Two dudes blogging and podcasting about the San Jose Sharks, straight from sunny California.

post TLDR – Third Line Strategy

June 18th, 2011, 5:28 pm

Filed under: blog — Written by Mike

The first of several TLDR (too long, didn’t read) posts this summer concerns a key aspect of this Sharks team- the third line.  Generally on most teams, the third line is a defensively minded trio that should shut down the opponents’ best players, maybe contribute 20-25 points per player, and have the trust of the coaching staff to kick in some PK time.  However, some teams go another way, a road less traveled, yet more treacherous.  These teams like to continue to pour on the pressure in the offensive zone, field three scoring lines, and dare their opponents to keep up.

So where did the Sharks reside in this spectrum?  Mostly on the offensive side- Pavelski/Mitchell/Wellwood had some great scoring punch (102 points in the regular season, 22 in the playoffs, mostly due to Pavelski’s 66 and 10, respectively), but Pavs was the 2nd most used shorthanded forward, with Mitchell 6th.  And as many Sharks fans have noted, they did not serve a ‘shutdown’ role, T-Mac likes to match power with power.

This is pretty similar to Detroit’s style (sound familiar?).  Detroit’s third line this year was largely Hudler, Filppula, and Modano/spare parts, tallying around 100 points if we include Modano’s 15 points contribution in the 40 games he didn’t play.  Detroit went even more offensive with these guys- none of them played significant PK time.

Or we could look at Vancouver, as Tom mentioned in a comment in the last post, with Malhotra/Hansen/Torres (not always Torres, but probably close enough).  All agitators or defensively-minded, all tough to play against, all can play the kill.  Tom also accused us of flip-flopping a bit, since we seemed to endorse more of the Vancouver style third line instead of the Detroit model in the last podcast.  Admittedly, this would be a sea change for the Sharks.

My opinion is based on what a wise man once said to Woodward and Bernstein- “follow the money.”  I furtively wish that the Sharks could go and gather as many great players as they possibly can, pay them Yankees money, go win the Stanley Cup, and I’ll live out my days watching the championship DVDs over and over again.

Unfortunately, reality intercedes.  Two inconvenient truths:

  1. The Sharks defense is not amongst the best in the West.  In fact, it might be considered merely average.
  2. The Sharks do not have a lot of money to spare on said defense.

For me, it comes down to a question of salary mix.  Detroit is spending good money on their third line, around $7.5M, for the privilege of third line scoring punch.  And why can they afford it?  Because they are only spending around $24M on their top 6 forwards.  Vancouver had a good shutdown third line, for which they only spent an economical $4.5 or so.  And why?  Because they spent a ton on their D, about $24M.

In contrast, the Sharks spent only $18M on their defense last year, but they spent $24 on their top three forwards- Jumbo, Heater, and Patty.  Then another $7M and change on the second line, which was unquestionably a great deal.  Only the Kings and Caps spent more than the Sharks on forwards last year, and it was close- the Kings spent less than $100k more, the Caps spent about a million more.

So my opinion has to be based on this reality- the Sharks are extremely forward heavy in terms of salary distribution, and I believe a #2/#3 defenseman is their highest acquisition priority.  This means something has to give, and that must be the third line.  I don’t believe it’s wise for the Sharks to have a $4M third line center, even if he puts of 66 points.  You keep him, but he should be playing the second line.  Maybe that means Seto is the odd man out.  Or maybe it’s Pavs.  Or maybe it’s one of the big 3.  It would be incredibly difficult to make that call, and I don’t envy Doug Wilson’s position here.

The bad news is, I believe if the Sharks defense remains middle-of-the-pack, which it probably will be, even with Ian White, it will be the same old playoff slog next year.  The Kings are improving.  The Blackhawks will probably be better next year.  Vancouver might re-sign some or all of their free agents.  Now that Feaster is the GM, Calgary might do something worthwhile.  My new position is resources must be shifted.  They must be shifted to defense, and the third line should again serve a more traditional role.

Did I flip-flop?  Like a fish out of water on ketamine.  But as the proverb says, a wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.

19 Comments to “TLDR – Third Line Strategy”

  1. Khaaz says:

    I completely agree. It sucks, and most Shark fans won’t want to admit it, but the fact is that we need to move one of our top 7 forwards if we want to upgrade our defense (I.E. upgrade our team). The 2 most likely players to be moved are Pavelski and Setoguchi. Clowe imo is too big a leader on this team to be moved, and the rest all have NMC’s.

