Flurry of roster moves on Tuesday — Sharks acquire LW Ben Eager from ATL for 5th, claim center Kyle Wellwood off waivers from STL, ractivate McCarthy, send 3 to minors, Nichol supended 4 games
C KYLE WELLWOOD CLAIMED SJ TUESDAY VIA WAIVER WIRE
#55 LW BEN EAGER FACED SAN JOSE WITH CHICAGO IN LAST YEAR'S WCF
Even veteran Sharks fans will need to realign their internal line geometry after a flurry of roster moves made on Tuesday. In a span of just under an hour, San Jose Sharks EVP/GM Doug Wilson announced the acquisition of rugged checking winger Ben Eager from the Atlanta Thrashers for a 2011 5th round draft pick, claimed former Canucks/Maple Leafs center Kyle Wellwood off the waiver wire from St. Louis, re-assigned Andrew Desjardins, Brandon Mashinter and defenseman Justin Braun to Worcester of the AHL, and re-activated John McCarthy off of injured reserve. A few hours later the NHL announced a 4-game suspension to center Scott Nichol for a third period hit he delivered to David Schlemko in Phoenix on Monday.
The 7-player roster turnover notwithstanding, the changes are only slight tweaks to the San Jose lineup and Doug Wilson may not be finished making adjustments. In chronological order, the Sharks announced the addition of Ben Eager at 9:01AM on Tuesday. The 26-year old left wing registered 7 goals and 16 points with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. This year Eager had 3 goals and 7 assists in 34 games for the Atlanta Thrashers. Along with goaltender Antti Niemi, Eager was part of the 10+ player exodus out of Chicago as the defending Stanley Cup Champions hemmoraged depth to make difficult salary cap decisions. Eager played a limited but critical role on the fourth line for Chicago. He exacted a physical toll on opponents, and kept his legs churning while on the ice a la Scott Nichol.
GM Doug Wilson made a similar comparison. “The best compliment I can give him is he is like a big Scott Nichol,” Wilson said of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound winger. “He can play the game. He’s got speed and other teams are uncomfortable when he is out there.” Eager knew his role against San Jose, and through the 4-game Western Conference Final series against San Jose he was able to execute that role without drawing a penalty. “I just come and compete every night,” Eager said to SJsharks.com describing his style of play. “I try to get in on the forecheck hard and try to make the other teams’ defensemen turn and go back for the puck and try to score some goals.”
At 9:18AM on Tuesday, the Sharks announced the claim of center Kyle Wellwood off the waiver wire. The former Maple Leaf and Canuck center played 25 games for Mytishchi Atlant of the KHL, registering 8 points before being released. Wellwood signed a 1-year contract with St. Louis earlier this week, but like unsigned former KHL goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, Wellwood would have to clear re-entry waivers before joining any team in the NHL. St. Louis previously tried to bring KHL returnee Marek Svatos into the fold, signing him to a contract on December 28th. Furthur down the Western Conference food chain at the time, Svatos was claimed off re-entry waivers by the Nashville Predators.
“Kyle (Wellwood) is a talented player,” Doug Wilson said via press release. “It gives you depth and players that can bring different things for the players to utilize.” The additions of Wellwood and Eager should firm up the Sharks third and fourth lines, which have been cycling through younger players this year looking for consistency and production. “He has quick hands, good with the puck in tight spaces,” former Maple Leaf teammate and current St Louis Blues center Alex Steen noted to the Post-Dispatch. Short term the 5-foot-10, 181-pound center will add much needed forward depth with injuries to Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell and Benn Ferriero. Long term, if established scoring lines Marleau-Thornton-Heatley and Clowe-Couture-Ferriero reunite, Wellwood could add a playmaking touch to a third line with Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi.
“He’s played all year, he played in the KHL, so this is not a player who has been on the sidelines,” GM Doug Wilson said of Wellwood. “People come in and are given opportunities and we’ve seen that when players are given that opportunity, they will go the extra mile. There is no risk to us in this situation. It should be an exciting opportunity for him to showcase what he can do.” Third line production is a role Jamie McGinn (1G, 4A, 46GP), Torrey Mitchell (4G, 4A, 39GP), and John McCarthy (2G, 2A, 24GP) have not filled this season. At the very least, it creates much needed competition. If things click it could add much needed secondary scoring.
Losing a pair of players to the waiver wire this season, Blues GM Doug Armstrong is frustrated but acknowledges that it is a process. Asked by the CBC if it was a faux pas for San Jose and Nashville to claim players St Louis signed off re-entry waivers, Armstrong bristled, “I think you’re probably better to ask other GMs that right now than me. It’s somewhat frustrating — these other teams have had an opportunity to go do the work and they deemed it not necessary to go out. They’ve taken advantage of the situation that’s given them.” The CBC noted that Armstrong received a call from Nashville before the waiver claim of Svatos, but did not receive a call from San Jose before the claim of Wellwood. Wilson was blunt, noting that he respected Armstrong but that his team had holes to fill due to a recent streak of injuries.
