After the quickest exit in their playoff history, the San Jose Sharks are at a surprising crossroad in their history. 21 years, six division titles, a President’s Trophy, three trips to the conference final, but no Stanley Cups, nor any trips to the Stanley Cup Final. Changes are going to be made, question being are they to win now, or build to win in the future?
While Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has done his job to improve his team, unfortunately, it has come with a price. Prospects and first round picks have been dealt to bring in what was considered the “missing” piece. In 2007, it was Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet, 2008 it was Brian Campbell, 2008 offseason Dan Boyle, 2011 Brent Burns. While Boyle has brought leadership and offense, as is Brent Burns, the late pickup hasn’t fared out too well. This happening while the youth development has hindered greatly in the organization.
The Hockey News in their Future Watch 2012 issue ranked the San Jose Sharks dead last in the NHL for their young players in the system. They gave kudos however to up and coming defenseman Nick Petrecki, and the depth of goaltending that Team Teal posesses. You give kudos to the Sharks for going for it all however, you hope that the scouts look at finding very good players that can be NHL ready in a few years. It also takes having a winning attitude all over the organization, however the Worcester Sharks in their six year existence, have made it to the second round twice, and missed the playoffs altogether three years, including consecutive years (2010-11, 2011-12.) You wonder if the right guy is developing and coaching the youngsters. Head coach Roy Sommer has been behind the bench since the franchise was in Kentucky back in 1998. He has not led the club to the conference finals and has coached the Cleveland Barons/Worcester Sharks to just four playoff appearances in the last ten seasons. Perhaps a shakeup in the minors is needed? And if it’s not the coach, is it the players that were scouted?
The offseason is two weeks old and speculation is starting to heat up. Last week, a rare statement by the Sharks ownership group gave a vote of confidence in Doug Wilson. Later on, Doug Wilson spoke to the media and wouldn’t give the same confidence vote in head coach Todd McLellan. This led to speculation that perhaps the Sharks may let go of TMac and his coaching staff. With that speculation, it fueled rumors with the Calgary Flames firing their coach, Brent Sutter to bring in McLellan if San Jose were to let him go. I can’t see McLellan go, however, I could see Wilson have more say in an assistant coach choice in the offseason.
My concern I had all season was when McLellan had many optional skates or off days even when the team was struggling. While the back loaded schedule may have played a role, many games the Sharks looked dead tired in the third period which was a huge reason why this team went from a 5-point lead in the Pacific at the end of January to barely getting the 7th spot in the West and didn’t show up in the playoffs. Let’s be honest, this team didn’t have the hunger in the playoffs and while St. Louis dominated the Sharks, the Blues aren’t exactly doing the same against Los Angeles. (Perhaps Dan Boyle shouldn’t have scored the overtime goal on the last game of the season?!) But the tiredness should fall on the blame of poor conditioning. Yes, athletes now work all year to stay in shape, however, you got to have the legs to go deep into the third let alone potential multiple overtime playoff games!
As for potential player movement, Comcast Sportsnet California’s Sharks insider, Kevin Kurz heated things up that the Columbus Blue Jackets would be interested in goaltender Antti Niemi. While Niemi would be a huge improvement for Columbus who desperately need to improve, are the Sharks ready to have Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock be the tandem to bring the Stanley Cup to San Jose? If you want to believe rumors, Doug Wilson was ready to give up Nemo to Philadelphia for James vanRiemsdyk at the deadline. Is Niemi perhaps a package deal to land the coveted Rick Nash? Though Columbus GM Scott Howson specifically asked for Logan Couture for any trade involving with Nash. San Jose will have to make a big move to get back to where they want to go, however what will it cost and which piece will go? You could say Team Teal is still suffering from losing role players like Manny Malhotra and Rob Blake since they departed.
Or you can just scratch it all and start rebuilding now. The last time the Sharks tried to do that, they ended up in the Western Conference Final. Doug Wilson, time to make your move. The Finatics await and hold their breath to see what happens.