It’s been a postseason of goaltending changes, early exits, and power play efficiency. We saw LA and Chicago get knocked out early, Ovi get bounced again, Tampa lose half their team, and the Ducks migrate back to the golf course. So this Cup Finals matchup isn’t what people expected. Which is a good thing. Fans don’t like watching the same teams every year, making this series a breath of fresh air. Of course, Sid and the Pens won the cup but it was in 2009. This is new territory for the Sharks, so it should set up to be a very dramatic series.
I’m really excited to watch each teams Power Play units, because both have been so lethal. The only question is who will kill better. Defenseman Trevor Daley‘s injury will certainly hurt Pittsburgh but Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Ben Lovejoy have had a brilliant postseason. Same with Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, and Paul Martin. Goaltending has been a storyline for the Penguins, but not for San Jose. Martin Jones has been fantastic, and Matt Murray has been steady as well. You get it, I’m amped for the Finals.
So in honor of expansion, let’s play fantasy GM and look at both Stanley Cup rosters and examine players that could be future Las Vegas Knights.
San Jose Sharks
Joel Ward – Forward: The bruising power forward has had a fabulous postseason, and was a fine summer pickup for San Jose. Ward was a big part of the Sharks advancing, scoring twice in game five and six against St Louis. Ward is making $3.5 million, and is under contract until 2018. The Sharks will have a hard time protecting Ward due to his age, and the surge of youngster Joonas Donskoi. Ward would fit perfectly in Las Vegas, with his size, strength, and net presence. Ward’s one of the best at causing congestion in front of opposing goalies. We could call him “Spaghetti Bowl” Joel. Vegas, you know what I’m talking about.
Tommy Wingels – Forward: It’s really tough to predict what forwards San Jose will protect. Today’s leaders are aging, and have expensive price tags. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been as good as advertised this postseason, but they are both long in the tooth. Each player is roughly making $6 million a year, and are UFAs after next season. If the Sharks keep both players, than expect a player like Wingels to become available. The physical Center has worked his way up the San Jose depth chart over the past few years, and would be a great depth player here in Las Vegas. Third line Centers are desperately needed throughout the league and Wingels fills that need. A UFA in 2017, the 28 year-old will have no problem finding a home if San Jose lets him walk.
Justin Braun – Defenseman: Oh man, please let him be available. Look, the Sharks are loaded on the blue line. Burns and Vlasic are world class players so they’ll be protected. Paul Martin is solid as well, maybe leaving the big Braun the odd man out. Which would leave him exposed for Las Vegas to scoop up. Braun is paired up with Vlasic averaging 22 minutes a game in the playoffs. Get this funky stat he’s leading San Jose by only allowing 8.87 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes. As FeartheFin.com writes “By soaking up the pressure of the opposition’s best players, Braun and Vlasic don’t just set the tone defensively, they put the Sharks in a position to strike on offense.” Sounds good to me.
Brenden Dillon – Defenseman: Dillon is a small fish in a big pond. He’ll never crack the top four with Burns, Vlasic, Braun and Martin in the lineup. Dillon could however, be on the second defense pairing of another team. He’ll more than likely be unprotected, possibly making him a possible pick up for The Creator.
James Reimer – Goaltender: Reimer may have one the best jobs in sports, like a backup QB, or a bullpen Catcher. Easy money. However, Reimer doesn’t want to spend his career backing up Martin Jones. Reimer could be a starting goaltender, but Vegas’ sights should be on Bishop, Anderson, or Fleury.
Chris Kunitz – Forward: I know Kunitz seems like a no brainer to protect, but I disagree. He’s been a fine player and Assistant Captain for the Pens, however he’s 36. Why would Pittsburgh expose youngsters Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust after this post season? Both are 10+ years younger than Kunitz and are very affordable. Sherry, the UMASS alum, fits with his quickness and speed. Same with Rust, who can straight out play, as seen in the postseason. Both will have more upside than Kunitz in 2017. For Las Vegas, Kunitz would be very good veteran presence. Also, Kunitz has won on every stage. He won his first Cup with the 07 Ducks, his second Cup in 09 with the Penguins, and he won an Olympic Gold Medal in 2014 with Team Canada. Now he’s playing for his third Cup, yeah he’s a winner.
Carl Hagelin – Forward: You guys are probably calling me crazy, but hear me out. Sure the HBK line has been filthy for the Penguins, but could you take the H out? I think so. Hagelin is incredibly fast, and frankly fun to watch. However, he’s been on three teams in two years and he’s making $4 million a year. Again, I have no idea who Pittsburgh will protect but if I had a voice I’d expose Hagelin. The Michigan Wolverine would lead the Las Vegas forwards either on the first or second line. His speed will be a big factor, so The Creator will have to get a Phil Kessel type player to keep up with Hagelin.
Ben Lovejoy – Defenseman: The Reverend has had a fantastic postseason, maybe playing the best of his career. However, the Penguins have to protect Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Maatta, and possibly Ian Cole, leaving Lovejoy available for Las Vegas. He’s a tough blueliner that gets gritty in the corners, and does a great job taking away scoring lines. He could be on the second pairing for Las Vegas. He is up for a contract this summer, but after this postseason I’m sure Pittsburgh will re-sign him.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Goaltender: If he’s not dealt this summer, than MAF will be left unprotected. It’s a shame because he’s been great for Pittsburgh over the years. He anchored their playoff runs in 08 and 09, and has handled the current situation with class. Fleury has had shaky moments in the past but what goalie hasn’t in the NHL. Matt Murray has probably done enough to prove himself worthy of Pittsburgh’s starting job. Topped with Fleury’s contract, and Murray playing for peanuts it makes sense for the Penguins to move on. If he isn’t moved, than expect Fleury to be Foley’s goaltender.
Quick Prediction: Sharks in seven