SAN JOSE, Calif. – With his team mired in a lengthy scoring slump that has put its playoff chances in peril, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson made a move to look to the future.
The Sharks sent bruising defenceman Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday for a pair of second-round picks.
While the Penguins are bolstering their roster for a possible Stanley Cup run following the additions of Murray and forward Brenden Morrow from Dallas, the Sharks wanted to add picks in a strong draft year without going into full rebuilding mode.
“This doesn’t take away from our goal of trying to compete and make the playoffs this year,” Wilson said. “We have to play better on a 60-minute basis for longer periods of time to accomplish that. Rebuild often brings connotations of we’re not going to try to compete to win. We have high expectations for our group and we’re not going to diminish those even if we go into the reset or refresh mode.”
The Sharks entered play Monday in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Dallas for the final playoff spot. San Jose is one of two teams in the league along with Detroit to make the post-season every year since the 2004-05 lockout but that streak is in jeopardy this year.
After playing at Pacific Division-leading Anaheim on Monday night, the Sharks will have a seven-game homestand that will go a long way toward determining their fate this year. San Jose has lost 17 of 23 games since getting off to a franchise record 7-0 start to the lockout-shortened season.
“This conversation might be different if we were playing on all cylinders and continued on the way that we played the first seven to 10 games of the year,” Wilson said. “We certainly haven’t shown that ability for quite a while now. It doesn’t mean we can’t come out of it and put a little bit of a press on. But it needs to start tonight.”
Wilson said Pittsburgh aggressively pursued Murray and paid full value for the potential unrestricted free agent just over a week before the trade deadline.
The six-foot-three, 245-pound Murray has three assists in 29 games for the Sharks this season and has gone 138 regular season games without a goal. He has played the second most short-handed time on a penalty kill unit that has been one of the team’s few bright spots.
Wilson said Murray deserved to be dealt to a contender. Pittsburgh has won 12 straight games heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with surprising Montreal but is playing without defenceman Kris Letang, who remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Scoring goals has been the main problem for the Sharks, who are tied for last in the league with just eight wins in regulation or overtime.
San Jose is last in the league in scoring with 2.20 goals per game and is second-to-last in the league with just 42 even-strength goals.
The deal will allow San Jose to dress more offensive-minded Jason Demers and Justin Braun every night, giving the team an additional puck-moving defenceman to help the offence.
“The offence is there. Take a look at our team,” Wilson said. “There’s certainly players who are not having even average for their career type of years. If they were performing at that level, I think we’d be at a different place than we are today. Hopefully, that will change quickly.”
Ryane Clowe, who averaged more than 20 goals a season the last four years, has yet to score this season. Joe Pavelski, who had 31 goals last season, has one goal in his past 18 games. Marty Havlat is on a 15-game goal drought.
Wilson said the blame for the struggles falls on the players not coach Todd McLellan and his staff. He said the Sharks have too often been a “57-minute-a-game team in a 60-minute league.”
“Why that execution or why the mistakes that will prevent you from winning games is very frustrating,” he said. “Do I think that is coaching preparation? No. I think it comes down to players sticking with it or not altering our approach to a game just because we’re down a goal or whatever. We’re not the only team going through that.”