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Off-Season Game Plan: Sharks

Scott Cullen
6/13/2008 5:18:18 PM
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After yet another second-round playoff defeat, the San Jose Sharks are going in a new direction.

Off-Season Game Plan examines the new Sharks era under head coach Todd McLellan.

"He's the guy that fits for us, for now and in the future," general manager Doug Wilson said Thursday, announcing his new coach. "He understands the expectations, and he welcomes them. From our first conversation, I felt that we had similar beliefs and goals."

Coming from the Detroit Red Wings, where he was an assistant for three seasons, McLellan has learned what it takes to be successful in the regular season -- something with which the Sharks are already familiar -- but having climbed the mountain to win the Stanley Cup this year, McLellan has an added dose of perspective.

While the Sharks have a strong nucleus, Wilson still needs to make some moves this summer to give McLellan the best possible lineup.

Given the Sharks' recent trend of falling short in the postseason, it may be time to invest a little more in the payroll so that one of the league's best regular season teams is on closer financial footing with its fellow Stanley Cup competitors.

That's not to say that the Sharks should just open up the vault and throw money around without considering the consequences, but this team is close enough that the right additions will put the Sharks right back into the title mix again next season.

A nice situation for McLellan, that's for sure, but championship expectations are what he signed up for.

GM/COACH
Doug Wilson/Todd McLellan

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Joe Thornton 81.93 $7.2M
Milian Michalek 74.62 $3.0M
Jonathan Cheechoo 74.60 $3.0M
Patrick Marleau 68.43 $6.3M
Devin Setoguchi 65.55 $850K
Jeremy Roenick 64.87 $1.0M
Torrey Mitchell 60.94 $715K
Mike Grier 60.03 $1.775M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Joe Pavelski 71.81 RFA $810K
Ryane Clowe 71.62 RFA $600K
Curtis Brown 60.15 UFA $700K
Tomas Plihal 59.19 UFA $500K
Patrick Rissmiller 58.31 UFA $595K
Marcel Goc 55.89 RFA $800K
Jody Shelley 55.17 UFA $650K

Top Prospects: Logan Couture, Lukas Kaspar, Jamie McGinn

While he can't seem to get over the hump for an extended playoff run, Joe Thornton remains one of the most durable and prolific scorers in the league. In each of the last five seasons, Thornton has played 77 games or more and he's the game's best setup man. Somewhere along the way, though, there is the impression that a player who goes 6-foot-4, 235 pounds could be more physically dominating in the tough spots.

Power forward Milan Michalek didn't have the breakout season that was expected, particularly when he skated alongside Thornton, but the 23-year-old has the size, speed and hands to be an impact player if he puts it all together.

Lingering sports hernia issues kept Jonathan Cheechoo in a funk until late in the season, and his 23-goal season was his lowest mark since his rookie year. With good health, a bounce back season is an entirely reasonable expectation.

Tema captain Patrick Marleau may have endured the worst of his ten NHL seasons, scoring 48 points while compiling a career-worst minus-19 rating. There didn't seem to be any obvious factors for Marleau's decline and he still has all the physical tools to be an impact player.

Devin Setoguchi played in a part-time role as a rookie, showing a streaky scoring touch. He's quite capable, with his speed, of filling a complementary scoring role when put alongside talented players.

Pulled from the brink of retirement, 38-year-old Jeremy Roenick enjoyed a renaissance in San Jose, ranking second in the league with ten game-winning goals and coming up huge in the first-round playoff win. Roenick earned another contract with his play, but he's still just a role player -- with a penchant for rising to the occasion -- at this stage of his career.

Torrey Mitchell had a very successful rookie season, playing all 82 games and using his speed very effectively in a checking role.

Veteran Mike Grier is a durable defensive winger, playing at least 78 games for the last six seasons, but he's coming off a season in which he managed just 22 points, his lowest total since 1997-1998.

Joe Pavelski took some time to get going in his second season, but he has tremendous offensive instincts and his late-season flourish provides promise for what he might be able to do next season.

