In the aftermath of their Stanley Cup Final loss to Pittsburgh, the Sharks knew where they needed upgrades — on defense, and in the speed department.
So in free agency, GM Doug Wilson went to work.
His splashiest move was signing Danish winger Mikkel Boedker to a four-year, $16 million deal. On paper, it was an ideal fit. Boedker was coming off a solid 17-goal, 51-point campaign split between Arizona and Colorado, played under head coach Peter DeBoer in junior and was lauded by Wilson, who praised Boedker’s “tremendous speed.”
Next, Wilson signed former Devils blueliner David Schlemko, who was coming off career highs in virtually every statistical category. This, too, looked like a great fit — San Jose needed a more mobile, skilled and offensive defenseman to replace the outgoing Roman Polak — and, like he did with Boedker, Wilson sung Schlemko’s praises.
“David is a solid puck-moving defenseman with good speed who can play the game at both ends,” Wilson said, shortly after giving Schlemko a four-year deal of his own. “He is coming off of a very productive season in New Jersey and we think he will fit well with our group.”
That was then.
Today, some of the luster has worn off both signings. Boedker has been a huge disappointment, with just two goals through 33 games, and was benched earlier this month in a game against Anaheim.
“I would hope he was pissed off,” DeBoer said in explaining the move. “It’s always a last resort as a coach.”
The Schlemko situation is a little more puzzling. He was made a healthy scratch earlier this week, for reasons that remain unknown. Classified simply as a “coach’s decision,” Schlemko’s stint in the press box came after he appeared in 28 of 32 games, while averaging over 17 minutes per night.
He’s been a decent contributor offensively — sitting third behind Brent Burns and Paul Martin in d-man scoring, with eight points — and has solid possession metrics. In speaking with the Mercury News, he seemed just as befuddled about the scratch as everybody else.
“Just trying to turn the page — it’s out of my hands — and move on from there,” he explained. “I’m confident in what I can do and what I can bring. But at the end of the day, it’s a coach’s decision.”
Despite all this, the Sharks have still enjoyed a pretty good start to the year. They head into tonight’s action first in the Pacific Division, with a 20-12-1 record, and have won eight of their last 11.
Part of that is because the club has embraced youth in a major way, and the youth has responded in kind. Kevin Labanc, the 21-year-old AHL sniper, was recalled in early November and has become a lineup fixture. Timo Meier, the ninth overall pick in ’15, is up with the big club as well. And in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Calgary, 23-year-old d-man Dylan DeMelo — who drew into the lineup over Schlemko — played a season-high 20:02.
As such, Schlemko and Boedker will be worth watching as the season continues to unfold.