Sharks in Odd Limbo Between “Tomorrow” & “Today”

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
San Jose Sharks rookie winger Barclay Goodrow (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

This past summer the San Jose Sharks were the center of NHL speculation. How will they regroup from such a devastating playoff exit? Will the GM be fired? Will the coach? Will veterans be traded away? Will their playoff streak continue? After it was clear that GM Doug Wilson would remain in place, the leader of hockey operations referred to his club as a “tomorrow team.”

Was Wilson being serious by making such a statement? Or perhaps he was posturing to simply generate more dialogue in the trade market? Offseason moves like buying out Martin Havlat and trading Brad Stuart and Dan Boyle were moves to get younger. However, re-signing Scott Hannan and Mike Brown as well as signing John Scott were the antithesis of getting younger.

Primary Focus on the Present? Or the Future?

Thus far during the regular season, personnel decisions on the ice haven’t made things any clearer. Some indicate a focus on the future while others are win now moves. Clearly the decision to move Brent Burns back to defense and keep him there despite the team’s even strength scoring problem is a move for the future. Similar future moves were playing defenseman Mirco Mueller immediately out of the WHL this season. The 19-year-old rookie defender played the majority of the games early on in the season before becoming a healthy scratch. Playing opportunities to young forwards like Melker Karlsson, Barclay Goodrow, Tye McGinn, and Chris Tierney can also be a sign of being a “tomorrow” team. However Goodrow, McGinn, and Tierney have all at one point or another been healthy scratches in favor of Scott in the lineup. And in recent weeks Hannan has been playing significantly more often than either Mueller or Matt Irwin on the blue-line. If the primary goal isn’t to compete and win the Stanley Cup this season, then there is little reason for Mueller and Irwin to be sitting while Hannan stays in the lineup. Veterans playing over developing players are win now type choices.

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Furthermore, backup goaltender Alex Stalock has been a highly regarded goaltender since being drafted back in 2005. While never lighting up the lower levels in terms of save percentage, the word around the organization was that Stalock is the type of goaltender who makes the big save. Now despite posting a solid NHL career save percentage of .925 in a small sample of 28 starts, Stalock hasn’t been given a chance to prove he can handle No. 1 duties. Even though he has had a better save percentage basically all season than Antti Niemi, Stalock has been given just a third of the amount of starts. This season he has just 10 starts versus Niemi’s 31. Now at the very beginning of the season it appeared the Sharks were going to go with a 50-50 split between the two as they each rotated starts the first six games of the season. Each netminder started three games. However, even before Stalock missed time with a knee injury his ice time was decreased despite no drop in performance to speak of. Niemi is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If there were ever a time to see what the team had in Stalock it would be now. Yes playing Niemi is still important, particularly showcasing him for a potential deadline trade but what was so wrong with continuing the platoon from early October throughout the rest of the year? If the thought process is Niemi gives the team a better chance to win right now, then fine. However, that doesn’t match up with the “tomorrow” team talk and unwillingness to see if Burns back at forward could spark the team again.

Stalock Sharks
San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock  (Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE)

The last six plus months have simply been a chaotic limbo of indecision. This franchise would be far better off committing one way or another. Either make a push to win now while you still have the most beloved player in franchise history and a future hall of famer leading the way, or cut bait with as many veterans as you can, stockpile for the future, and let all the worthy kids play. The Sharks as currently put together (floundering around the bottom of the playoff picture) are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. And if they are not going to make the necessary alterations to improve the current squad then they would be better served to miss the playoffs entirely. The playoff streak is nice and all but at the end of the day, if the future is the primary concern then missing the playoffs and getting a higher draft selection is more important. If the Sharks are a “tomorrow” team, Mueller and McGinn should be in the lineup every night, and Stalock should be getting at minimum a 50-50 split. Otherwise, this team is stuck in the middle with no clear direction and that isn’t helping anybody. There is simply little value to Niemi, Hannan, and Scott playing as much as they currently are.

22 thoughts on “Sharks in Odd Limbo Between “Tomorrow” & “Today””

  1. It’s really pathetic to see such an entitled bandwagon fan expect the Sharks to be elite every single year. perhaps Andrew Bensch forgets the origins of Bay Area Hockey. The Seals were god awful, possibly the worst franchise in NHL history. Then the Sharks set a record for losses in a season with 71. and even under Darryl Sutter making the playoffs itself was a huge accomplishment. It’s very sad to see fans like Bensch crying because the team is no longer elite.

