Has any team had a more anti-climactic off-season than the San Jose Sharks? We expected fantasy league-type trades. We expected more.
And we expected more because GM Doug Wilson established the bar to judge the Sharks’ off-season by with his suggestion in June that they would undertake a rebuild.
“The rebuild is committed to. The players that fit for now and the future, their growth is going to be the primary thing. … Remember where we’re trying to get to. It’s not about here, it’s about there.”
“I’ve had a lot of calls, a lot of people at the GM meetings (last week in new York), they know where we’re going. We now become a tomorrow team. When you spell that out, it does create a response.”
“You have to do it. It’s not easy, but it’s one of those things. I think it’s made easier by some of the key young players we have in key positions. But, make no mistake about it, it’s going to be challenging. You go into it with your eyes open, and you go into it committed.”
This set off a firestorm of reactions that the Sharks would be busy with trades this summer. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were at the center of these rumors, which never made sense to me since the two had just signed three-year extensions that included no-trade clauses that same season. But the rumors didn’t end with them. Brent Burns and Antti Niemi were also included and it was assured neither Dan Boyle nor Martin Havlat would be back. What we knew was that Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski (who is destined to regress next season, by the way) would be the new leaders of this team.
As Wilson said at the draft: "We've got key young players in key positions. If we didn't have that, then you're talking about a much longer type of rebuild. It's not that you're far off and it's not that it can't be fixed quickly."
OK, so maybe it was supposed to be less a rebuild and more a re-tool, built around a younger core. But we still expected at least one or two big moves.
Because for those players to become the true leaders of this team, it would have to mean the old ones would be gone, right? Well, not exactly. By signing Thornton and Marleau to those extensions during the 2013-14 season, Wilson has already committed to them. It made them almost untradeable, because neither Cup-less player would likely want to go anywhere other than Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh – or any team that is a top contender for the Stanley Cup. And those teams already at the top of the heap probably don’t have or wouldn’t give up the quality of youth San Jose would have been after.
And now, in mid-August, the direction of this team is being “clarified” to sound much less like an overhaul and much more like they’re going to strip Thornton of the captaincy, possibly Marleau of the assistant captaincy and call it a renovation.
NHL.com’s Dan Rosen had a Q&A with Todd McLellan today in which the Sharks coach talked back the rebuild.
"We want to reset the hierarchy and culture in the organization, and that's really where the term rebuild came from. We feel we have a tremendous talent pool. We feel the players that are with our organization are part of the solution and not the problem now. As a staff, we talked about the ability to push and win as much as we can while we get younger, while we adjust the roles a little bit and give some of the younger players more responsibility. The term or the word used like that can be confusing at times. I think a lot of people, especially in the media, immediately went to, 'Well, they're going to trade Thornton and Marleau.' That's not the case. We believe that those two are part of the solution, not part of the problem. That got a lot of play media-wise. That's not what we were about. We think we have a very good hockey club and we think we need to tinker with a few things and continue to push forward."
Silly media folk.
From rebuild, to re-tool, to tinker, it’s fair to say this off-season hasn't gone as originally planned. The Sharks will hopefully get a full season out of Tomas Hertl – though he won’t be scoring on 15.3 percent of his shots – and might see an opportunity for Mirco Mueller, but their main acquisitions were John Scott and Tye McGinn who aren’t exactly fast or skilled players. In his quotes at the top of this article, Wilson said the moves ahead wouldn't be easy. But these - along with letting go of Boyle and Havlat - look like the easiest moves he could have made.
You get the feeling something is still going to change in San Jose before the next season begins, but it’s not going to be anything huge anymore. Rather than trade Thornton and Marleau, who aren’t solely to blame for the team losing four playoff games in a row, it now seems as though the team will name a new captain, or possibly, not have one at all.
But since the veterans will still be in the room just like they were last year, a change like that would be more cosmetic than meaningful.
It's an arrangement that wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s not the worst thing the Sharks could have done this summer either. It’s at least better than the alternative, which could have seen the team make scapegoats out of some of their best players and leave huge, huge holes in a lineup that had the Stanley Cup champions on the ropes.
It wasn't the exciting, fantasy off-season we were expecting out of San Jose. But for the team and its fans, it's better like this.