Entering this season, the San Jose Sharks were coming off a four-year run as one of the dominant teams in the NHL, with four consecutive Pacific Division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 and consecutive conference final appearances in 2010 and 2011.
But after struggling through 2011-12, finishing seventh in the Western Conference with 96 points, the Sharks were bounced in the first round in five games by the St. Louis Blues, leading many observers to opine significant change will be in the offing.
It’s been rumored coach Todd McLellan and his staff will be replaced. GM Doug Wilson declined to comment on that possibility, as he’s yet to meet with team ownership to discuss their off-season plans, but expressed support for McLellan and shouldered the blame for the season’s frustrating outcome.
The disappointing performances from Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski in the Blues series, combined with the fact Marleau and captain Joe Thornton are approaching their mid-30s, raised suggestions one of these players will be moved in the off-season.
Couture and Pavelski, the youngest of the Sharks core, were hampered by injuries in the Blues series and are valuable pieces of the team’s future. Most observers believe Thornton won’t be part of a roster shakeup, but there’s been calls for Wilson to part ways with former captain Marleau, who’s been a Shark since his NHL debut almost 15 years ago.
Though Marleau was the Sharks’ second-highest goal-scorer (30) and third in points (64), he was held scoreless in the first round, once again raising concerns over his consistency in the crunch.
When asked if he would consider waiving his no-movement clause, Marleau said “We’ll cross that bridge if it ever comes up,” which heightened speculation he’d consider that option if Wilson asked him to waive it.
Another possible trade candidate is 35-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle, whom David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News suggested would have value in a blockbuster deal.
Blueliner Brent Burns, acquired last summer from the Minnesota Wild, struggled in his first season with the Sharks, but would be a suitable replacement for Boyle if the latter were moved.
Boyle has a full no-trade clause in his contract until June 30, after which he must submit a list of eight teams he won’t accept being dealt to.
The Sharks were among the teams that expressed interest in Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Rick Nash at the trade deadline and there’s talk Wilson will revisit that interest.
It was rumored Nash wasn’t interested in being dealt to a Western Conference team, but if he were, the asking price would likely be either Couture or Pavelski, whom Wilson would be loath to part with, even for a star like Nash.
Don’t expect changes between the pipes for the Sharks. Starting goalie Antti Niemi’s numbers (34-22-9, 2.42 GAA, .915 SP, six shutouts) were almost identical to last season’s and while he wasn’t spectacular, Niemi provided steady goaltending.
Thomas Greiss (9-7-1, 2.30 GAA, .915 SP) was a reliable backup and is signed for another season at an affordable $587,500.
Wilson will look toward improvement in the faceoff circle, as well as the penalty-kill, where the Sharks were 29th overall this season.
While Wilson will face serious decisions about his core players this summer, he shouldn’t face much difficulty deciding the fates of his pending free agents.
Forwards Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik, Brad Winchester and Torrey Mitchell, as well as defensemen Jim Vandermeer and Colin White are pending UFAs, while forwards T.J. Galiardi and Tommy Wingels, along with defensemen Justin Braun and Andrew Desjardins are restricted free agents.
Of his UFAs, only Winnik played well enough to merit keeping around. Braun, Desjardins and Wingels will get new contracts, but Galiardi wasn’t a positive factor in the playoffs and could be moved.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.