Analysis: It's time for Sharks, Wilson to make a big move again

Analysis: It's time for Sharks, Wilson to make a big move again

Nashville general manager David Poile has made some blockbuster trades in recent years. He acquired a number one center in Ryan Johansen from Columbus midway through the 2015-16 season, sending highly regarded young prospect Seth Jones to the Blue Jackets, and last summer dealt captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban in a move that shocked the hockey world.

The high-risk decisions are paying off. Nashville has advanced to its first Western Conference Final, while playing all season in front of a raucous, capacity crowd in the Music City.

Just like Poile, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has never shied away from shaking up the roster to acquire top talent. His biggest move, of course, was snagging Joe Thornton from the Bruins back in 2005, but there have been plenty of other high profile attainments along the way – Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns among them. Recall last summer, too, when the Sharks were reportedly making a push for Steven Stamkos before he re-signed with Tampa Bay.

This offseason is a unique one for San Jose. The two best players in franchise history, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are pending unrestricted free agents that may or may not return. There is offseason flexibility that the Sharks have rarely enjoyed during Wilson’s tenure.

The Sharks could bring one or both of the cornerstones back. That would at least keep them competitive in 2017-18. But if Thornton, Marleau, and the majority of the 2016-17 team returns next season without any major changes, it’s difficult to envision the aging club suddenly being a Stanley Cup contender again. 

In their own division, Anaheim is still strong while young Calgary and Edmonton are quickly improving. If the Sharks do decide to bring Thornton and Marleau back, they’re returning two soon-to-be 38-year-olds that while still effective, are not at the stages of their careers where they’re going to get dramatically better.

Even without Thornton and/or Marleau, the club still has several key pieces in place. Wilson has already called it a priority to re-sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the two biggest reasons the Sharks finished fifth in the league in goals-against this season. Likely Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns is not going anywhere. Joe Pavelski is one of the best captains in the NHL, commanding the dressing room with his win-at-all-costs attitude and tireless work ethic. Other than those guys, though, there may not be any other untouchables on the Sharks roster.

The Sharks can still be a competitive team without one or both of Thornton and Marleau, if they make the right moves.

Which brings us back to Nashville.

The two cities are comparable in that neither is a traditional hockey market. Both teams play in buildings that aren’t exactly state-of-the-art anymore. Both need to be winning teams on the ice in order to put fans in the seats.

Despite the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, there didn’t seem to be much of a surge in interest. There were still plenty of empty seats in key home games over the second half of the season, even with the Sharks in first place in the division (officially, the Sharks sold out 26 of their 41 home games, but many of the announced sellouts didn’t appear to be capacity crowds).

In that sense, this is an organization in desperate need of a jolt. The Predators got one when they acquired Subban, selling out all 41 of their regular season games for the first time in the history of the franchise. They also remained competitive.

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Whether the business side factors into hockey decisions likely varies from club to club, and it’s impossible to know whether that plays a role in the Sharks’ front office. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Sharks owner Hasso Plattner expressed concern in January 2016 about all the empty seats at SAP Center that year.

“I'm really concerned about the situation,” he said at the Sharks’ 25th-anniversary celebration.

Plattner has to be wondering why a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in June didn’t prevent many of those seats from going unoccupied in 2016-17, too.

Could he be pushing for the kind of trade that sparks more interest, thereby selling more tickets? Again, we can only speculate. But, recall a press conference in May 2015 when the Sharks were announcing their new lease at SAP Center, when the owner mentioned Evgeni Malkin’s name before quickly checking himself and saying he was using Malkin’s name “just for an example.”

The point here is that Plattner and Wilson do discuss potential offseason moves, as the owner made clear that day. And if Plattner is concerned about the empty seats, that undoubtedly comes up during his conversations with the hockey department.

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Talking about a blockbuster trade is plainly much easier than making one. It’s still too early to predict which names might be on the market this summer, and if those potential names would make sense for the Sharks. 

A top center would likely be at the top of the list. Perhaps the Sharks will get involved in discussions for Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene. Maybe the Islanders won’t be able to re-sign Jonathan Tavares, and will deal him instead. Perhaps Philadelphia, which got lucky in the draft lottery with the second overall pick, will look to move captain Claude Giroux to make way for Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

If the Sharks were to go after a player like that they would have to part with at least one or two key pieces, just like Nashville did when it sacrificed Weber and and Jones. Think along the lines of Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun or Timo Meier going the other way. 

And, to be clear, we’re not suggesting that both Thornton and Marleau need to depart in order to facilitate a big trade. Acquiring a top line center might allow Thornton to center the third line, where he’s probably better suited at this stage of his career, anyway.

Of course, it’s possible no big names become available. But, one thing is for sure – Wilson, a notorious worker of the phones, will explore. The general manager has mentioned before that he’s made a trade with every other NHL team during his 14 years in charge, and history shows he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a major trade.

