Here's a little known fact: The Sharks have been a playoff team in 14 of the last 15 NHL seasons. The only other NHL team that boasts that consistency? The Detroit Red Wings. The only problem is that there were 11 different Stanley Cup winners during that 15 year period, and none of them are named the Sharks.
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In the 8 years of the previous CBA, the Sharks made the playoffs in each of them and were eliminated in the first round only twice. They also made a trip to the conference finals twice. It's safe to say that GM Doug Wilson is doing an excellent job of putting a competitive product on the ice.
So, where do the Sharks go from here? There are a few questions leading up to training camp and beyond for San Jose this season. A possible changing of the guard in the middle of the top six could be well in motion with the recent signings of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to five year, big money, deals. I have five questions heading into training camp for the Sharks, and here they are.
1. How do the Sharks get cap-comliant?
San Jose currently sits with Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the delinquent teams of the salary cap, exceeding the ceiling by a shade over $400K. Something's got to give. Is it Brad Stuart? Who knows. The lack of interest in the Sharks makes digging up thoughts from Doug Wilson's head extremely difficult. Sitting with 22 players and over-spending by $400K makes you certain things have to move.
2. What to do with Tomas Hertl?
The 6'2", 198lb, center from the Czech Republic had an excellent season last year in the Czech Extraliiga. He recorded 30 points in 48 games, including 18 goals. The book on Hertl is that he plays the dirty areas and boasts a solid two-way game that would translate to a good third line center in the NHL. Can Hertl crack the lineup this year and split third line time with newly acquired Tyler Kennedy? I'd like to see it.
3. Does Joe Thornton fit into the plan beyond 2013-2014?
I highly doubt that he does, but you never know. The return on Thornton at the deadline would be significant, considering he is still a highly functional asset to a team who needs a big, talented, centerman for a playoff run. Joe's a warrior and gives it all each game, even though Boston ran him out of town after playing a post-season with broken ribs. I can't see the Sharks dealing Joe earlier than a week before the deadline and the return should be a roster winger, defensive prospect and a first rounder. Look at what other teams got for rentals that aren't as functional as Joe.
4. Could Marleau continue to fit into the Sharks roster beyond this year?
It's possible that the Sharks may hang on to Marleau, given his shift to the wing a few years back. It really all depends on the game plan that Wilson has. His playoff consistency suggests that he would like to continue to piece together a post-season group. Marleau's age is better than Thornton's but I think it all depends on production this season as to whether or not the Sharks bring Marleau back for more. Both players will be looking for another big money deal to finish their careers.
5. What would Dan Boyle fetch?
Here's another rental player that the Sharks could shop. Boyle is a great offensive defenceman who can play smart hockey in his own end. He's at the end of his career but can still produce and add leadership to a team looking to go far in the playoffs. Now, I say all of this understanding that the Sharks aren't that far off from making a push of their own with this current roster, but that window is quickly closing with the age of the roster. So what would Boyle get? He should gather a similar return in comparison with Marleau and Thornton. Similar, but slightly less.
When thinking about Thornton, Marleau and Boyle being deadline deals I wonder what the team would look like heading toward the post-season, assuming the Sharks are still in the hunt. It wouldn't look as good, that's for sure, but if you think of the pile of assets that those three players would generate in a trade, it's salivating.
It's safe to say that whatever Doug Wilson does, or doesn't do, this year will shape the Sharks for the next 3-5 years. Minor changes, say dealing Thornton, shapes this club for the short term. Major changes, dealing Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, could change the guard and set the Sharks up long-term.
After 14 playoff appearances in 15 seasons, albeit with no Cups, I have faith that Sharks management will continue to put a competitive product on the ice in search of the elusive Lord Stanley.
Thanks for reading.
Stay icy, Sharks fans.
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