    The Sharks are not in limbo, they are average. Period. They are no longer great, nor do they suck out loud, just an average team welcome to Nashville Predators territory. Get over it. In time things will change but stop moping around like a suicidal drama queen. It’s an embarrassment.

  2. @jrpsf

    You’re like the fourth or fifth person to have claimed to have talked to Doug Wilson in the last year via various outlets and comments boards. Why in the world would he talk to some lowly season ticket holder? He’s got bigger sources of income to think about (i.e. Corporate sponsors, Season ticket holders with 10+ seats, Box holders, etc). Oh and by the way Hasso Plattner is the 3rd richest owner in the NHL (ahead of BOS, CHI, PHI, NYR, ETC) behind only WIN, and LA so dont tell me he has no clout in the league. If it was a rigged league Hasso would have A. Paid to win a cup (any megalomaniac loves winning at all cost) B. would not have taken majority share in the team in the first place C. Moved the team based on the TV deal.

    While I love to indulge in conspiracy theories your supposed contact and subsequent exchange with Doug Wilson has many holes in its story. Since the 04-05 lockout the Stanley Cup winners have included Hurricanes (24th in TV market via Station Index) VS. EDM , Ducks (Average of San Diego\LA market ranked 13th) Vs OTT, Detroit (ranked 11th) Vs Pitt, Pittsburgh (ranked 23rd) Vs Detroit, Chicago (ranked 3rd) vs Philly (#4), Boston (ranked 7th) Vs. Van, LA (ranked 2nd) Vs NJ (#4-6 depending on the source), Chicago Vs. BOS, LA vs NY(#1) have competed for the cup.

    So if your supposed TV market theory held up why has Dallas (Ranked 5th), San Jose (Ranked 6th),Washington DC (ranked 9th), Phoenix (ranked 12th) , NY (#1), Philly (#4) and Toronto (ranked 4th if included in NA rankings) not won a Stanley cup? Also if ratings were so important to the NHL why did the largest Stanley Cup Final (by TV market) ever only last 5 games? If they wanted to milk the ratings why were there not a disproportionate amount of PP’s for NY? Why were no suspensions levied against LA to weaken them? And why has Toronto the most valuable NHL franchise (by Forbes) with the largest TV contract in the history of the NHL not only failed to reach a cup in 40+ years but have missed the playoffs (9 out of 10) years?

    As far as TMac being a mediocre coach, apparently you missed you missed the 09-12 seasons before Larry arrived or did you think Trent Yawney was behind the run of success before Larry? Actually since Larry Robinson’s arrival the Sharks have yet to return to the WCF and have yet to escape the second round. While his coaching\personnel decisions can be questioned at times, TMac is still a premier coach in this league and I would rather have Tmac vs that troll Darryl Sutter any day of the week!

    Finally if you think the league is rigged why bother even watching the sport, comment on this board and come up with this elaborate story?

    • I can absolutely corroborate and validate that Doug Wilson does call season ticketholders. He called a friend of mine who refused to renew his season tickets, Doug called him and talked him off the ledge, called him on a Friday Night talked to him. Doug Wilson and the Sharks organization are nothing but classy and the way they handle things within the community. He also told my friend that Dominic Moore’s wife was terminally ill, before it was public, and that did have an effect on that team a few years ago, not to make excuses but these guys are human. We all saw last season why Wilson got Moore, unfortunately the timing did not work out.

      I think JRPSF does have some credbillity because I’ve exchanged messages with him before on other sites and he clearly was aware of the locker room rift before others were. I think the tv conspiracy is a little off because if anything, the Sharks would have way more leverage if they won a Cup, more advertising dollars…more pull. So keeping the Sharks down goes contrary to getting leverage. And I believe the new COO Tortora helped negotiate tv deals when he worked in the league office so he was put in place. Jamison screwed up bigtime on the tv deal there is no disputing that, Sharks are trying to unwind that 20 year deal.

      I do agree that Wilson knows what he is doing and always has. Things just have not worked out but that does not mean they were not the right decisions.

