The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, but after finishing with their lowest point total in those eight seasons and getting bounced in the first round by St. Louis, they could be at a crossroads.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Sharks team that is surely good enough to reach the playoffs again next season, but do they have enough to harbour loftier goals?
Without breaking a sweat, the Sharks could put together a roster for next season that has the skill necessary to reach the playoffs, but if San Jose is going to compete for the ever-elusive Stanley Cup, they may have to get bold and make moves to upgrade this summer.
It's reasonable to believe that leading scorer Joe Thornton will remain, even if he's no longer the dominant scorer he was in his first few seasons with the Sharks and Logan Couture, one of three 30-goal scorers, is the cornerstone of the offence going forward.
It's the other two 30-goal scorers that come into more question. Patrick Marleau has scored 234 goals since 2005-2006, which ranks sixth in the league over that time, but he always finds his way into trade rumours when the Sharks are coming off a disappointing end to the season.
Joe Pavelski is an excellent two-way player and it would seem that a forward who can play in all sitations, score 30 goals and finish with a career-high plus-18 rating isn't one that should be readily moved. Only seven forwards in the league scored 30 goals and finished better than plus-15 last season, and Pavelski played more than any of them with quality of competition numbers among the very highest in the league (www.behindthenet.ca). If Pavelski is going to even be considered for trade, it had better yield a very significant return.
Ultimately, the Sharks may feel as though their window is closing with this group. Thornton, Marleau and defenceman Dan Boyle are all going to be 33-years-of-age or older next season and each of them has two years remaining on their current contracts. Moving at least one of them might help extend San Jose's window of opportunity.
Time is running out for the veteran core, for a coach who was on the hot seat after playoff elimination and even for the general manager, who has never missed the playoffs, but hasn't reached a Stanley Cup Final either. That ratchets up the level of urgency and could make the Sharks a very interesting team to watch when it comes to potential blockbuster deals this summer.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Doug Wilson/Todd McLellan
Over the last two seasons, there have been three players under the age of 25 -- Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel and Bobby Ryan -- to have more goals than Logan Couture, who has 63, and none of them match Couture's plus-20 rating over those two seasons. He'll be a cornerstone piece as the Sharks evolve, one that will be capable of handling more responsibility as he matures.
Last season was the first year since 1999-2000 that Joe Thornton failed to score at least 20 goals, yet he was still the Sharks' leading point-getter after scoring 39 points in 35 games following the All-Star break (he had 38 points in 47 games prior to the break).
While Joe Pavelski's name might get brought up in trade talks, he's remarkably valuable, scoring a career-high 31 goals last season, all while playing hard minutes, with defensive zone starts and the highest quality of competition numbers among the Sharks. All that means that Pavelski is better than your typical 30-goal scorer, so surrendering him in any trade would have to bring a star in return.
Another 30-goal scorer whose name has been thrown into trade rumours for years, Patrick Marleau has scored at least 30 goals in six of the last seven seasons -- he's one of five players to do so -- and has a no-trade clause but, after a disappointing playoff performance, 32-year-old Marleau could conceivably be moved in a summer blockbuster.
One of last summer's big acquisitions, Martin Havlat got off to a terrible start, scoring one goal in his first 25 games with the Sharks, then he missed more than three months with a hamstring injury, so it was an overall mess, even if he did manage to score at a point-per-game clip in his last 15 games of the season. A healthy Havlat is still capable of creating offence, so if he stays healthy, he should get another chance to do so next season.
Players that have skill, size and toughness, like Ryane Clowe, are always in demand, even if Clowe is coming off a season in which he scored 17 goals and 45 points, totals lower than he posted in each of his previous three seasons. As a complementary player, though, Clowe offers a rare combination of scoring and scrapping, as the only player to score 80 goals and have at least 30 fights over the last four seasons (Milan Lucic has 27 fights, per www.hockeyfights.com).
