The San Jose Sharks went from a midseason team on the brink of rebuilding to just one game away from a trip to the Western Conference Finals in a span of just under two months.
As many can probably infer, it will be a rather interesting offseason for the Sharks.
At the trade deadline, San Jose rid itself of Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray, two players unable to make the switch to the team’s fast and physical style of play.
It led general manager Doug Wilson to acquire numerous draft picks for the future and veteran defenseman Scott Hannan and gritty forward Raffi Torres. It also allowed younger players to step up and form an entirely different identity on the ice. It led to a dynamic attack on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the playoffs.
So now where does the team go? Does it continue with the idea of rebuilding or add pieces to an already capable and competitive bunch?
Wilson mentioned near the trade deadline that the team would not rebuild. In fact, the team would “refresh”—a strategy that clearly paid off down the stretch.
However, Wilson may not have a choice this time. While he will likely continue to “refresh” the roster and keep the core intact, the core is on the last leg of its contracts.
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture will all be free agents after the 2014 season, making this offseason a vital opportunity to either re-sign those whom the team can build around for the future or ship them elsewhere in hopes of acquiring talented young players or draft picks.
Couture is undoubtedly the starting point after a season in which he showed immense leadership, as well as undoubtedly becoming the best player on the ice on a nightly basis. Re-signing Couture this offseason is likely a large priority for Wilson and company.
The rest remains up in the air, though. Thornton stepped up big during the series against the Kings despite the loss, and he remains an important player on the ice at all times.
That leaves Marleau, Pavelski and Boyle as players the team can afford to part with. Marleau was once again a non-factor in the most pivotal of series, but Pavelski tallied points in eight of the 11 games during the playoffs. Boyle was already considered a trade option leading up to the trade deadline.
Realistically, the core may decide its own fate. Pavelski is the only member of the core group of players without a no-movement clause in his contract according to CapGeek.com.
If Wilson and the Sharks are looking towards the future, it is likely Pavelski is the only expendable option. But the 28-year-old is still in his prime with a real chemistry on the ice with the rest of the roster.
The San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami sees no significant change coming in San Jose, despite the looming free agent contracts.
Because this team achieved as much as it did and played as consistently hard as it did–and because Doug Wilson already made some fairly significant moves during the season–I just don’t see an efficient way to blow it up and hit 're-set.'
Beyond that, anybody you might want to trade has a no-movement clause. I just don’t see how you blow this up… especially when I think the chemistry is at a very high point.
If change is to come this offseason, it will be in the form of smaller and less significant moves. Martin Havlat has likely played his last game in teal, considering the team owes him $11 million over the next two years and he was not even on the ice for San Jose’s impressive bout with the Kings in the second round of the playoffs.
Whatever the Sharks do this offseason, it will be with the intention of improving the youth, speed and physical nature of the team—a new identity San Jose nearly perfected at times down the stretch of the regular season and on into the playoffs.
However, moving star players is presumably not an option, at least not this offseason.
Wilson was not kidding when he chose the word “refresh” instead of “rebuild,” and there will be no change in that strategy considering the success it has brought the team thus far.
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