The saying "past performance does not guarantee future results" probably applies to this offseason in more ways than one.
You have the obvious tie-in with the Sharks playoff performance. After two straight Western Conference Finals appearances the Sharks put together their shortest playoff run in franchise history, ousted from the first round in five games by the St. Louis Blues.
And then you have what the question of what will happen in regards to free agency, trades, and decisions on other management personnel. Today we are going to look at decisions the organization has made in the past three seasons following a playoff exit in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what exactly might happen this offseason, but considering the extremely disappointing regular season the Sharks went through as well as how quickly they went out in the postseason, I really have no idea if this has much relevance.
In other words, I'm not sure how this offseason is going to play out.
Let's try and get a better understanding of what we may see:
2009-2010 Sharks Transactions
What Happened The Year Before: First Round loss to Anaheim (President's Trophy)
In via Trade: Dany Heatley, Niclas Wallin
In via Free Agency/Other: Scott Nichol, Manny Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer, Jay Leach
Out via Trade: Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, Christian Ehrhoff, Brad Lukowich
Out via Free Agency/Other: Mike Grier, Jeremy Roenick, Marcel Goc, Jody Shelley, Tomas Plihal, Claude Lemieux, Travis Moen, Alexei Semenov, Brian Boucher
Following what was probably the Sharks biggest playoff disappointment in franchise history, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson retooled his lower lines with solid two-way forwards Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra, bringing both prowess in the faceoff dot and penalty killing abilities into the fold. The Sharks added extra depth with Jed Ortmeyer and Jay Leach via free agency and waivers respectively, and relied largely on young players like Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi, and a recently rehabbed Torrey Mitchell to help fill the holes left by the vast sum of departed forwards.
Dany Heatley was that offseason's only major acquisition, acquired in early September in a blockbuster trade with the Ottawa Senators for mercurial left winger Milan Michalek and a declining Jonathan Cheechoo. While not directly involved in the deal, Christian Ehrhoff's departure from San Jose was likely made to clear cap space for Heatley. At the deadline, the Sharks acquired Niclas Wallin.
The Sharks would go on to the Western Conference Finals where they were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.
What We Learned: The Sharks aren't afraid to make a blockbuster move (evidenced by the acquisition of Dany Heatley), but aren't exactly interested in fulfilling the media's fascination with "blowing it up" either. The vast majority of the acquisitions and replacements that offseason were of the third/fourth line variety, with the majority of the shake up coming in the bottom six.
2010-2011 Sharks Transactions
What Happened The Year Before: Western Conference Finals loss to Chicago (2nd in West)
In via Trade: Ben Eager, Ian White
In via Free Agency/Other: Jamal Mayers, Kyle Wellwood, Antero Niittymaki, Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson**
Out via Trade: Jay Leach
Out via Free Agency/Other: Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov
When a team hits their first Western Conference Finals in five years you usually don't see much action, and that belief held true in the 2010 offseason.
Evgeni Nabokov's decade long tenure between the Sharks pipes was brought to an end when he was let go during free agency; Antero Niittymaki (on July 1st) and Antti Niemi (on September 2nd when contract talks with Chicago proved fruitless) were brought in to replace him.
RFA Niklas Hjalmarsson was tendered an offer sheet which he signed, but the Blackhawks matched the offer less than a week later when they decided to keep the left-handed defenseman under contract, thereby sealing Niemi's UFA fate.
The loss of Rob Blake made acquiring a puck moving right handed defenseman essential, and the Sharks answered the bell when they acquired Ian White leading up to the deadline. Both Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood were brought in to add to the Sharks depth after a brutal run in January.
The Sharks would go on to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Vancouver Canucks in five games.
What We Learned: If it's not broke don't fix it. With the Sharks core players intact, and the rise of Logan Couture allowing San Jose to avoid getting involved in a mad dash at the deadline for a top-six forward, San Jose essentially ran with their roster from previous seasons besides Nabokov and added pieces as the season went along. This was the least aggressive moves the Sharks made in the last three years, likely due to two back to back excellent regular seasons and a WCF appearance the year prior.
2011-2012 Sharks Transactions
What Happened The Year Before: Western Conference Finals loss to Vancouver (2nd in West)
In via Trade: Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, TJ Galiardi
In via Free Agency/Other: Michal Handzus, Brad Winchester, Colin White, Jim Vandermeer
Out via Trade: Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Jamie McGinn
Out via Free Agency/Other: Scott Nichol, Kent Huskins, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager, Kyle Wellwood, Niclas Wallin, Ian White
A big summer for the Sharks saw them trade Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley in separate deals to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Brent Burns and Martin Havlat, serving as the first major shakeup to the roster's top-six since the trade of Milan Michalek to Ottawa in 2009. Third line spark plug (and FTF favorite) Jamie McGinn was traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline, with Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi coming in to replace him.
On the blueline the trend from recent years manifested itself. They lost another right handed defenseman in the offseason, with Ian White joining Rob Blake from the year prior, but added depth in the offseason with the acquisition of Colin White and Jim Vandermeer. The addition of Burns in the offseason, as well as the blossoming of Justin Braun, made an outside acquisition unnecessary for the first time in years.
The Sharks would make the playoffs as a 7 seed and lose to the St. Louis Blues in five games.
What We Learned: Perhaps growing discontent with their inability to break through to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Sharks went through what was easily their most aggressive offseason of the last three years by moving out high-impact players in return for other high-impact players. Whether it was due to a lack of on-ice chemistry or poor luck during the regular season, the entirety of the 2011-2012 campaign was filled with inconsistent results, their worst playoff performance in franchise history, and their worst regular season record since 2002-2003 (when they missed the playoffs).
After looking at the transactions in the last three years I think the broad questions are this:
- Do the Sharks feel as if this current roster needs another year to play together in order to reach their full potential? In other words, did all the roster turnover this season cause more harm than good?
- Was the regular season performance of this team their true talent level? Or was it influenced by factors out of their control?
- Should the regular season results and subsequent 7 seed be the key takeaway from this playoff run (as I mentioned on Saturday, I think it should) or is this team's core not able to "get over the hump"?
- Assuming contract clauses are out of play, what available options do the Sharks have in the trade market to retool the team? Do they want to pursue those options if they are available?
- If the answer is "Yes", how big of a barrier will they be to complete a deal? What are the internal ramifications of pursuing these scenarios?
- Is a first round loss a blip on the radar as it was three years ago following the loss to Anaheim?
- Or is a first round loss a sign of things to come, just as it has been for many organizations who saw their Cup window pass?
- How many hours will I waste away with Matt on ME3 multiplayer now that the Sharks are out of the playoffs?
In 45 days all of these questions get answered.
It's a long way until mid-June.
But it's never too early to hold on to your butts.
Seriously guys. This might get rocky.