      This is where I get frustrated with Sharks fan when they talk about the coach. Did mcLellan completely outcoach Sutter in the first 3 games because he had no answers to anything the Sharks did, they were on the verge of getting the worst beating in Stanley Cup Playoff history. The team rallied, the leaders lead and the Kings played all out with nothing to lose, they have had a mental toughness the Sharks could not match. So Sutter was not an idiot in the first 3 games and then a genius in the final 4 games. Sutter did not outcoach McLellan, the Kings players out toughed and outplayed the Sharks, they wanted it worse. Coaches can mix and match all they want, and it might be the right thing to do, but if players do not execute or will themselves to push beyond normal limits they are not winning. Sharks always had built in excuses when they lost, last season they can only look at themselves at being exposed for being soft mentally.

      • Well thats actually really refreshing to hear that Doug reaches out to the common season ticket holder. I’ve always loved DW’s drafting and development methods (also Tim Burke is a Genius lock him up for perpetuity). He seems like a standup guy that has a true vision for the Sharks, Although his moves this last season were a little puzzling. But the hiring of John Tortora to the COO position made me angry, first sniping Remenda, second Ice-Girls (which had to be tamed down after the fan outrage), third Increased pricing to games, and a botched location in regards to the outdoor game (everybody knows AT&T was the place to have held the game).

        And as far as Coaching vs. Player management; I think that TMac should have stuck to one goalie, adjusted the crease protection (the last 4 games to many crash plays) and clogged up the neutral zone more (so many 2 on 1’s that killed us).

        Did I think that the leadership core failed us? Yes and no; I heard that Hasso Plattner personally visited and congratulated Joe\Patty\Pavs after game 3 which I think lulled them into a false sense of security. I also felt like the D-Corp was very shaky after Marc fell to injury. But I also place blame on the players themselves, this very same thing almost happened Vs. DET one year (2011 I think). Where was anyone but Shep and Irwin the final 4 games? The fact of the matter is this team lacks a player that can carry them in the bottom 6 forwards, why was Pavs not centering the 3rd line against Stoll? and then Shep could have played against a 4th line that’s not as strong? I also felt like Couture needed some help up front against a stronger (physically) Kings top 6.

        This was a disaster waiting to happen, Management failed to provide TMac with personnel to shut down Kopitar\Carter\Stoll, TMac in turn failed to move Pavs to a third line center position he could’ve dominated from the get go, Joe\Patty\Couture\Boyle failed to stop the bleeding from a leadership perspective and key injuries from overplaying top players derailed the playoff run.

        Everyone had a part to play in this, everyone.

  3. When people talk about what the owner wants, I keep thinking the owner has an eyeball on that project 40 miles up the road in SF, where the Warriors will find themselves somewhere around 2019. The Shark Tank, while not dated, isn’t getting any younger. Its in its 20’s and its not hard to imagine Hasso going to a venue that can be shared in a more famous market. It’d be even harder to imagine he isn’t going to leverage that venue in talking to the powers that be in SJ.

    All in all, Hasso probably wants what every owner wants, a trophy (in this case, a Cup) that he can brag about to his buddies. But I’d be shocked if he had any major attachment to San Jose. And while I don’t buy that he’s losing $$, none of these owners are OK with losing $$. In short, I don’t trust Hasso further than I can throw him. The weirdness of this season might not be the exception.

  4. I spoke to DW at length on 7/4 after sending a rather strong letter through my season ticket holder rep. He has had his plan since then with the full backing of Plattner. It has taken longer for that plan to come to fruition due to not being able to get the problem with the team culture to waive but that plan still exists. If missing the playoffs or being out of the playoff window is motivation for that player when the trade deadline comes more power to DW.
    If anyone thinks that TMac is anything but a mediocre coach you are kidding yourselves. Robinson was coaching. Robinson was the one working the bench and talking to the players. Imo TMac has his job to burn a year off the contract. Robinson went to Worcester when most of that team is here. Timing is off and the team has faltered without him.
    Trade Niemi, that’s brilliant. It’s clear Stalock is not going to be a starter in the NHL. He has had less starts this season and when he is played it is almost always against bottom feeder teams. How many wins does he have? No where near enough.
    Tenneyson and Irwin are not NHL caliber D. Kennedy has been injured too much to trade. The people you mention won’t get value.

