San Jose Sharks' Complete Guide to 2013 Offseason
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It is not exactly a new phrase in Northern California: The San Jose Sharks were not happy with their finish to the season.
Year after year, this team is among the best in the NHL. Just not good enough.
Not only are they not a Stanley Cup champion, they are not a Western Conference champion. Now even the Pacific Division banners are two years old.
That has to change. Several core players are entering the last years of their contracts and even the downside of their careers. Decisions have to be made about whether to give it one more go (after which they would just be hanging onto a dying dream) or begin the "retooling" as GM Doug Wilson says.
Knowing Wilson and following his pattern, this gives us an opportunity to predict what the Sharks will do. It may even give insight into the things that will succeed or fail.
Salary Cap Status
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The San Jose Sharks cannot afford outrageous contracts, but are not burdened by them either.
They currently have 11 forwards, seven defensemen and one goalie under contract for 2013-14. According to the most reliable source for NHL salary cap information (Cap Geek), they have just over $3.5 million in room.
They will need to either sign or promote at least two more forwards and a goalie in order to have a full roster. Since they will probably carry two more players at given times during the 2013-14 season, that leaves about $700,000 per player.
In other words, if they only add to their current roster, the remaining players will all be making in the vicinity of the NHL minimum. Having a player like Tomas Hertl make the team could take up much of that space and leave them dangerously thin in the event of short-term injuries.
In all likelihood, the Sharks will need to shed some dead weight in order to have three lines that can score.
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Because of the drop in salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), both parties agreed to allow teams up to two buyouts that will not count against the salary cap. But once Martin Havlat had offseason surgery, he was not eligible to be bought out.
As reported by KRON 4 in San Francisco Monday, June 24, general manager Doug Wilson does not anticipate using either amnesty. That means he will have to find another way to drop the only real dead weight on his team.
For a while, the Sharks may be able to get away with putting him on long-term injured reserve to keep him from counting against the cap. But eventually a longer-term solution must be found to keep a player away that has clearly worn out his welcome.
They will not be able to trade him or even waive him. No team is going to pay Havlat $11 million over the next two years (but $5 million/year cap hit) to avoid contact like it is the plague and still be too hurt to help his team when they need him most.
Still, once he clears waivers he can be reassigned to the minors so he does not count against the salary cap. He should also be told not to report, as his presence would only rob ice time from developing players that he may also set a bad example for.
There are no other players the Sharks will not be able to trade and need to move on from.
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Most of the players the San Jose Sharks were going to lose via free agency were dealt away before the NHL trade deadline in April: Douglas Murray, Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe all yielded draft picks for general manager Doug Wilson.
They have already re-signed Jason Demers, Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Raffi Torres. In fact, a look at the unrestricted free agents written for the Examiner predicts only one will leave: Thomas Greiss.
The backup goalie has gotten great coaching in San Jose, but started only about 30 games despite being under contract long enough to become unrestricted. He will want a chance to either compete for a starting spot or at least be behind a shakier goalie he has a chance to replace.
However, the original prediction for the Examiner was that Demers would be the one restricted free agent the Sharks would let walk. Since that did not happen, there is a chance they will not retain Scott Hannan on what is already a deep blue line.
The other restricted free agents will be inexpensive signings that they might as well make. Most of the unrestricted free agents left are minor league or reserve players that could be let go or re-signed for around the minimum with little impact.
However, the team does have a few of them of consequence (see first Examiner link above for details). Expect low-cost deals for Alex Stalock to be the projected backup goalie and Tim Kennedy to be signed to compete for a fourth-line role. Someone else may be willing to offer Scott Gomez more than San Jose will.
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Without moving some of the current pieces the San Jose Sharks have under contract for 2013-14, there will not be much salary cap space for signing outside free agents. At most, they may want to shore up their depth with players making close to the NHL minimum.
