At this point, most of the speculation regarding the 2012-13 Sharks roster involves adding players to the team in an effort to win the Cup within the next two years. However, there is another camp who would like to tear the team down and rebuild entirely with an eye to the future - ensuring the team's success in the long run. I've given it a lot of thought, and I think there just might be a way to have both: a team that can win within the next few years, but also has enough youth and skill to stick around for years to come.Here's what's up. For the last few years, our Sharks have really been gunning for that Cup, and good old Dougie Wilson has been supplying them with a steady stream of new pieces. It all started when he acquired Joe Thornton - widely seen as the best thing that has ever happened to the Sharks franchise. We all know what happened next - Thornton and Cheechoo hit it off, trophies were won, but the Sharks still could not advance past the second round. So DW decided it was time for a change in the way the Sharks played hockey. He ditched the run-and-gun style of Ron Wilson, and went with the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude in bringing in Todd McLellan. The ensuing first-round exit, coupled with the realization that "Jonathan Cheechoo" was Canadian slang for "statistical anomaly", resulted in another shake-up. First, he flipped Christian Ehrhoff to Vancouver for a couple of loonies and a hat, and then came the "big splash" - Dany Heatley. What he didn't realize, however, is that Heatley thrived in that Ron Wilson-esque run-and-gun style in Ottawa, and that he wasn't suited to the puck possession style of play that the Sharks were playing. Needless to say, that ended with Heatley being shipped out of town for Martin Havlat.
At this point, you're wondering why I'm prattling on about the history of the Sharks, which you obviously know. There's a pattern here - when the Sharks can't beat the best, they emulate the best. The Thornton trade was a reaction to the fact that the "new NHL" was being dominated by superstars. The McLellan hiring and the acquisition of Dan Boyle were part of an attempt to play the puck-possession system perfected by Mike Babcock in Detroit. The Heatley trade was a reaction to the tag teams of superstars who were elevating the league's most successful teams (Crosby and Malkin, Kane and Toews, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Sedin twins).
Now, how does this all affect the current Sharks team? Well, here's a thought. The Sharks, Red Wings, Canucks, Blackhawks, Bruins and Penguins are all out. Those were many an expert's top six picks to win the Stanley Cup, in some order. So that means that there is a paradigm shift in the NHL - as we all saw in the Blues series, aggressive forechecking and backchecking, an attention to team defense and a dedication to protecting the net are the hallmarks of the new generation of successful teams.
The Sharks have many of the pieces to compete with these teams, so now it's just a question of finding out which ones are missing. Here is my list of who the Sharks should keep and why, who they should trade and why, and who I think they should sign and why.
Joe Thornton - The superstar. He is the heart and soul of the team, and he played like it during each of the last three playoffs. He has developed into a true two-way player during that time, but never received much help or attention. Thornton is the Sharks' best shutdown forward by a longshot, and is still a world-class talent on the offensive end of the ice.
Logan Couture - The future. There's one play that sums up Couture's game really well: his goal in Game 7 last year against the Wings. Couture was part of the forecheck on one side of Detroit's net, and skated across the net once Detroit won the puck. He goes for a sweep on Zetterberg and then rapidly spins around and steals the outlet pass before ripping a shot over Jimmy Howard short side. That quickness, tenacity and skillset is why Couture is quite simply the future.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - The defense. In my opinion, Vlasic is the second-most underrated player in the league (behind Loui Eriksson), and easily the most underrated defenseman. He might not have the stats that the other defensemen do, but like a shutdown corner in football, teams simply don't try going up against him. And that's why the Sharks should keep him.
Joe Pavelski - Mr. Consistent. A few years ago, he was a Conn Smythe favorite. This years he didn't score at all. That's probably the only inconsistency you'll find in Pavs's game. Granted, it is significant, but there have been stretches where Pavelski has carried the Sharks, Plus, faceoffs are critical, and he's the best.
Antti Niemi - The backstop. Say what you want about Niemi, but he's been stellar when it counts. He is still getting used to his regular-season workload, but he always seems to shine in crunch time (cliche, but true). He was the Sharks' best player in the Blues series, and he keeps showing why the Sharks paid him $15 million.
Martin Havlat - The X-factor. The thing with Marty Havlat is you can't help watching him and wondering what his career might have been like if he wasn't injured so damn much. I mean, tripping over the boards during a line change, and he's out 8 weeks? I guess I'll take it though, because his impact when he's on the ice is significant.
Brent Burns - The anchor. The reason Burns's numbers weren't as good as before is because he was no longer the focal point of the offense - he was simply a cog in the machine. That said, he displayed good instincts with the puck and played above average defense without it. It's a little to early to evaluate him and Havlat, so I don't think DW should make the same mistake he did when he traded Heatley (yes, I think that Heatley deserved another year).
Also, Andrew Desjardins (performed well in limited minutes), Jason Demers (developing a much better two-way game), Thomas Greiss (reliable backup), Benn Ferriero (CLUTCH), Tommy Wingels (just awesome), Nick Petrecki (give him a chance...).
On the fence:
Patrick Marleau - The punching bag. Personally, I don't feel that Marleau gets enough credit, but when all is said and done, his numbers are declining, he put up a goose egg in the playoffs, and he just doesn't ever seem like he's really into the game. Marleau is a lurker - he'll stay out of the scrum in front of the net, hoping that a rebound will pop out for him to pocket. That style just doesn't fit with the direction that the NHL is going towards.
Dan Boyle - The elder statesman. Let's be clear - I like Dan Boyle. I just don't like his style of play anymore. He's lost most of his jump and has started becoming a defensive liability. I still think he is one of the best defensemen in Sharks history, but his time is winding down. His game relies on quickness and energy to succeed, both of which he seems to be running out of.
Ryane Clowe - Clowe doesn't really have a title anymore... he's sort of just there. Another non-factor in the St. Louis series. Actually, I can't remember any significant playoff moments that involve Clowe. He is one of the better players on the boards, but he's just too slow to do anything with the puck once he gets it. The Sharks have plenty of grinders with some skill, so they don't really need Clowe. Plus, his scoring numbers are down and he was the only top-six forward who posted a minus.
Douglas Murray - the Crankshaft. I had no idea that Murray was 32. Yes, he still delivers bone-crunching hits, but 4 points? Really?
Also, Michal Handzus (huge disappointment), Justin Braun (too focused on offense), TJ Galiardi (might suffer from small sample size), Colin White and Jim Vandermeer (I really don't need to say anything here), Brad Winchester (another Ben Eager).
Who to bring in:
Ryan Suter - He's one of those guys who you can't resist, especially considering he's a UFA looking for success. Nashville is going to have its hands full re-signing Weber, so Suter might escape under the radar. He's part of a deep pool of defensemen, including Dennis Wideman, Matt Carle and the ageless wonder Nicklas Lidstrom.
Jiri Hudler - A solid second or third-line winger who can provide some scoring pop. Has experienced success in Detroit, and he's still only 28.
Petr Sykora - Ditto. Except he's 35. And still kicking.
Teddy Purcell - Would have to be a trade acquisition, but would really help the Sharks. He's young, he's quick, and he's skilled. One of those rapidly rising second-tier players in the NHL (like P.A. Parenteau, David Desharnais, Jamie Benn) who could really benefit from playing on a contender.
So there you have it: my little dissertation. Please leave comments and questions, regardless of whether you believe that I should replace Doug Wilson or that I should go stick my head in a place, while space-saving, may limit its exposure to sunshine.
Have fun. Enjoy life. Go Sharks.