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On the eve of camp...

Training camp officially opens tomorrow, and Sharks fans already have a pretty good idea about what their team will look like. Barring any unforeseen changes, the line combos should work out to something like this:

Forward Lines:
Bell/Thornton/Cheechoo
Bernier/Marleau/Michalek
Grier/Goc/Niemenen
????/Brown/????

Defense:
McLaren/Ehrhoff
Hannan/Carle
????/????

Up front, Goc and Brown are interchangeable, but there are no guarantees for Patrick Rissmiller or Mark Smith to be on the fourth line. Brown can also play the wing, so there's a chance that Smith may re-take the center position, leaving one wing open. Devin Setoguchi impressed the hell out of a lot of people last season, and Lukas Kasper wowed people at the rookie tournament this year, so it looks like there will be some competition for those roster spots. You've got a bunch of forwards in the queue and only two spots available:

Mark Smith
Patrick Rissmiller
Ryan Clowe
Devin Setoguchi
Lukas Kasper
Scott Parker
Grant Stevenson

I have a feeling that if Setoguchi or Kasper make the squad, that'll bump Ville Niemenen down to the fourth line to try and get the new kid a little bit more offense. Minus Setoguchi and Kasper, the battle for the fourth line is really just a mix of grinders. Smith has heart and speed but no hands, Parker's a defensive liability and a pretty lumbering skater, and Stevenson simply isn't an NHL caliber player. My prediction: the Sharks will keep Smith in the active roster, take one of Setoguchi/Kasper to offer some flexibility. That means Rissmiller and Parker watch from the press box while Stevenson and Clowe disappear to Worcesheshesheshesheshter where they belong.

On the back end, it's anyone's guess after the top four. There certainly are arguments for Josh Gorges being penciled in, but there's no reason for that to be certain. In essence, you've got a replica of what's happening to the forward lines: two spots for a crapload of players...

Doug Murray
Josh Gorges
Rob Davison
Jim Fahey
Mathieu Biron
Marc Vlasic
Ty Wishart

Wishart was just drafted this year, so even though he was a first rounder, don't expect him to compete for a spot. Here's one telling sign -- the Worcester Sharks have Rob Davison as part of their web page. Another telling sign -- Doug Murray was assigned a normal number (3) instead of the goofy training camp number he wore through last season (41). As funny as Jim Fahey is on Shark Byte, he seems to have earned a second career as press box pizza boy, which, considering how much he gets paid, may be the easiest job in the world, but also kinda sucks. Fahey's big chance was several years back and he blew it; the best thing for him would be to A) grow five inches and 30 pounds of pure muscle or B) get traded and hope he can get a fresh start somewhere else.

Biron's a total wildcard. Here's a giant dude who was drafted high and hasn't done crap except earn the title of "Worst Player Ever" by some disgruntled Washington Capitals fans. He's not a reclamation project because he never really amounted to anything, but maybe yet another change in environment can get his head out of his ass and actually motivate him to utilize his talents. He's got some offensive upside, but his biggest asset is his wingspan. One thing to note -- Biron's only played on crappy, losing teams, and maybe putting him in a culture of winning and accountability will change his attitude.

Gorges had problems last year with getting pushed off the puck, especially by the Oilers. If Murray can regain the form he had prior to his shoulder problems, he should be a perfect fit as a punishing #5 dman. The last spot is a crap shoot, though considering the fact that Ehrhoff's only in his second real season and Carle and Murray are still technically rookies, I'm leaning towards going with someone who has more NHL experience than Vlasic. I'd gamble on Biron as long as he's not a total training camp disaster, and stick Gorges in the press box.

Of course, everything could change when one of the goalies gets dealt. It's just too bad that Mike O'Connell isn't still around to be fleeced, and there's no one on the Islanders roster worth tricking Garth Snow for.