35-year-old Michal Handzus may not have been the right fit for the Sharks. He doesn't have the speed to play an up-tempo game and, amid several healthy scratches, he played a career-low 14:27 per game last season. Handzus has long been a responsible checking forward with enough skill to contribute offensively, but last season's results were not good enough.
Tommy Wingels had a modest nine points in 33 games, but made his mark, averaging 3.1 hits per game (102 in 33 GP), which ranked 11th in the league among forwards with at least 25 games played. 24-year-old Wingels also scored 13 goals in 29 AHL games last season, so he may be able to contribute some secondary scoring.
Benn Ferriero has 22 poins in 92 games with the Sharks over the last three seasons, splitting time between the NHL and AHL. He also has 103 points in 121 AHL games over that time, so the 25-year-old is probably due to stick in a full-time job.
Late in the 2009-2010 season, T.J. Galiardi really looked like he was coming into his own as a two-way player, logging big minutes for Colorado, but his role has steadily decreased since, even after getting traded to San Jose. Galiardi is only 24-years-old, so there is time for him to get his game back on track, but it could take some time to earn the trust of coaches so that he earns significant ice time.
Andrew Desjardins only scored four goals in 76 games, but he does the little things: wins face-offs, hits, blocks shots and that is enough to earn regular fourth-line minutes.
While there might be a major trade to make (Rick Nash?), the Sharks could fill out their current group with bottom six forwards. Chris Kelly is a checking centre coming off a strong season, while Paul Gaustad and Travis Moen have size and can be tough to play against; adding any one of them would be an upgrade if checking winger Daniel Winnik isn't re-signed.
Dan Boyle's numbers were down a bit last season but, justifiably so, as he played through a broken foot and it became rather clear when he started feeling closer to 100%. After one point in a 12-game stretch ending in December, at which point he had 11 points in 26 games, Boyle scored 37 points in 55 games the rest of the way and his plus-10 rating was his best since 2003-2004. Over the last four seasons, no defenceman in the league has more points than Boyle's 213 (Nicklas Lidstrom is second, at 204).
It took some time for Brent Burns to produce offensively, scoring 17 points in 47 games and then 20 points in his next 34 games and he wasn't asked to play 25-plus minutes like he was the year before in Minnesota. However, Burns also had the best shot differential (plus-6.2 per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, www.behindthenet.ca) among San Jose blueliners and getting a second consecutive healthy season bodes well for the 27-year-old who has endured some concussions in the past.
25-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic has played the same understated, safe and reliable game for the majority of his six years in the league. He has been durable, playing at least 80 games in five of six seasons, and takes on tough defensive assignments, though he could be even more effective if he was physically stronger.
Jason Demers has some skill, but isn't coming off his best season, with minimal production and a limited role in which he played soft minutes, which certainly appears to be a step back after making progress in 2010-2011.
After a couple seasons with a bigger role, Douglas Murray wasn't very effective last season and lost some ice time as a result. Murray is a beast on skates, but his lack of mobility can be exposed by more skilled forwards.
Justin Braun is still trying to establish that he's an NHL regular, so he played a modest amount (16:33 per game) in the 66 games in which he played, but was effective enough when he did play. He's a decent puck-mover, but the 25-year-old could be stronger in his own end.
If Demers, Murray and Braun hold down spots five through seven on the defence corps, that leaves the Sharks in position to add a top-four defenceman. Former Shark Brad Stuart, Barret Jackman, Jason Garrison or perhaps Sheldon Souray would all be capable of handling 20 minutes a night while adding some muscle to the group.
After winning a Stanley Cup in Chicago, Antti Niemi has provided above average goaltending for the Sharks, as his .917 save percentage over the last two seasons ranks 11th among goaltenders to play at least 100 games (seventh among those to play at least 120 games).
Back from spending a year in the Swedish Elite League, Thomas Greiss provided quality backup goaltending for the Sharks last season, as his .915 save percentage ranked fourth among goaltenders with at least 10 starts but not more than 25.
