Is a trade on the horizon for the San Jose Sharks?
Trade talk is always a precarious subject this time of the year-- the amount of volatility in the early season can cause fanbases to panic, setting off proposals that don't make a whole lot of sense from a quid pro quo standpoint. In general we tend to overvalue our own players and undervalue others, approaching armchair negotations with an attitude that always results in the home team emerging as clear winners in every hypothetical situation we set forth.
With the Western Conference standings extremely tight at this juncture, expecting an inter-Conference swap is a fleeting hope at most. Every team outside of the Edmonton Oilers has legitimate playoff hopes this season, and for that reason, I doubt you'll see much movement on a West to West basis for at least another month. Nearly every team has hopes that their roster is good enough to get it done right now, inevitably leading to a situation where the market dries up. No one is clearly defined as a buyer or seller. It's an awful lot of gray. And that's bound to give us all an awful lot of gray hairs along the way as well.
The same can be said for the majority of the Eastern Conference, although I think the wheels are greased a little bit more in that regard. You won't find a GM in the entire League who would want to make an inter-Conference trade over one out of Conference, and that opens up discussions. But even the East is a tougher sell than we'd like to think-- twenty games in means there is once again parity in the 6-12 spots, a situation that makes a near perfect deal just about the only route teams are willing to take.
The name that has been getting the most attention lately from a trade bait standpoint is Devin Setoguchi. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal speculated that the Sharks should move Setoguchi for a puck moving defenseman to bolster scoring from the backend. However, this is where you run into a situation we described in the first paragraph.
Giving up an equal amount for what you get.
The 23 year old Setoguchi has struggled in the offensive department this season, notching a mere two goals and six assists, all with a -8 to boot. It's readily apparent that Setoguchi is a much more dynamic player than these totals indicate-- he's a strong skater, isn't afraid to throw his body around, has fought to the front of the net much more lately, and has a nice wrist shot that he can elevate up high. The raw talent is there, but since scoring in 31 goals in 2008-2009, his scoring numbers have steadily regressed. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan has bounced him around the lineup over the last year and a half, with stints on the third and fourth line becoming more and more common.
If you're an opposing General Manager, that makes moving a top three defenseman for Setoguchi as the centerpiece a very risky gambit. His trade value is extremely low right now, perhaps the lowest it has ever been, and there aren't many teams willing to bank a trade on raw talent alone this early in the season. Which brings us full circle to what is essentially the thesis of this piece-- a lack of clearly defined buyers and sellers in the market.
With about twenty seven NHL teams still having visions of sugarplums and playoff glory running through their heads, the future is now. Trading a significant contributing member of their team for the potential of a great player like Setoguchi just doesn't make sense. You'd be hard pressed to find a proposed deal of this nature (SJ top six forward for a struggling defenseman with potential) get any air time in Sharks message boards around the country, and yet we entertain them in the cozy confines of our own home. It's what makes fandom great, but it's also what creates unrealistic expectations that eventually lead to disappointment.
There also seems to be a misconception about Doug Wilson's ability to land a home run deal whenever he picks up his cell phone. However, three notable trades everyone cites when making this argument (Thornton, Boyle, Heatley) were born of great opportunity. Consider the fact that Thornton on the trade block was unknown to many GM's at the time-- Wilson was able to keep his lips sealed during negotiations and not let news leak, which allowed him to nab the Hart Trophy winner at a great price. It's not every day that a number one pick is dealt during the middle of the season, and it remains one of the bigger trades since the NHL Lockout. Dan Boyle was a product of inept ownership in Tampa Bay, when Owen Koules and Len Barrie came into the team and essentially forced Boyle to waive his no trade clause or be shipped to the minors. Dany Heatley had a highly publicized trade request from Ottawa that tied Bryan Murray's hands during negotiations, and because of Heatley's NTC, he was able to handpick the team that eventually acquired his services.
This isn't to say Doug Wilson isn't a shrewd negotiator-- he remains one of the best GM's in the NHL today, and the Sharks regular season success under his watchful eye is a towering testament to that statement. Derek Zona of Copper & Blue ran a series of management efficiencies earlier this year, and by every single metric, the Sharks came out as one of the best teams in the league. He's consistently made decisions that put his players in a position to succeed. This much is for certain.
However, these home run deals are becoming much harder to come by, and by their very nature should be considered a product of luck just as much as a product of skill. Management teams across the country have become much more privy to the implications of the salary cap system, and are hoarding effective players because of it. Coupled with the fact that Wilson would not have the upper hand in negotiations right now as teams are fully aware that he is looking for an upgrade (most likely on the backend), as well as the fact that there aren't a whole lot of teams with an eye to the future beyond the 2010-2011 NHL season, and you run up against quite a few roadblocks preventing San Jose from acquiring a top three defenseman at a price that won't significantly hurt their forward group.
The Sharks need a top three defenseman in order to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders-- we touched upon it all summer, and the idea behind it is as true today as it ever was. There's no question on where I stand on the subject. And one has to think Wilson will eventually get San Jose the upgrade they need, or at the very least, exhaust all possible avenues trying to do so.
But in order for that to happen, he is going to need time. Time for teams to become sellers, time for the Sharks to improve which will increase his bargaining power, and time for players falling short of expectations to bolster their trade value.
The most important thing for the Sharks right now isn't making a blockbuster trade to snap them out of their twenty game funk. The most important thing for the Sharks right now isn't relying on their General Manager to be pushed into making a trade that has all sorts of risks involved. The most important thing for the Sharks right now isn't vainly trying to unload their depreciating assets on to a team that has the top three defenseman required to get them over the hump.
The most important thing is starting to consistently win hockey games with the roster they have in place. And that starts in the locker room and on the ice, not via a long-distance call to the East Coast.