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Did the San Jose Sharks improve during this off-season?

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Unless you judge success by Stanley Cup victories alone, you’d probably agree that the San Jose Sharks had a solid season, so it was surprising to see the team make such splashy moves this summer. Most instances of dynamic change occur when a) contenders need to shed contracts to stay under the cap ceiling or b) pretenders realize that they’re going nowhere and decide to blow shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start fresh.

Now, it’s true that the Sharks feature many of the same top players. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are still standout veterans while young players like goalie Antti Niemi and center Logan Couture provide important contributions.

Yet while many of the core members remain the same, some significant supporting roles have changed. Here’s a quick snapshot of their major moves during this summer.

Out

Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, Kyle Wellwood, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager and Scott Nichol.

In

Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, Colin White, Jim Vandermeer, Andrew Murray and James Sheppard.

Sharks players were as taken aback as anyone else as news of the moves circulated this summer, as they told the Mercury News. The ultimate takeaway is that the franchise took action instead of remaining idle – especially in their biggest area of need: defense.

“It shows that we’re not satisfied,” captain Joe Thornton said. “We want to get to the Finals and win the Cup. We’ve fallen short. But with these moves, I’m really excited to see this team play.”

(snip)

“What we did is not a Band-Aid situation,” McLellan said. “Brent Burns is going to be around for a long time. We hope Colin White and Jim Vandermeer can play for awhile here, too.”

Then again, the Sharks are a little biased when it comes to their own team, so let’s take a temperature of their offensive and defensive units to see if they’ve really gotten better. We’ll skip goaltending because they’ll employ the same Finnish duo as last season (although I must say that it would be surprising if Niemi avoids a regression after his red-hot second half of 2010-11).

source: APForwards

On paper, trading Heatley for Havlat is a clear downgrade, especially since Heatley has two 100+ point seasons on his resume. The thing is, many believe that Heatley’s best days are behind him and Havlat might be a little bit more versatile. Then again, Havlat’s injury history suggests that he comes with his own risks.

The Sharks might actually miss hot-and-cold winger Setoguchi more – at least in some ways. This move leaves Joe Pavelski as the only major Sharks forward who sports a right-handed shot.

Wellwood was actually a pretty solid fit for San Jose, so it was disappointing to see him go … until they signed strong defensive forward Handzus. The Sharks should be very familiar with the Czech-born center since he played all but one game in the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Adding Handzus was one of the most underrated moves of this summer, as he’ll give the Sharks yet another effective center. He’ll slide into the Manny Malhotra role from 2009-10.

Offensive outlook: Slight downgrade (Havlat is the wild card).

Defense

Burns is a lot like Boyle in that he’s adequate in his own end but earns his paychecks thanks to his offensive prowess. It’ll be interesting to see if the two right-handed attacking defensemen pair up with each other very often (beyond power play situations or when the Sharks are down a goal).

While Burns is the highest profile addition, White is a nice value. His foot speed and decision making can be concerns, but he’s a hard-hitting minutes eater with two Stanley Cup rings. That’s not bad for $1 million, which is the same amount they’ll pay middling addition Jim Vandermeer.

The Sharks have an interestingly dichotomous group of D-men. On one side, there’s the graceful guys (Boyle, Burns, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic); on the other, you have the plodding bruisers (Douglas Murray, White and Vandermeer). If you ask me, Burns and White are two shrewd additions that might not make the Sharks a top defensive group like they claim, but an above-average corps nonetheless.

Defensive outlook: Substantial upgrade.

***

If you ask me, the Sharks should be a slightly better team on paper next season, although the phrase “on paper” has haunted the franchise for years now. What do you think, though? Are they better, worse or did they just make a lateral move? Let us know in the comments.

Five backup goalies that aren’t getting it done

St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton reacts as Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) celebrates with teammates Patrik Laine, (29) of Finland, and Dustin Byfuglien (33) after scoring the winning goal of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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We did this same list about a year ago, when the likes of Alex Stalock and Anders Lindback were called out.

Stalock and Lindback are no longer in the league, and with today’s news that Jhonas Enroth has been waived by the Maple Leafs, here are five more backups that need to pull their games together:

Carter Hutton — Hutton is the Blues’ backup to Jake Allen, and it hasn’t been going well with his new team. The 30-year-old is 2-4-1 with an .888 save percentage, putting all the more pressure on Allen to win games, now that Brian Elliott isn’t there anymore. The Blues’ goaltending rarely fails to be interesting, and that’s the case again this season. Allen hasn’t been great either (.907), but at least he’s been winning (12-3-3).

James Reimer — He was supposed to be a reliable No. 2 behind Roberto Luongo, and perhaps even take over the No. 1 duties down the road. But Reimer has struggled since signing a five-year, $17 million contract with the Panthers on July 1. The 28-year-old is 3-4-1 with an .896 save percentage, which does not compare well to Luongo, the oldest goalie in the NHL, who’s 9-7-1 with a .929 save rate.

