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The Daily Chum: Are the Sharks a tomorrow team?

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This is the line in the sand for San Jose.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

No question, save perhaps the futures of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, will likely divide Sharks fans more than this one: is the Sharks’ window closed? Yes, San Jose lost to the Edmonton Oilers, led by the future of the NHL in Connor McDavid, in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the caveat of devastating injuries keeps hope alive this core can make another run.

How confident are you? San Jose has some big decisions to face this offseason and it starts right here. If the Sharks can contend for a Stanley Cup next year, Doug Wilson’s decision making is obviously quite a bit different than if they can’t. Even if the Sharks can win a Cup next year with help from Lady Luck, are they better off playing for the future given the relative strength of next year’s draft class?

Here’s how the salary cap situation shapes up for San Jose next year, from capfriendly.com:

Remember the Sharks will lose one player to Las Vegas, but for now let’s ignore that instead of guessing. Here are the Sharks impending free agents broken up by status:

Restricted Free Agents

  • Melker Karlsson
  • Marcus Sorensen
  • Joonas Donskoi
  • Chris Tierney

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Joe Thornton
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Micheal Haley

The Sharks have $54,820,000 committed to contracts next year. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joel Ward and Jannik Hansen are the only contracts coming off the books the following year, so San Jose isn’t exactly oozing in salary cap flexibility down the pipe.

Here’s the way I see it: the Sharks can bring back Thornton and Marleau to two-year deals and promote players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc to permanent players. That involves a little bit of dice rolling on a couple of levels. It both banks on Marleau and Thornton playing at a level high enough to win now and the young guys chipping in enough to win.

If that doesn’t work? The Sharks end up in third place in the division again and an early exit from the playoffs. Heck, if Thornton and Marleau regress even more, they could wind up right in the eighth-ninth seed treadmill — the absolute worst spot to rebuild from. The alternative is a bitter pill, but might be more of a “sure thing” (not that they exist).

San Jose doesn’t bring back Thornton nor Marleau. They wait out the older players like Joel Ward and Paul Martin while banking on players like Tomas Hertl to grow. Then they hope to make a big free agent splash after drafting well. The third option is to trade a high-value player like Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture while at their primes to stock up on picks, but I’d be absolutely floored to see the team go into an actual rebuild.

If I’m the Sharks, something between option two and three makes the most sense. I don’t see San Jose making a run for the Cup with the core as it’s currently constructed and bringing back Thornton and Marleau makes the team better at a time when San Jose needs to lose to get a better draft pick. It won’t be fun, but for now, the Sharks need to think about the future.