Ever since the shocking Erik Karlsson trade, there has been much debate among hockey fans as to has the better blue line - the San Jose Sharks or the Nashville Predators.
The Sharks, of course, picked up Karlsson for a whole bunch of spare parts amounting to not much at all, really. Of course the Sharks still have to sign Karlsson as he is an unrestricted free agent at season's end. Despite his ongoing foot issues, as well as the death of his son and soap opera harrassment allegations involving former teammate Mike Hoffman's wife and his wife, Karlsson made it through a challenging year in Ottawa last season and is still considered to be the world's best offensive defenseman.
Karlsson joins Brent Burns on the Sharks blue line. Burns and Karlsson are unique in that they play the game unlike almost any defensemen in the game today. They are so offensively dynamic, yet not perfect in their own zone. Teams can make allowances for such play when the players are this good, but it should be interesting to see how much freedom both players can achieve while on the same team.
Likely the two will be separated from each other 5-on-5. That's a scary thought for the opposition. In theory nearly every moment of every game will feature one of the world's true best defensemen on the ice.
The duo will be united on the power play, which is an area of needed improvement in San Jose as they were only ranked 16th in the league last season. But one has to wonder how effective this Sharks "super power play" will be. Burns is unquestionably the big bomber from the point, but Karlsson and Joe Thornton, returning from injury, both like to have the puck much of the time. Evander Kane and Joe Pavelski will be up front looking for all the rebounds and tip ins, but will there be enough pucks for both Karlsson and Thornton?
In the past the Sharks have featured a really strong second pairing of Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, both chronically underrated defensemen. They work well together so it will be interesting to see if that unit stays intact. They likely will, especially in the third period with a tight lead.
That leaves hard hitting Brendan Dillon and one of Tim Heed or Joakim Ryan filling out the roster, possibly filling time with either Burns or Karlsson. If so, neither will get to touch the puck too much.
So the Sharks have two superstar though aging defensemen and three really solid defensemen including Dillon. To get Burns and Karlsson their ice time it might not matter who is the sixth player on many nights.
Nashville, on the other hand, has four superstar defensemen, all entering their primes, as well as two solid support dmen.
Brian Burke used to say it takes 400 games before a NHL defenseman has fully matured. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis both will reach that mark this October.
Ellis is a dynamic puck moving defensman, though he lacks size and struggled in the playoffs last year. Ekholm remains one of the league's better kept secrets. He quietly excels at whatever is asked of him, complimenting his partners nicely.
The two true superstars on the Predators back end are PK Subban and team captain Roman Josi. Everyone knows Subban is one of the game's great showmen while Josi has an effortless brilliance to him. At ages 29 and 28, respectively, the Nashville blue line is looking set for many years to come.
The back end is rounded out with Matt Irwin and returning veteran Dan Hamhuis. Admittedly that is a fair drop from the top four, but the coaching staff should be able to easily protect these two with proper ice time management. At least one of the top four will always be on the ice at all times.
Given a choice of which of these two blue lines I would rather have, I think I would have to go with Nashville if only because they are younger and under contract longer. San Jose has probably the two most dynamic blueliners of all the players discussed here, but they will have to hope the coaches are able to best maximize all their potential early on in the season. We already know the Predators blue line works really well. It is a known entity. For all the intrigue of Burns and Karlsson being on the same back end, they still have to make it work.
More On The Predators
The Predators made no significant additions in the off=season. Tough guy Zac Rinaldo was the only addition of note, and a puzzling one at that.
Of course the Predators will welcome top prospect Eeli Tolvanen fully this year. The 19 year old Finn is a bonafide sniper, setting KHL teenage scoring records with Jokerit last season. He joined the Preds late in the season but was mostly held out of the lineup as they look to properly assimilate him this season.
Last year's big addition Kyle Turris is hoping to have a better year. After coming over from Ottawa and signing a big extension, he struggled and especially so in the playoffs. Hopefully a clean start to this season allows him to find his game.
Nick Bonino was another addition in the middle last year who struggled. While top line centre Ryan Johansen is a bonafide threat, this team really needs more support for him down the middle. The Stanley Cup is often won by the team who is strongest down the middle - that means both defense and centres, and of course goalies. If Turris and Bonino continue to struggle, expect a change to be made before the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne returns in net for the Predators, but at age 35 he is running out of time. A few years ago he was able to mask any weaknesses on this team. He might not need to be the superstar he was nowadays every night. But he needs to make the big save at the right time or goalie of the future Juuse Saros may get more and more playing time.
More on the Sharks
Remember how I mentioned there not being enough pucks for all the power play weapons San Jose provides? I did not even mention Tomas Hertl or Logan Couture. At least two star forwards are going to being second unit duty. And I suspect Burns and Karlsson will eat up most of every two minute power play on their own.
The Sharks also feature very serviceable forwards in hard hitting Timo Meier, very versatile Melker Karlsson, and the emerging trio of Marcus Sorenson, Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc.
GM Doug Wilson gets a lot of ink for all the bold moves he pulls off, but his secret to San Jose's consistent success is his ability to keep the prospect cupboards fully stocked and always developing.