If the Sharks get similar results from this tandem next year, they ought to be thrilled.
||1-8-9, -5, 68 GP
||0-6-6, +2, 63 GP
||35-51-86, +29, 61 GP
||Boston University (HE)
||16-26-42, +18, 37 GP
||13-12-7, 2.33 GAA, .916 SV%, 34 GP
||15-20-1, 2.86 GAA, .908 SV%, 38 GP
||8-36-44, +17, 57 GP
||9-6-15, +11, 17 GP
||32-38-70, +13, 54 GP
||16-17-33, -11, 65 GP
San Jose doesn't have a rich crop of prospects, particularly after trading Charlie Coyle to Minnesota last summer, so even the best ones are players that may not have a significant impact in the NHL.
Leading the list is Nick Petrecki, a 2007 first-rounder who has yet to see a game of NHL action in his three pro seasons. There's not a lot of skill to his game, but Petrecki is big, strong and nasty and that's usually appealing at some level for a pro defenceman.
6-foot-8 defenceman Taylor Doherty has the size thing for sure, but the 21-year-old could use more time to develop before he pushes for an NHL job.
A fifth-round pick in 2010, Freddie Hamilton has scored 169 points in the OHL over the last two seasons, but even if he's not necessarily a scorer at the next level, he plays a responsible game that should give him a better chance to make NHL eventually. Next year, a chance to prove himself in the AHL.
Such is the evolution of hockey in this generation that another California-born prospect is in the Sharks' sights. Matt Nieto was a second-round pick of the Sharks last summer and then he went out and nearly doubled his point production in his sophomore year at BU. He's not even 19 yet, so he'll have time to round out his game, but if Nieto keeps producing at a high level, he may be one of the Sharks' few scoring prospects.
Goaltender Tyson Sexsmith struggled early in his pro career, resulting in some time in the ECHL, but he is back on track after a strong season in the AHL. Still just 23-years-old, Sexsmith could use to play more games (he's played 72 in three pro seasons), but the third-round pick from 2007 is again one to watch.
Harri Sateri had strong junior performances for Finland and made his way to North America last season. The 22-year-old was okay, but not quite as good as Sexsmith in 2011-2012, so he still needs further development.
A sixth-round pick in 2010, 6-foot-5 defenceman Konrad Abeltshauser added more offensive production in his third QMJHL season, capped by 16 points in 15 playoff games. With some grooming in the AHL, the Sharks might have something here.
The younger brother of the Sharks' Benn Ferriero, Cody Ferriero did nothing as a freshman at Northeastern and suspensions and a torn ACL cut short his sophomore season. However, he did score nine goals and 15 points in the 17 games that he did play, so it could be worth waiting on the 20-year-old to see if he can put it together for a full season at some point in his development.
A productive year in the USHL has landed Sean Kuraly a scholarship at Miami-Ohio for next season and the 6-foot-2 19-year-old has size that projects well to the pro game. Going to a strong college program should only help in his long-term development.
While there is an element of risk with many of these prospects, the Sharks know what they get from 23-year-old Brandon Mashinter, a big, bruising winger who can fight, but also hold his own in a checking role.
Goaltender Alex Stalock, who was injured for much of last season along with collegiate free agent signings Sebastian Stalberg and Travis Oleksuk will hopefully add some depth to a prospect class that needs depth to make up for a lack of high-end talent.
17th - Brendan Gaunce, Pontus Aberg, Sebastian Collberg, Hampus Lindholm,
According to www.capgeek.com, the Sharks have approximately $55.6M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 14 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Sharks roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top four defenceman.
What I said the Sharks needed last year: Depth forwards, one top four defenceman.
They added: Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, Andrew Murray, Brent Burns, Jim Vandermeer.
TRADE MARKET Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus, Jason Demers, Justin Braun, Douglas Murray.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.