My Two Cents for April 8th:
Adding By Subtracting- The San Jose Sharks two weeks ago looked like a team getting ready for a fire sale as opposed to a team looking to make another post season run. In the early afternoon hours of Saturday, March 23rd the Sharks had just gotten overrun in a 2-0 loss to the Wild in Minnesota and looked like a team that was frankly very lucky to have lost by two goals, not six or seven. The Sharks were heading back to Anaheim for what looked like to be another pasting waiting to happen. On the morning of Monday, March 25th the Sharks gave the impression the first shoe was starting to drop with the trade of Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a couple draft picks. It’s no secret the Sharks are in need of draft picks more than anything else and it appeared the time to rebuild was finally being accepted by the top brass with team teal.
The Sharks that same evening came out onto the Honda Center rink against the arch rival Ducks and proceeded to paste Anaheim 5-3. This was exactly one week after the Ducks pasted the Sharks by the same score. The Sharks in the first match up on March 18th looked like they had all but quit on the game before the end of the second period. One week later, the Sharks hammer the Ducks and should have had six goals accept the officials took away one because of a bad high stick call. Two nights later the Sharks returned home to take on the same Ducks who were still firmly in control of the Pacific Division. The Sharks dropped the hammer on Anaheim at the Shark Tank 4-0. The Sharks seemed to have found a new spark, or perhaps took to heart a very strong message that if the most tenured player on the team can be dealt, so can anyone else not named Logan Couture.
Seeing Murray leave was not fun, however it was very necessary. The good thing for Murray is that Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson at least saw it fitting to send “The Crankshaft” to a team that could be a favorite to win it all. The Sharks showed a great deal of respect to Murray in trading him to a team such as the Penguins and got a good deal in return in the way of draft picks. Murray in Wilson’s mind deserved to succeed somewhere if not San Jose. This was a class move by the Sharks as an organization. Ryane Clowe is the same scenario. Nobody hated to see Clowe leave worse than I did, but it was apparent in his case that a change of scenery was needed and things just were not working out with the Sharks anymore. Clowe never quit on the Sharks and was arguably one of the hardest workers on team teal. Clowe was dealt to the New York Rangers on April 2nd for three selections in the 2013 NHL Draft. Clowe was on the Rangers radar and so far the change has done him much good. Clowe had two goals in his debut with the Rangers on Wednesday. On Friday Clowe had his first fight with the Rangers. Clowe’s relationship with the Sharks, as the case is with Murray, did not end on bad terms. Both players represented what Sharks hockey was supposed to be in part. Too much time simply had passed, and the Sharks are at the point where the future of the franchise will need to come into focus. That’s a scenario that in the long run is better dealt with sooner rather than later.
As for Michal Handzus, he won a few of the Sharks shootout games this season but really was not a true asset otherwise. Handzus was dealt to the conference rival Chicago Blackhawks for another draft pick. My only question to the Sharks on this deal here was why Handzus was dealt in the conference rather than to the east. However, Handzus is 36 and probably much closer to the end of his playing career and really was only occupying a roster spot at best at a cost of $2.5 Million per season. In Chicago he will probably be at the end of their bench too as the Blackhawks are by far a much more back loaded team.
The bottom line in all of these deals is that the Sharks recognize that a rebuild of some sort will be inevitable and it would be wise to address it sooner rather than later. The Sharks with these deals did create a scenario that if done right could work very well along the lines of their football counterparts in the 49ers. The 49ers have 14 picks stockpiled in this year’s NFL draft. The Sharks have 10 picks stockpiled for this year’s NHL draft. Hopefully the Sharks will be very wise in the draft. They have not had a player drafted since 2009 or later make the big club’s roster. This not only needs to change, it must change. Honestly, with the people in charge of player development at the minor league levels have not done a good job getting players NHL ready. The Sharks must consider all options here including and not limited to bringing in new coaches and scouts that know how to spot and better develop the talent they get. This will be critical of the franchise has any plans to be competitive while they are developing new talent.
