The San Jose Sharks relied on core players for too much in 2013.
Many fans and analysts are wondering whether the San Jose Sharks will trade away one of their core players this summer. It is the perfect example of over-thinking.
The thought is that, as three core players will be on the wrong side of their 34th birthday by the time the 2013-14 NHL season starts and face free agency after it is over, the Sharks need to get returns on them now.
But the only way that makes sense is if they want to move on entirely.
The three players being considered for a move are Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. These three have been the most important Sharks since the 2009-10 season, but have since been giving way to Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Antti Niemi.
The timing does not make sense. They are obviously not going to move those talented players for older ones, so the younger players they get in return are not going to be as good.
It does not make sense to back off when they were one or two plays away from being Western Conference finalists in 2013.
The reason the Sharks got as far as they did was the core. Niemi was stellar in net while Boyle, Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski and Couture shouldered the load offensively.
Only six players had more than one goal in the playoffs—the only six scoring even a point per two games in the 2013 NHL season. Brent Burns and the five core players accounted for 77 of 116 goals (66.4 percent) and 179 of 310 points (57.7 percent).
The gap was more pronounced in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only the core five each had more than four points in 11 games. They accounted for 19 of the club's 25 total goals (76 percent) and 49 of 71 points (69 percent).
Moving any member of the core indicates giving up on the 2014 Stanley Cup.
If the season does not go in the right direction, all those players will have value at the trade deadline. For now, let's look at each core skater's performance in 2013 and examine the benefits of holding them over trading them.
Logan Couture does not have or need a no-trade clause. The San Jose Sharks just gave him a five-year, $30 million extension that will keep him in the Bay Area until 2019 for a reason.
Couture was tied for first in goals (5) and second in points (11) on the team during the 2013 playoffs. Despite being surrounded with less talent than other core forwards during the regular season, he also led the Sharks in goals (21) and was second in points (37).
But his offensive production does not tell the entire story.
His 51 blocked shots were second among all NHL forwards and his 31 takeaways were third on the team. He was its leader in faceoff percentage among players with over 26 draws.
The only NHL player with a better combination of current ability and age is 26-year-old Evgeni Malkin. Can you imagine how ridiculous trading him for Rick Nash would have been?
The seventh-round pick in the 2003 NHL draft led the University of Wisconsin to a national title in 2006. He has shown he can also lead at the next level.
After a breakthrough performance in the 2010 Western Conference quarterfinals, the Big Pavelski—generously listed at 5'11" and 190 lbs.—earned that nickname for the San Jose Sharks.
He has been a top-three scorer on the team in each of the last two seasons and led the squad with 12 points in the 2013 postseason.
More to the point, Pavelski is one of the very best defensive forwards in the NHL. He led the Sharks in takeaways (38) in 2013, led this list of core players in hits (48) and was second among forwards in blocked shots (44). He is probably among the top 10 faceoff artists in the world too.
Pavelski is also just short of his 29th birthday and makes a reasonable $4 million in 2013-14, according to CapGeek.com. Trading him simply does not make sense without an unexpectedly big offer.
The Sharks will likely give him an extension before next season gets underway.
The first player the San Jose Sharks would seriously consider moving is Patrick Marleau.
The problem is, CapGeek indicates that his contract has a no-movement clause. Players often waive them when they are no longer wanted by a team so long as their destination is a winner, but he might be more reluctant to leave the only team he has ever known.
With Marleau turning 34 in September, only teams looking to win now would add him. However, the long-maligned face of the franchise does carry the baggage of many failed playoff runs, which will drive his value down.
He should not bear as much responsibility as he has for those failures. From the 2002 playoffs on, his only bad performances were in 2007 and 2012.
He possesses the speed and scoring ability the Sharks lack, and is the team's leading hitter among its top-four forwards over the last two seasons. He can also be counted on every day, having missed just 21 games in 15 seasons.
That being said, he is maddeningly inconsistent offensively and does not block shots well, though he is good at defending the pucks with his stick—fifth on the Sharks with 25 takeaways in 2013. His lack of fire could make Doug Wilson believe he could get a better fit, but he would have to get a sufficient return.
Unless the Sharks can get a scoring-line and depth forward to improve for 2013-14 through trading him, it isn't likely to happen.
Joe Thornton is the captain of the San Jose Sharks and those not in the dressing room might not realize how much he is respected by his teammates.
After re-signing with the Sharks, Raffi Torres spoke with CSNBayArea.com's Kevin Kurz about the team's chemistry.
"It’s a great room. It starts with Joe [Thornton], [Pavelski], Patty Marleau, and guys like that that really keep the room upbeat and lively. It’s an easy place to come every day, and put the hard hat on and go to work,"
One might argue that is part of the problem—Thornton is not exactly fiery himself—but this team is generally considered to have the best chemistry in San Jose's history. He is accountable, plays hard at both ends and always has his teammates' backs without making excuses for them.
In 2013, he once again led the team in scoring with 40 points (seven goals) and finished third among Sharks in the playoffs with 10 points (two goals). He led the team in faceoff percentage (58.5) and differential (plus-119) while finishing one takeaway behind Joe Pavelski.
Thornton is asked to handle the puck so much, accounting for his team-leading (tied with Dan Boyle) 42 giveaways.
He is invaluable on a team that relies so heavily on power-play scoring, leading the NHL in assists with the man advantage.
However, he also likes to slow up the play along the boards. The Sharks are transitioning back to a team that attacks with speed and he is an average skater.
According to CapGeek, he has a no-movement clause, but could be enough of a target for a contending team that he would willingly join if it could afford the asking price—probably two younger forwards capable of fighting for a scoring-line role.
Some San Jose Sharks fans were calling for the team to trade Dan Boyle in November of 2011, when an unreported broken foot made him look as though he had slowed down.
He went scoreless for nine straight games.
Once he was healed, he scored 31 points in his last 44 contests. He followed that up with a 20-point, 46-game season in 2013 and scored three goals and five assists in the playoffs.
Boyle is barely slowing down. And he is not just the NHL leading scorer from the blue line since 2008-09. He has finished each of the last two seasons in the top 50 in the league in blocked shots and his skating as well as puck-moving are essential in San Jose's end.
Boyle will bring good value and certainly should not be counted on for the future of the Sharks. But on a blue line devoid of high-end talent, they cannot afford to get rid of one of their few elite players.
Brent Burns does not have his ability to pass or change directions skating. Simply put, Burns cannot replace him.
According to CapGeek, Boyle can only veto a trade to eight teams, leaving Doug Wilson with plenty of options. If he can get a pair of young top-six forwards for Boyle, it would be worth trading him and moving Burns back to the blue line.
However, even throwing in some draft picks to balance the trade makes such a return a stretch.