The Sharks bowed out of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs after their Game 7 loss to the LA Kings in the second round, in a series were they couldn’t win on the road in Staples Center. They just couldn’t solve Jonathan Quick when it mattered. They seriously lacked depth at forward and their top players didn’t do enough. In fairness, the Rafi Torres suspension was an injustice for his hit on Jarrett Stoll and it forced San Jose to juggle previously clicking line combinations. That being said, it was clear the Sharks needed to do some revamping of the 3rd and 4th lines, get some more scoring on the wing, and possibly get a little younger. Not a rebuild, but a retool.
So far the Tyler Kennedy draft day acquisition has been the highlight of the Sharks off season. The Sharks gave up a 3rd Round pick to acquire the scrappy winger from Pittsburgh. They also traded a 3rd Round pick to Detroit in order swap first rounders with the Wings and move up 2 spots to draft Defenseman, Mirco Mueller. What’s curious is, I think he would have been available at their original spot. The next two picks after Mueller were forwards and most draft analysts had him as a low 1st Rd to early 2nd Rd pick. Doug Wilson has made some questionable deals during his GM tenure. The rent-a-player for a Cup run has backfired too many times and has seen good, young talent go elsewhere.
They also have Salary Cap issues, Joe Thornton (7 million), Patrick Marleau (6.9 million) and Dan Boyle (6.7 million) have huge salaries and are basically not able to be traded. Antii Niemi (4 million) has won a Cup with Chicago, but the past few postseasons he has allowed some ill-timed goals. Doug Wilson was able to get an extension done for future Captain, Logan Couture for 5 years at 30 million with an annual 6 million dollar Cap hit. Locking up Couture was a must and it’s clear Doug Wilson intends to build around him. But with these heavy salaries, signing free agents is nearly impossible.
The third and fourth lines are still a serious weak spot. The resigning of James Sheppard is a curious choice. In 32 games in 2013 he had 1 goal, 3 assists and played at a minus 9. He followed that up with ZERO points in 11 playoff games. This guy shouldn’t be on anyone’s 4th line, much less a team “competing for a Cup”. Andrew Dejardins was also resigned for another year. He has shown some toughness but he has zero offensive talent and doesn’t possess the north and south game required in today’s NHL. The rest of the roster will be filled by the likes of Bracken Kerns, Matt Pelch, Adam Burish, Sebastian Stalberg and Travis Oleksuk. None of these guys belong on an NHL roster besides Burish, and even his best days are behind him. Scott Gomez won’t be back, he gave the Sharks very little in his short stay in Teal.
Right now Brent Burns is going to remain at forward. That’s a very good thing since he seems to be comfortable playing on a line with Joe Thornton and has the size, skill and strength to be a dominate power forward. If Martin Havlat can stay healthy (a HUGE if, probably not going to happen), the top 9 forwards to comprise the top three lines look like this: Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, Joe Pavelksi, Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Tyler Kennedy, Raffi Torres & Tommy Wingels. If Wingels can come into his own as a reliable top nine forward, they can keep Pavelski as the third line center and spread out the scoring. That was the recipe for the Sharks strong finish last season and was the catalyst in sweeping the Canucks in Round 1. However, the 4th line will once again be a patchwork unit and the Sharks can expect to get little or no offense and not much to spark the rest of the team with big hits and tough play.
With the salary cap issues meaning their top players not able to be moved, the Sharks are basically going to give this core group one more shot at a Stanley Cup run. But after this season, things could change drastically in San Jose. Set for Unrestricted Free Agency in 2014 are Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Joe Pavelski and Marc Eduard-Vlasic. It’s not to say that one or all these guys couldn’t sign an extension this season, but I have the feeling the Sharks might want to try it another way if 2013-14 doesn’t result in a deep playoff run. Particularly with Boyle & Thornton. I have a sneaking suspicion they want Marleau to be a career Shark, regardless of whether he ever hoists Lord Stanley.
This could be the last shot for some long-tenured Sharks to bring a Title to San Jose. GM Doug Wilson has got to be feeling the pressure. 2013 was a nice bounce back after they got creamed in the 2012 postseason, but the window is closing rapidly for their star core. If they can convince someone to take Havlat and his $5 million cap hit, maybe they can spend that money on a more reliable scoring threat. But the oft-injured winger doesn’t have much value on the market. Doug Wilson’s poor signings and salary cap management in the past have totally hamstrung him this off season and has given him very little room to wiggle. Enjoy Tyler Kennedy and his gritty play on the third line Sharks fans because that’s about as much an upgrade as the Sharks probably have in store for 2013. But we know Doug Wilson always says, the team isn’t complete until the trading deadline. Yes Doug, we know how you like to mortgage the future for rent-a-players down the stretch.
So far 2013-14 is shaping up like this: Once again, we will see the Sharks qualify for the playoffs and once again come up short in the big for Lord Stanley’s prize.