San Jose Sharks: Is GM Doug Wilson Preparing to Make a Splash?
With the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver coming to a close tomorrow, the NHL will soon be back in action. And for all 30 General Managers, that means three of their busiest days of the season are about to begin.
Considering the NHL trade deadline is this upcoming Wednesday, every GM in hockey will have their phone buzzing constantly over the first few days of next week.
Now will the Olympic break increase or decrease the amount of deadline deals? Or will there be no effect at all? Your guess is as good as mine.
However, when it comes to San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, you can be guaranteed he will improve his team at the deadline.
Olympics or no Olympics, Wilson has always been a cautiously aggressive GM who makes decisions that clearly benefit his squad.
Back in 2007, Wilson traded for veteran winger Bill Guerin at the deadline and in 2008, he traded for puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell.
Last year, however, San Jose sprinted out of the gate with arguably the most complete squad in team history.
Therefore, Wilson elected to make a smaller deadline move by acquiring gritty winger Travis Moen and defensive defenseman Kent Huskins from the Anaheim Ducks.
But after losing Christian Ehrhoff in a offseason salary dump of a trade and the decline in Rob Blake's abilities this season, it is nearly a guarantee that Wilson will make a much bigger acquisition this time around.
Outside of Dan Boyle's 45 points, the next two highest totals for a Sharks defenseman belong to Blake (19) and Demers (20).
The actual point totals may not seem too shabby for the second- and third-highest scorers on the blue line, but looking further, there are numerous problems.
First of which is that Blake proved even just last season that he was capable for much more than just 19 points in 51 games.
Furthermore, Blake has been taking egregious penalties in his own zone all season and is showing he can no longer keep up with the younger forwards in today's game.
As for rookie defenseman Jason Demers, the offensive potential is extremely similar to what Boyle brings to the table, but his defensive abilities make him look like Jonathan Cheechoo trying to play defense.
Needless to say, if your second and third offensive threats on the blue line have these all-around deficiencies in their game, their roles should be diminished.
With the addition of veteran defensive defenseman Niclas Wallin just before the Olympics, Wilson has made his first step in limiting those roles.
Wallin added to the mix almost assures Sharks fans that Demers won't see any time in the playoffs unless multiple injuries hit San Jose's defensive corps.
But when neither Kent Huskins, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, nor Douglas Murray provide significant offensive skills, another defenseman is still needed if the Sharks want to go deep in the postseason.
Blake and Vlasic as the second defensive pair just isn't cutting it this season, and all signs point to Wilson bringing in a puck-moving defenseman to fit onto that second pairing.
Now what are those signs, you may ask? Well, it starts with the fact that Wilson has been saving room under the salary cap all season long.
This season, Wilson has utilized a certain salary cap loophole more than any other GM in the league. When players with two-way contracts are sent down to a team's minor league affiliate, their contract does not factor into the NHL salary cap.
Therefore, on days when the Sharks have no games, Wilson has "re-assigned" certain players down to their AHL affiliate in Worcester and called them back up before San Jose has even played another game.
A couple players in particular who have experienced more than their fair share of travel are Demers and Jamie McGinn.
In total, the Sharks have 11 different players who have appeared in games at both the AHL and NHL levels this season.
By utilizing their strong minor league system, the Sharks have been able to save money under the cap but still been able to float along the top of the league standings.
Now with the trade deadline approaching, the Sharks should have the financial flexibility to take on a contract of a puck-moving defenseman without having to part ways with one of their more expensive contracts.
Having managed the cap in this fashion all season long, Wilson clearly knew before the current campaign even started that he would probably need to add an offensive defenseman before the playoffs.
And when he makes this move, it will be yet again another brilliant pickup by the Ottawa native.
Fans around the league can say what they want about how his team hasn't once lived up to expectations in recent seasons but every move Wilson has made has added a needed element to his squad.
A former defenseman himself, Wilson has known for quite some time what is needed to create a dominant squad. During his 15-year career, Wilson tallied an amazing 827 points in 1,024 career NHL games, including three seasons in which he racked up over 70 points.
If anybody knows how valuable blue-line scoring is to a team, it would be Wilson, who won a Norris Trophy and went to eight NHL All Star Games in his career.
Now while his moves to acquire Guerin and Campbell didn't work out short term or long term, there is no denying how critical their assets were to the Sharks at the time of those trades.
In fact, Guerin suffered an unlucky injury in the postseason back in '07 that limited his ability to contribute.
However, when he was healthy, the Sharks had a winning mark in the playoffs. Of all the games Guerin played in from start to finish in the '07 playoffs, the Sharks were 6-2.
San Jose dropped the remaining three games they played where Guerin either couldn't finish the game or was out entirely with an injury.
San Jose needed a player of Guerin's talents that season and Wilson shrewdly added him to the squad.
Similarly, the Campbell acquisition showed just how important a puck-moving defenseman was to a Sharks team that hadn't seen such a threat in many years.
Sure-Campbell didn't have the greatest playoffs, but he still chipped seven in points in 13 games with a plus-three rating.
Without him, who knows if the Sharks even get out of the first round in 2008. One thing is for certain, without his play in the Western Semis, the Sharks wouldn't have pushed Dallas to a sixth game.
Campbell forced overtime in Game 5 of that series with a brilliant wrist shot off the rush.
So what if Campbell went for the money in free agency? The Sharks now have Dan Boyle, so those out there who still complain about the Campbell trade really need to move on.
The casual fan may look at these two deals under a negative light, but the knowledgeable fan realizes that Wilson was making necessary additions to improve his clubs chances at winning the Stanley Cup.
As for this season, with his wise salary cap management and impressive eye for talent, expect Wilson to make another deadline splash by trading for a puck-moving defenseman.
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