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.