Doug Wilson’s “Rebuild” Bound to Backfire

Saying Rebuild But Doesn’t Look Like It

Nikolay Goldobin
Doug Wilson, Nikolay Goldobin, Todd McLellan (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The San Jose Sharks front office (GM Doug Wilson) says they are trying to rebuild. Now the opening sentence of this article is oddly phrased on purpose. Notice it wasn’t written “the Sharks are rebuilding” because that would indicate a clear direction. The Sharks don’t have a clear direction because they are trying to play all sorts of mind games, and are focused on trying to remain half way decent while no longer having a realistic goal of winning the Stanley Cup. They say they are trying to rebuild but Wilson won’t ask either of his two most high profile players to waive their no-movement clauses. Plus he keeps signing veteran players (Mike Brown, John Scott, Scott Hannan) to play useless minutes over younger players who could actually improve with that ice time. When has anybody ever heard of a team rebuilding while simultaneously stocking their fourth line with veteran goons? Yeah, that is some rebuild, Doug.

Stop Lying, Ask NMC Players to Waive

It is certainly problematic that the Sharks’ fourth line did not resemble any kind of rebuild in 2014-15. However, the bigger issue in regards to Sharks management, is exactly what Thornton brought up in March when he told Wilson to stop lying. It is widely agreed upon by numerous media sources that Wilson would prefer to trade at least Thornton and or Marleau after the 2014 collapse against Los Angeles. Yet for some reason, Wilson wants to keep up this nice guy image where he doesn’t want to trade his two most marketable stars. Since he has never admitted to wanting to move them, there is still that plausible deniability. But why go this route? Why put up this false persona?

Assets Depreciate Over Time

Last offseason Wilson correctly noted that most successful teams have had to go through a rebuild. Yet actual rebuilds involve moving the team’s best veteran players. So if Wilson wants to rebuild, why not come out and fully admit that the best rebuild for the Sharks involves trying to trade Thornton and Marleau? Yes fans love these two players, but they aren’t stupid. Trying this rebuild on the fly attempt while keeping both of them won’t wind up in a Stanley Cup in these last two years of their contracts. Not making a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup now and neither trading Thornton and Marleau before their current contracts expire, nor re-signing them after, would be a complete waste of talent. And they might not be nearly as good two years from now. These two assets may have significantly depreciated by that point so new contracts wouldn’t help much.

Veto Power

Patrick Marleau, Milestones, NHL, San Jose Sharks
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Now of course with those no movement clauses, both Marleau and Thornton have final veto power. Both have remained steadfast in their public opinions about not wanting to leave San Jose. Wilson meanwhile says he will never ask players to waive a no movement clause. That unfortunately is a giant mistake on his part. As already mentioned, a true rebuild means getting young assets back for highly skilled veterans. While it is not likely, maybe if Wilson actually asks either or both to waive, who knows? Maybe they accept trades out of town since the fans wouldn’t hate them for leaving if the boss asked them to leave. Even if they decline, Wilson publicly doing everything he can to move them would show the fans that he is serious about a real rebuild and that he is going about it in an intelligent manner. The Sharks aren’t going to be a rebuilt Cup contender five years from now if they aren’t able to get young pieces back for Thornton and Marleau. Of course with those NMCs, the return won’t be as great as it could be without them, but they would still get (at minimum) a first round pick and a top prospect for Thornton and a first and second rounder for Marleau.

With the way things are currently going with this rebuild on the fly attempt, one of two things are likely to happen. Either Wilson lets Thornton and Marleau walk as free agents after the 2016-17 season, or he re-signs them but by that point their skills will have declined too much to be top tier players. And come the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons the young on the fly rebuilding core won’t be good enough to take over for the declining stars. I mean let’s just be realistic here, when has there ever been a successful rebuild while two former captains remain on the roster? Sure, it could happen, but with only the Detroit Red Wings as a singular precedent for an NHL rebuild on the fly, the Sharks are attempting to trek through dangerous waters with their current strategy.

Build For Now or Build for 5 Years From Now

The main point to be had here is the Sharks have two better options than the current one they are taking. They should either go back into win now mode while Thornton and Marleau are still top contributors, and add the pieces necessary around them to put together a Stanley Cup caliber roster, or they should go full on sell mode. Again, with those NMCs it isn’t up to Wilson, and likely Thornton and Marleau would decline. But, would they really want to stay if Wilson traded away Joe Pavelski and/or Brent Burns? The Sharks could get a whole heap of top prospects and first round picks if they moved three of these four, or all four of four of Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and Burns. Even the younger two of this group aren’t that young anymore. Pavelski is going to be 31 in July, and Burns just turned 30.

Doing Both Will End in Failure

Joe Pavelski
(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Sharks aren’t going to go all in to try and win these next two seasons, then the goal ought to be to put together the best possible roster for the 2018-19 season. Four years from now Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be 32, Justin Braun will be 32, Couture will be 30, Tomas Hertl will be 25, Matt Nieto will be 26, Chris Tierney will be 24, Mirco Mueller will be 23, and Nikolay Goldobin will be 22. Those are some quality players all of whom will be in their prime. If you take that group and add to it top picks and prospects from trading away Thornton, Marleau, Burns, and Pavelski, well, the Sharks ought to be really, really good around 2018-2020. They will not be really, really good though if they don’t trade their current top guys within the next 1-2 years. This attempt to rebuild without actually trading away a single high level veteran is bound to blow up in Wilson’s face. With their current strategy they aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup with Thornton and Marleau around, and they are not setting themselves up as best they can for the future. By treading water instead of swimming one direction or another, they are shooting themselves in both the dorsal and pectoral fins.