Sharks Fate To Be Determined- The Sharks by dealing away three contracts that were at their end was a smart move considering it was highly unlikely that they would have been able to resign either Clowe or Murray without mortgaging the teams future further. Handzus would not have been worth resigning period. The Sharks on the trading deadline brought in former Shark Scott Hannan from Nashville, and in a surprise move also brought in Raffi Torres from Phoenix. In return the Predators and Coyotes each received a draft pick. Hannan knows the Sharks fairly well from his days in San Jose which date back to the time he was first drafted in 1997. Hannan has recently been nursing a neck injury but will provide some defensive help and depth which team teal needs. As far as Torres goes, the jury is out on this one. On the “glass is half full” side, Torres does have a scoring touch and has scored some clutch goals in his career. He is a player who has never backed down from any challenge in his playing career. On the “glass is half empty” side, Torres has a reputation that precedes him. His rough play has gotten several fines and suspensions through his career, and you have to be fearful that his rough style could invite a penalty at an inopportune time during a game for the Sharks (see Ben Eager two years ago). The Sharks overall did nothing at the trade deadline to really hurt themselves. They made two trades they had to make, and also got rid of one bad contract.
The Sharks in matching their season long seven game winning streak have put themselves back in the thick of the Western Conference race. This likely prevented a “fire sale” and probably was the reason players such as Dan Boyle and Brent Burns were not dealt. Boyle has made it clear he still wants to win in San Jose and bring a Cup to the fans of this team. As a fan of the Sharks myself I can certainly appreciate it. Boyle has played his best hockey of the season over the last two weeks and has scored a few key goals for team teal. As the trading deadline was approaching and the Sharks seemed to find winning ways again, my gut feeling was that the Sharks won’t make any major moves until the offseason.
However at the same time once the offseason does arrive the Sharks and their fanbase will almost certainly start to see where new majority owner Hasso Plattner stands. Is he in this to win it? If so, what is his vision for the team? Does he retain Doug Wilson as the General Manager? What about the coaching staff? Whether or not the Sharks do a complete overhaul will depend largely not only going to the post season, but making a much better showing than they did a year ago. Plattner may not see the Stanley Cup as a make or break proposition this season because of the circumstances of what happened with the lockout. However, if he decides he wants to do a complete overhaul or authorizes Wilson to do so, there no telling how it will go. I don’t feel Head Coach Todd McLellan would stay around if there is a fire sale. However, this is also the very reason a fire sale now is highly unlikely. The Sharks have a players they can build around in Couture and Joe Pavelski. Matt Irwin just had two years added on to his contract and has shown himself to be a solid presence on the parent club. Patrick Marleau will be 34 next year and still has productive years left. Joe Thornton will be 34 also. Boyle meanwhile will be 38 however has remained a great shape and still plays with a fire that you rarely see in players that age. However, once Boyle’s deal does run out he would have to take a hometown discount to stay in San Jose.
The good news for the Sharks is that there is a lot of room for improvement which is really not a bad thing. However, like with anything else, improvement must be an ongoing process. In same cases with the above mentioned players, they are soon going to be on the downsides of their careers and realize their opportunity with the Sharks could be in the balance. Should the Sharks not do well next season, they will certainly be even much bigger sellers next March. If this happens, the organization will have to realize the direction they were trying and have been trying no longer works. What’s troubling is that there have been very clear signs of that this year. However, the Sharks dealt three players that were likely not going to be resigned and it was better to get draft picks for them then just allow them to walk at seasons end.
