The last two days have just been torturous as a San Jose Sharks fan. I woke up Sunday at 8am (pacific time) with a spring in my step and anticipation on my mind. After watching Vesa Toskala and everybody's favorite whipping boy in San Jose this season, Mark Bell, being shipped off to Toronto, all the talk was the Sharks were setting things up perfectly to sign Chris Drury. But at 9am on Sunday, the Sharks instead announced Joe Thornton would remain a Shark until at least 2011 (unless Doug Wilson decided to trade him at some point for three decent NHL players, 2 of which he would then trade to Calgary... wait... who'd be that dumb?). Terrific move by both Jumbo Joe and Doug Wilson, ESPECIALLY at the 7.2 million per year price tag.
However, while my anticipation held true throughout Sunday as I spent over 12 hours in the Season Ticket Holder chat room, continually pushing back the idea of going out to grab something to eat so that I wouldn't miss Eklund coming back from a phone call with a Sharks-related free agent signing announcement, I continued to be disappointed. Gomez to the Rangers (didn't want him anyway)... Briere to the Flyers (figured that would happen, and didn't care much)... Hannan to the Avs (for that price tag, I'm passing if I'm Doug Wilson too)... and then finally Chris Drury and Ryan Smyth tear my heart out by signing with New York and Colorado respectively.
Drury would have been a great signing. Marleau moves over to LW, next to Drury and Steve Bernier, and the Sharks gain some solid leadership. When that didn't happen, I hoped we'd pull Ryan Smyth out of a hat. He'd sure get a lot of nice goals in front with Joe Thornton feeding him passes, and Jonathan Cheechoo laying 4-7 shots per game on net. But apparently Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk were more appealing to Mr. Smyth.
Sunday ends with disappointment, but hope for something, ANYTHING, on Monday.
I wake up Monday with not much of a spring in my step, and not as much anticipation, but minor hope that Sheldon Souray, Michael Handzus, or even Michael Peca might sign with San Jose. Nothing happens all morning, so I leave for work, knowing that 30 minutes after I arrive at work, Eklund will be in the chat room giving all the day's buzz. I arrive at work, get setup, and then hop on my computer just in time to catch Ek. Of course, Sheldon Souray is rumored to go to New York or Los Angeles, or a number of other non-Northern California places, and Michael Handzus signs on with the Kings (for a little more than I'd have wanted to spend on him).
Feeling a little frustrated by Doug Wilson's lack of movement, I ask Ek if his Sharks sources are all crappy, or if San Jose REALLY isn't up to anything. His reply: "Marleau will likely be traded to Montreal." After not getting Drury, why would San Jose trade MARLEAU now?!?!? Ek's response: "Montreal will be giving them a ton. Will probably happen next week."
All night, all I could do was doubt Eklund. Why would San Jose give up Marleau after not signing any one of the big names? What could Montreal give us that would be so nice? On my drive home though, I was listening to XM name off all the players the Sharks will have to sign next summer (RFA's like Bernier, Michalek, Carle, Ehrhoff, Pavelski), and I realized... with all the signings this offseason, these guys aren't going to be cheap.
A few years ago, these guys would maybe get 1.3-1.8 million dollars per year for 2-3 years as RFA's. Now, guys like Vanek in Buffalo are likely to sign for 5-6 million per year as RFA's, and if not with their current team, than someone is going to offer it to them.
Doug Wilson has always been obsessed with keeping his young core together, and the Joe Thornton signing helps that. But Marleau is going to deserve 5.5-6.5 million dollars after this season, and with all the RFA's likely commanding 2.5-3 million a piece, how can the Sharks keep everyone? If we signed Sheldon Souray for 6 million this year, we'd probably have to lose Marleau and another player, because we won't be able to afford them in 2008-2009.
So, I'm beginning to realize, maybe Doug Wilson does have a plan. San Jose fans love that kids we are drafting are coming up through the system, becoming fan favorites, and developing in front of our eyes. We don't really know what it's like to have a guy signed as a big-time free agent in San Jose, and see him try to fit in, produce, and live up to that contract within the first few months of his first season here. Because we've never experienced that, how would we all react if Doug Wilson signed Chris Drury, who then ended up scoring only 20 goals and 45-50 points, and helped lead us to once again losing in the 2nd round of the playoffs? If San Jose fans were wanting to run Marleau out of town for not producing in the playoffs, imagine what they would do to a guy who hadn't been drafted and developed by the team, and then named team captain, despite his outwardly quiet and calm demeanor. Imagine then that Patrick Marleau and Christian Ehrhoff were not re-signed in 2008 because we were pressed up against the cap, and paying Chris Drury 7.3 million dollars per year until 2012. Let's face it, people would be begging Doug Wilson to be fired, or to dismantle the team, and buy someone else who'll produce.
Paying for big-name free agents tends to turn into an endless cycle of disappointment (ask Ranger fans how many FA's they've signed versus how many Cups they've won over the last 5 decades). As it is, the Sharks will have a hard enough time re-signing Patrick Marleau and keeping all the RFA's next season. So, maybe Eklund is right. Maybe Chris Higgins (young stud in Montreal) and Halak (Montreal's young backup goalie) are two major pieces to the San Jose puzzle, and are worth giving up Marleau. Or maybe Michael Ryder, Komisarek, and Halak is a good enough return to make sense moving Marleau to Habs-ville. Who knows? If 2008 comes around, and the Sharks haven't won the Cup with Marleau as captain, wouldn't people be yelling for a change anyway?
All I know is Doug Wilson has made a ton of GREAT decisions over his tenure in San Jose. Could he be asleep at the wheel in San Jose this offseason? ... Quite possibly. Are there FA's out there that could help San Jose right away? ... Of course. But does it make sense for the Sharks one, two, or three years from now to sign some of these big name free agents in the salary cap era... I doubt it. So let's all start trusting Doug Wilson... the man with the plan. I'll take the first spot in line... will any San Jose Sharks fans join me?