Sharks mailbag: Who's in goal?

January 12, 2013, 6:15 pm
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While we wait for the NHL and NHLPA to sign off on that all important Memorandum of Understanding and release the darn schedule, here’s a quick weekend dip into the Sharks mailbag.

All questions were submitted via my Facebook page:

What kind of split do you foresee for Niemi and Greiss in terms of workload? And do you think Satari or Stalock get called up this season?
Andy Man

I would be shocked if Antti Niemi wasn’t the starting goalie on Jan. 20 in Calgary, and he’ll be looking to put together a much more consistent effort after an uneven campaign last year. Although his numbers were respectable (2.42 GAA, .914 SP), Niemi had a tendency to give up bad goals at odd angles and struggled with his puck control. Niemi has three years left on his contract, so the starting job is still his to lose.

At the same time, Thomas Greiss will have to be on call, as the Sharks are scheduled to play 48 games in just 97 days. That will include several back-to-back situations, and Niemi will need some nights off.

Looking at the 1995 NHL statistics, the last time the NHL played a 48-game season, eight goalies played at least 40 games. Niemi prefers to play as much as possible, and as long as he doesn’t falter, I think he could easily eclipse that total.

As far as Alex Stalock/Harri Sateri, Stalock would be the Sharks’ first recall option if they need him, and with Greiss being an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Sharks may already have the 25-year-old penciled in as at least the backup for 2013-14.

Will [Brent Burns] be healthy enough to start the season?
Chris Guild

That’s probably the biggest question of pre-training camp so far. Burns has twice declined to say whether or not he’s going to be healthy for Jan. 20, and his status will be something to monitor throughout camp. It’s a good sign that in the past week, Burns has stayed on the ice longer and longer and looks to be improving daily from when I saw him on the ice on Friday, Jan. 4, when he looked decidedly immobile.

Jason Demers and Justin Braun are questionable-at-best for the start of the season, so even if Burns is only at 80 or 90 percent, I’d expect him to play as long as there’s no chance of him hurting himself more.

Who in your opinion is the most promising Sharks prospect?
Stephanie Nichole

I’ll take “prospect” to mean a player that has never played an NHL game. That being said, defensemen Matt Irwin and Matt Tennyson are probably the two closest to being NHL ready, if you believe the Sharks’ brain trust.

I spoke with Worcester coach Roy Sommer just before Christmas, and he was very complimentary of both Irwin and Tennyson.

“The closest guy to coming up right now is probably Matt Irwin,” Sommer said. “He’s had a great year for us. He was an All-Star for us last year, and his game is just all-around good. He’s solid down low, makes a good first pass, good skater and is really square to the puck, leads the rush well and runs the power play for us.

Regarding the Bay Area native Tennyson, who went undrafted and was signed as a free agent by the Sharks on March 29, 2012, Sommer said: “I really thought he was a great pickup for the organization. They’re not going to have to wait long for his development. He’s been coming along really nicely.”

As far as long-term potential, 2012 first round pick Tomas Hertl looks like the best prospect, partly because the Sharks have had a dearth of first round picks in recent years. I asked Doug Wilson if the 19-year-old Hertl, who has 22 points in 31 games with HC Slavia Praha in the Czech league, might be ahead of schedule in his development.

“We had pretty high expectations for him, but yeah, he’s a real good player,” Wilson said.

Could Hertl potentially make a push for a roster spot in 2013-14? Wilson wouldn’t go there.

“I’m not going to…we don’t do that. It’s the same thing that we did with Logan [Couture], they’ll come in and they’ll compete,” said the general manager.

If the Sharks were to make a trade, who is the biggest name that could go, and what would he be worth?
Jacob Sharkie Mendelson

I wouldn’t expect the Sharks to make a major move unless they are out of contention by late March. In that situation, the most likely move among premier players is Dan Boyle, who is one of the few highly paid Sharks that doesn’t have a full no-trade clause.

If the defense gets healthy and stays healthy, and one of either Irwin or Tennyson shows an ability to play at an NHL level, I could foresee the club dangling Douglas Murray as an option to help bolster their roster in another area. Murray is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and could fit another team’s needs if he ends up being the odd man out on the Sharks’ blue line.

By the way, the NHL trade deadline this year is on April 3, according to several reports.

What's your best guess for the PK unit this year? How will Larry Robinson play a role on it?
Michael Kado

Robinson recently said that the PK will be a group effort for the coaching staff, and that includes new assistant coach Jim Johnson, current assistant Jay Woodcroft, and, of course, Todd McLellan. The Sharks’ head coach hinted and a change in philosophy with that unit when he sat down with me for a Q-and-A in the CSN studio on Friday.

“We asked [Robinson and Johnson] to look at the penalty kill, and review and give us their opinions," McLellan said. "In doing so, they saw us do a number of good things. The positioning can get a little bit better; stick involvement can be a little bit better.

“But, they used the word aggressive. We want to become a little bit more aggressive on the penalty kill. Each of the individuals, starting with the coaching staff, but the goaltender, the defensemen and the forwards all have to accept a greater sense of sacrifice in that situation, whether it’s blocking shots, clearing out the crease, or making the save when we need it.

“It’s definitely a team thing that we’re going to approach, and we hope that they both have a big impact on it.”

The Sharks finished 29th of 30 teams in penalty killing last season.