The San Jose Sharks, like the St. Louis Blues, had a disappointing season. The team failed to make the playoffs and ranked 12th in the Western Conference. With the talent the team possesses that ranking is just not acceptable. Unlike the St. Louis Blues, the Sharks have already started to change the culture of the team by firing head coach Todd McLellan and hiring former New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer.
This may only be the tip of the iceberg for the Sharks, which are primed to make a big splash this offseason.
According to Comcast Sportnets’ Kevin Kurz:
"There’s a real possibility that there could be a blockbuster in the works involving one of the team’s core players.Would aging veterans Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau prefer to relocate to a team that has a better chance of winning in the immediate future? Was Brent Burns shifted back to defense last season in order to increase his trade value? Is Logan Couture still happy here, after he was critical of the team’s “not great” culture? Is Justin Braun expendable after he struggled in the first year after signing a big contract extension? These are all fair questions.There’s also free agency. Wilson indicated that market is pretty thin but the Sharks have plenty of cap space to play with, sitting approximately $16 million under the limit.Wilson has hinted for months that the Sharks could be in a position to take advantage of a club that is up against the cap. Perhaps they are readying an offer sheet or two for a top restricted free agent."
I have a feeling this offseason San Jose is going to be a pain in the you-know-what to teams who are cap strapped (cough, cough Chicago Blackhawks). The infamous offer sheets are looking pretty tempting and the Sharks is going to be able to put financial pressure on other teams.
Aside from maybe going after restricted free agent Brandon Saad (this is something I would obviously do), the Sharks could look to add more young players to its roster. So what does that mean for some of the team’s core (aging) players?
Two key players Kurz mentioned above were Thornton and Marleau. Both have no-trade clauses, but of course that doesn’t mean they can’t be moved (it just makes it harder and gives the player more power).
Thornton had a pretty tumultuous season with the Sharks—not so much play-wise (he was third on the team in scoring with 65 points), but with the media attention involving him and team management. He was stripped of the captaincy and has had his name involved in the rumor mill before. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in the 2017-18 season when he will be 37 years old. If the Sharks could find someone interested in taking him and his $6.75 million cap hit then I say do it.
Marleau has spent his entire career in a Sharks’ jersey. He is the same age as Thornton and also had a productive season, tallying 57 points in 82 games. He and Thornton both signed three-year extensions at the same time, so Marleau is also under contract until the end of the 2016-17 season. Yet, he has a slightly lower cap hit of $6.66 million.
That’s a decent amount of money locked up in two aging players. If the Sharks get someone to bite on one of them, the team will have more money to spend on rebuilding.
We have to come to terms with the fact that hockey is becoming a faster and younger game. Look at what the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to do this season. The team only has three players over the age of 30. Not saying that Thornton and Marleau don’t have value, they clearly do, but maybe it is time to move on, for a new face to take over for the Sharks.
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That’s the goal for the organization: change the culture. So, that may very well mean letting go of players that have donned a Sharks uniform for years. It’s hard to watch, but sometimes you have to forget what the player or players did for you in the past and try to imagine what they potentially bring to the table in the future.
Do players like Thornton and Marleau fit into the Sharks’ new identity? This is a question general manager Doug Wilson has to answer this offseason and he seems to be prepared to do so through action.
Wilson is by no means a fan favorite. Fans blame him more for the Sharks’ failure than former coach McLellan, so this might be (depending on what he does with the team and where the team stands at the end of next season) his last chance to prove his worth as the GM.
With it all on the line and money to burn, I expect Wilson to be very active this offseason. You have to take risks to get what you want and the San Jose are in the perfect position to do just that.
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