Darcy Kuemper — Typically, a bubble team like the Minnesota Wild can’t afford to have below-average backup goaltending. But that’s exactly what Kuemper has provided, going 2-2-1 with an .897 save percentage. His last start, he gave up five goals to the offensively challenged Vancouver Canucks in a 5-4 loss. Kuemper has only had one solid start this season, a 35-save victory over the Senators. Fortunately for the Wild, Devan Dubnyk (10-6-3, .946) has been beyond good, and that’s why they’re in a playoff spot for now.

Michael Hutchinson — Yes, goaltending remains a vulnerability in Winnipeg, even after Ondrej Pavelec was removed from the equation. Hutchinson is 3-4-2 with an .898 save percentage — not great numbers behind Connor Hellebuyck, who hasn’t been a whole lot better (10-9-0, .911). Hutchinson did play well Saturday in St. Louis, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 overtime win. He’ll need a few more of those efforts the rest of the way if the Jets are going to make the playoffs.

Anton Khudobin — Right off the bat, we must mention that Khudobin’s last start for the Boston Bruins was a very encouraging one. But his overall numbers, 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, put him on the list. Khudobin recently spent time in the AHL on a conditioning stint. He’s been good since his return from Providence, and he’ll need to keep being good behind Tuukka Rask, because the Bruins don’t want to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

Brendan Perlini
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Brendan Perlini, the forward Arizona took 12th overall at the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when the Coyotes take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

Perlini, 20, has been solid this year in AHL Tucson — his first full American League campaign — with 11 goals and 16 points through 16 games. He’s tied atop the league’s goalscoring leaderboard with three other players (including Toronto prospect Kasperi Kapanen), but Perlini has done it in the fewest amount of contests.

A former OHL standout with Niagara, Perlini is the latest example of the youth movement that’s taken over Arizona this season.

Some of the kids that have suited up include:

Jakob Chychrun, the 18-year-old defenseman taken 16th overall in June.

— 19-year-old Dylan Strome, who has since been returned to his junior club in OHL Erie.

Lawson Crouse, the 19-year-old power forward acquired from Florida this offseason.

— 20-year-old Christian Dvorak, the 58th overall pick in ’14.

Anthony DeAngelo, the 21-year-old d-man acquired from Tampa Bay at this year’s draft.

In addition to those guys, the club has also had “veterans” in the mix, like 21-year-old forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Laurent Dauphin.

As you might expect from such a young team, the Coyotes have struggled this season. They’re 8-11-4 heading into tonight’s action, but have done a decent job of getting points recently — they’re 3-2-2 over the last seven games, though they needed a career-high 58 saves from Mike Smith on Saturday to steal a point against the Jackets.

Flyers’ Mason named NHL’s first star of the week

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12), of Austria, congratulates goalie Steve Mason (35) following the team's win against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Steve Mason is the NHL’s first star of the week, and his save percentage is still just .904.

That number tells you how poorly he started the season. Because the Flyers’ goalie has been brilliant of late, going 4-0-0 with a .945 save percentage in his last four outings.

Mason’s strong run of play started not long after Michal Neuvirth went on the injured list.

“This is the situation I want to be in,” Mason told philly.com. “It’s a workload that all summer long you prepare for.”

The Flyers’ five straight wins (Anthony Stolarz was in goal for the first one) have propelled them into the first wild-card spot in the East, two points up on the Washington Capitals, who are suddenly feeling some urgency in the playoff race.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Martin Jones were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

After disappointing start, Enroth waived by Toronto

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Kris Versteeg #10 of the Calgary Flames shoots the puck past Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 30, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Last week, Brough wrote about the struggles Jhonas Enroth’s had in his brief time as a Maple Leaf.

Today, the Leafs responded to those struggles.

Enroth has been placed on waivers, just four days after a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, in which he was beaten twice in the first minute of the game.

“The first goal I didn’t get to my position and that’s on me,” Enroth said afterwards. “Maybe I was a little bit slow on the pass out. On the second goal it was just a bang-bang play. Not much to do there I think.”

The loss dropped him to 0-3-1 on the year, with a 3.94 GAA and .872 save percentage.

“Obviously, wasn’t going good enough,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per TSN. “We’re just in a situation where we’re making a change.”

It’s a stark contract to last season, when Enroth performed very well — albeit in a limited capacity — as Jonathan Quick‘s backup in Los Angeles. The diminutive Swede went 7-5-1 with a .922 save percentage, and was disappointed he didn’t get more opportunities to play.

“Just being a bigger part of the team is what I would like to do in the summer,” Enroth told the Los Angeles Times back in April. “I really thought they were going to play me more.

“If you sign a guy for $1.2 million, you’re not going to play him 13 games, in my opinion.”

Toronto signed Enroth in late August to serve as Frederik Andersen‘s backup. It’s worth noting that Enroth only received four starts for Toronto before getting waived, so hardly a huge body of work.

As for the Leafs’ plan moving forward, it’s possible they could sign veteran Finn Karri Ramo. Ramo suffered a season-ending ACL tear with Calgary in February, and has been practicing with the Leafs for the last month.

If Ramo’s not the option, the club does have Garret Sparks, Jeff Glass and Antoine Bibeau in the system, and available for recall.