San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, much like his Philadelphia counterpart Paul Holmgren, played with fire last offseason. Wilson jettisoned Dany Heatley to Minnesota shortly after free agency opened, bringing back Martin Havlat in a swap of snipers. But, as is often the case with Havlat, the injury bug bit him, limiting the former point-per-game player to just 39 games this season.
He also traded Devin Setoguchi, once the crown jewel of the San Jose Sharks' development system, along with blue chip prospect and The Hockey News' 14th-ranked prospect Charlie Coyle in a package that landed the team Brent Burns, a defenceman who was supposed to form a dynamic tandem of offensive blue-liners with incumbent Dan Boyle.
Burns regressed in his first season playing in California, failing to build on his career-high 17 goals set the previous season in Minnesota, although he did play a major factor in the team's second-ranked power-play unit.
Regression seems like the fitting way to describe the San Jose Sharks under head coach Todd McLellan. Hired during the franchise's window of opportunity to bring the first Stanley Cup to the West Coast following the 2007-08 season, the team has still underachieved under McLellan.
The Sharks scored 20 fewer goals this season compared to 2010-11 (248 to 228), while allowing just three fewer goals in the same time span (213 to 210). They have yet to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Perhaps the most damning stat is that in each of his four years at the helm, the team has lost points in the overall standings by an average of seven points per season.
Win totals have gone down as well, from 53 during his rookie year behind the bench to seasons of 51, 48 and now 43 victories. This season, for the first time since 2006-07, the Sharks didn't win their division and during March found themselves fighting for the right just to participate in the playoffs.
To say that the past three seasons have been disappointments in San Jose is an understatement. The team's window of opportunity may have shut entirely. Evgeni Nabokov left following the 2009-10 season. Joe Thornton is 32 years old, while Dan Boyle is 35. The organization has a prospect base that doesn't consist of players projected for prominent roles in the NHL.
This offseason leaves GM Doug Wilson few options to revamp his roster for another run next year. Aside from trade acquisitions Daniel Winnik and Dominic Moore, the only unrestricted free agents are Torrey Mitchell and Brad Winchester, who produced 29 points in 143 games combined this season.
On defence, the picture doesn't get any prettier. Jim Vandermeer and Colin White are the only players who will be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss will, barring creativity on Wilson's part, both be back next year. The core of the team will return, one year more experienced and one year more weary of ghosts of playoffs past.
Might San Jose have moved past its phase as perennial Stanley Cup contenders to a new phase? Perhaps, even likely. With stronger teams emerging in the competitive Pacific Division, it will be an uphill climb for the Sharks to regain their title of division champions.
Next season, it is very plausible that the San Jose Sharks will find themselves fighting for their playoff lives until the very end of the season, with little to no farm system to speak of. The thoughts of a rebuild will creep into the organization, like they always do.
With the team clearly not responding to McLellan or any personnel changes and facing extinction as a perennial contender, cutting ties with the head coach may be the only choice for the San Jose Sharks to move forward as a team, organization and business.
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