Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a widely respected GM, known for his shrewd moves, salary cap management, and having a gameplan when constructing his team. He's brought the San Jose fanbase a respectable, talented, and deep roster capable of winning regularly in the brutal Western Conference and to consistently be a force in the regular season. More importantly, the man has a goal, a vision, a plan as it were in building a winner capable of taking home hockey's greatest prize.
In a recent interview with KNBR, Doug Wilson speaks at length about the style of play post-lockout in the NHL.
"It's not the high profile, high salary goaltenders, it is a certain style of play, how teams have to dedicate their dollars to certain positions."
The offseason thus far has proven to mirror Doug Wilson's sentiment and the perception that surrounding your goalie with a strong defence was the way to the Cup. Bringing in Antero Niitymaki, bolstering defensive depth by resigning Niclas Wallin were two of the steps in Doug Wilson's plans moving forward.
Having missed out on several key defenders in free agency, Sharks fans looked to the horizon to see the blockbuster deal or the RFA offer sheet that would bring us our anchor.
After all, this was supposed to be the new way in which NHL teams won right? Michael Leighton and Niemi proved that last year didn't they? The script was supposed to read "Sharks acquire X defenceman after trading X assets"
A bizarre offseason just took another weird turn, as reports surfaced Wednesday from Sportsnet that free agent goaltender Antti Niemi is to sign with the San Jose Sharks as soon as this Friday.
The reports also point to a $2 million base salary, which is roughly three quarters of a million lower than what an arbitrator deemed Niemi was worth. So not only do the San Jose Sharks sign Niitymaki for more than Marty Turco was available for, not only do they overpay Niclas Wallin while missing on Andy Sutton, Volchenkov, or any other defencemen, but they sign Niemi for 750,000 less than what the Blackhawks refused to pay.
Thomas Greiss, whose development was stunted by Nabokov's regular season mastery now looks to be the odd man out in a 1A and 1B rotation in Niemi and Niitymaki. Not only that but with this move, the addition of another defencemen without losing significant players becomes increasingly difficult. That means for a team that was already top heavy and relying heavily on their depth to provide scoring will have to give up some key role players to fill the hole in their defensive corps.
Further, by Wilson's own admission the very model that the San Jose Sharks wish to follow is a simple one, add defense, limit opportunities and select a goaltender to match the style of play you want from the position. Niemi was a shining example of that blueprint, having won the Stanley Cup against the Flyers while sweeping the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. The Blackhawks beat Michael Leighton and the Philadelphia Flyers who had their own version of this very same blueprint.
What's wrong then? Well, the San Jose Sharks do not have anyone named Keith, Seabrook, Pronger, Campbell, Timonen, or Carle on their roster. They also lost key veteran and locker room leader in Rob Blake to retirement, leaving an otherwise serviceable defensive corps thin and suddenly very lacking.
Shark fans need no reminding what the common theme has been in playoff failures past, and that the lack of secondary scoring and depth proved to be our undoing when the top dogs were not playing well. This move then clearly indicates that a key player will be on the move if the Sharks are to replace Rob Blake's steady hand on the blueline.
Meaning instead of a Huskins/Mitchell type of scenario, the aforementioned player to be determined for the trade to be determined will be a significant player. Most likely young, most likely very talented and will most likely go on to succeed wherever he goes.
For a team and GM who puts so much into the farm system and youth providing depth, puzzling does not even begin to cover this scenario.
Further adding to the already complex situation is Joe Thornton's contract situation considering that he's scheduled to become a UFA after the upcoming season. How exactly is Doug Wilson going to resign Thornton without losing significant depth will be a miracle in and of itself. Patrick Marleau already resigned for a considerable hometown discount. Thornton would have to follow suit if he wishes to remain in sunny and media friendly San Jose.
Is Niemi what the Sharks need? Perhaps he is, but not under these conditions. The man posted a 26-7-4 record last year, sporting a 2.25 GAA, with a .912 save percentage. He also recorded seven shutouts while playing behind the deep and talented defence of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Niitymaki and his agent cannot be pleased with this outcome, and I'm sure this move will raise some eyebrows amongst soon to be NHL free agents.
This offseason so far has been an odd one, and this latest move if true does not buck the trend. One can only ask, where is all this heading? What moves does Wilson have left to make? Who will be the one traded before training camp or the deadline? How badly will the Sharks top six be affected by whomever will be traded?
What do you think? Does this move make any sense whatsoever?
Update : ESPN reports that Niemi signed as of this morning.