The San Jose Sharks have been perennial contenders. For years, they were Stanley Cup favorites at the beginning of the season picked by experts - or so they call themselves. But as any Sharks fan should know, the only dependable part about the Sharks is an impressive roster on paper and tremendous let down come time for the playoffs. Many might want to jump up and say: "Hey! They made it to the Western Conference Finals two years in a row!" While true, the Sharks managed to win only one game in two appearances. And as the saying goes: "Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades." Ladies and gentleman..hockey is neither of those activities.
As I studied Sport Management and Business Management during college (although attending law school now), I grasped an understanding for the economics of sport. What I am most in fear of is that the Sharks are in danger of alienating their fan base (fair-weather and casual fans) who are equally important as the die-hard fans likely to be reading this. The recent success of the Giants and 49ers (even the Warriors are looking like a basketball team again) and the imminent move of the Athletics to the South Bay pose threats to the Sharks. People have a set amount of disposable income to spend on revenue generating items for the franchise (such as tickets, memorabilia, etc). Fans are already upset about the lockout; a struggling team does not help the economic woes of a hockey team. The taste of winning is in the mouths of Bay Area sports fans. The Sharks need to do something to contribute.
Do not get me wrong. The Sharks fan-base is about as loyal as you can ask for out of a non-traditional hockey market, but a championship is in order if only for the reason of shutting up our southern, in-state rivals. The current roster will not win a cup this year. I am not down on the team but am simply being realistic. With that in mind, the Sharks have two options to put themselves in Stanley Cup contention: 1) Sell the future for immediate success, or 2) Sell the present for future success. Something needs to be sold; it is time to decide what.
School #1: Sell the Future for Immediate Success
The future spoken about here is in the means of prospects and draft picks. While the Sharks are not as deep here, it could cause the franchise to hurt for a few seasons as a result (not a terrible thing though if you retain those draft picks and resupply the farm system). But the gamble could pay off in the form of a Stanley Cup. If the Sharks choose this route, I suggest doing the following:
1) Acquire Jarome Iginla:
According to recent reports, Jay Feaster is asking for a first round pick, a prospect, and a roster player. In all honesty, I do not see him getting this much for Iginla. The team sacrificing this much would have to be doing so with the intention of being able to resign him. It is risky to do so. While Feaster announced that he is not actively trying to resign the aging forward, this was mainly done to announce that he was willing to move him without creating public outcry in Calgary. I think a first round pick and a roster player/prospect (not both) is realistic.
The downfall of trading away a first round pick is that you lose out on future talent, but you don't get better without giving something up. Each team in a trade wants to improve themselves somehow - meaning present gain for future gain.
I would love to see a line of Marleau/Thornton/Iginla. They have played together internationally for Team Canada, and I see them meshing very well into a high-scoring line that plays two-way hockey.
The proposed trade: 1st Round Pick & Ryane Clowe for Iginla
Before Clowe fans ask for my head, lets be real here. He has not been what he used to be this season (nor last). We have not signed him to a new deal and he becomes a free-agent this summer. He is a lower risk roster player to move because it is a UFA for a UFA. Also, Clowe's $3.625M cap hit could be moved to offset the $7M hit of Iginla. The Sharks best years in recent time were with Heatley, a goal scoring winger, on the roster. We lose a bit of grit, but other players can fill that void - even Iginla. While Iginla does not drop the gloves, he is a gritty guy that will bring much more to the team. I would feel good about this trade going through.
2) Acquire Nik Antropov:
The Sharks are rumored to be in the market for Antropov as well (although rumors of the Sharks being involved almost never turn out). He is a 6'6 beast who could be shifted to wing upon being added to the roster. The rumor is that he could go for a second round pick. While Winnipeg is currently in a playoff spot, the nightmare of their travel schedule will pay its toll before the end of the season. They are excited to alleviate this with the realignment plan for next season and should look forward to next year rather than a first round exit this year. I am relatively certain that they would be willing to move Antropov.
The proposed trade: 2nd Round Pick & Conditional 5th round (if the Sharks win the Cup) for Antropov
Antropov would help fill some grit lost by trading Clowe by adding him to the lower lines. By adding an additional Top-6 forward, the Sharks would be able to roll great line combinations and re-formulate some past success from the 2010-11 season.They were so successful that year because of their ability to roll three consistent lines by having extra Top-6 talent.