Do not look for the Sharks to participate in the annual July 1st free agent market after the season regardless of how this campaign ends up. The Sharks as a franchise rule do not participate much in this market. Plattner has been with the Sharks ownership group for sometime before taking over as principal owner earlier this season. The Sharks have made a few free agency signings in the past but also leave the impression they would just as soon not be bothered. When the GM is un-reachable or spotted on a golf course during the free agency market chances are he’s under the higher orders of upper management. The usual company line has been and will always be that “(insert any free agents name here) is not right for Sharks hockey. End of Statement.” The Sharks last offseason had a chance at Sheldon Sourey (who ended up with the Ducks), and Jiri Hudler (who signed with the Flames). The Sharks did not need to sign both of these players, but one cannot imagine how neither one would have not helped team teal. As soon as Adam Burish was signed on July 2nd, it was off to the golf links for the Sharks brass.
Biggest Winners of the Trade Deadline- The biggest winner of this year of the trade deadline had to be the New York Rangers, and not because of Ryane Clowe’s acquisition from the Sharks. The Rangers up until the trade deadline had struggled about as bad in the Eastern Conference as the Sharks had in the Western Conference. The Rangers however were able to pull off a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that breathed new life and pumped new blood into the big blue. The Rangers in a trade deadline deal acquired forward Derick Brassard, defenseman John Moore, forward Derek Dorsett and a sixth-round draft pick in exchange for forward Marian Gaborik. The trade paid immediate dividends to as Brassard and Moore scored for the Rangers in a 6-1 home victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday evening. Gaborik, who really never lived up to his contract in New York, scored a goal for the Blue Jackets in a 3-1 win over Nashville Thursday night. Columbus also picked up Blake Comeau from Calgary in exchange for a 2013 draft pick. The Minnesota Wild meanwhile acquired long time Buffalo Sabre Jason Pominville. The St Louis Blues picked up Jay Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames. In addition to Douglas Murray, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired long time Calgary Flames stalwart Jarome Iginla. The New Jersey Devils acquired Steve Sullivan from Phoenix in exchange for a draft pick in the 2014 NHL re-entry draft. The Los Angeles Kings meanwhile picked up Robyn Regehr from Buffalo.
Back To The Drawing Board- The Dallas Stars meanwhile acknowledged by proxy mistakes in trades they made in the last offseason. The Stars sent Derrick Roy to the Vancouver Canucks for Kevin Connauton. The Stars also traded long time all-star much traveled veteran Jaromir Jagr to Boston for Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne. The acquisition of these two during the last offseason before the lockout was much hype to make the Stars an instant contender. The Stars season ticket holders right about now have to feel really good about their GM and ownership. The good news for Dallas is that at least Connauton has had a decent minor league career and could be a candidate to break through to the parent club maybe at some point next season. Then there are the Buffalo Sabres who right now are only too lucky a fan revolt hasn’t already begun. The Nashville Predators meanwhile have dealt away Martin Erat to the Washington Nationals as the Preds fans start to wonder about the teams direction again. Maybe matching Shea Weber’s contract offer from Philadelphia last season may not have been the best of moves.
SF Bulls/Stockton Thunder in ECHL Playoffs- Both Northern California entries in the ECHL, the San Francisco Bulls and Stockton Thunder have made the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Bulls are the Western Conference’s 8th seeded team and drew the top seeded Alaska Aces in the first round of this series. Friday evening the Aces took game one of the series 5-1 against the Bulls in Anchorage. In game 2 Saturday night it was the Bulls goalie Thomas Heemskerk was the story making 32 saves against one of the most powerful offensive teams in the ECHL. Meanwhile the Stockton Thunder opened their playoff series against the Las Vegas Wranglers at home with a pair of 3-2 overtime wins to propel them to a two game lead in their best of seven series. The SF Bulls are a minor league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks. The Stockton Thunder meanwhile are the ECHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
Final Thoughts- As of this posting the NHL will have less than three weeks remaining in the regular season. The Sharks will have a four game road trip which goes through Columbus, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix…all tough places for the Sharks to win. The Sharks’ players currently on the roster at least if nothing else have made a good argument for why they should have jobs within the organization next season. The winning streak not only saved their season, but likely saved the organization a fire sale as well….
…just my two cents…
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**Next My Two Cents: April 19th …