For the past four seasons, the San Jose Sharks have been the dominant team in the Pacific Division and among the best in the Western Conference.
Currently perched in their usual spot atop their division, at first glance it appears all’s well in San Jose.
Yet a closer look at the overall standings reveals the Sharks don’t have as secure a hold on a playoff spot as they’d prefer.
Entering Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, only six points separated the Sharks from ninth overall in the conference. Their lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific is only three points and five over the surging Phoenix Coyotes.
Their position has led to talk GM Doug Wilson will bolster his roster by the trade deadline.
The Sharks lead the league in shots-for-per-game, are ninth overall in goals-per-game and possess the fourth-best power play. Despite those solid offensive numbers, it’s believed Wilson is in the market for a scoring right winger.
That’s because Martin Havlat remains sidelined with a partially torn hamstring suffered on Dec. 17, which has sparked uncertainty over when he will return to the lineup.
It came as no surprise the Sharks were among several teams linked to Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Rick Nash after it was revealed earlier this week the Jackets would entertain offers for their captain.
Aside from Nash’s obvious offensive talent, one reason he would be a great addition for the Sharks is he had terrific chemistry with center Joe Thornton when they played together for Davos in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout.
If Havlat is out for the rest of the season, it would provide Wilson with the necessary cap space to absorb the remainder of Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit, plus whatever salary Wilson would have to part with from his current roster.
But landing Nash is easier said than done. The Blue Jackets will likely want at least two good, young, established players in return.
Right winger Joe Pavelski and defenseman Brent Burns fit that profile, but Wilson won’t part with either guy – not even for Nash.
He will likely seek more affordable options to shore up the right side.
Washington Capitals right winger Mike Knuble was mentioned as a possibility, but he denied he’d be joining the Sharks for a reunion with Thornton, his former Boston Bruins linemate.
Carolina Hurricanes right winger Tuomo Ruutu was another rumored target, but a recent upper body injury will sideline him beyond the Feb. 27 trade deadline. The Hurricanes are also negotiating a new contract with Ruutu, so he may be off the market.
Another area of concern for the Sharks is their penalty kill, currently ranked 26th.
Montreal Canadiens left winger Travis Moen, who briefly played for the Sharks before signing with the Habs in 2009, is considered one option to improve San Jose’s PK.
Moving Clowe would create a depth problem at left wing, as well as remove valuable leadership and grit from the lineup.
The Sharks could shop a goaltender as part of a package to address their forward needs, but don’t expect starter Antti Niemi or backup Thomas Greiss to be moved.
Former backup Antero Niittymaki is available, though there was no interest in him when he was placed on waivers several weeks ago because of his history of hip injuries.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.