San Jose Sharks

Sharks Make Needed Additions in Polak and Spaling

This morning, the San Jose Sharks got a jump on the trade deadline, as they acquired defenseman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Raffi Torres and second round picks in the 2017 and 2018 drafts.

“Roman and Nick are both quality character players that will complement and enhance the current roster,” Doug Wilson said in a press release.

While certainly not a flashy deal, it improves the depth of the Sharks in two places they needed it. In this run up to the deadline, the areas of need were fairly clear: a veteran defenseman, potentially a top nine forward, and a new back-up goaltender.

The problem for the Sharks was a lack of a first and third round pick already in the 2016 draft, and not a lot of cap space either. This trade works around both issues. While, on the surface, two second round picks appears to be overpayment for Polak and Spaling, Toronto may have been the only team who could accommodate the Sharks’ needs.

Would anyone have batted an eye at two third round picks being traded for these two? Adding in the salary dump of Raffi Torres’ contract, and that’s basically the value the Sharks paid. And by 2018, the team will almost certainly be rebuilding, they’ll get picks back.

“Our existing group of players has battled hard and they have earned the right to have every chance to succeed this season,” Wilson said. After last year’s rebuild, Doug Wilson is clearly in win-now mode – though that was apparent after Wilson’s free agent additions this past offseason.

Polak, 29, has 535 games of NHL experience and was an alternate captain for the Maple Leafs. He’s not a world-beater, but Polak is still a solid bottom pairing option. In 55 games with Toronto this season, he has 1 goal and 12 assists, and a team-best +8 rating. Possession-wise, he’s got middling numbers on Toronto while facing middling competition.

While the team may be in trouble if a top four defenseman goes down to injury, Polak will battle Brenden Dillon and Dylan Demelo for time on the third pairing. By both eye-test and advanced statistics, Demelo has vastly improved his game lately, but is being sheltered significantly.

Compared to the five defenseman ahead of him on the depth chart, he plays the lowest competition and starts the highest percentage of time in the offensive zone. And despite having 4 points on the season, all of those came on the power play. In 362 minutes of five-on-five ice time, Demelo still doesn’t have a point. Transitioning Demelo into a seventh-defenseman role in the meantime is likely a good move.

As the dominoes fall, that likely pushes Matt Tennyson off the roster and down to the AHL’s Barracuda. Although he has the great story behind him of being the first Jr. Shark to play for San Jose, Tennyson’s had a rough go this season. He has a team worst 48.3 percent Fenwick, despite the highest percentage of starts in the offensive zone among the Sharks’ eight defensemen.

The potential contributions of Nick Spaling should not be overlooked either. Spaling is having a fairly bad year. He had the worst Fenwick For percentage on the Maple Leafs at 44.1 percent, but that’s in heavy defensive minutes. In 35 games, he has 1 goal and 6 assists and is -7. But in his prior two seasons, produced at a 30-point pace. He’s not a washed-up veteran either, he’s 27 and should still be in his prime.

If Spaling’s problem this year can be written off as a motivation issue on a bad Toronto team, he could push for time on the third line. As is, he forces a competition with Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney, Danius Zubrus, and Melker Karlsson. At worst, he’s a lateral move from Barclay Goodrow, and the thirteenth-best forward on a team where that spot was legitimately occupied by Mike Brown.

At the moment, Tommy Wingels is on the injured reserve. When he’s ready to return, the team may be forced to finally waive Brown to fit under the salary cap – a move a certain section of Sharks fans have been waiting for for a long time.

In both cases, Polak and Spaling shore up the depth of the team. Even in the absolute worst, nightmare-scenario, that’s as the scratches clearing out some dead weight. But they’ll likely both be solid contributors to the third pairing and fourth line, respectively. Overall, it may have been an overpayment, but not by much. And outside of this deal, there’s a good chance San Jose would have had to pick between upgrading forward or defense, not both.

Fans will have a little longer to judge this move, as it’s been reported that Polak and Spaling will not be in the lineup tonight as the Sharks face the Blues in St. Louis.

 

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