The San Jose Sharks entered this summer at a crossroads.
Three of the four leaders in minutes for their positions will play the entire 2013-14 season after their 34th birthdays. All are entering the last years of their contracts.
The Sharks have made it clear that Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski (fourth and second among forwards in minutes in 2013, respectively) are part of their future. They signed the youngest first before matching it for the one American Olympian shortly after his 29th birthday.
San Jose made similar commitments to Marc-Edouard Vlasic (second in blue-line minutes) and Brent Burns (a top player in either position) in the previous two summers. Their extensions, which were signed almost exactly one year before their previous deals expired, came in at five years and over $21 million but under market value.
The new core is in place through the 2017 fiscal year. It will be tough for the team to sign any new big contracts because of the cap hits of that core even with the salary cap expected to go up and the Sharks being able to dump the $5 million they pay for Martin Havlat.
That may mean someone from the core will not be retained. Deciding who that will be means taking feedback from a lot of different sources.
Doug Wilson was not only a very good player (mostly in the 1980s) but also a team captain for the Sharks before becoming their general manager. He has his own insights from being around and watching his team closely.
He also clearly trusts his coaching staff, which includes a former Stanley Cup champion as a player, scout and coach. His head coach has won a championship in the minor leagues, a Presidents' Trophy in the NHL and guided the franchise to three of its four best playoff runs.
The problem is that people have their biases. For instance, Wilson is inclined to move prospects and picks for depth veterans at the trade deadline or over the summer. He had to adjust that approach over the past two years because it has not worked.
Even with their biases, the insights of people that know the game are better than making decisions by statistics that tell half the story: A bad plus/minus may come from playing someone in the toughest defensive situations, big hitters may often miss their targets leading to odd-man rushes, points may be scored because of the support of linemates...
But they are objective and have value insofar as they either corroborate or contradict those insights. In the analysis of the numbers Wilson has no doubt already done, he must have come upon some very impressive statistics. Here are those for each of the biggest stars on the team: