Sharks Need A Shake-up.

After too many seasons of coming up short in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s time for the San Jose Sharks to make some significant changes.

Since 2006, the Sharks have made the playoffs every season, usually among the dominant clubs in the league, finishing first in the Pacific division four straight seasons and second in three seasons.

During that time, however, they’ve never advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, only going as far as the Western Conference Final twice.

This shortened season was no exception. An inconsistent performance resulted in a third place finish in their division. They swept the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, but fell to the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings in a hard-fought seven game series.

They’ve become the Western Conference version of the Toronto Maple Leafs circa 1999 to 2004. A team which on paper looked like a potential Stanley Cup contender, but unable to meet lofty expectations.

It’s the same old story for the Sharks, which must be tiresome for their fans.

GM Doug Wilson did a good job over the past eight years maintaining the Sharks as a playoff team. Now, he has to take bold steps to change the culture and build this club into a legitimate Cup contender.

That means trading or buying out Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle.

The Sharks inability to rise to the next level doesn’t rest solely upon their shoulders, but Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are supposedly the veteran leaders, and for whatever reason have been unable to lift the Sharks into Cup contention.

Sure, the supporting cast deserves its share of the blame, as does Wilson, former coach Ron Wilson and current coach Todd McLellan.

At some point, however, you have to wonder if your leadership can get the job done.

If Thornton, Marleau and Boyle were in their mid-to-late twenties, it would be hasty to move them, as they would still have time to grow into the roles expected of them.

But Thornton will turn 34 in July, Marleau 34 in September, and Boyle turns 37 in July. They’re still talented, but their best days are behind them. The Sharks window of opportunity to win a championship with this trio is rapidly closing, if it hasn’t already.

Yes, they were among the Sharks leading scorers during this regular season and the playoffs, but time is catching up to them.

Thornton, Marleau and Boyle each have a season remaining on their respective contracts. Thornton and Marleau also have full “no-movement” clauses while Boyle can list eight teams he would reject as trade destinations.

Moving them via trade obviously won’t be easy, but it’s time Wilson explored that option. And if they’re unwilling to go, he should use his  compliance buyouts on two of the three and use the savings to bid aggressively in this summer’s free agent market, or target teams willing to trade high-salaried stars at bargain prices to become cap compliant next season.

Granted, there currently isn’t much depth in talent in the UFA pool which could be considered an improvement over Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, but that could change if a number of high-salaried players are bought out by other clubs this summer.

Wilson probably prefers to buy out Martin Havlat, though if he hasn’t recovered from his latest groin/hip injury by the compliance buyout period, he’ll be ineligible. Brent Burns could be a candidate, but if Wilson moves Boyle, he’ll need Burns’ puck-moving ability (despite his defensive flaws) back on the blueline.

So, the trade market is probably the best route for Thornton, Marleau and Boyle. Despite the trade clauses and the pending free agent status next summer, there would be interest in the trio if Wilson were to shop them, especially from clubs which are a skilled forward or blueliner away from legitimate Cup contention willing to acquire a short-term fix.

Wilson has to shed salary this summer. He’s got 15 players under contract for next season, and only around $8.6 million in projected cap space. Somebody’s gotta go, so it might as well be a couple of his ageing stars.

The Sharks have a good core of younger talent to build around in goaltender Antti Niemi, blueliners like Burns (despite his faults) and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, and forwards Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. Trading away and/or buying out Thornton, Marleau and Boyle could fetch a decent return of younger talent via trade or free agency to compliment that core.

Wilson is likely facing the prospect of losing most or all of those three veteran stars via free agency next summer. If he re-signs any of them, even to shorter, affordable deals, he’ll be stuck with depreciating assets which, if he were to try to move them later, won’t fetch nearly as much as they could now.

Sure, he could keep them for the final season of their contracts, opt not to re-sign them, and then try to replace them next summer in hopes the free agent or trade markets might be deeper, but there’s no guarantee those markets will be any better than this year’s.

It wouldn’t be disloyal of Wilson to move those three via trade or buyout. He’s given them more than enough opportunities to bring a championship to San Jose, and tried to surround them with a good supporting cast.

This is a business, and those GMs who stick by fading stars out of loyalty end up with a fading team, and eventually out of a job.

The Sharks have had a good run with Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, but it’s time to turn the page and move on. Better to do it now than to prolong the agony.

8 Comments

  1. If Havlat recovers in time, he’s the #1 buyout candidate. Boyle still has good trade value, as he did do well in the playoffs. Marleau disappeared with Raffi Torres not there to open some doors for his skill. Perhaps he would fit in Ottawa, and, if not, could be the second buyout candidate. I think Thorton also has some trade value, but would be a buyout candidate if either Marleau or Boyle can be traded.

    Of the three, I would say Boyler would be the one most likely kept for another season, both for his strong leadership skills and his still dominant play on the point.