That almost leaves out restricted free agents, as any worth getting are going to make seven figures per season. Even if there is room, a player's current team can match San Jose's offer or take draft pick compensation for letting him go.
That means anyone signed will be an unrestricted free-agent veteran. Age will not be much of a deterrent for a role player, making former Sharks like Brian Boucher that fit well in the past good options.
Should San Jose bury or otherwise take Martin Havlat's contract off their books, they will have the room to make another move. They may even count on space based on the availability of long-term injured reserve.
That is why the Sharks have the fifth-best odds of landing Jarome Iginla, according to Bovada (15:2). He already has a rapport with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and would provide the power forward and north-south game general manager Doug Wilson is going for.
However, four teams have better odds because there is a good chance they will be able to offer him more. Wilson has plenty of options that could not only work well for 2013-14, but remain to be part of the retooled team: Nathan Horton, Derek Roy, Daniel Cleary, Dustin Penner, Stephen Weiss, Valtteri Filppula...
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Should the San Jose Sharks decide to move in a new direction in 2013-14, Dan Boyle will be traded. He will be 37 next season and will not be a part of any team's long-term future.
The smallish defenseman is still among the best skaters in the NHL, and no one has scored more points from the blue line since he arrived in San Jose. But he also finished fifth in blocks per game among those who've played in more than one Stanley Cup playoff round, with two straight seasons in the top 50.
This gives him good value. With only a small list of teams he can veto a trade to, the options are open. But if the team is looking to win now, Boyle is the only elite player they have on the back end, and they will want to keep him because no team is going to give them another such player in return.
However, other core players may be on the move this summer.
Captain Joe Thornton has helped mold a dressing room with more chemistry than any other in franchise history. However, his slow-up and set-up offensive style does not fit with the speed the team is now trying to play with. It would be worth trading him for two scoring-line forwards.
Patrick Marleau has the speed the team wants, but the face of the franchise is maddeningly inconsistent. No scoring-line forward has had more stretches without points, with four scoreless games to finish the 2013 Western Conference semifinals and just eight goals in his last 43 regular-season games.
Other players could be traded, but their loss or the return on them is unlikely to have a major impact on the team's fortunes next season.
Prospects on the Rise
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The San Jose Sharks do not have a lot of talent waiting in the wings because general manager Doug Wilson has traded away many picks and prospects to help in Stanley Cup playoff runs. But there are a couple of players expected to challenge for NHL roster spots in 2013-14.
The first and most visible is Tomas Hertl, the 2012 first-round pick. The two-way forward has been developing in his native Czech Republic, and was signed to a three-year entry-level deal this month worth about $4 million if he stays in the NHL.
Other forwards that might be able to make the jump to San Jose include Travis Oleksuk, Sebastien Stalberg, Chris Tierney, Matt Nieto, Freddie Hamilton and Brodie Reid. Taylor Doherty, Sena Acolatse and Konrad Albetshauser could make an appearance on the blue line.
However, it is unlikely that anyone but Hertl will see more than a few games next season. Almost all of them are long shots for even that.
2013-14 Season Outlook
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Wrapping all of this up in a nutshell, the San Jose Sharks should be a competitive team again in 2013-14. Many of the team's assets were detailed for the Examiner right after the season ended in Los Angeles.
In summary, this team was within a goal or two of reaching the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in nine seasons. They were short two key forwards by the time the second round ended, or they might have scored more than 11 goals in the entire series.
The Sharks have developed a new identity of a team that plays shut-down defense in front of a stone-wall goaltender. They have a deep blue line and their top forwards are among the best in the world.
What they lack is depth in net and at forward. They may yet have a chance to shore both up this offseason, as San Jose is always a desirable destination for free agents.
But even if they keep the team together, questions will remain whether this team can get over the hump: Will this team be good enough to really challenge in the Western Conference? Will they finally get that first Stanley Cup that has been so elusive in the franchise's history?
More likely, they will be disappointed at some point in May again.