Sharks’ top-six for­ward group might get new look

De­Boer has had the Shark on the left wing for three con­sec­u­tive prac­tices

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Paul Gackle pgackle@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

Just two games into the post-Pa­trick Mar­leau era, Sharks coach Pete De­Boer is re­con­sid­er­ing the To­mas Hertl project at cen­ter.

Hertl skated on Lo­gan Cou­ture’s left wing for a third con­sec­u­tive prac­tice Wed­nes­day, oc­cu­py­ing the spot Mar­leau held down for a large chunk of the past five sea­sons.

Although De­Boer in­sists he isn’t look­ing beyond Thurs­day’s games against Buf­falo, the move sug­gests he’s al­ready dis­sat­is­fied with his top-six for­ward group and will­ing to veer from gen­eral man­ager Doug Wil­son’s longterm blue­print to add more fire­power to the mix.

De­Boer just en­tered the fi­nal sea­son of his three-year deal with the Sharks, and if he’s go­ing to get an­other con­tract, the team will need to make the play­offs and con­tend in the Western Con­fer­ence. An 0-3 start would not be good, es­pe­cially when the Sharks are open­ing the sched­ule with a cozy fiveg­ame home­s­tand.

A man in Wil­son’s po­si­tion tends to take a longer view. The GM be­lieves the Sharks can off­set Mar­leau’s de­par­ture by turn­ing to up-and­com­ers such as Timo Meier, Kevin La­banc and Ryan Car­pen­ter. Wil­son also is con­vinced that Hertl will de­velop into a bona fide NHL cen­ter once he gets an in­juryfree sea­son to grow into the po­si­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, Wil­son in­sists that he stays out of dayto-day lineup de­ci­sions; De­Boer can play Hertl where he sees fit, which is what the Sharks coach in­tends to do.

“We’re all short-term as coaches. Doug jug­gles the blue­prints, I’m short-term, so we’re go­ing to do what­ever (it takes),” De­Boer said. “If they (Wil­son’s blue­prints) can jibe to­gether, and co­in­cide, and they work, and they can help us win, we’ll do them at this level. But if they’re not, we’re go­ing to change some­thing up.

“I still think To­mas Hertl’s go­ing to be a real, real good cen­ter­man in this league, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help us win a game, to­mor­row night, some­where else.”

Still, if De­Boer is will­ing to slide Hertl onto the wing in Game 3 of an 82-game sched­ule, it isn’t hard to see Hertl re­join­ing the Joe Thorn­ton-Joe Pavel­ski line sooner than later. Hertl checks all the boxes De­Boer has iden­ti­fied as es­sen­tial at­tributes for the third piece of the Thorn­ton line: He’s pow­er­ful, he’s strong on the cy­cle and he has a knack for scor­ing the dirty goal around the net.

Af­ter au­di­tion­ing no fewer than eight left wingers on the top line last sea­son, why not close the re­volv­ing door by re­turn­ing to the com­bi­na­tion that drove the Sharks to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal two years ago?

Los­ing Mar­leau is prov­ing to be a dou­ble whammy for the Sharks: they miss his of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion on Cou­ture’s line and his abil­ity to play cen­ter on the third line.

Af­ter the Sharks moved Hertl up to the top line in Jan­uary 2016, Mar­leau slid into the third-line cen­ter po­si­tion, cre­at­ing matchup problems for teams across the NHL. Un­der the cen­ter align­ment of Thorn­ton, Cou­ture and Mar­leau, the Sharks fin­ished the sea­son with a 2614-4 record, set­ting the stage for their run to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal. But with Mar­leau gone to Toronto, Chris Tier­ney will need to close the third-line hole opened by Hertl’s move to the wing while Car­pen­ter takes his place on the fourth line.

Although Tier­ney ac­quit­ted him­self well as the team’s third-line cen­ter in the Western Con­fer­ence Fi­nals two years ago, he’s yet to dis­play the type of con­sis­tency the Sharks need to recre­ate the cen­ter depth they had with Thorn­ton, Cou­ture and Mar­leau two years ago.

• Paul Martin missed prac­tice Wed­nes­day due to a lower-body in­jury, and Dy­lan DeMelo took his spot on the blue line, play­ing to the left of Brent Burns on his off side.

The Sharks’ op­tions here also in­clude Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan. Although DeMelo, a right-shot de­fense­man, has proved ca­pa­ble of play­ing on the left side of the blue line, Ryan, a lefty, could be re­called from the AHL Bar­racuda and slot­ted onto the third pair­ing if DeMelo or Heed stum­bles Thurs­day night. At this point, Martin’s in­jury is con­sid­ered to be of the day-to-day va­ri­ety.

• Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, a coach might chafe at watch­ing a di­vi­sion ri­val im­prove its record to 3-0. But that wasn’t De­Boer’s re­ac­tion Tues­day night while watch­ing the Ve­gas Golden Knights’ 5-2 vic­tory over Ari­zona.

The ex­pan­sion Knights grabbed hold of first place in the Pa­cific Di­vi­sion by win­ning their first-ever reg­u­lar sea­son home game. Af­ter an emo­tional open­ing cer­e­mony in which first re­spon­ders to last week’s mass shoot­ing at Man­dalay Bay ac­com­pa­nied the play­ers onto the ice, the Knights scored three goals in the first 6:15.

“You could feel the emo­tion al­most through the TV screen,” De­Boer said. “The way they ac­knowl­edged it, and the first re­spon­ders, and then the way the game started, and the re­sult, I thought it was a great night for hockey.”

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Sharks’ To­mas Hertl is pro­jected as a cen­ter, but he has the qual­i­ties that make him an at­trac­tive wing op­tion.

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