The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and the San Jose Sharks are unchanged. Despite rumors that GM Doug Wilson was pursuing the likes of Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Callahan and former Shark Devin Setoguchi, he ended up standing pat and keeping the team’s roster intact.
San Jose’s inactivity in the trade market wasn’t unexpected, but it is concerning. The club has virtually no cap space and little in the way of valuable trade chips, so it was unlikely they’d be able to land a high-end player. If they did, they’d have to ship off a big contract like Marty Havlat, Tyler Kennedy or Brad Stuart in order to shed some salary, and none of those players hold much value (if any) in a trade.
Still, the Sharks are undeniably thin on defense, particularly on the left side. The squad has just four left-handed rearguards: Stuart, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan. Of those four, only Vlasic can be considered a quality top-four defenseman. Stuart is having one of the worst seasons of his career and Hannan, while solid, is nothing more than a bottom-pairing guy. Irwin has been in and out of the lineup all year and has been abysmal in his own zone when he does play.
Acquiring a left-handed defenseman capable of moving the puck and logging top-four minutes should have been San Jose’s top priority. Instead of chasing players like Callahan and Moulson who were clearly out of his price range, Wilson’s time would have been better spent pursuing a quality rearguard.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who began his NHL career with the Sharks, fits the club’s needs to a tee. The 31-year-old German is signed long-term at a reasonable annual cap hit of $4 million, and he was being openly shopped by Sabres GM Tim Murray. Ehrhoff is an established two-way rearguard who can contribute offensively, as demonstrated by his 29 points this season.
If the cost to acquire the Buffalo blueliner was too rich for Wilson’s blood, there were other talented defensemen on the market who may have come cheaper. Two names that immediately come to mind are Andrej Meszaros and Andrew MacDonald, who were both traded prior to the 3 p.m. EST deadline. The Boston Bruins managed to snag Meszaros for just a third-round draft pick, while the Philadelphia Flyers dealt second- and third-round picks for MacDonald. These are both trades that would have boosted San Jose’s back end, assuming they managed to unload some salary elsewhere.
The silver lining is that the Sharks are having a great season and have more or less secured a playoff spot. They have a strong goaltending tandem and a high-powered offense that should allow them to make some noise in the postseason. With a bit of puck luck, the team could make a strong run at the Stanley Cup this year. But if their defense falters or they lose a top-four rearguard to injury, they simply don’t have enough depth on the blue line to keep the league’s elite squads at bay. That could have been addressed at the trade deadline.