Rob Blake to a 1-year, $5 million contract.
The moves effectively reshuffle and restructure the draft and develop short term gameplan for the San Jose blueline. The Sharks have a history of stacking players and prospects at all stages of development throughout the organization. After three straight Western Conference Semifinal playoff exits, gone are a power play quarterback of the future (Carle), the Sharks most NHL-ready defensive prospect (Wishart), and the first overall draft pick in next year's draft.
An aggressive shutdown defense that allowed the third fewest goals in the regular season (193) struggled mightily in two playoff series against Calgary and Dallas. According to general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks played only 5 quality playoff games out of 13. The Sharks defense backed off opponents at the blueline, were outworked in 1-on-1 battles behind the net, and were tentative and cautious moving the puck out of their own zone. On the power play, the defense was worse. No Sharks defenseman scored a power play goal, and Rivet (4) Campbell (2) and Ehrhoff (1) combined for 7 total power play assists. The offense effectively flowed through the defense, and without a fluid transition up ice or rebound opportunities generated by point shots on net the Sharks finshed only 8-56 (14.3
) with the man advantage, 5th worst in the postseason. In the WCSF deciding game 6 against Dallas the Sharks were held scoreless on 4 power play opportunities, including a 2 minute power play in the third overtime. Brian Campbell took a hooking call in the fourth OT, and Brenden Morrow converted
in less than a minute to send the Stars to the Western Conference Finals.
In Boyle, Lukowich and Rob Blake the Sharks add 100 years to one of the youngest rosters in the NHL, and over 2200 games of NHL experience (2232). Blake is 9th
among active NHL players in total shots (3516), first overall among active defenseman in goals, and tied for fourth among active defenseman in total points (223G, 479A, 702PTS).
TSN's Scott Cullen notes
that 2007-08 was the worst season on record for Tampa Bay's Dan Boyle. A freak wrist injury occured when a skate fell off a hook in the locker room and injured 3 tendons in his wrist. A brief comeback attempt was unsuccessful, and Boyle eventually missed a combined 45 games. After his return, Cullen notes that Boyle registered a league worst -29 (for defenseman) on a Tampa Bay Lightning team that finished with the worst record in the NHL.
The addition of Blake and Boyle will have an immediate impact on a Sharks power play, one that too often relied on Joe Thornton to initiate offense from the half boards. Blake's howitzer of a shot from the point will create a number of rebound opportunities in front for Patrick Marleau (6-foot-2 220-pounds), Ryane Clowe (6-foot-2, 225-pounds), Milan Michalek (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), Joe Thornton (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and Jonathan Cheechoo (6-foot-1, 205 pounds). Blake's long reach and size also make him difficult to handle on the point, but a mean streak and the occasional propensity to flatten opponents are qualities the Sharks had to admire.
Boyle is a fluid and mobile skater, one who may lack the top end speed of a Brian Campbell but may be more creative running a power play from the point. He is also more defensively aware, and his vision up-ice should be a strength on the Sharks transition 5-on-5. Many have noted Boyle's lack of size at 5-foot-11 190-pounds, and have questioned his ability to move out larger bodies in front of the net. A look at possibile defensive pairings offer interesting possibilities. Boyle could be matched up with 6-foot-3, 240 pound wall of humanity Douglas Murray. The Cornell grad from Sweden, along with Christian Ehrhoff, were the two most improved defenseman on the San Jose Sharks last season. Murray used his size and positioning, and a simple and steady game to excel in a shutdown role. Christian Ehrhoff, a restricted free agent from Germany, used speed, stickhandling and an active stick to beat opponents to the puck and quickly move it up ice. Ehrhoff could be paired with Rob Blake, where his left shot and speed could compliment the game of the former Los Angeles Kings captain.
The third pairing could consist of a young Marc-Edouard Vlasic and veteran defensive defenseman Brad Lukowich. Vlasic, a co-rookie defenseman of the year along with Matt Carle in 2006-07, plays an intelligent and mature game with solid fundamentals similar to the departed Craig Rivet. Vlasic struggled to challenge opponents in the playoffs, but a pairing with hard hitting shot blocking Lukowich could be a perfect match. Kyle McLaren struggled to overcome a knee injury during the regular season, and in 5 playoff games against Calgary it looked like the veteran defenseman wanted to get to areas on the ice where his knee could not take him. McLaren's size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and tenacity could have been desperately used against Dallas, but with 1 year remaining on his contract at $2,500,000 he may become another salary cap casualty.
