Monday, May 24, 2010
It's convenient to label this loss to the Blackhawks as another Sharks’ collapse, especially since they were swept 4-0, but that would be disingenuous. The Sharks may have lost four straight to the Hawks, but every game was close and more than a few could have gone the other way. And this wasn’t some underdog team that upset the Sharks - it was the most complete team in the entire league.
While there is no shame in losing in the Conference Final to a team like the Chicago Blackhawks, this is definitely a bitter moment for the Sharks and their fans, especially since it was all over so quickly.
Now the Sharks head into a summer where they face many big decisions. This team doesn’t need to be blown apart, but major changes certainly need to happen. This is a good team, but one who has failed to win a Stanley Cup despite being pegged by analysts as heavy favourites for a number of years. It may be time for Doug Wilson to realize that the current core of the team just isn’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup.
Two of the team’s biggest players, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Marleau made $6.3 million this season, while Nabokov made $5.375 million.
The Sharks need to let Evgeni Nabokov walk come July 1st. Nabokov has played well in the regular season, but has only twice posted better than a .910% in six playoffs as a starter. His penchant for giving up back-breaking goals that deflate the Sharks has been the main reason the Sharks routinely fall short of expectations in the playoffs.
To replace Nabokov the Sharks can sign a free agent goalie like Dan Ellis or make a bolder move like acquiring Tim Thomas from the Boston Bruins. Thomas lost the starting job in Boston to Tuukka Rask and it doesn’t seem like the young Fin has any intention of relinquishing that title. Thomas will make $5 million for the next three seasons, which is cheaper than Nabokov’s current contract.
While it might be a risk trading for a 36-year-old goalie that has three years left on his contract we should remember that Thomas is only one season removed from a Vezina Trophy.
The Bruins also can’t demand much for Thomas because they have cap space issues and Thomas has effectively become a backup goalie in Boston. This could effectively be a cash dump for the Bruins. The Sharks could be able to get a top-tier goalie on the cheap.
However, Thomas just underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and will require three to four months for recovery and rehabilitation. This makes the deal riskier for the Sharks considering it is not a guarantee that Thomas will be healthy in time for the start of the 2010-2011 season.
The Sharks’ other major free agent, Patrick Marleau, had an excellent post-season where he scored 8 goals and 13 points in 14 games (2 were game winning goals). He played a terrific series against the Blackhawks, but didn’t receive nearly enough support from his teammates.
The Sharks need to re-sign Patrick Marleau. He had a reputation changing playoffs where he looked like the most dangerous player on the ice in many games and he played a physical style of game that included actually sacrificing his body by blocking shots.
Of the big three (Marleau, Heatley, and Thornton), Marleau is the easiest to get rid of considering he’s a UFA, but the Sharks would receive no compensation and would be a worse team next season because of it. The Sharks need to have Marleau next year in order to have a chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
Dany Heatley is signed for four more years at $7.5 million per season and is probably not a likely candidate to be traded considering that the Sharks just acquired him (not to mention his contract).
If the Sharks are serious about making a major change (and they should be) then the best move they could make is trading Joe Thornton.
Thornton had his best post-season this year, but it still wasn’t enough for the Sharks to advance past the Blackhawks. After a great series against Detroit, Thornton managed to tally only one assist against the Blackhawks and was frustrated all series long by Dave Bolland (who Thornton at one point said was small and easy to play against).
Thornton has one more year left on a $7.2 million contract and would immediately attract widespread attention from across the league. Despite his playoff struggles, this is a player who has accumulated 447 points over the previous five seasons (that’s an average of 95 per season). There are many teams who need the services of a number one centre and the Sharks could trade Thornton and fill many of the team’s holes in the process.
One hole the Sharks may have is on the blueline. Rob Blake is 40-years-old and may decide that he’d rather not return for another season of hockey. He’s also a UFA and maybe the Sharks will decide that they don’t want to play a 40-year-old as their second defenceman.
Losing Thornton’s production would hurt, but the Sharks would still have two top-tier players in Marleau and Heatley, plus rising players like Ryan Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, and Joe Pavelski.
This would certainly be a bold move, but one that I think is necessary for the Sharks to eventually win a Stanley Cup. At some point you have to recognize that the players you have just aren’t capable of getting the job done. At that point you need to make changes. Calgary Flames fans should be nodding their heads right now.
When I say there are teams that need a number one centre the first team that immediately jumps to my mind is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I hope that Brian Burke stays far away from Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe may have played his best post-season this year, but it still didn’t matter and I’d rather the Leafs don’t give up a substantial return for a player like that. Now, say the Sharks decide to let Marleau walk then I’d be fine with the Leafs taking a run at him. That’s a big step for me considering just a few months ago I was vehemently anti-Marleau.