    Pavelski can obviously get us a better return than Seto, and trading him would free up more cap space, but I don’t think he should be moved unless he could get us an elite young defenseman who can play with Boyle on the top pairing.

    I think a trade of Pavelski + picks or possibly Justin Braun for Luke Schenn would be a great trade that could really benefit both teams. Toronto is in desperate need of a top line center, and Ron Wilson and Brian Burke are both big fans of Pavelski (Burke was GM of the US Olympic team and referred to Pavs as a “Swiss Army Knife”).

    We could then sign someone in free agency to center our 3rd line. Brooks Laich would be ideal, but Eric Belanger, Alex Tanguay, or Vernon Fiddler could all work as well. They all can put up points (Fiddler less go), they all have solid defensive instincts, and they all can kill penalties.

    I’d also like to see us sign someone like Pascal Dupuis or Joel Ward to play wing on the 3rd line as well.

    Doing all this we’d have a brilliant top defense pairing (Boyle – Schenn) and extremely solid defense overall. Our top 6 would stay the same, and we’d have a 3rd line of defensively responsible players who can kill penalties and still put up some solid points.

    Ahh this would be awesome. We’d be Stanley Cup favorite for sure i think.

    • Khaaz says:

      Here’s how it would all look/fit:

      Dany Heatley ($7.500m) / Joe Thornton ($7.000m) / Patrick Marleau ($6.900m)
      Ryane Clowe ($3.625m) / Logan Couture ($1.241m) / Devin Setoguchi ($2.500m)
      Torrey Mitchell ($1.366m) / Brooks Laich ($3.500m) / Pascal Dupuis ($2.200m)
      Jamal Mayers ($0.550m) / Scott Nichol ($0.600m) / Jamie McGinn ($0.650m)
      Andrew Desjardins ($0.550m)

      Dan Boyle ($6.666m) / Luke Schenn ($3.500m)
      Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($3.100m) / Jason Demers ($1.250m)
      Douglas Murray ($2.500m) / Ian White ($3.200m)

      Antti Niemi ($3.800m) / Thomas Greiss ($0.700m)

      CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
      (these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
      SALARY CAP: $63,500,000; CAP PAYROLL: $62,900,001; BONUSES: $425,000
      CAP SPACE (21-man roster): $599,999

      If we’re not able to sign Brooks Laich then we could try to sign Tanguay or Eric Belanger to center our 3rd line. They’d be about a million dollars cheaper so if we signed one of them instead of Laich we could keep Niittymaki.

  2. Tom says:


    I imagine that producing a podcast every week and having to put forth your opinions for all the world to criticize can be pretty frustrating. Please be clear though, I wasn’t “accusing” anybody of anything. I was simply asking the question, because there was a shift and there wasn’t much explanation about why. 

    And you mostly answered my questions. 

    Agree or disagree though the position I always fall to is what is DW gonna do? 

    And I do agree about a couple points – Pavelski isn’t a traditional 3rd line player. If I wasn’t advocating for three scoring lines I’d agree with you that he doesn’t belong there. We do essentially have 7 top six forwards. 

    Mike to quote you, you said that often winning and losing in the playoffs comes down to small factors like bounces, injuries, luck, etc… I believe that to be the primary factor with SJ this year. So, again, I’m not sure how what we rolled out this year wasn’t good enough – aside from winning the cup. Small tweaks and improvements can always be beneficial. I think that a fairly major philosophy shift in this team, at this point, could be a bad too. 

    But again, I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong as much as initiate good conversation and some back and forth. I understand more your position now, even though I think I disagree… But it will be more interesting to see what DW does.  

    • Mike says:

      Sorry Tom, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought your comments were anything but inquisitive. You mentioned that my opinion seemed to have changed – perfectly reasonable observation – and I was running my yap. One of the best things about sports is all the arguments you can have about it.

      But I agree with you- I doubt DW will make any sort of major shift in this area. And I also agree that trying to implement such a shift could be dangerously expensive. It’s sort of like giving up the juice in a sports bet- it’s hard to get equal value.

