Big changes were expected this offseason for the San Jose Sharks. The continued playoff disappointments could no longer be ignored even after a head coaching change and the best regular season in franchise history.
The players had their chance and failed. Well respected general manager Doug Wilson said he would take his time to decide on personnel changes and not act out of rage after being ousted in the first round by the hated Anaheim Ducks.
But Wilson, the Sharks' first captain in club history, did make it clear that once his fury subsided nothing would be off the table in looking at what needed to be done to try to fix the Sharks' recurring postseason ineptitude.
And let me tell you, the Tank faithful was calling for blood. Hell, I was. But lost in all the dejected flailing of Sharks fans was that there were no really good answers out there.
Was it going to be the oft-questioned captain Patrick Marleau, as many suspected, to be dealt? Not so far.
Would the Sharks make some noise at the NHL Draft by making a play for disgruntled Senators winger Dany Heatley? Never a murmur of such.
So surely, at the opening of the Free Agency on Wednesday the Sharks would be major players right? Think again.
Other than Rob Blake coming back and re-signing defenseman Kent Huskins, who never suited up for the Sharks after being acquired from Anaheim last season, Wilson has made no headlines.
Wilson has said that anywhere between seven and nine roster changes were in store. It's becoming clear who's in and who's out but it also looks a lot like the same team that was didn't show up at times against the Ducks.
I was at Game Four in Anaheim and it was perhaps the Sharks' worst playoff performance I'd ever seen. A shake-up among the players was needed. Obviously, bringing in players who have Stanley Cups on their resumes didn't have the desired effect.
Ryan Clowe has re-signed and Torry Mitchell was given a qualifying offer so he'll be back. Both exhibit gritty games which is an element missing during the playoffs.
Otherwise it's a matter of who won't be back, a list that includes Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Tomas Plihal, and Lukas Kaspar. Jeremy Roenick and Travis Moen are also likely goners.
With Joe Thornton, Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Milan Michalek making up the presumed top six forwards there will be little room for newcomers. Unless someone gets traded. Only Thornton and Dan Boyle were deemed untouchable by Wilson.
The rest of the forwards under contract are Cheechoo, Brad Staubitz, Torrey Mitchell, Jody Shelley, and Jamie McGinn. A sturdy group sure, but enough skill to compete for a Cup? I don't think so. Who knows how much more of Tom Cavanaugh or Ryan Vesce we'll see either.
So who's going to fill these now open spots? And where are they going to come from now that most of the upper-tier free agents have been snapped up?
Thomas Kopecky, Chris Neil or Vern Fiddler are all players I think would have been a good fit in teal but all are now signed.
Another question is where Jonthan Cheechoo fits into coach Todd McLellan's scheme. So far it's been hit and miss with Cheechoo being dinged up and playing on the checking line which limited scoring chances.
Worchester doesn't exactly have a wealth of talent to send up. Former first round pick Logan Couture currently with is a possibility at forward but a long shot. And while Nick Petrecki is the kind of defenseman the Sharks need, big and mean, nobody expects a rookie to get any serious time on an already packed blueline.
Boyle, Blake, Huskins, Brad Lukowich, Marc-Edwourd Vlasic, Christian Ehrhoff, Doug Murray, Derek Joslin and should get nearly all the minutes.
Huskin's contract likely spells the end of Alexei Semenov's tenure with the team and shows a commitment to physical stay at home defending. Not exactly a strong suit last season.
Not having a lot of cap room might have kept them from going after the big names available as well. Making sure the fit is right is important but a player that might make some waves could be a good thing. The balance needs to be upset.
Evgeni Nabokov is the unquestioned No. 1 in net but his back-up situation is currently in flux. Boucher went back to Philly and the Sharks are still in the running for Swedish goalie sensation Jonas Gustavsson, who is also known as "the monster." Thomas Griess was given a qualifying offer and is the defacto back up for now.
Up to now it's been business as usual for the Sharks. Few changes and keep everything close to the vest. It's got to be hard to make changes on a President's trophy winning team for fear of messing it up.
The changes that are eventually made will hopefully provide coach McLellan with more pieces to plug into his style of play. But as it stands, it's going to be a very familiar looking Sharks team that opens training camp.
Everyone knows how talented they are but that's not the difference maker when it matters. Passion, poise and sell-out heart are what gets it done when in pursuit of the most difficult championship in sports.
The Sharks were one of the best defensive teams in the league over the past couple seasons. That, with strong goal-tending and a capable power play has been their bread and butter.
The hallmarks of the playoff meltdowns have manifested themselves in each of these areas. Massive defensive breakdowns, a toothless power-play and a few too many soft goals is a familiar script once the regular season ends.
Will this team have learned from last season playoff debacle or any of the others since the lock-out? Hard to know and recent history isn't in their favor. But it's pretty clear that Wilson is betting on the horses he has instead of blowing it up...for now.
The Sharks, again, will open the season as the team to beat in the Pacific Division and amongst the best in the Western Conference and NHL. But that's nothing new. Will this team know, and have, what it takes when it's win or go home?
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