The addition of a new face was not a completely unexpected one. San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak hinted Monday that a veteran addition could be made, but names were not named. After the trade of former NJ Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas, and the movement of defenseman James Wisniewski and Joni Pitkanen, GM’s around the NHL were not waiting until the trade deadline on February 28th to add key pieces to their lineups. Pollak noted that the Sharks may still be in the market for defenseman, but he also implied that Worcester Sharks leading scorer Jonathan Cheechoo (14G, 23A, 38GP) might get a look. San Jose utilized its remaining cap space, fitting the pro-rated portions of Ben Eager’s $965,000 one-way contract and Kyle Wellwood’s $635,000 two-way contract under the $59.4M NHL salary cap. With roughly $212K in remaining cap space according to capgeek.com, any additional moves will require payroll and personnel moving in the other direction.
The “Rock Line” of Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers and Ben Eager will have to wait for its debut. At 12:18PM on Tuesday the NHL announced a 4-game suspension to Scott Nichol for a third period elbow to the head of David Schlemko Monday in Phoenix. Nichol was not given a penatly on the play, but after futhur video review he had about a 15 foot leadup to the high hit in the corner. It is the second suspension the Sharks have been given this year after captain Joe Thornton earned 2 games for a Rule 48 hit on David Perron. Nichol will forfeit $16,344 in salary to NHLPA emergency assistance fund, and he will be eligible to return February 2nd against Anaheim.
The Sharks also assigned three players to Worcester of the AHL on Tuesday morning. Andrew Desjardins (3GP, 0PTS), Brandon Mashinter (10GP, 0PTS) and defenseman Justin Braun (15GP, 1G, 8A) were sent down and should help buoy the 9th place team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. John McCarthy missed 17 games with an undisclosed upper body injury. He last played December 13th in a 3-2 overtime loss against Dallas.
The bevy of moves Tuesday will not solve all of the Sharks problems. With the number of offseason changes, expecting a blistering start to the season may have been too much to hope for. A more reasoned look would have been all of the pieces settling into place and trending toward a playoff spot in April. Instead the Sharks lost 6 straight games in January with problems on both sides of the ice. The addition of Eager and Wellwood is not without risk. Eager is coming off his own 4-game suspension for a punch to the head of Colby Armstrong, and Wellwood had much publicized conditioning issues in Vancouver and saw limited ice time for stretches in the KHL.
The steps taken Tuesday could stabilize short term injury issues, but it could also result in more established roles down the stretch with three scoring lines and a solid checking line. That would not address the Sharks most critical need, another puck moving defenseman. For a franchise that has lost Matt Carle, Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Blake in three consecutive seasons, at times there has been a disconnect in the Sharks transition game from defense to the offense. “When we jump up it’s a tough thing to defend,” Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Vancouver Province earlier this month. “When we play San Jose, you’ve got to be aware of Dan Boyle. Teams have to be aware of all six of our defence because we all jump up.”
Three tenents of head coach Todd McLellan’s philosophy are net front presence, shots from the point, and good puck management out of your own zone. San Jose has two quality young offensive defenseman in Jason Demers and Justin Braun, but relying on both at this stage in their careers is not realistic. GM Doug Wilson has said that there is a shortage of available defenseman, and too many teams in need leading up to the February 28th NHL trade deadline. Three points out of a playoff spot with 35 games remaining, the pressure is only going to build for San Jose.
[Update] Wellwood happy to swim with Sharks – Vancouver Sun.
[Update2] Scott Nichol gets four-game suspension — plus Ben Eager’s thoughts on his trade to San Jose – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.
[Update3] Sharks tinker with forward lines, add Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager – FeartheFin.com.
[Update4] Rumor Roundup: Sharks, Jackets look for ‘D’ – Lyle Richardson for The Hockey News.
The Ottawa Sun reported Wilson has been in the market for an experienced defenseman, listing Ottawa’s Chris Phillips and Toronto’s Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle as possibilities. Phillips has a no-movement clause, Kaberle a no-trade (which Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said he wouldn’t ask him to waive) and Beauchemin a partial no-trade clause.
Of the three, Beauchemin might be the best fit for the Sharks. He’s played in California before, winning a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, so Wilson and the Sharks know him well from his days with the Ducks. Unlike Phillips and Kaberle, Beauchemin is not a pending unrestricted free agent and his $3.8-million salary for next season could be absorbed by the Sharks.