I would see line combinations as follows:
Line 1) Marleau/Thornton/Iginla
Line 2) Pavelski/Couture/Gomez
Line 3) Burns/Antropov/Havlat
Line 4) Wingels/Handzus/Burish
My reasoning is this: Thornton loves a new, high-caliber winger. His passing ability makes the lives of them easy. I really do not see Line 1 having issues if it were possible to achieve this. Line 2, while relatively week with Gomez, is a formidable line. Gomez has shown good chemistry with Couture this season and is best when paired with higher talent players rather than burried in Lines 3 or 4. Line 3 would be a physical, big bodied line that would have a great cycle game. Burns and Antropov would be hard to knock off the puck and could also stand in front of the net and allow the creativity of Havlat, combined with shots from the point, to generate rebounds that Antropov and Burns can tap in. Line 4 would be a faceoff/energy line that has grit. I want Handzus in the line-up for faceoffs. Burish is a competitor and same goes to Wingels.
It is my belief that the Sharks would be in position to make a run for the Cup if they made these acquisitions.
School #2: Sell the Present for Future Success
Looking ahead, the Sharks have pressing issues to address concerning their future. Thronton, Boyle, and Marleau are all getting old and are not the same players they were three years ago. If the Sharks wish to keep them, it will have to be for reduced contract values due to their diminishing roles. The question lies: Are they willing to accept this and sign for less? If they do, I am happy to keep them on the team and drop them down the depth chart. If not, then it is time to part ways - perhaps sooner rather than later.
Next season, the Sharks will be in a new division that features fierce competition from Vancouver, LA, Anaheim, and Edmonton (yes, I did add them to this list). All of them are power house teams. Edmonton has been rebuilding for years and will be a force next year in all likelihood. With the majority of games being played against these teams, it will be progressively harder for the Sharks to make it to the playoffs and advance through divisional play rounds. If they want to be competitive in the future, the roster needs a rebuild.
The Sharks have seen this day coming for a while. That is why so many of the contracts are set to expire at the end of next season. With tons of cap space to work with, it could be time to start trading. A UFA demands less than a player who is under contract. If the Sharks start trading now, they could acquire some prospect players to fill part of the void while also acquiring draft picks in the upcoming draft. Boyle has a limited no-trade clause, but Thornton and Marleau have no-movement clauses that won't allow them to be traded unless they choose to waive it (not likely considering they like the team and are rooted in the area with families). The Sharks would need to milk a Boyle trade for all it was worth by acquiring a high draft pick and a roster player and prospect.
The road to rebuild might be rough, but it won't be as bad as Edmonton's. The Sharks seem to be solid at both defense and goalie. Niemi is showing us that he is a solidified number one goalie for at least a few more years, and Stalock should be able to develop into a promising number one goalie when his time comes. At defense, the Sharks have Vlasic, Burns, Braun, Demers, Petrecki and Irwin. The blueline looks promising; forward is a different story. We have Pavelski and Couture who can play top line minutes. Wingels is promising, but I do not see him developing past a second line player. Havlat can play some top-line minutes to bridge the gap in some player development, but the Sharks need to rebuild at the forward position. Tomas Hertl, our 2012 first round selection, is a promising young player, but he won't be ready for a while. The Sharks would need to trade and make some free agency acquisitions to bridge the gap as they rebuild.
During this rebuilding process, the Sharks could remain competitive and contend for playoff births, but do not expect them to make it far in the playoffs at first. It takes time for players to develop, but the Sharks should not be finishing in the basement each year.
The Sharks need to sell something. It is a tough decision to make as neither of these options guarantees a Stanley Cup - the ultimate goal here. Management will be accused of doing the wrong thing either way if it does not formulate into a Cup. I do not envy them for the criticism they will receive regardless of the decision they make. People will be upset; GET OVER IT. In the end, the only thing I am certain of is this: Not doing anything is the worst thing the franchise can do. It is time for them to make a decision and not look back. As fans, we will do plenty of that for them.