    The Sharks have to get a new TV deal or no matter what moves they make it won’t matter. The NHL can’t afford for the Sharks to go deep. Do your research. The teams that go deep have the best TV contracts in the biggest TV markets. The intent to blow, blown calls. The goalie interference when it was the goalies own player and the goal was waived off. Our player doesn’t hit a head and is suspended, their player hits a head twice, nothing. Those change the way series go and they always go the way the $$$ goes. Not a conspiracy theory. Fact based. Feel free to go back the last 6-8 years. The NHL isn’t even careful about this. They post articles on their website indicating who will come out of a series when a series is tied or with two games left to play. At least their consistent. It is all about their bottom line.

    Understand the Sharks broadcast crew is not privy to anything that goes on in the room. Nothing, nada zip. What you hear on the broadcast is personal opinion or what the team wants pushed.
    Why did DW talk to me? I knew things that the team had gone to great lengths to keep quite. I was very honest with him so he was honest with me. I’ve kept my word to keep certain things confidential. He knows exactly what he is doing, just like he always has.

  5. If you are truly planning to move this team forward some major changes need to occur at fundamental levels.

    First trim the fat off the roster: John Scott, Scott Hannan, Tyler Kennedy, and Antti Niemi need to be moved (preferably for picks and prospects).

    Second, incorporate young players into the top power play unit (Hertl and Nieto comes to mind) 1st unit 48-19-57, 8-88 2nd Unit 12-39-83, 61-52\80 and don’t be discouraged if they need 5 or so games to click. If you incorporate more youth into the PP the players can grow and maintain a high level of play if injuries arrive (i.e. the horrible PP without Jumbo).

    Third, ease Tomas Hertl into the 2C/3C role, as a natural centerman and having the largest frame of centermen outside of Jumbo it’s important for him to start becoming more integral at the center position.

    Fourth, ice a competent 4th line that does not include John Scott and play them longer then 5 mins a night, If you want a fresh Pavs, Logan, Jumbo and Patty; TMac is going to need to rest them down the stretch I don’t want to see Patty going 24 mins of TOI in every game. A 4th line including 15/10-10/15-68/25/89 could be very effective at being a grinding line with a touch of scoring.

    Fifth, figure out what the heck is going on with the D-Corp. If Burns is really going to stay as a D-man keep him paired with Pickles, acquire another offensive D-man who is responsible in his own end (Im thinking Yandle type player) and pair him with Braun. For the last pair I suggest Dillon as the 5th d-man and Muller\Tennyson as the extra man.

    TMac has done a better job at trusting younger forwards with critical TOI, however he needs to trust and maintain a 4th line that is able to fend for itself. I think he also needs to open of the Offense a little and reduce the number of “Dump and Chase” plays which stifle creativity. Finally to a man the Sharks need to play to their size, these last few meetings between the Blues and Kings have shown that the Sharks are variable when heavy teams lean on them. They also don’t possess the puck moving fluid D like Chicago does so they cant skate their way out of problems as easy.

    This team seems like it still lacks an identity, It’s not sure if it’s a skill team, suffocating D-team, North-South West Coast heavy team (See Ducks, Kings and Blues). But the glimpse of the hitting skill team we saw in the first 3 games of the Kings Series last year showed if they play up to their physical size they are dominant. I’m just not sure what’s going to wake this team up besides a healthy Raffi Torres (im not holding my breath foe him either),

    • While I’m in the group that wants them to go for it, if they aren’t going to make big changes to improve the team immediately, than I agree it makes sense to give younger guys a shot on the No. 1 unit even though that current unit is having a terrific year. I still think this team is good enough by making a couple subtle moves that they could be right back where they were last year with three strong lines but if they are unwilling to do that, then young guys should get a bigger role and the veteran guys you mentioned should indeed be shipped out for picks/prospects

  6. I’m sorry, but I think that you are forgetting that this is a business. San Jose is not Toronto. We are West Coast, and while we are great hockey fans, and more supportive and actually less critical than other jurisdictions, San Jose will not get fans in the seats with a complete “rebuild” losing team. There’s just too much else to spend your money on here in our beautiful warm winters, with World Class Cities in the area to spend time paying for games where there’s just a bunch of rookies losing. Of course they will play Marleau and Thornton. Of course they will try to make the playoffs — while doing what they can to rebuild. I’m not Head Office’s biggest fan, but they DO understand their market. You clearly don’t.

