After their 5-2 loss to Winnipeg Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks fell six points behind the Jets for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. And with just 12 regular-season games left to play, San Jose could make a last desperate run into the second wild card position, but could just as easily fall to 12th overall in the West. After their infamous playoff collapse last season, the Sharks are now looking like a group that could be on the downside of a fairly productive period.
But don't cry for the Sharks just yet. Considering some of the young talent on the roster and the pieces GM Wilson potentially acquires in any major trades this summer, San Jose's downturn could reverse course in very short order and they could be back in playoff contention as soon as the 2015-16 campaign.
Wilson has taken some heat over the way he's handled removing the captaincy from veteran star Joe Thornton, but under Wilson's guidance since he took the job in May of 2003, the Sharks haven't missed the playoffs. Instead, they've made 10 consecutive post-season appearances before this year and won (a) at least one round in seven of them; and (b) at least two rounds on three of those occasions. Yes, they've lost in all three conference finals and always seemed to find a way to not realize their potential and win a Stanley Cup, but the reality is Wilson has been able to continue getting above-average results, and that isn't by accident; his management team has identified and developed young players consistently and there's nothing to suggest it can't continue doing that. Wilson has called this current season a "transitional" one on numerous occasions, and the only question is how smoothly the transition was going to go.
It sure hasn't gone perfectly, but with players on the roster including 25-year-old star center Logan Couture and 27-year-old defense corps mainstay Marc-Edouard Vlasic respectfully anchoring the forward and defense units in San Jose, they're in very capable hands for the next few years. Then there are older veterans either in their early thirties (leading pointgetter Joe Pavelski and defenseman Brent Burns), as well as players closer to the end of their playing days than the beginning (including Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom are 35) who – if they agree to be traded – would bring back high draft picks and/or younger NHL players with room to grow. And goalie Antti Niemi isn't the long-term solution in net for San Jose, and his status as an unrestricted free agent at season's end means the Sharks will have an opportunity to make a deal for an upgrade.
The removal of a few familiar faces in the dressing room and a fairly high first-round draft pick may be all the tweaking this Sharks team needs to return to prominence. In one sense, you can see the core group of players in San Jose regressing, but there's enough talent in the system to make Wilson's job of building another decade-long playoff streak easier than the same task is for many of his NHL counterparts.