Most fans judge the ultimate success or failure of an NHL offseason on how much a team has managed to improve their roster (or has failed to do so). By that measure, the San Jose Sharks have had a disappointing 2010 offseason to date.
After all, what little has changed could well be argued as regression across the board. Evgeni Nabokov has given way to Antero Niittymaki, a transaction which bids farewell to a perennial top five to top 10 NHL goaltender and former Vezina (top NHL goaltender in the regular season) candidate and welcomes instead a man with a checkered past of on-ice performance. Nitty has been stellar in some instances—like earning the MVP at the 2006 Torino Olympic tournament—but his NHL resume has left much to be desired.
Manny Malhotra has given way to Jamal Mayers. While this is not really a fair one-to-one comparison, since the two have served distinctly different roles in their careers—Malhotra being the chippy energy guy, and Mayers being more of an enforcer—it is nonetheless safe to surmise that if nothing else, Malhotra's departure will leave a clear void in the face-off circle which Mayers, a winger, is unlikely to offset.
The Sharks also have yet to address the departure of future Hall-of-Famer Rob Blake—
and his tremendous leadership, defensive instincts, and significant offensive contributions—
To accurately assess the true quality of Sharks general manager Doug Wilson's performance this offseason, though, one must look past these admittedly significant cases and consider what else on the team has changed since the Sharks were swept out of the Western Conference Finals last May.
The answer? Very little.
Doug Wilson deserves tremendous credit for that. Wilson used the money saved by purging Nabby's humongous contract to secure the futures of centers Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski in teal for the next four years.
Marleau has been the primary face of the franchise since the departure of Owen Nolan in 2003 and served as the team's captain from 2003 to 2009. Pavelski is an emerging super star who was on track for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) through the first round and a half of the playoffs last year before finally falling back to earth.
With Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley already committed for the coming season, these signing ensured the Sharks could return the core nucleus of players which made them such a potent offensive threat in 2009-2010.
After these signings, Wilson worked to reach agreements with critical role players like Scott Nichol and Devin Setoguchi, fortifying the potency of the bottom two lines as well. Defenseman Derek Joslin, a fairly regular and reliable presence in San Jose over the last season, also rejoined the fold, helping to ensure a young group of talented blue liners (Joslin, Jason Demers, and even Marc-Edouard Vlasic) can continue to mature and develop together.
Perhaps the only confusing retention was mid-season acquisition defenseman Niclas Wallin. This was puzzling less for the fact that he was retained than for the amount of the contract, seen by most to be significantly too high at $2.5 million for the coming year.
Given the way things could have worked out, Doug Wilson deserves major kudos for keeping a championship-caliber roster largely intact despite the difficulties of free agency and the salary cap. Contrast the Sharks' offseason to the firesale seen in Chicago following the Stanley Cup victory of a team with a maxed out payroll, and you will quickly see how different things could have been.
The Blackhawks will return most of their major stars in 2010-2011, but they have lost the secondary role players that made them such a formidable team. The Sharks have largely managed to hang on to both.
Still, there is something to be said for the fact that the Sharks couldn't get the job done last year and if anything the roster has regressed since the team last took the ice. This fact has caused significant angst in San Jose and has led fans of Team Teal to clamor for the signing of virtually every big name on the market, from Mike Modano to Antti Niemi, whether it makes sense of not.
In reality, of course, the Sharks are close to having a roster that could hoist the Cup, but they need to focus their remaining capital in the right areas to ensure they do not succumb to the same fate as the Blackhawks this offseason (why stop after one Cup?).
The Sharks are in serious, if not necessarily dire, need of a top-four defenseman—an addition that will still likely be some time in coming. Knowing Doug Wilson and his style and philosophy, I fully expect this to happen before the start of the regular season—if not before the start of camp—but as pointed out in a previous article, there are a variety of reasons why logic predicts this will not happen until early to mid-September.
In the meantime, enjoy some pennant race baseball (go Yanks!) and NFL preseason action and hoist a cold one to Doug Wilson for some fine general managing to date, as well as the further improvements that are surely still to come.
Here's to a great twentieth year of Sharks Hockey!
Keep the Faith!
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