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Grading Doug Wilson on the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline

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Did Doug Wilson make the Sharks better at the deadline? What did he give up to do so?

Feb 27, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) celebrates with left wing Evander Kane (9) after scoring a goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. 
What do you mean, we got the wrong EK?
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

In the days approaching the 2018 NHL Deadline, the prevailing school of thought was that the Sharks, having acquired veteran center Eric Fehr, would be content to sit tight and wait for the return of Joe Thornton, which in itself would act like a new acquisition. Then Pierre LeBrun reported that the team was in on the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes and all hell broke loose.

The next 48 hours saw a flurry of trade proposals bandied about (along with the trade of Troy Grosenick and Brandon Bollig for a sixth – yes, none of us knew they were worth that much either), with everyone from Justin Braun to Tomas Hertl tossed around on Twitter in possible packages for Karlsson and Bobby Ryan. And yet at the end of the day, the trade that did transpire was the significantly lower-key acquisition of the other EK—Evander Kane—for a conditional 2019 first-round pick, Daniel O’Regan, and a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick. Interestingly, however, Wilson might have done more to strengthen the team with this one move than any blockbuster could have done. Let’s break the deadline down.


Trade 1:

Eric Fehr for 2020 seventh-round pick

Grade: B-

This one is ranked relatively low, not because of the players that the Sharks gave up (that 2020 draft pick is so far off that it might as well have not been born yet), but because of the ones that Fehr would be blocking. Fehr is, at best, a slightly better defender Barclay Goodrow while providing significantly less offense. He’ll get more ice-time because of his “veteran leadership” and whatnot, but for a fourth line that was already hamstrung on offense, it’s tough to see how this makes things better. Wilson’s moves have often resulted in “addition by subtraction”, but this might be “subtraction-by-addition.”

Trade 2:

Brandon Bollig and Troy Grosenick for 2018 sixth round pick.

Grade: A+

Anytime you get anything for Brandon Bollig and a backup AHL goaltender, it’s a plus. Grosenick will always be remembered for his 45-save debut shutout, but he has struggled terribly this year, posting a .902 SV%. The highs of last season, where he won the AHL’s goaltender of the year award, seem a distant memory. That Wilson was able to recoup anything short of a conditional seventh is incredible; that he got a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft is a small victory worth praising. Everyone will be hoping that Grosenick does well, but it’s difficult to see how either he or Bollig had any sort of future with the team. Wilson’s ability to recoup anything for this should be commended.

Trade 3:

Evander Kane for a 2019 conditional first, Danny O’Regan, and a 2019 conditional fourth.

Grade: A

(Note: We have addressed the off-ice issues concerning this trade on the blog already. This post is grading it purely from an on-ice perspective)

The conditions involved are that if Kane re-signs with San Jose or if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup, the pick is a first-rounder; else, it’s a second. San Jose may also opt to keep the 2019 conditional fourth at the expense of a 2020 third round pick.

And that’s it. For one of the best power forwards in the game.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, Doug Wilson turned a talented AHLer and a couple of mediocre lottery tickets (late firsts/seconds aren’t much more than that) into a player who, when healthy, is one of the top power forwards in the league. A good portion of this has to do with his off-ice issues and his impending UFA status, which certainly lowered the demand and price significantly; however, irrespective of the circumstances, San Jose is undoubtedly considerably better on paper today than they were a week ago.

For starters, Kane is an extremely good goal-scorer and shot-generator. Over the 12 month period ending in December, only Auston Mathews scored more even-strength goals than Evander Kane. The Sharks have added an elite shot generator who can complement Joe Pavelski and a healthy Joe Thornton on the top line. Since 2014, he ranks 35th in shots/60 generated relative to his teammates, 18th in unblocked shots/60, and 26th in xGF/60 among forwards with at least 1400 minutes of ice time (stats via Corsica.hockey).

Kane’s impact goes beyond his production, however. Through acquiring a bonafide top-line winger, San Jose gets to bump several other players down a line and roll three deep scoring lines that can dominate play at will. Given that the difference between teams in the playoffs often comes down to one or two players and a hot goaltending performance, Kane is an addition that significantly boosts their chances of making a deep run.

Almost as importantly, Wilson managed this without mortgaging the team’s future, unlike his previous acquisitions of Travis Moen and Brian Campbell. O’Regan was never going to get the chance he needed to succeed in San Jose, and the jury is out on whether he’s really likely to be anything more than a depth center in the NHL. From the draft angle, if the team should choose to let Kane walk, they would have a year to recoup the second-round pick they gave up in another acquisition. If they elect to re-sign him, they forfeit a first, but Kane is young enough to occupy the LW slot on John Tavares’ line the top line for at least five or six more years. If the Sharks stay competitive, an outcome that having Kane makes significantly more likely, the sacrifice of a late first-rounder for a borderline elite young winger is an easy one to make.

If Kane stays healthy and helps the Sharks make a deep playoff run before re-signing in San Jose, this could go down as one of Doug Wilson’s best hockey trades and one of his best trade deadlines.

OVERALL REVIEW:

IN: Evander Kane, Eric Fehr, 2018 sixth round pick

OUT: Brandon Bollig, Troy Grosenick, 2019 first round pick (conditional), 2019 fourth round pick (conditional), Danny O’Regan, 2020 seventh round pick

STUCK IN OTTAWA: Erik Karlsson (sigh)

Overall Grade: A

Doug Wilson may have divided opinion over his strategy in the year since the run to the Finals, but there’s little more he could have done to strengthen the team for this run. Wilson added a top forward to the squad and made it significantly better for potentially both the short and long term at minimal cost. There’s little else you can ask for a GM to do at the deadline, and Wilson’s given this squad the best chance to compete in the playoffs.