Hertl's Filled a Hole on the Wing But Left Another Down the Middle

When the Sharks entered the season, the discussion of who would replace Patrick Marleau as a top-six winger did not center on Tomas Hertl because he was a center. Or, he was at least supposed to be. 

Head coach Peter DeBoer moved Hertl to Logan Couture's game following San Jose's second straight loss to start the season. That's where he's remained since, and where he'll play yet again Tuesday night when the Sharks host the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center. 

Back on the wing, Hertl's on pace for his best offensive season since his rookie year. He's not scored any between-the-legs goals lately, but is on the second-longest points streak of his career (four games), scoring goals per game (0.28) and points (0.61) at the highest rate of his career, and assisting (0.33) at the highest per-game rate of his career, too. 

At the time of the move, DeBoer told reporters (via The Mercury News) that he, like general manager Doug Wilson, felt "Hertl's going to be a real, real good centerman in this league but that doesn't mean he can't help us win a game... [playing] somewhere else." Hertl helped the Sharks win 26 of their next 44 games, but filling one hole in the lineup created another.

With Hertl playing as a winger, Chris Tierney assumed the role as the team's third-line center, and has played well. He's only two points away from matching his career-high, and is setting career-highs in ice time and his five-on-five possession numbers. 

Tierney was originally slotted as the team's fourth-line center, where the new hole in the lineup lies.

The Sharks tried Ryan Carpenter there for 16 games, but waived him. They tried Danny O'Regan there, but sent the overmatched rookie back to the AHL. 

They're trying Barclay Goodrow there now, and he's been fine. The Sharks possess the puck more with Goodrow on the ice in five-on-five situations than when he's off, albeit slightly, and he's scored five points in 17 games. 

He's been about as good as expected, but San Jose is still reportedly looking elsewhere. The Mercury News' Paul Gackle reported last week that the Sharks are "actively shopping" for a fourth-line center. 

That's a consequence of Hertl's early-season move to the wing, but there would have been a hole on the roster either way. Had Hertl stayed at center, the Sharks would be short a top-six winger.

He didn't, and now they're short a fourth-line center. A stopgap is easier to find there than in Hertl's current position, but the Sharks are just kicking the can down the road. 

Keeping Hertl on the wing long-term would leave San Jose firmly in "John Tavares-or-bust" territory if Joe Thornton leaves or retires at the end of his contract. For now though, the Sharks only have to a worry about a center on the fourth-line instead of the first, and need not stress as much about finding a top-six winger thanks to Hertl's season.

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