After being eliminated in the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the St. Louis Blues, the San Jose Sharks and their fans might be wondering if time is on the team’s side when it comes to making a run for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

For the last several years, it has seemed as though the Sharks have come into regular season play with stacked teams that have always been expected to compete in the deep rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Sharks faced a very dangerous St. Louis Blues team in the 2012 playoffs, the aging roster of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, and Martin Havlat might be a cause for concern for Sharks fans as they ponder the direction that their team is headed after another playoff exit.

Joe Pavelski is part of the new Sharks core (BridgetDS/Flickr)

The San Jose Sharks undoubtedly have one of the most talented lineups in the NHL, but one can’t help but think if change will be on the horizon sooner rather than later. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun, and Jason Demers are the fresh faces that the Sharks will be dependent on in the next several years as the team will eventually have to transition to its youth as its veteran foundation gets older.

Even though promising players such as Charlie Coyle were traded to fill certain holes during the 2011 off-season, the San Jose Sharks’ management should consider their future once free agency rolls around for the 2012 offseason.

Is the Pipeline Really That Dry?

In short, the San Jose pipeline is not as dry as some may think it is. Trading away Charlie Coyle to get Brent Burns was a move that deprived the Sharks of some promising talent, but there are still a few key players in the Sharks’ system that could develop into talented NHL players over the course of a couple of years.

Taylor Doherty, Alex Stalock, Nick Petrecki, Matt Nieto, and Tommy Wingels are some of the players whose development will be monitored as the Sharks get older, but the aforementioned players are still a couple of years away from being NHL-ready at the very least. The San Jose Sharks have some good talent in their system in the meantime and trading it away right now could hurt the team in the long run. San Jose might not have one of the most richest prospect pools in the NHL, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the team has some interesting pieces that could possibly play a big role with the team in the next couple of years.

Doug Wilson has been an active GM during his tenure in San Jose and he could very well be a key player once the 2012 NHL Entry Draft comes around. However, if Wilson finds himself a trading partner at the end of June, then the General Manager must try to ensure that the trade does not put any more prospects in jeopardy. Acquiring a veteran talent can help an NHL team get over the hump, but the Sharks’ management must consider their future and keep their prospects in mind if they are going to make a splash at this year’s NHL Draft.

Is Father Time Looming?

Getting older may bring some experience to a good team, but San Jose’s nucleus won’t get any younger by constantly mortgaging the future for older talent. Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle are both in their mid-to-late 30s, but will eventually lose a half step as they get older. While Thornton and Boyle are some of hockey’s greatest competitors, it might be a bit unreasonable to think that the pair will be completely unaffected from all the hockey that they have played in their lengthy careers.

On the other hand, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns are two players that might be entrusted with helping the team transition into a new period if the Sharks decide that Thornton and Boyle are not the best options for the organization after their contracts expire. Marleau, Boyle, and Thornton all have contracts that terminate after the 2013-2014 season and management will have a tough decision to make when deciding who will lead the next group of Sharks to possible glory. With Brent Burns being signed through 2016-2017, the Sharks might opt to resign Marleau rather than taking a bit of a gamble on options such as Thornton and Boyle.

Jason Demers Sharks
Jason Demers is coming into his own on defense (Icon SMI)

By the time the 2014 off-season rolls around, the Sharks might have their hands full with some very reliable defensive options as Jason Demers, Justin Braun, Konrad Abeltshauser, and Taylor Doherty could be ready to make an impact with the big club.

Dan Boyle’s experience and level of play is invaluable to the Sharks, but with the defensive depth that San Jose has, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team take a different route when evaluating defensive talent in 2014. While the Sharks will have some decisions to make regarding the team’s defense in 2014, there will also be some questions to address regarding the team’s situation at center.

As previously mentioned, Joe Thornton will be 35 by the time the 2014 free agency period starts and might not be the same player that he is now after playing 18 seasons of NHL hockey. Logan Couture has already shown that he is capable of centering an NHL line and might just be counted upon to head top-line duties once Thornton is set to become a free agent. With Tommy Wingels waiting in the wings, the Sharks could possibly rely on the center and plug him into second-line duties if he has made enough progress to effectively replace Couture.

Father time might not be looming on the Sharks organization as a whole, but there are certainly a group of players that will need to be re-evaluated over the next few years as they get older.

What Impact Could This Have?