      Final note- there’s nothing wrong with trying to prove anybody wrong- it’s what I do every time I make a bet with Doug on the podcast. I’m on a tear lately, but that’s bound to change.

  3. Ruben says:

    I disagree with the premise that the Sharks are average defensively. The Sharks were a top 10 team in the league for GAA and shots allowed. Maybe I’m overrating him, but I believe Vlasic is a top 5 defensive shutdown defenseman in the NHL, and is better than even a guy like Luke Schenn or Braydon Coburn, guys we would go out and get to be our #2 Dman. We have a #2 quality Dman, we just want another one to babysit one of our offensive defensmen.

    IMO, once again the playoffs came down to the hot goaltender. For the first time in years, it happened to be the goaltender that was also hot the whole regular season. I know a few will disagree with me, but Niemi was not good the entire playoffs. I believe he will be better, and if his SV% is .920 instead of .890, I think the Sharks would have been playing Boston.

    It is so tough trying to guess what DW will do, but the Dudes do a better job at it than most. Who are you guys calling for this year? A Luke Schenn trade? Braydon Coburn? Offer sheet Drew Doughty to a 5 year/$8.5mil contract?!?!?!?! Another interesting summer…

    • Khaaz says:

      I love Vlasic, but he provides almost no physicality. Luke Schenn had 201 more hits and 21 more shot blocks than Vlasic this season, so it’s hard to argue against Luke schenn being the better defensive defenseman. Schenn is also a few years younger with more potential for improvement in all areas of his game.

      I’ve always been curious to see how Vlasic and Boyle would look together, but i have to agree with most people that it probably isn’t a good idea to put a small guy like Dan Boyle together with a guy like Vlasic who doesn’t throw many hits and isn’t physical.

      About our defense as whole, i think they played much better than most expected them to. They had a great season for sure, but our low GAA and low shots allowed probably had a lot to do with the Sharks being such a strong puck possession team made up of good two way players who backcheck to help out the defense.

      • evilducks says:

        I haven’t looked up the stats, but hits and blocks don’t make a defensive defensemen. What is his Qual Comp, GA per 60?

        • Khaaz says:

          I’m not sure but at 21 years old with that many blocked shots and hits, and the talents he has, there’s no doubt that he’ll someday be an elite top pairing defensive defenseman.

          Without a doubt, Vlasic is one of the best there is at what he does, but without the right partner I don’t see Vlasic as a top pairing guy. Boyle is definitely not the right partner for Vlasic, so Vlasic would be much better off staying on the second pairing. Now if we somehow got our hands on Shea Weber, Vlasic would probably be the perfect guy to play with Weber on our top pairing.

  4. Eric says:


    I have to believe that likely candidates to move this year are going to be Murray, Seto, and possibly Mitchell. It will be hard for both the organization and fans to see any of these three go, but I am not quite sure how much they add to this team considering their price. The Dudes and the rest of us would all like to add a top-tier D-man. To me this means that Murray must go. If you add someone to pair with Boyle, then, it seems, that you transform Murray into an overpaid 3rd pairing D-man. I love me some crankshaft, but he should not be on the top pair for a cup contending team. This team has too many guys that fit as a middle pairing (especially if you add White).

    Seto is still a trade chip that other teams would like to take a crack at, and Mitchell is a one skill player (speed). His hands are shoddy, and he does not have the physicality his role seemingly requires.

    Nitty will also be on clearance, clearly, and I can only hope someone buys.

    My guesses, considering the NTC/NMCs. Seto and Murray go. The Sharks continue to have Pavs on the third line and try and find a piece that fits into the first line or second line, but is not really a Top-6 forward. We also finally get lucky and a top FA D-man signs in SJ.

    • Cyoor says:

      Murray wont go anywhere imo.
      Regarding seto, he is right now the 4th lowest at the list in san jose on cost/point, and second lowest on cost/goal. Check the list here:

      I dont see any reason at all to get rid of a player like that unless he wants 3M to stay or something like that, but hen its him leaving, not the sharks not signing him.

      Remember.. Heatly is payed 6.2M MORE then seto, and still he only did 4 more goals..
      So.. Lets look abit closer on that…

      Heatly played around 2589 min while seto played around 1814 min the last season.

      That gives Heatly 99.6 min on ice for each goal
      and seto 82.5 min on ice for each goal

      Both are in the team to score goals, seto does it more often and gets payed alot less.

