It's the middle of March, which usually means that NHL teams are either gearing up or winding down for the end of the season. But with 2013 NHL season flavored with a shot of minty fresh lockout, the trade deadline is just a few weeks away (Wednesday, April 3).
In the past, the San Jose Sharks have traditionally been considered buyers. But for whatever reason, this year's team hasn't had mojo beyond a handful of early games, and ultimately, the only numbers that matter are wins and losses. That leaves GM Doug Wilson with the full gamut of options -- everything from "Go for it!" to "Burn it down!"
There's logic and pros/cons to each of the choices, and there are a number of other factors in play here besides goals and assists. A number of longtime Sharks are hitting UFA status in June (Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray) while 2013-14 marks the final year for a number of UFA-to-be players (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle). Also, from a practical perspective, a lockout-shortned season does offer some advantages to blowing a team up, as the lame-duck period is significantly shorter -- make the right moves in the off-season and it'll be much easier to sell the message when it comes time to open training camp and sell tickets to casual fans.
Father Time is ticking away, which means that Wilson will have some tough decisions to make. Find teams to appease a no-movement clause? Endure the backlash that comes with letting go of fan favorites? Stay the course and hope all that potential turns into results when it matters most? It's time for Doug Wilson to peer into the crystal ball kept high atop the HP Pavilion offices because there are a number of ways this can all play out.
Option 1: Do nothing
It's been a crappy 20 or so games, which would be a significant part of even a normal regular season. But, there's a silver lining to this cloud. Antii Niemi has played the best hockey since he arrived in San Jose, and the team's defense and penalty kill have tightened up considerably after last year. And that nasty goal-scoring thing? Well, if you're the true glass-half-full optimist, then you're assuming that things will start to go for Ryane Clowe, Martin Havlat (when healthy) and company, at least to the point where last year's 2.6 goals-for is reasonable. Add in a suddenly in-the-groove Scott Gomez and a WTF Brent Burns-at-forward experiment and maybe there's enough to get this team going after all other than maybe getting a depth forward or two.
Option 2: Trade up
Doug Wilson has traditionally been aggressive at the trade deadline. Of course, nothing really quite produced the anticipated results, though Brian Campbell still had this badass goal. There's not a lot of on-ice evidence to show that this year's roster is just one missing piece away from being a Stanley Cup contender, but maybe the magic formula is finding a top-six player that augments the depth chart to create the right type of chemistry. There's still yet another first rounder for Doug Wilson to burn for something interesting.
Option 3: Trade down
On the flip side, maybe it's time to realistically hope for one or two playoff rounds at best, but begin the transition away from the Marleau/Thornton era. That means treating the trade deadline as a means to chip away pieces in a subtle rebuild, one that doesn't bulldoze the core of the team right away but signals that it's important to go with a youth-and-speed movement. Maybe it's moving just one of the core group or maybe it's jettisoning a Ryane Clowe/Douglas Murray for rebuilding assets prior to their UFA status. And if Marleau and Thornton are willing to contract extensions and roles that fit the reality of their age, maybe rebuilding won't have to be a scorched-earth policy.
Option 4: Everything must go!
No, I'm not talking about the amazing Manic Street Preachers album. Someone get the Ouiji board for Billy Mays, we need his magical selling power. "Billy Mays here with one feisty Dan Boyle -- he's so good, he scores in his OWN NET!" The Sharks will undergo a major overhaul over the next two years, as the forward group is more or less unsigned after 2013-14 (Martin Havlat has term but I'm guessing there's a good chance he'll get bought out). That means it might be easier to get core players to waive no-movement clauses for just one season, all in an effort to get as many rebuilding assets as quickly as possible with a remaining core of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Brent Burns. The April trade deadline will mark the start of the firesale, with clearance signs at the storefront all the way through the draft and beyond.
Choose Your Own Adventure: You've gained the ability to possess Doug Wilson from now until the trade deadline. What do you do?