Dan Boyle, Brian Rafalski, Jimmy Howard

The Sore Thumb: San Jose Sharks

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With the Western Conference finals primed to kick off on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the San Jose Sharks. (Click here to read the Vancouver Canucks version.)

Our choice: The Sharks’ defensive depth.

From a pure talent standpoint, Dan Boyle is the best defenseman on either the Sharks or Canucks roster. He’s not the world’s best player in his own end (though he’s more than adequate), but he’s one of the NHL’s most dangerous scorers from the blueline. Boyle is accompanied by a solid positional defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a hard-hitting Swede in Douglas Murray.

Unfortunately, the rest of the defense isn’t so great. Jason Demers has some tantalizing offensive skill, but he’s not necessarily adept at shutting down an opposing offense. Ian White’s been better than expected, but he’s not an elite blueliner by any means. Niclas Wallin is a limited player as well.

I’m not saying the Sharks defense is downright awful, but against a team as good as Vancouver, that group could get exposed.

For a second opinion, we polled Mr. Plank from SBNation’s Fear the Fin.

The San Jose Sharks blueline has long been a concern for many following the team. It’s a unit that doesn’t have a premier shutdown player, relying instead on a strong team defense mentality to keep pucks out of their own net. With the Sedins and Alex Burrows going up against Keith-Seabrook and Weber-Suter in their wins over Chicago and Nashville respectively, I don’t think there’s any real surprise they’ve struggled as much as they have– those are world-class shutdown pairings. The Sharks just don’t have that type of firepower. Although I’ve argued for years that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one of the most under-appreciated defensive defenseman in the game today, his partner Jason Demers hasn’t gotten there yet– Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray are also two excellent defenseman but both lack polish in their own zone at times.

That being said, where San Jose really flourishes and makes up for those shortcomings is with their forward group. Captain Joe Thornton has really set an example for the team this year with his attention to defensive play, and just about every forward under the California sun has followed suit. With the Sedins cycling the puck as much as they do you have to be sure that everyone is engaged in the play (especially your centerman), collapsing to the front of the net and helping out along the boards. If you don’t do that, the blueliners are going to be running around all night long and changing constantly after a prolonged stint in the defensive zone.

Vancouver’s forward depth isn’t as good as San Jose’s, but those top two lines are something special. No surprise there considering both Henrik and Daniel were nominated for the Hart Trophy in separate consecutive years. If the Sharks can hold the Sedins off the scoresheet I don’t think Vancouver has the offensive horses to run (swim?) with the Sharks depth. It’s just a matter of shutting them down consistently. That’s something that’s going to take a lot of work (and a little luck) to pull off.

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So there you go, Mr. Plank and I agree: defense might be the Sharks’ biggest question. I’m more concerned with San Jose’s lower ranks while he has concerns about the group as a whole. San Jose has been tested already, but the Canucks present the deepest team they’ll face in the playoffs. We will see how their defense responds.

Islanders agree to terms with Dennis Seidenberg

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Word surfaced on Wednesday morning that the New York Islanders were expected to sign veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

On Wednesday night, the team announced that it has officially agreed to terms with him on a one-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to TSN’s Darren Dreger earlier in the day the value is reported to be $1 million.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Tobias Rieder #8 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL preseason game against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 2, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It seems that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba isn’t the only unsigned restricted free agent that might be looking for a fresh start somewhere else.

Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder also seems to be ready to explore other options.

It’s already been known that Rieder is frustrated in his current negotiations with the Coyotes and will not attend training camp once he is finished playing for Team Europe at the World Cup.

On Wednesday afternoon, his agent, Darren Ferris, told Arizonasports.com’s Craig Morgan via email that he thinks it would be best for both parties if the Coyotes simply trade his client at this point, and that Rieder is “really disappointed” with the team.

More from Arizonasports.com:

“It’s unfortunate that a good kid gets treated this way. He never balked at the defensive role they made him play, and they don’t seem to value the intangibles he brings to the team.”

The Coyotes do not seem to have any interest in actually dealing Rieder at this point.

