(linked to: list of player’s under contract next year and free agents, plus salary…)
Okay, let me say this right up front. Watching the Wings/Ducks game last night where the Wings beat the Ducks — it made me feel somewhat less irritated at the Sharks going down to Detroit. frankly, if the Wings somehow take down the Ducks in this series, we’ll have to stand back and ask how much of the Sharks loss was Detroit forcing the issue.
But now, having said that…
It’s a few days past the disaster of the second round, and it’s time to take a look at what the Sharks need and how to get there. Unlike last year, I don’t think we can look at it as a learning experience and give the kids a year to grow up. While I think we have some kids who can still grow up and take bigger roles — there’s more here than just a season’s experience.
I think there are two weaknesses to the Sharks team:
1) Until they brought in Bill Guerin, nobody (not one player) had a Stanley Cup ring. No Vinnie Damhousse, no Bob Errey, no veteran to help the players understand what it takes to go deep into the playoffs and make a run. And when we went deep into the playoffs and made a run, I think the team hit the pressure from the other team, backed up and played tentative, especially on the blueline. Detroit turned the knob to 11; San Jose could only find 10. That was really the difference in the series.
2) Our blueline isn’t offensive enough, and when we got on the power play, we simply went into the peripheral and passed it around. No pressure on the slot, no shots from the point. People can point to the Sharks regular season power play as being 2nd in the league, but we have to remember that Wilson had to tinker with it a lot, it was always going hot and cold, and we spent a LOT of time with forwards at the points to compensate.
That second issue leads to a more general question: for all the Sharks ability to develop goaltenders (and we need to see whether that continues now that Strelow has passed on), when was the last time the Sharks developed and offensive defenseman? Sandis Ozolinsh? Andrei Zyuzin? And was Sandis developed so much as a team taught to keep an eye on his back as he randomly did things? (Sandis is a classic example of the kind of player that will generate scoring chances on the ice, you just don’t know which goal they’ll be on in any given shift… and you hope you end up with more offensive than defensive). We’ve had a number of defensemen come up with offensive potential, from Brad Stuart to Mark-Andre Fleury, and they all seem to somehow turn into conservative, stay at home, offensively-passive Dmen.
I find this strange given that the Sharks GM is — Doug Wilson — except that as GM, he’s not strapping on skates and coaching and teaching the kids, Maybe he should.
Instead, at the NHL level, our defensemen are under the care of Rob Zettler. And no offense to Rob, but his forte in the NHL wasn’t shots from the point on the power play.
A huge start at fixing this problem is Craig Rivet; he is my #1 off-season priority, and he needs to be re-signed and kept in San Jose. But I also think we need to consider adding, or replacing, coaching at the AHL and NHL level with some coaching talent that can help develop blueliners offensively — especially given we have Matt Carle and Vlasic needing this tutelage. Rivet can be part of that, but maybe it’s time for Doug to strap them on and coach, too. Or bring in someone new instead of Zettler.
Beyond that, I don’t support changes to coaching or management. I frankly think most of the criticism of Ron Wilson is from fans and media looking for a story to talk about; I don’t buy into it, especially after watching game 1 of Ducks/Wings.
On the other hand, I think we need to make some changes to the team chemistry; It’s just not what we need to take the next step.
So here are my thoughts:
(Murray), TBD, TBD
For the right price:
Needs to be traded:
Needs to be signed:
Needs to be bought out:
If you look at the untouchables, this is a team that’s not far from “done” — I show two roster spots (both 2nd line) up front, two defensive spots, two “black aces” and the backup goalie being question marks. One of those D spots is reserved for Craig Rivet.
On top of that, while I’ve placed Marleau in the “right price” category, my preference is to keep him, and I don’t expect him to be traded. But I think at this point you have to at least ask the question and see what the value is. but in reality, he’ll be the center of the second line.
Griess will step in as backup goalie. That leaves — the 6th defenseman, the third player on Marleau’s line as unknowns, and two pressbox guys. One of those will likely be Setoguchi.
Of the free agents — Rivet, Guerin, Hannan, Davison, et all: love Hannan, but he’s too much like McLaren and will demand too much money. Davison and Murray are variations of the same player: stay at home, physical, really slow, but fi they catch you, you know it. We need to rethink our defense more towards offense and speed, and we don’t need both (or perhaps either, but Murray’s under contract). Ditto Mark Smith — love his grit, but I think it’s time to move on.
Rivet is the only free agent I feel we need to sign, assuming we can. Guerin? If he wants to stay, and if someone can convince me that next season will be more effective for him, sure.
But — look at the roster. See the big, hulking, smoking hole that screwed over the Sharks plans? No? Think back a year; what did the Sharks do? Sign Mark Bell. And they thought, and I’ll be the first to note I agreed with them, that this was a wonderful idea and fixed our needs on the 2nd line.
Then Bell got the DUI, which is still ongoing, came into camp with a bad groin, and the BEST one could say was that towards the end of the season when he finally seemed to get healthy, he improved enough (but — mostly as a third/fourth line banger! not 2nd liner) to turn his season into merely an unmitigated disaster instead of painfully embarassing. I don’t want to hear how he’ll turn it around next year, I don’t want to hear how badly he feels about this. I don’t want to hear how next year will be different. I want to hear that his contract’s been bought out and he won’t be allowed in the locker room in san jose, ever again. The Mark Bell era is so over.
But much of what the Sharks tried to “fix” all season was that hole in the roster where Mark Bell was supposed to be; let’s not blow off the fact that both Wilson’s fought this disaster all season, and never quite sealed it; even bringing in Guerin (and I think Guerin deserves more credit than he’s gotten here, for helping guys like Bernier and Rissmuller take their game to a more consistent and physical level, if not for his scoresheet performance) didn’t quite do it.
So we need to go out into the market and look for a 2nd liner, preferably impact, VERY preferably with a cup ring or three. Proven leadership. Scoring. I’m thinking Briere or Drury or Ryan Smith. It’s why I’m willing to consider trading Marleau and/or Rissmuller if we can bring back the right player as part of a package. Hint: Jeff Friesen is NOT what I consider the right player, not any more. So don’t go there, folks.
It’s also time to trade Toskala; one year left on the contract, Nabokov (love him or hate him, or it seems, simply not quite trust him) is the #1, and deserves to be. I can’t see going into another season with the rotation in goal, and I think we need to free up that asset and turn it into other things. We have holes we need to fill, and Toskala’s got a good value to trade with.
Overall — not much broken. But we’re far from “stay the course”. We still need to solve the “mark bell” problem, we need to sign Rivet, and we have one other defenseman position to deal with — and I think we need to seriously consider bringing in one or more folks who’ve “been there” and can wear their Stanley Cup rings into the locker room every day
And that’s probably enough for Doug Wilson to think about this offseason…