Now would be a logical time for him to do it again, for the benefit of the team both on the ice and off of it.

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

CHICAGO – After nabbing a center in the first round on Friday, the Sharks added four more forwards and one defenseman to conclude the second day of the annual NHL Entry Draft on Saturday, held this year at United Center.

The Sharks weren’t explicitly trying to restock their forward cabinet, according to general manager Doug Wilson and scouting director Tim Burke, although the club did make two separate moves in surrendering some later round picks to move up in the fourth round (to take center Scott Reedy) and sixth round (to take left wing Sasha Chmelevski).

First, though, it was defenseman Mario Ferraro in the second round at 49th overall. The offensive defenseman was a player that the Sharks targeted, using the pick they acquired from New Jersey last Friday as part of the trade for Mirco Mueller.

“He’s got a lot of speed, offensive guy, exciting,” Burke said. “Puck-moving type of guy.”

Wilson said: “We’re very pleased with the d-man. He’s a very dynamic, athletic guy, great skater. He was a guy that we moved up a little bit aggressively to get because that round, you could see people going after who they wanted. He is a guy that we identified.”

After moving up from the fifth round to the fourth round last Friday, again because of the Mueller trade, the Sharks jumped up 21 more spots in the fourth round by obtaining the Rangers pick at 102nd overall for the 123rd and 174th selections.

Center Scott Reedy is a player that Burke has high hopes for, projecting the Minnesota native as a “second line right winger [with] high-end potential.” Burke pointed out that Reedy, who is friends with first round pick Josh Norris, occasionally played on the same line with Norris for each of the last two seasons with the U.S. Under-18 team.

“He’s a big, strong forward that can play both positions (center and right wing),” Burke said.

Right wing Jacob McGrew, an Orange, CA native, went to the Sharks in the fifth round despite missing all of his first season in junior with a lower body injury suffered in training camp with Spokane (WHL).

“We knew about him before he went up there,” Burke said. “He’s a California kid. … If he was healthy he probably would have gone earlier.”

The Sharks again moved up to snag Huntington Beach native and center Chmelevski at 185 overall, and made their sixth and final pick in the 212th position by taking left wing Ivan Chekhovich in the seventh round. Both players look to have some offensive skill, based on their numbers and Youtube highlights.

Burke was surprised that both players were around so late.

“I thought they had pretty good years and they kind of slipped in the draft,” he said. “We weighed that versus some other more project-type guys, and we thought they had more offense and finish to their game. They just kept sliding, so we took a chance on them.”

Wilson said: “We moved up for the guys we wanted, and then there were some skilled guys at the end that we were surprised were still there. … We’ll go back and take a look how it all went, but we feel, I think, really good about where we ended up with this.”

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

CHICAGO – Ilya Kovalchuk is still reportedly mulling over a return to the NHL, four years after he surprisingly walked away from a monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL.

The Sharks have been linked to Kovalchuk, in large part because of Pete DeBoer, who was Kovalchuk’s most recent head coach. In 2011-12, Kovalchuk was a dangerous scoring winger under DeBoer, helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.

It was apparently a good working relationship between the player and the coach for the two seasons they were together, DeBoer said on Friday at the NHL Entry Draft at United Center.

“I loved Kovy in New Jersey,” DeBoer said. “We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”

DeBoer said he’s had no contact with the 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who would have to be traded by New Jersey before signing a new contract with any other NHL club. Still, it seems like the Sharks’ coach might welcome a reunion with Kovalchuk, who posted 78 points in 60 games with SKA Saint Petersburg last season, and has 816 points (417g, 399a) in 816 career NHL games with Atlanta and New Jersey.

“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person,” DeBoer said.

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DeBoer seemed as uncertain as everyone else as to whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will return to the Sharks or move on to other clubs as free agents.

But, naturally, it’s on his mind.

“You think about it all the time,” DeBoer said. “They’re obviously important pieces in the history of the franchise, and in our group. I also understand the business side of this, and there’s always tough decisions to make. The way I approach these type of things is I’m going to go to Canada and relax, and Doug [Wilson] is going to make those decisions. I’m sure we’ll have a good group come training camp.”

“We’ve got a really good core group of guys and some tough decisions that have to be made. The one thing Doug and his group has shown over the years is their ability to stay competitive, to find a way even after making tough decisions. I have all the faith in the world in that, and I’m excited about training camp.”

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The Sharks lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft earlier in the week. Vegas then flipped him to the Canadiens for a fifth round pick in 2019.

“I think for David, it’s a great opportunity for him, especially going to Montreal,” DeBoer said. “For us, it’s an opportunity for a young guy to jump in. The one thing we have in the organization is some depth. There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door, and guys hungry to grab that job.”