Two Roads Diverge For Sharks GM Doug Wilson

Burns Sharks
The San Jose Sharks Brent Burns Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsB

Buy or Sell

As noted here a couple of days ago, the decision by San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson to move Brent Burns back to defense has been a monumental failure. Burns has not been good in his own end and not surprisingly his even strength scoring has decreased significantly. San Jose still features essentially all the same key offensive threats from last season but their even strength scoring has free fallen down the rankings. Despite finishing sixth overall in scoring a year ago, they have dropped all the way down to as low as 24th (currently 21st) this year. With the way the roster stands and is currently being utilized, the Sharks may make the playoffs (currently in a playoff position) but they will be lucky to get past the first round being in the bottom third in the league in even strength scoring. With the state of the Sharks, GM Doug Wilson is clearly at a crossroads and he must choose a path to take. But will he take the road least traveled by? Perhaps two, three years down the line, that will have made all the difference.

The first road Wilson could take is that of being a buyer come the trade deadline. Even though the Sharks have all the same weapons, with Burns on the blue-line the Sharks are a top-six right wing short of making a deep playoff run. Later this week, I’ll take a look at some of the options available if Wilson decides to go the route of being a buyer. Wilson has frequently gone down this path over the years as the Sharks have made the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. The road least traveled by for the Sharks and Wilson would be to sell come the deadline. If Wilson is dead set on keeping Burns at defense and isn’t interested in giving up prospects or draft choices for a scoring winger, then he ought to sell off his free agents.

A Path Must Be Chosen

If Wilson were to stand pat, it would be a wasted opportunity to either push for a Stanley Cup or stock pile for the future. During San Jose’s bizarre offseason, Wilson made comments indicating the Sharks were “rebuilding” and were  a “tomorrow team” but other moves like signing veteran bottom six players and trading Jason Demers for Brenden Dillon indicate otherwise. Those types of moves are much more “today” moves so it has been hard for fans to truly understand what direction this team is going in. And that is what every fan base deserves, a clear direction. Right now the Sharks have a number of pending unrestricted free agents, the biggest name being goaltender Antti Niemi. The 31-year-old goaltender has had an inconsistent Sharks career, particularly in the postseason. If the Sharks aren’t going to be a buyer, then Niemi must be sold at the deadline. A team like Minnesota could really use an established, quality goaltender, which Niemi has been in the regular season for the Sharks. His playoffs have been up and down but Minnesota needs some stability in net. Darcy Kuemper is only sporting a .904 save percentage right now. Niemi is at a respectable .914.

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

Other pending unrestricted free agents like forwards James Sheppard and Tyler Kennedy, and defensemen Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin should also be shopped. Maybe not all of them get moved, but Sheppard has become an effective player for the Sharks and it wouldn’t be shocking for him and Hannan packaged together somewhere for a second round draft choice in return. Between Niemi, Sheppard, and Hannan, the sharks could at the very least get the equivalent of two second round draft choices back. After all, just two years ago the Sharks were able to steal two second rounders for Douglas Murray (now out of the league). While Wilson has made some curious signings over the years and mishandled Burns, he is an elite GM when it comes to making trades. If he is not going to be a buyer, than he should continue stocking up on draft choices like he started doing with moving Murray, Handzus, and Clowe during the lockout shortened season. Wilson is at a crossroads, each road in front him has some pros and cons, but choosing no road and simply turning around and going home would be the worst thing he could do.