    • All these years in the playoffs every season and the Sharks claim to have lost money. Continuing to try and win now but not give the team enough talent to win the cup doesn’t help the bottom line. It is a business, but Hasso Plattner isn’t hurting for money. From what we’ve heard he is a competitive guy who wants to win. Well, this team cannot win this season without being a buyer, and if the idea is to win in the future, than as Wilson said during the offseason, might have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Missing the playoffs entirely probably gives them a better chance two-three years from now. With young established players, they certainly aren’t likely to tank like Chicago and Pittsburgh who built their core on top draft selections, those clubs missed the playoffs for a number of years before being a contender again. If the goal is to be competitive primarily in years to come and not so much on this current season, then they would be wise to acquire as many draft choices as possible. I appreciate the read and comment.

    • You hit the nail on the head. Fans will not support a rebuild not in the traditional sense. Imagine if the Sharks had a Warriors like run with a decade plus of ineptitude. The fact the Sharks cannot sell out all of their games this season even against traditionally big sellers like the Bruins, is in fact an embarrassment. It shows how weak some of the fans are. Fans here really do not appreciate how tough it is to build a Cup winner let alone a Cup contender. The fact the Sharks have been among the best, and have run off 10 plus seasons in a row of playoffs is quite remarkable and impressive. They have remained competitive without the benefit of high picks as reward for being horrible like the Blackhawks and Kings. Really what the Sharks and Red Wings have done is have playoff streaks like they do. Short of calling every fan and selling them on a rebuild with a 2-3 year plan, fans would not tolerate a rebuild. The fact people jumped off the bandwagon after last season is disgraceful. How do you abandon your team unless you really weren’t a fan. Sharks might be losing money from operational standpoint, but a true owner understands that real value is created by winning and winning Cups. If Plattner wants to run this club like Lew Wolff ( cheapest and worst owner in sports), then he will learn this fanbase will not tolerate that. If you own a team, you own it to win, and win at all costs. If you cannot afford it, do not buy the team. Warriors jettisoned Chris Cohan and have flourished ever since, if Wilson is given the ability to use a full salary cap, he will get this done.

  7. I have to agree with you Andrew. I’ve been a DW supporter for years but it’s become clear that he no longer has a plan for this club.
    As stated, this mix of young and old players is not working at all. Some of these young players are not skilled enough and some of the older players are simply too old. I’m not sure if he was constrained financially but he did a lousy job of putting this group together. The result is a mediocre team.
    You nailed to problem. Either put together a contending team or let the youngsters play. Doing both is ludicrous. One can only hope that DW wakes up before the trading deadline and decides which team it is !

    • It would be a travesty if the Sharks don’t make trades at the deadline that are either clearly buying or clearly selling. Either make a move to address the even strength scoring problem, or trade as many UFAs as possible for draft choices.

      Appreciate the read and comment!

    • Appreciate the read and comment Rich, I will say that as much as I criticize Wilson for a number of moves, when it comes to selling off veterans for draft picks, he is really really good at getting top value.

  8. Spot on. The didn’t commit to making the team better for another legitimate playoff run and they didn’t commit to a true rebuild…they chose the worst of all paths, mediocrity, and have only ensured that their period of mediocrity will last much longer than it might have otherwise.

    fire wilson

    • Yup, obviously JT and PM control their own destiny, but if they are going to put winning the 2017 cup ahead of winning the 2015 cup, then they need to move guys like Niemi, Hannan, Sheppard, and Kennedy for as many valuable picks as they can.

  9. This team is (in reality) toast. They’ll be lucky to finish above .500 (and just out of the playoffs). Trade Niemi before the deadline, that should bring in some talent in (especially some scoring talent). Move Burns back to his natural position/F. He’s a mediocre D. Give Marleau (and Thornton?) the rest of the season off and let some of the kids play that “want” to contribute (and score some “dirty” goals). Because Marleau and JT won’t.

    • There are other goalies available and not so many landing spots, not sure how much Niemi can bring in, but at worst he should garner a 2nd round pick, ideally a first rounder, maybe not this years loaded draft but 2016 maybe. Agree with Burns moving up where he is a dominant player instead of just an ok even strength player at best. I think this team can compete now with some tweaks to personnel but they don’t seem to want to go there, so selling off and playing the kids would be much better than current non committal route.

  10. Good article that I agree with, as a fan I want my team all the way in. Either rebuild or go for it, but instead it feels like nobody at Sharks HQ is really sure what to do. And the coach, like any coach is in a win every game at any cost mode as he should be.

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