It is time for the San Jose Sharks to look beyond the 2014-15 NHL season. Their 10 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearances is likely to end thanks to a regulation loss to the Detroit Red Wings—the only team with a longer postseason run (23)—on Thursday, Feb. 26.
The Sharks would have to surge three games over the 20 remaining on the 2014-15 NHL season. They would also have to beat out two of the teams ahead of them (the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets) to get one of the two Western Conference wild cards.
Players and coaches have every reason to believe they can pull that off. San Jose general manager (GM) Doug Wilson does not.
His ascendance to GM marked the beginning of the Stanley Cup run. For the first several years he put his faith in a team that failed no matter if Wilson added a complimentary or impact player to the roster at the NHL trade deadline.
When the team was uninspired in the lockout-condensed 2013 NHL season, he traded away penalty killer Michal Handzus as well as long-time Sharks Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe in the days leading up to the trade deadline. The team responded, compelling Wilson to add Raffi Torres (now out for the season with another knee surgery per CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz Thursday) in the final hour before the trade deadline and they had their best-ever record in that Stanley Cup playoffs (7-4).
Maybe selling would inspire them now. Maybe forcing head coach Todd McLellan to play younger players like Mirco Mueller and Alex Stalock instead of veterans like Scott Hannan and Antti Niemi will help them take the next step to make this team more than it is now.
Maybe it just makes more sense to give up on the long odds of making the postseason to invest in the future. While the playoffs are good for a young player’s development, they will not be getting in games during what is sure to be a brief appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs if they are not playing games during the 2014-15 NHL season.
Moreover, San Jose might not even make the postseason if Wilson added a significant player. His best move might be to make moves with an eye on the future that roll the dice on the rest of the 2014-15 NHL season.
zoomdune.com covered six players Wednesday that are not assured of being with the Sharks beyond their contract expiration this summer. None of them would bring anything more than a complimentary piece at the trade deadline, but there are options that could change the team’s course.
For one, multiple players can be packaged to a team needing depth for a player that is an upgrade over any of them. If San Jose traded multiple expendable assets for a single player young enough to develop after the remainder of the 2014-15 NHL season, there are enough reserves to fill in spots at the bottom of the depth chart.
Even if the combination of Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin is worth more to the trading partner than the player returned, that player and Mirco Mueller are probably better in combination for the Sharks than those two players Wilson would trade. Likewise, he could get a player better than Tyler Kennedy and Andrew Desjardins by trading both, and that player with either Chris Tierney or Tye McGinn could provide an upgrade.
Any improvement through this method will be minimal. The more likely path to improvement would be to trade Niemi for a skater and hope Stalock can step up.
The problem is that Wilson might need a backup goalie because neither the AHL’s Troy Grosenick nor KHL’s Harri Sateri (still San Jose property and on a team that did not qualify for the playoffs) are ready for even a secondary role in the NHL. Unless a team is desperate, it is unlikely a backup and skater of any significance comes back for Niemi unless a contender has an injury at the position.
What Wilson needs to do is pretty much all of the above. Take a chance on Mueller on the blue line, Tierney on the fourth line everyday and Stalock in net. If they work out the Sharks can still make the Stanley Cup playoffs. If not, they get better position in the 2015 NHL draft they value so highly. Either way, players that are very much a part of the future get a jump on their development.
What they have right now is not enough. They came out of the gate like a team that was eager for their first chance to get back out on the ice four days after losing the Stadium Series rivalry game.
Detroit had trouble matching the energy of a rested, practiced and desperate team. San Jose had trouble maintaining that intensity or matching the push back they faced.
The first seven shots and first goal came from the Sharks. About seven minutes into the game, Joe Thornton got the puck from Hannan and fed Irwin at the point for a wrist shot through traffic.
The Red Wings had seven of the first eight shots in the second period. In the first four minutes, penalty killer Marc-Edouard Vlasic blocked two shots from Stephan Weiss but one broke his stick, allowing Riley Sheahan to find an open Teemu Pulkkinen to tie the score.
San Jose used its own power play to regain the lead about three minutes later: Logan Couture’s shot was blocked by Luke Glendening and Joe Pavelski touched the puck in the ensuing battle on its way over for Patrick Marleau to put home.
Niemi is the only pictured star of this game from the Sharks because he kept them alive most of the game, but Detroit finally broke the levee in the final seven minutes. First, Tomas Tatar got the puck from Danny DeKeyser and fed Pavel Datsyuk in the slot to tie the game.
One of the best players of his generation, the “Magic Man” did not even need to face the net to send the backhander through traffic. DeKeyser got the next score started, getting the puck to Gustav Nyquist, with Glendening eventually able to put the Red Wings up for good with 75 seconds remaining.
For the game, Detroit had 23 more attempts and 13 more shots on goal despite losing all the event summary possession statistics: 30-38 faceoffs, 15-13 giveaways and 5-12 takeaways. Despite spending most of the last two periods defending, San Jose managed just six more blocks (23-17) and four more hits (29-25).
If this is the best the Sharks could do with the desperation of the 2014-15 NHL season standing facing them against a team playing with a key blue-line absence and missing captain Henrik Zetterberg, it is time to play the odds. There is no time to get better return on assets that are not part of the future than the trade deadline, and Wilson would be foolish not to take advantage of that.