San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has made no secret about what he plans to do with his hockey team: rebuild.
“Everything that we do is based upon building a championship team,” he told the NHL Network in June. “And if it means taking a step backwards to do that, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Comments like that have been a constant in a largely quiet offseason in San Jose. In the course of the seven-minute interview linked above, Wilson twice used the word “rebuild” and emphasized his commitment to “turning this team over to our young guys.”
To some extent, his words have matched his actions. San Jose was largely quiet in free agency; enforcer John Scott and minor league defenceman Taylor Fedun were the team’s big gets. The Sharks also lost Dan Boyle in the offseason; he’ll be replaced internally in the form of Brent Burns, who will shift back to defence after a season spent on the wing.
There is just one problem: The vast majority of the team’s core—a core that propelled the team to 111 points and started the playoffs with home ice in the tough Western Conference—is still resolutely in place. Aside from Boyle, the only really significant departures are No. 4 defenceman Brad Stuart and semi-regular healthy scratch Martin Havlat.
Wilson sees it as part of an ongoing progress.
“We started this rebuild a year ago,” he said. “When I moved out some really quality people in Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus and brought some younger players in.”
For the record, that Sharks team swept Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs and took Los Angeles to seven games before bowing out. Along the way, Wilson was able to add three second-round draft picks, along with one selection each in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. The team the previous year, with all of those quality people, had fallen in just five games in the first round.
As long as San Jose’s core remains in place, it’s going to be a pretty good team. Trimming away at the edges isn’t going to change that; the departures of over-30 players Boyle, Stuart and Havlat aren’t going to dramatically impact the team’s situation any more than the losses of Clowe, Murray and Handzus did.
The question is whether Wilson is going to be able to make significant changes at the core.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will both be 35 by the time the 2014-15 season starts; both finished with at least 70 points, and together they were two of the team’s three leading scorers last season. Moving one or both would represent meaningful change, but it just may not be possible; CapGeek.com notes that both players have full no-move clauses.
That leaves Wilson in an odd situation; instead of running a have-not team struggling to acquire stars, he helms a legitimate contender that may not be able to rid itself of its best players.
And as long as the Sharks have a productive Thornton and Marleau to help lead the attack on a team with a lot of other good pieces, they’re going to contend. Re-signing Mike Brown and adding John Scott at the edges can hurt the team, but much, much more damage will need to be inflicted before San Jose ceases to be relevant in the West.