Here comes the cavalry! Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood are the newest members of the San Jose Sharks, acquired yesterday to solidify the team’s depth, bring a little stability on the grind lines, and instill a little toughness in a squad that’s proven itself to be thin-skinned, weak-willed and yellow-bellied. While these aren’t the groundbreaking moves many Shark fans were hoping for – Joe Thornton is still a member of the Sharks, and Todd McLellan is still calling the shots behind the bench – it does address some areas that had been ignored this season.
Eager won’t do much on the scoresheet in his six or seven minutes a night, but he’ll fill the toughness void that was left by Jody Shelley’s departure last season. Shelley didn’t do a whole lot besides making whoever was standing next to him look better, but he did deter teams from taking liberties with the Sharks and their best players. We’ve seen two blatant examples of that over the last month, without any response from the Sharks.
The first example took place on December 27th against the Los Angeles Kings at HP Pavilion. Leading 3-0, the Kings pulled off one of the most amazing goals of the season, with Anze Kopitar sending an alley-oop pass to a streaking Dustin Brown, who tucked the puck past Sharks netminder Antti Niemi. The goal filled highlight reels, but there wasn’t any response from the Sharks, who seemed content to take their beating and watch the Kings showboat on their rink, in front of their disgusted fans, without batting an eyelash. Eager could have sent a message.
The latest example took place last week against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Colton Orr delivered a vicious knee-on-knee hit to Logan Couture, knocking the Sharks’ best player out of the lineup for a couple games. Nobody ever made it to Orr to dish out some retribution, nobody made life difficult for any of the other Leafs players, and Ron Wilson was able to celebrate his 600th career victory without the Sharks lifting either a fist or a gloved hand in resistance. Eager sucker punches Leafs when they don’t do anything. Just imagine what he’d do if they gave him a reason.
Wellwood might not look like a great move on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you realize that he can provide some much-needed offense on the third line. If Eager is the new Shelley, Wellwood is the new Marcel Goc. Sure it doesn’t sound great, but it’s a whole lot better than Benn Ferriero, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell, Frazer McLaren, Brandon Mashinter, Andrew Desjardins, John McCarthy, Tommy Wingels, or any other offensively-challenged youngster the Sharks have auditioned this season.
The KHL is a long way from the NHL, and we’ll see how much Wellwood has left in the tank after a trip across the pond, but he has to be provide more offense and stability than any of the names mentioned above. Plus, the St. Louis Blues were looking to scoop him up, so the Sharks were wise to deny them while bolstering their own roster. It’s not the ideal solution, but that’s what you’re left with when you’re a cap-strapped team fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
In addition, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is hoping these two additions bolster the team’s depth enough to offset his next move, which involves trading either Devin Setoguchi or Joe Pavelski in exchange for a defenseman. Of course, hindsight being 20/20 and Wilson’s foresight being significantly less than that, he could have just gone out and made a deal for James Wisniewski last month. The blueliner has scored 10 points in 10 games since the Montreal Canadiens acquired him for peanuts and small change. I guess we can add it to the list of squandered opportunities that have led the Sharks to these desperate times, Eager and Wellwood.
If I don’t get another chance to get the word out, the SharksBuzz Postgame Show will be going live tomorrow night immediately after the final buzzer sounds. I suppose you can pencil in a loss against the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL’s best team, but we’ve seen the Wild and Avalanche rattle their cage over the last week and the Sharks will need a win to keep pace in the ever-constricting Western Conference. Either way, we’ll break it all down and take your toll-free calls at (724) 444-7444, talkcast ID# 74909. Thanks for reading and have a good one.