The San Jose Sharks made their first trade of the season on Monday by sending veteran defenseman Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for two second-round draft picks, one of which is a conditional selection (via TSN's Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun).
Murray is an upcoming unrestricted free agent, and since the Sharks have struggled over the last couple weeks, this trade is not a surprise.
As one of the best defensive defenseman available on the trade market, there was going to be interest in Murray from playoff contenders like the Penguins that need to add more size and penalty killing to their lineup before the April 3 trade deadline.
The real question that remains in the wake of this trade is: Are we seeing the beginning stages of the Sharks' inevitable rebuild and the conclusion of the Joe Thornton era in San Jose? This team started the year 7-0, but it has gone 6-11-6 since then and currently sits in ninth place in the Western Conference standings.
Murray is a good player, but his absence from the lineup won't have a major impact on the Sharks' chances of making the playoffs. However, this move could be the first in what might turn into a fire sale in San Jose over the next eight days leading up to the trade deadline.
With the team no longer a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup and many of its players having contracts that expire this year or after the 2013-14 season, there's never been a better time to rebuild this team than right now, especially when there is a high level of talent at every position in the 2013 draft class.
One of the worst decisions that a franchise can make is to put a rebuild on hold and watch its aging veterans lose a lot of their trade value.
Wilson needs to be aggressive and make some major changes to his roster that will help the team contend for the playoffs now and into the future. Even though they have a lot of aging veterans on their roster, the Sharks are fortunate to have some really talented players to build around moving forward.
|Logan Couture||23||F||Superstar player who is capable of scoring 70-plus points in a full 82-game season.|
|Joe Pavelski||28||F||Top-six center.|
|Brent Burns||28||D||Versatile player capable of playing a top-four defenseman role or on the wing as a forward.|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic||25||D||Talented defenseman signed long-term to a manageable salary-cap hit.|
|Tomas Hertl||19||F||Sharks' first-round pick in 2012 has a ton of offensive skill and projects to be a top-six NHL forward.|
|Antti Niemi||29||G||The veteran goalie has played well in 2013 and already has a Stanley Cup on his resume from 2010.|
The Sharks have an impressive core, as the chart above shows, but the team has one of the worst prospect pools in the league with very few top-tier prospects at the AHL, CHL and NCAA levels.
The quickest way to restock the cupboard is to trade veterans for draft picks, top prospects and young NHLers. Fortunately for Wilson, he has plenty of veterans to dangle in the trade market.
Since Wilson was able to acquire two second-round picks for a third-pairing defenseman like Murray (which was a fantastic return for a rental), he should begin the Sharks' rebuild immediately and capitalize on the high amount of buyers before the trade deadline.
There are many teams still in the playoff race right now because of the shortened season, which means that the number of sellers on the trade market is not very high since a lot of clubs don't want to waive the white flag and anger their fanbase when reaching the postseason is still a realistic goal.
As one of the few sellers with valuable veterans at forward and on the blue line, the Sharks could receive full value for their upcoming UFAs and other veterans, which is usually tough to do at the deadline because teams are often hesitant to part with valuable assets for rentals and the number of buyers is typically low.
Who might Wilson offer to playoff contenders? Let's take a look at some veterans who teams could have interest in acquiring.
- Dan Boyle: The veteran defenseman is 36 years old and has one year remaining on his contract with a $6.66 million cap hit. He would add scoring, playmaking, power-play skill and leadership to a contender.
- Ryane Clowe: The 30-year-old power forward has an impressive skill set that includes offensive talent, toughness and penalty killing. He is an upcoming UFA.
- Patrick Marleau: The 33-year-old winger is one of the best players in Sharks history, but he's no longer an elite forward. He has one more year on his deal with a $6.9 million cap hit, and could generate interest from contending teams that need a top-six upgrade.
- Joe Thornton: Trading the captain is unlikely, but the return that San Jose might get for their No. 1 center could be substantial. When does Thornton start thinking about going somewhere to win a Stanley Cup before he retires?
If the Sharks continue to fall down the standings and the team's offensive struggles don't go away soon, expect to see Wilson become one of the most active general managers in the league before the trade deadline.
He has a lot of good veterans who would be able to address many of the weaknesses that playoff contenders are dealing with, and his team needs to replenish its talent and depth throughout the organization with young players.
When you combine that with the strength of the 2013 draft class, this is the ideal time for San Jose to rebuild and capitalize on the desperation of GMs who are under pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. If Wilson makes the right deals at this year's deadline, the Sharks' rebuild could be a shorter process than anticipated.
The Murray trade doesn't guarantee that the Sharks will become sellers at the deadline because making the playoffs is still an important goal for 2013, but it has shown that Wilson can get a lot of value for the veterans and upcoming UFAs on his roster if he wants to begin the next chapter of San Jose's history right now.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.