As certain members of the San Jose Sharks’ roster get older, the window of opportunity for a Stanley Cup championship gets that much smaller for this current roster of San Jose players.

Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle are two main components for the San Jose Sharks, but both of the players might be expendable if San Jose comes up empty in the playoffs in the next couple of years. With Thornton and Boyle out of the picture in San Jose, the dynamic of the Sharks could change drastically. Joe Thornton is San Jose’s number one play-making center and Dan Boyle is arguably the team’s most reliable puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback. Not only could the Sharks lose some great veteran talent and experience, the team could also lose two influential leaders that would be hard to replace.

Thornton and Boyle have been essential to the success of the San Jose Sharks over the past several years, but their possible departure could signal a change in direction for the team. If the Sharks believe that Logan Couture is ready to make the jump to the top line, then Joe Thornton might be receiving his last NHL contract from a different team. Playing without Thornton and Boyle would undoubtedly put pressure on other parts of the San Jose lineup.

Predicting the future of any NHL team can be akin to finding a black cat in a coal cellar, but it is hard to ignore the fact that key players on the San Jose roster are getting old and might be approaching the tail-end of their careers.

If the San Jose Sharks are unable to deliver a Stanley Cup Championship in the next couple of years, then the team might be looking at some sizable changes. Prospects such as Freddie Hamilton and Tommy Wingels could provide the Sharks with some depth at center in the next few years and Taylor Doherty, Dylan DeMelo, and Konrad Abeltshauser could take over some defensive duties if they make the necessary strides in their development. On the other hand, Alex Stalock could be the heir apparent to goaltending duties once Antti Niemi’s contract expires.

Joe Thornton Sharks
What is Joe Thornton's future in San Jose? (Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

All in all, the San Jose Sharks could have some impressive talent ready in the next few years that would be eager to help the big club if given a chance. Even though Doug Wilson has had a very impressive track record as San Jose’s General Manager, the expectations have only grown bigger as the Sharks have gathered the necessary pieces for a championship run in the last few seasons.

Doug Wilson could make some changes during this year’s NHL Entry Draft and could be an active player when the free agency period begins. However, if the Sharks go that much longer without a Stanley Cup or a Stanley Cup appearance, then a change in management might not be out of the realm of possibility. While Wilson has built a consistent competitor in San Jose since the early 2000s, there will be more pressure to succeed with certain players getting older. If trading and signing players via free agency does not work soon, then Wilson might just be on the hot seat in San Jose.

The Sharks certainly have a good amount of talent in their system and it is highly unlikely that Doug Wilson will make a move that hurts the team in the long-run, but if Wilson’s moves don’t produce a Stanley Cup, then a commitment to a youth movement can be a possibility.

In short, time is ticking for this current roster of San Jose players and the Western Conference won’t get any easier by any standard. The next few years will be essential in San Jose and could serve as a measuring stick for the success (or lack thereof) of Doug Wilson.

Even though the Sharks have encountered some obstacles in their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup over the last several years, the team still has the talent and time to make a strong push for the championship in the next two seasons. The Sharks won’t receive the Stanley Cup on a silver platter, but the correct pieces have been assembled and the onus will be on the players to deliver hockey’s most precious hardware.

  • Greatest Competitors

    Stopped reading after the bit on the ages of Boyle, Thornton, and Marleau. Thornton in his mid to late thirties? He’ll be 33 for next season. Marleau younger? He’ll be 33 next season.

    • Toli Metter

      It wasn’t an indictment of them because of their ages and I wasn’t focusing on their ages as of this moment. The piece actually focused on what could happen in a couple of years if the contracts of Boyle and Thornton expire without the Sharks having won or made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

      • Sorry, but Thornton and Marleau are the same age. Regardless of what this piece is intended to be about, you made the point that Marleau will be younger talent when Joe Thornton is old. That doesn’t work.

        • Toli Metter

          You are correct and I’ve made the necessary changes. Maybe the Sharks retain the cheaper forward, whoever that may be, but only time will tell. Thanks for the read and comment!

  • NoShowMarleau

    No-Show Marleau can leave any time. The sharks would be better off having someone who tries hard every night. The past few seasons, Marleau only plays after being called out in the national media as a gutless sissy.

  • harold

    Marleau can still play though. Thornton is slow and getting slower. In today’s game, he’s an obstacle to the puckmoving speed game required. They should dump him now while they can still get something for him.