"I definitely believe in this group."
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan has expressed his desire to keep the roster the way it is and knows that there will be people calling for the Sharks to change the makeup of the roster. If you weren't aware as well, there has been no more of an important off-season for the San Jose Sharks than this one.
As of right now, there are only 12 players on the Sharks roster who are still under contract. The big names that remain with the team are Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle. General Manager Doug Wilson can either retain the team that he has or completely rebuild.
Besides the twelve players under contract, there are twenty-three players whose contracts have expired . Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov lead the long list of potential San Jose free agents come July 1. Players such as Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi can also become free agents, but only if Wilson and the parties of Pavelski and Setoguchi cannot reach a deal before midnight on July 1.
After a second half breakout and a playoff performance like his, it should be obvious that the Sharks will re-sign Pavelski. Setoguchi is also a player that the Sharks would not let go. But what about Nabokov and Marleau? They are a different story.
Marleau will turn 31 before next season starts, and Wilson will either want to sign Marleau to a short-term deal that can benefit San Jose, or sign him to a long deal and have him remain a Shark for his career.
The potential free agent, however, sounds optimistic that a deal can be reached beforehand. "There's lots of time to think about that," Marleau said. "We love San Jose. We'll see how everything works out."
That doesn't mean that teams will not be attracted to the thought of having an 80-point producer on their team.
There really shouldn't be any concern about Marleau. Consider him San Jose's Steve Yzerman in terms of what he means to the franchise. There has been no more important player to this franchise than Marleau. I see a very slim chance that the Sharks start their season next year without him.
(And why would anybody dismantle a line known as "The Burger Line?" That has to be up there with "Pizza Line" and "Finnish Sandwich" as one of the funniest line names.)
The only other player who could compare to him in importance would be Nabokov, who is also an unrestricted free agent.
Nabokov will turn 35 in two months, reaching the age where he can retire and still receive money from his contract.
If the Sharks are going to part ways any key player, it should be Nabokov. He's a proven starter during the regular season, but disappears during the postseason. It's well-known that his window of opportunity has pretty much shut on him. It would require San Jose to rely on a two-goalie system in Thomas Greiss and someone else.
A goaltender that could be getting a big pay raise is Philadelphia net-minder Michael Leighton. A third-string goaltender at the start of the season, Leighton has done plenty to earn his pay raise. When was the last time you heard of a backup to a backup who helps his team pull off one of the most spectacular scenarios in sports and propels his team to the Stanley Cup Finals? I might be wrong, but I do believe he is the first.
If Nabokov is not a Shark next year, then San Jose should look at signing Leighton and have him and Greiss work in a two goalie system. I know it doesn't sound as sexy as something such as Hasek-Osgood, but those two are future hall of fame players. If the two goalie system works, then it is cost-efficient and saves money.
Going back to what McLellan was saying, he believes that his team can win a Stanley Cup, but they needed this experience before winning. Maybe they did need this experience. A handful of eventual champions had to lose before winning:
The Pittsburgh Penguins lost in 2008 Stanley Cup Finals and won it the year after.
The Carolina Hurricanes lost in 2002 to the Detroit Red Wings and won it in 2006.
But this is San Jose. They have lost everywhere.
Everywhere but the Stanley Cup Finals.
This group has experienced season highs year after year, earning the President's Trophy in 2009, and the No. 1 seed in 2008 and this season.
Thornton, Marleau, and Nabokov; they highlight a locker room of losers. That's right, I called Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Evgeni Nabokov losers. And it's true. What have they won as members of the San Jose Sharks? Nothing. What does getting to the Western Conference Finals only to get swept do for your team's confidence? Nothing.
Nothing changed about this franchise from last year except that they advanced to where they were expected to be the past two years.
What Todd McLellan needs to do is make a team of his own. He can't use the players he came into and expect that his coaching ways will move them and bring in a Stanley Cup. He needs winners like Mike Babcock has with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski.
San Jose's only player that has won a Stanley Cup is Dan Boyle, who won it with Tampa Bay in 2004. A good way to change the losing ways in San Jose is to add players who have won a Stanley Cup and can provide depth to the team.
I understand that McLellan wants to have all his players stay on board, but if he wants to remain a coach, he needs to understand that part of being a coach is putting your own players into the system that you envision. Not players that were left over when you arrived.
It's the most important off-season in Sharks franchise history because they have the chance to start things fresh with Heatley, Thornton, and Setoguchi (possibly Marleau and Pavelski as well).
It's fine for McLellan to believe that the team that just got eliminated can return to the Western Conference Finals, but he shouldn't expect them to do anything beyond an appearance in the Western Conference Finals until he has players of his own and players that believe in him and themselves.