      I am aware that I was abit bias when I chose Heatly as a comparison, but a player like that should be able to withstand such a comparison. It makes a clear example however on that seto isnt as bad as people seem to think, and that he acctually is a bargain to have on the team.

  5. Ruben says:

    Well, I certainly disagree that Vlasic needs to be paired with anyone in particular, hockey seems to me too fluid to worry about individual matchups. I can’t remember how many times I had a heart attack when Doug Murray futily chased around Datsyuk while Dan Boyle jousted with Bertizzi up front.

    But I can’t deny that your view is the general wisdom. It just seems to me that Vlasic is really underutilized.

    New WTC seems to suggest White isn’t coming back. Braun looks to be in the driver’s seat for a top 6 spot. Cap is gonna be $64 mil, maybe DW can steal Pronger from Philly so they can sign Bryz?

    • Khaaz says:

      lol wow Pronger in SJ? I would be so down for that, but he’s getting old and his contract goes until he’s 42, and since he’s over 35 it doesn’t come off the books when he retires.

      Considering how DW doesn’t even like signing contracts over 3 or 4 years long, i doubt he wants anything to do with a contract that won’t come off the books for 7 years even if Pronger retires.

      • Ruben says:

        On one hand, you look at a guy like Lidstrom (and even Chelios) and see that Dmen can be effective into their late 30’s. On the other hand, Pronger already has injury issues.

        It’s a tough trade market out there, I do agree that Pronger is very high risk. He is healthy, and I don’t see a better team than the Sharks. He retires next year, and the team is screwed.

  6. MJ says:

    Pavs is the more versatile player; hands-down. Late come-ons (e.g. Seto’s surge toward the end) won’t carry as much weight in DW’s book, I assume. Salary is the all-important factor here and Seto is in talks about that subject right now. Pavs’ salary, although high, is a known-factor and was well-before the season ended. Maybe DW also knows that a move for Pavs (to a different line or new team) is necessary for a mutually beneficial future at this point. Walking away from Seto or not matching offers seems like a pretty easy way to take care of one off-season headache, however.

    Re: the blueline –

    Sharks are going to be in worse shape here than they were last year if they don’t sign Ian White. Available Dmen will be pulling in high $ this year. DW has already commented on this.

    Is his approach to acquisitions too conservative to pull in a big name? His past moves would make me lean toward “yes” on that one, but the supply in the market is thin and that might move DW out of his comfort zone a little to catch a big fish.

    Dumping one of the big 3 forward contracts might be off the table because of the NMC’s, but imagine how nice it would be to get an adequate winger as a trade-off and all of that $$ to play with in the off-season?

    • Ruben says:

      This has been debated elsewhere, but Ian White is really a #4-5 dman. I complain about Doug Murray making $2mil as a #4, if Ian White got $3.5mil for 3 years I might go crazy. Braun will not be as good as White (though their PPG as Sharks are very close), but at 1/4 the salary on the bottom pair, I think DW is right to let White go.

      The Sharks will be better on D if they simply improve upon Nic Wallin. Whether it is in a trade for a guy like Pronger or Robyn Regehr, or a HR trade for a guy like Ryan Suter, or a safe play in UFA land like Eric Brewer, the Sharks will likely be more talented on the backend next year than this year.

      • MJ says:

        I guess I can see that work, financially. I was going to ask about the AHL’ers in my post, but I had enough blather at that point.

        I didn’t see much of Braun last year (mainly my own fault for not watching as many games), but Mike and Doug (or one or the other) had high praise for him. It would be great to see him or Petrecki (if he’s ready) get some solid NHL time next year.

        So, if Whitey goes, that leaves Boyle, Vlasic, Murray as the deep core and the stragglers will consist of Demers/Braun/Moore/Petrecki?

        That makes that vacant #2/#3 role pretty important, sounds like.

  7. Cyoor says:

    To be abit off topic here.. But, is the calder trophy rigged?

    I mean Skinner is obviously a great player, but how much will the media attention on that young player affect the call on who will win the calder trophy?
    He got alot of fans, they make alot of noize and he is in the meda like ALOT. There will probably be made a big deal out of it all if he didnt win, so is this affecting the outcome?

    I dont know if coture is better then skinner or not, but I would atleast like it to be a fair thing.

    What do you guys think?

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