As we close in on yet another likely uneventful four hours of overwrought Canadian television coverage featuring six adult men speculating about the status of Ryan Whitney's left ankle (that we'll all obviously follow feverishly anyway), it's worth assessing where the San Jose Sharks stand 48 hours prior to the 2013 NHL trade deadline.
Even with the team having a decidedly firmer grip on a playoff spot than they did a week ago when Douglas Murray was shipped to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks, it's unlikely the Sharks see themselves as buyers to any significant degree. On a conference call with the media immediately following the Murray trade, Doug Wilson revealed an aversion to acquiring the type of rental player he's picked up prior to the deadline in seven of his eight seasons as GM:
I don’t see [a trade for a veteran scorer] happening. I think the offense is there. If it’s not – you take a look at our team. I don’t want to single out players, but there are certain players that are not having even average type of years. If they were performing at a different level, I think we’d be at a different place today. Hopefully, that changes quickly. Thinking that we’re going to give up a prospect or even a pick to bring in a guy on a rental basis is very doubtful.
Have the Sharks' four consecutive wins since that statement, three of which came against teams ahead of them in the standings at puck drop, emboldened Wilson's conviction in his team? Or have they convinced him bolstering the club with a deadline addition could be enough to take them to the promised land? Or, as is most likely the case (and commendably so), have the team's recent results had no impact on his trade deadline strategy whatsoever? I can't possibly pretend to know the answer but I can provide a position-by-position breakdown of the Sharks' inventory and needs ahead of Wednesday's 12PM deadline.
Ryane Clowe is obviously the biggest name up front likely to be moved--in fact, it would probably come as a surprise to many if he's still wearing teal when the Sharks host the Wild on Wednesday night. The first question is which team Clowe will celebrate his one-year anniversary of last scoring a National Hockey League goal with (April 5th, mark your calendars), and Boston, Montreal and New York appear to be the frontrunners. The second question is what kind of return the Sharks can expect, with a first-round pick and prospect being Wilson's presumed asking price.
The third and final question is one of where that leaves the Sharks. Clowe has been a useful player in the three games he's played since returning from injury, a span highlighted by his impressive performance on Saturday against the Coyotes. Alongside Joe Pavelski and T.J. Galiardi, Clowe has been an important element of a "third" line that Todd McLellan has trusted to take on second-tier competition while starting in the defensive zone more often than not during this homestand, a role in which they've excelled. Despite his zero goals on the season, trading Clowe will have a negative impact on the Sharks' lineup. Even if James Sheppard is moved up to spell him, icing a fourth line comprised by Andrew Desjardins, Scott Gomez and Adam Burish is a recipe that's proven disastrous throughout this season.
Of course, none of that is reason enough not to trade Clowe. The Sharks need to capitalize on a chance to revitalize their prospect pool and exploiting what's proven to be an awfully favorable market by swapping an underachieving player on an expiring contract for multiple high-value assets is decidedly a win. What might be prudent to explore is coupling a Clowe trade with the acquisition of a Clowe replacement; an undervalued third-line type who can be had on the cheap (Chris Higgins to the Canucks for a 3rd rounder at the 2011 deadline comes to mind here) would be an ideal target. Washington's Eric Fehr and Wojtek Wolski fit the bill, as does Florida's Peter Mueller and Tampa Bay's Benoit Pouliot, although the latter two are slated to become restricted rather than unrestricted free agents this July and therefore might be more costly.
It should be interesting to find out if, despite his aforementioned preference not to spend a pick on a rental, that's the route Wilson opts to take or if he'd rather gamble on the players already in the room (like, say, Tim Kennedy) to cushion the blow of losing Ryane Clowe. That room may have even fewer occupants if the league-wide interest in Michal Handzus referred to by Elliotte Friedman over the weekend turns into a deal. Getting anything for the unused Handzus would be a good move, as well as a nice gesture to a player who could probably draw into the lineup of a different team.
Mike broke down the risk and reward inherent in trading Dan Boyle, who's certainly far less likely to change zipcodes before Wednesday than Clowe but is probably the Sharks' only blueliner with a real chance of getting dealt. Unless the Sharks can secure someone of Carl Hagelin or Sean Couturier's caliber (or, you know, those actual players) for Boyle, it seems silly to deal him at the deadline given his importance to this team.
What the Sharks could pursue is a depth defenseman as injury insurance. Jason Demers being knocked out of Saturday's contest after a Corey Emmerton hit against the Red Wings threw the Sharks' lineup into a bit of disarray with Burns reclaiming his spot on the back end and Adam Burish ending up on the first line for the majority of the night. While the team still played well in a 3-2 shootout victory, it's risky business to head into the playoffs one ill-timed injury on the blueline away from a total reconfiguration of the roster. Given Wilson's justified reticence to deal picks for a veteran rental this spring, it's more likely Matt Tennyson serves as the team's insurance policy on defense than an impending free agent. And given the market for defensemen, the Sharks are probably better off standing pat anyway.
This subheading is mostly just here for the sake of completeness. In the midst of his best season as a Shark, and signed through 2015, Antti Niemi isn't going anywhere. It's possible Thomas Greiss and his expiring deal may have drawn interest from a team with a particularly precarious goaltending situation looking to weigh options for next season, but Greiss' injury status and sparse usage this year likely prevents that from coming to fruition.
For the Sharks, at least on paper, this trade deadline appears to be about Ryane Clowe--who he's traded to, the return they get for him and how, if at all, they go about replacing his contributions--and little else. If a Boyle trade occurs, it will probably be at the draft and it's hard to imagine that any other big names on the team will be shopped prior to Wednesday. The dynamic of the shortened season will likely mean fewer transactions in general and Doug Wilson's stated commitment to not shipping out picks or prospects for rentals certainly diminishes the chance of the Sharks figuring into the deals that do go down. Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton likely aren't going anywhere and neither is the Sharks' 2013 first-rounder unless the organization can acquire a young forward in exchange. San Jose reaches this trade deadline as a team in transition rather than the surefire Cup contender they were in prior years. Their GM has often dismissed the notion of rigidly defined championship windows as mythological and the days leading up to April 3rd should represent the first significant step in the franchise's process of getting younger while still remaining competitive.