A knee injury pretty much ruined the regular season for Ryane Clowe, but in the games he did play, he showed toughness and decent hands around the net, a combination that makes him a nice complementary part of the lineup.

Marcel Goc hasn't improved in three NHL seasons and it's fair to wonder if he's going to be anything more than a fourth-liner.

The Sharks have enough firepower, particularly if their young guys continue to improve (though the idea of Marian Hossa on Joe Thornton's wing is intriguing), so the needs up front are more along the lines of depth and checkers. Some players that may be of interest to bolster the checking units could include Jay Pandolfo, Michael Peca, Pascal Dupuis and Antti Miettinen.

If the Sharks want to add real bite to the lineup, Sean Avery might be an intriguing option and he'd certainly increase the level of passion.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Craig Rivet 72.07 $3.5M
Douglas Murray 68.38 $600K
Kyle McLaren 63.36 $2.5M
Matt Carle 62.64 $2.95M
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 60.97 $735K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Brian Campbell 78.36 UFA $1.75M
Christian Ehrhoff 70.20 RFA $900K
Sandis Ozolinsh 66.13 UFA $625K
Alexei Semenov 61.97 UFA $650K

Top Prospects: Ty Wishart, Nick Petrecki, Derek Joslin, Dan Spang

34-year-old Craig Rivet scored a career-high 35 points in 2007-2008 and his combination of skill and toughness makes him a good top four defenceman. Unfortunately, until Brian Campbell arrived, Rivet was the unit's de facto number one, and that's too much to ask from him.

The best brawler out of Sweden, Douglas Murray, improved measurably and registered an impressive plus-20 rating. Murray is strong as an ox, but his lack of mobility is an issue so it's imperative that he play to his strengths.

Injuries are taking a toll on Kyle McLaren and it's getting tough to expect more than 65 games out of him. When he does play, he provides size and a physical presence, but he's not quite the intimidating force he was earlier in his career.

Matt Carle's path to stardom was derailed by a sophomore jinx that saw him spend time in the press box as his defensive woes couldn't be overlooked considering his lack of point production. He has the wheels and puck skills to be a power play quarterback, but will have to regroup to get his career back on the right track.

21-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic was another young defenceman who regressed some in his second season, but he's already playing more than 21 minutes per game and should only improve with maturity.

Despite his heavy shot, Christian Ehrhoff lost some of his power play time, dropping his production, but he's still quite capable of fulfilling a top four role.

Brian Campbell was even better than advertised when he arrived in a trade from Buffalo, scoring 19 points with a plus-9 rating in 20 games, which only makes him more attractive as an unrestricted free agent. Surely the Sharks want to bring Campbell back, but he could very well want to hit the open market, where he will command top dollar.

If the Sharks can't keep Campbell, they can look to other puck-moving free agents like John-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit, while veterans like Rob Blake and Wade Redden might also be reasonable alternatives.

In an effort to bolster the blueline depth, the Sharks could also look to the likes of Dmitri Kalinin, Andreas Lilja or a veteran like Bret Hedican to bring experience.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating Salary
Evgeni Nabokov 82.66 $5.5M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Brian Boucher 90.07 UFA $490K

Top Prospects: Thomas Greiss, Taylor Dakers

Coming off a season in which he played a career-high 77 games, Evgeni Nabokov has established himself as one of the game's premier goaltenders. The next hurdle for him is, like the rest of his team, to achieve more playoff success.

Brian Boucher signed on late in the year to give the Sharks a veteran backup and he played well in limited action, which could be enough for him to return.

Otherwise, the backup role could go to a prospect since the backup is likely only going to have about a half dozen starts.

DRAFT
No first-round pick

FREE AGENCY
The Sharks have approximately $40-million committed to salaries for next season.

Needs: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top pair defenceman

What I said the Sharks needed last year: One top pair defenceman, one top six forward

Who did they add? Jeremy Roenick, Torrey Mitchell

TRADE MARKET
Patrick Marleau, Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca 



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