There’s a lot of rhetoric here, and that really should not be a shock considering the circumstances, but when looking at the numbers that are being talked about this doesn’t seem like a situation that should be beyond repair. A middle ground isn’t that far off.

According to Rieder’s agent, he is seeking a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per year. The team is reportedly holding strong with either an offer at $2.2 million per year, or a lower one-year qualifying offer. Again, that’s not a huge gap in terms of asking price. In actual salary it’s a total of $600,000 over two years, while the cap hit is only an extra $300,000 each year. For a young player that is already fairly productive and still has some upside to get better.

The middle ground in those two numbers would be a cap hit of $2.35 million per season.

The 23-year-old Rieder has played two full seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes and is coming off of a 14-goal, 37-point performance.

Originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers, the Coyotes acquired Rieder in a 2013 trade for Kale Kessy. Seeing as that Kessy has yet to play a single game in the NHL and only recorded 12 points in 56 AHL games a season ago it’s been a pretty good deal for the Coyotes.

Now they just need to find a way to make sure they can continue to benefit from it by trying to bridge this (relatively speaking) small gap in contract talks.

NHL odds: Coyotes biggest long shot to make playoffs in 2016-17

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 26:  (L-R) Christian Dvorak #18, Luke Schenn #2, Radim Vrbata #17, Dakota Mermis #43 and Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrate after Schenn scored a first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the preseason NHL game at Gila River Arena on September 26, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Dylan Strome all in place, the Arizona Coyotes have an exciting core of young talent that should have a bright future in the NHL.

From a big picture outlook, there are plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding the Coyotes.

Vegas, on the other hand, isn’t a big believer in the Coyotes chances for the 2016-17 season.

The folks at Bovada released their playoff odds for the upcoming season and the Coyotes opened as the biggest long shot to make the playoffs (-600 to miss the playoffs; +400 to make them).

Here are the odds for every team, via Bovada.

Playoff Odds (From Most Likely to make the playoffs to least likely to make the playoffs)

Washington Capitals – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -1000 (1/10)
No +600 (6/1)

Tampa Bay Lightning – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -850 (17/2)
No +525 (21/4)

Chicago Blackhawks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

Pittsburgh Penguins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

St Louis Blues – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

San Jose Sharks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -700 (1/7)
No +475 (10/4)

Los Angeles Kings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -300 (1/3)
No +240 (12/5)

Dallas Stars – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Florida Panthers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Nashville Predators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Rangers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Islanders – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -250 (2/5)
No +200 (2/1)

Anaheim Ducks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -180 (5/9)
No +150 (3/2)

Boston Bruins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Montreal Canadiens – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Philadelphia Flyers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -150 (2/3)
No +120 (6/5)

Minnesota Wild – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -140 (7/5)
No +110 (11/10)

Winnipeg Jets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -115 (20/23)
No -115 (20/23)

Calgary Flames – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (2/3)

Edmonton Oilers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (3/2)

Detroit Red Wings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +125 (5/4)
No -155 (20/31)

Colorado Avalanche – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +150 (3/2)
No -180 (5/9)

Vancouver Canucks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +180 (9/5)
No -225 (4/9)

Buffalo Sabres – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +240 (12/5)
No -300 (1/3)

New Jersey Devils – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Ottawa Senators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Toronto Maple Leafs – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Columbus Blue Jackets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +275 (11/4)
No -350 (2/7)

Carolina Hurricanes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +300 (3/1)
No -400 (1/4)

Arizona Coyotes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +400 (4/1)
No -600 (1/6)

If you’re feeling bold, the Coyotes aren’t the worst bet to make here. They are certainly not a lock to make the playoffs, but the biggest long shot seems like it is a little much as well.

Getting into one of the top three spots in the division is going to be tough because Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose had a pretty commanding lead for those spots. But the Coyotes still weren’t that far out of a playoff spot this past season, finishing in 10th place in the Western Conference, nine points out of the second wild card spot. It’s not like they were a bottom-feeder in the NHL. Plus, they made the move over the summer to bring in veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski to help on the blue line and should have Strome, the No. 3 overall pick from a year ago, ready to make his NHL debut.

Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.