  2. Solid read. I’d like to add a few things. Two of the biggest problems (and has been for Sharks in post season years) is the lack of scoring depth & the PP (Woodcroft) With Havlat being injured (when is he not?) and Torres being suspended our bottom six depth took a major hit, couple that with moving Pavelski back up (he was dominant on the 3rd line) and you can see why. Sure, Gomez isn’t as good as he once was, but he’s still a solid set up man. The problem there is you have him centering grinders in Sheppard and Wingels or earlier in Desjardins & Burish. He should have been on a line with some proven goal scorers, maybe they would have had better success if they had dropped Pavs back down to 3 with Gomez? The 4 forward top PP unit is atrocious. I get trying to have all your best players on the top unit; but then your second unit suffers. Also, Burns was very successful as a forward. On the 2nd unit he plays D and takes a back set to Wingels and Galiardi/Sheppard? Pathetic.

    As for the big 3, IMO the only one that needs to go is Thornton. He’s supposed to be our leader, our captain, but he hardly ever shows up when we need him the most. In an elimination game, you expect him to take over like he did for 1 period in game 4. Obviously this exact trade won’t go down, but moving him for scoring depth would be nice (say to the Wild to bring back Setoguchi & Coyle for example) With Thornton gone either make Boyle captain till he retires or make the future switch and place it on Couture.

    If Havlat is healthy by then he needs to be bought out immediately. His inability to stay on the Ice hindered is greatly when we needed scoring depth the most (which he rarely provided when healthy anyway)

    I would like to also see the Sharks bring back Gomez & Torres and if he hits the free agency, picking up Damien Brunner.

    I could go on and on and on, but I’ll end it here. One of the last moves I’d like to see us do is FIRE JAY WOODCROFT!!!!! The guy is a bum. We fired Matt Shaw last year who lead our PP to #2 in the NHL, and have those duties to Woodcroft who promptly had it drop to 15th and 1 for 33 on the road in the post season while not ONCE shaking up a top unit that was stagnant.

    • Wild will not be trading back Coyle :-)

      • I know :) I was just using that scenerio as more of an example than a possibility.

  3. I think this article frankly misses the mark completely.

    The Sharks are currently undergoing an evolution before our eyes. Anyone who follows the team half-closely can see it. It is Doug Wilson’s “refresh not reset” in progress. Perhaps the “window is closing” on Thornton & Marleau winning the cup as the top talent on the team, but that is not to say that they should be jettisoned. The leadership of the team is already evolving with Logan Couture becoming one of the team’s top leaders. This season Thornton transitioned to became the second line center with Couture the first. Brent Burns move to forward coupled with the addition of Raffi Torres (who will more than likely be resigned after Doug Wilson’s $100k investment in support of him through a fine) gave the Sharks 3 legitimate scoring lines. They still need some more bottom-end scoring depth. They need to move on from Marty Havlat. They could use a top blue-liner (who couldn’t!?) with Burns moving up front, but the emergence of Matt Irwin and the continued growth of Marc-Edourd Vlasic lessens the sting there.

    Doug Wilson never made the mistake of signing players to insane term contracts. As a result he can and will resign Thornton, Marleau, and Boyle to contracts with lesser dollar amounts based on what those players are today and the fact that they all want to remain in SJ. Look for 2012 draft pick Tomas Hertl to make the big club next year. Doug Wilson gets a lot more credit in hockey circles than he gets in the media. He’s created a team and culture that is always very good and at times great. Unfortunately the two years where this team was great there happened to be one other team in the West that was better. He’ll stick with his steady hand and plan and eventually the Sharks will break through. They are too steady of an organization not to.

    • This. I completely agree. They lost to the defending cup champs In one hell o a series. Had sj won I could have seen them getting past either Det or Chicago.

  4. Sharks had their best chance to try for a Cup this year and it’s pretty much over with Thornton-Marleau duo…they better get what they can for them or end up with a poor return the way the Flames got with Iginla & Bouwmeester. Also, it’s alarming that their 3rd/4th lines have barely contributed to anything on their scoresheet while Couture/Pavelski have pretty much done lots of damage. Clearly, this is their team and I would build the offense around them- time for them to be the leaders.

  5. Sharks are fine… every season there is 28 teams out of 30 that do not make the Stanley CUp Finals. The Sharks are always in the hunt and they’re already getting younger and faster with the aging core they have. Both Marleau and Thornton performed well in the playoffs this year. It was the 3rd and 4th lines that didn’t chip in at all. Keep Gomez get him at least one proven scorer and get Torrez back also. They will be fine. I’d take Dan Boyle too he should of probably been named captain. There is no reason to panic at all. Not too many franchises can claim play off bound 15 out of the last 16 years. I’d also consider letting Larry Robinson take over the head coaching duties.