When a team makes it to the conference finals two years in a row, they usually look to make few changes the next season.
In the post-lockout era, however, the salary cap has made roster turnover an inevitability. The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, lost over 10 players from their 2010 Stanley Cup championship roster.
That is a factor in the San Jose Sharks' changes this off-season. They had a number of free agents who were on the ice in the playoffs: Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Devin Setoguchi, Ben Eager, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, Benn Ferriero, Andrew Desjardins and Jamie McGinn.
Eight of those ten players could have been signed for under $8 million total. Thus, it is obvious the cap was not not the main catalyst of change.
The catalyst is the growing urgency of a franchise that just cannot get over the hump.
Staying the course was not working. Some teams might be satisfied with final four appearances, but the Sharks cannot be.
The reasons for this are two-fold: past success and key players aging, taken in order.
When Doug Wilson took over as general manager, the Sharks made it to the conference finals that season and lost two games to four. That is one more than they have won in the last two appearances combined.
The season after the lockout, they made the trade for the league's best player that season, Joe Thornton, at the end of November. They were the hottest team in the league after the trade and were considered contenders for the Stanley Cup again.
The season after that, they traded for Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet at the deadline to bolster the team. But they again failed to get past the second round.
In 2008, they traded for Brian Campbell at the deadline and were the best team in the league after the trade. But they struggled to get past the first round and had nothing left by the second.
When that did not suffice, they let him go in the off-season and got Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, only to lose in the first round. They were moving in the wrong direction, so they made a blockbuster trade for Dany Heatley.
This got them past the second round, and the goal became to keep as much of the team together as possible. But the Sharks won exactly one more playoff game than last year, and can no longer afford to be patient.
Why? Because the window is closing.
Of the 15 players on the ice in the playoffs they had under contract past July 1, only five were over 30. But they were the key players, with the "Big Three" line and the top pair of Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray.
If the Sharks do not get a Stanley Cup in the next two years, at least Boyle if not all five will be on their way out. Even with some good second-line talent on the Sharks, there will be some growing pains replacing them.
Thus, the time is now. San Jose is and should be done worrying beyond that two-year window.
That is why the Sharks have been aggressive in making trades to tweak their skill set just enough to make them stronger in the playoffs. At least eight players will be different on the team than the one that skated off the ice in Vancouver, disappointed.
But when the timing is right, players will be signed to put this team over the top to give them two chances at a title within this window. Expect one-year rentals to fill out the roster without putting the cap at risk for next year.
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