The Sharks offered qualifying offers to Ryane Clowe, Christian Ehrhoff and Marcel Goc prior to July 1st. Word from inside San Jose is that the Sharks and Clowe are close on salary, but are slightly apart on the length of the contract. Word from outside of San Jose is that the Sharks and Ehrhoff are also apart on the length of a contract. Daniel Tolensky reports
that Sharks center Marcel Goc joins 15 other NHL players who elected to take their teams to salary arbitration on Saturday. The deadline for the Sharks to take a player to arbitration is Sunday. Tolensky breaks down the specifics of player or team initiated arbitration, and provides a look back at significant arbitration decisions and a specific look at the 1998 individual arbitration ruling regarding former Bruins forward Dimitri Khristich.
In other related news, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun speculates
that Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray may be looking into a trade for San Jose defenseman Kyle McLaren or Anaheim defenseman Mathieu Schneider. The Minnesota Wild also signed
rugged right wing Owen Nolan for 2 years at $5.5 million. The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont also notes a report from agent Jay Fee that San Jose Sharks right wing Mike Grier had successful knee surgery
and should be primed for training camp in September.
[Update] ESPN's Scott Burnside believes that the acquisition of Blake and Boyle more than fill the void
left by Brian Campbell's departure to Chicago, but that recent big-name trades for Craig Rivet, Bill Guerin, and Brian Campbell may have significantly drained the franchise. In a second report on the Dan Boyle trade, Burnside notes that the Tampa Bay defenseman chose San Jose over several other options, and that the trade has refurbished a defense that was pushed around
in the playoffs.
Burnside notes the "painful" loss of Wishart, who was thought to be one of the Sharks top-2 blue chip defensive prospects and possibly the most NHL-ready. Current Sharks blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic is only 21, and Douglas Murray and Christian Ehrhoff (RFA) are entering their primes at 28 and 26 respectively. With Boyle (turning 32 July 12th), signed for 6 seasons, San Jose could have a core defense in place for much of the foreseeable future. Hard hitting freshman defenseman Nick Petrecki
, a first round San Jose draft selection in 2007, won an NCAA Championship in his first season at Boston College. San Jose's development pipeline on defense has thinned to a degree, but the end result is a much stronger blend of youth and experience at the NHL level.
[Update2] Lightning help Sharks win big in free agency
- Eric McErlain for The Sporting News.
So what's San Jose getting in Boyle? Since the lockout and thanks to the unbalanced schedule, I got to see a lot of Boyle in Washington over the past three seasons. And outside of Scott Niedermayer or Nicklas Lidstrom, there's probably no one single defenseman in all of hockey who could solve the problems with your power play faster than Boyle, never mind finding one that can also rack up better than 27 minutes of ice time per game.
Unlike most power play units that station a pair of defensemen at the points, Boyle ran Tampa Bay's first unit by himself. Stationed at the enemy blue line one stride from the top of the slot, Boyle served as the unit's lone pivot, distributing the puck to each wing in a manner that made him look as much like an NBA point guard as an NHL defenseman.
Sure, there are plenty of other defensemen who could have racked up eye-popping numbers playing alongside Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, but make no mistake, Boyle was an integral part of that unit, and every bit as much a contributor as either of his more celebrated teammates. Now, in San Jose, Boyle gets to work with a corps of forwards arguably as talented and deep as the group he left in Tampa Bay, and he'll get to share the load on the power play with a future Hall of Famer in Rob Blake, who signed a one-year deal with the Sharks just before the July 4th holiday in the States.
[Update3] Sharks Hockey Analysis notes
the contribution of Brad Lukowich in Tampa Bay. In 53 games played, Lukowich registered 153 hits to lead the team and finished third with 108 blocked shots. Chuq Von Rospach at Two for Elbowing
takes a look at the 2008-09 Sharks roster, what new head coach Todd McLellan could bring to the team, and how the forward lines could shake out for next season. Before the ink was dry on that post the Sharks traded Craig Rivet, but Chuq also looks at how the defensive has changed with recent trades. The Oilogosphere's Lowetide
also likes the Sharks acquisition of Rob Blake, believing he could provide leadership to a young defense. James Mirtle speculates
that some of the recent questions about Dan Boyle's work ethic may have came from former Florida Panthers teammate and current Tampa Bay Lightning part-owner Len Barrie.
[Update4] KNBR 680AM's Ralph Barbieri interviewed new Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle this afternoon, audio of the interview is available for download here
. Boyle talked about his departure from Tampa Bay, the start of his minor league career with Evgeni Nabokov at San Jose's then AHL affiliate in Lexington, and that he wears #22 because he was a fan of Rick Tocchet growing up. NHL.com columnist Larry Wigge also broke down the process general manager Doug Wilson went through to acquire Dan Boyle and Rob Blake on SJsharks.com
, and detailed Wilson's desire to add more Cup winning experience to the Sharks roster.