The San Jose Sharks have played the second-most playoff games, behind only Detroit, since 2004, when a nine-year run as a contender began with a trip to the conference finals.
Because that run hasn't produced a championship -- although three conference finals appearances (2004, 2010, 2011) is nothing to scoff at -- the Sharks organization has ever quite got the kind of credit it deserves for having produced a contender year in and year out for so long, despite not being a big-market team and not having those big-market tools such as burying bad contracts in the minors or buying out underperforming players.
They’ve had to use many low draft picks to produce players, which they have. And GM Doug Wilson has been bold on both the trade and free-agent market when he’s had to be, reeling in the likes of Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Brent Burns and Antti Niemi over the years.
But all good teams need a reset, and that moment is coming for this Sharks club. A roller-coaster season has revealed a club that, while on many nights has shown it can still compete with the best teams, other nights has shown itself worn down as well.
This team needs some tweaking, a fresh coat of paint.
You’re not going to see a full rebuild in San Jose. It’s a market that despite years and years of sellouts probably wouldn’t support a full bottoming-out and redressing of the roster. In fact, the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs, in 2002-03, it’s believed the club lost around 3,000 season-ticket holders the following offseason.
And because there are already some young and in-prime core players in place -- such as Niemi, Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Matt Irwin and 2012 first-rounder Tomas Hertl -- it doesn’t need a full, Edmonton-like rebuild.
But it needs something. And that something is coming, whether it’s one or two moves before the April 3 trade deadline or more moves in the offseason.
The delicate dance here is that the Sharks are still sitting in a playoff spot (eighth place) -- although, in the crazy Western standings, that spot can change from night to night, as only four points separated sixth from 12th on Monday morning.
The Sharks might want to recoup draft picks and younger assets, without damaging their roster too much for this season.
Sources around the NHL tell ESPN.com that Wilson has listened on several of his players. And he’s never been shy to act, one of the league’s more active traders over the past decade.
Boyle, 36, could possibly be on the move either before April 3 or this summer as part of that roster tweaking. He’s a name I’ve heard from other teams. He’s got one more season left on his deal that pays him $6.66 million.
He’d be a valuable addition to a contender, that’s for sure. And while I’m not sure people still consider the New York Rangers contenders or not, he’s that top-four, right-handed D-man the Blueshirts could sure use.
Martin Havlat is another name being bandied about. He’s never quite fit in with San Jose despite being exactly what the Sharks needed when they got him -- more speed on the wings. The 31-year-old has two more years on his contract (at $5 million per) past this season. Again, he doesn’t necessarily have to be moved now -- it can wait for the offseason. He also has a full no-move clause in his deal, so it would be up to him if he went anywhere.
But two players the Sharks must decide on before April 3 are Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray -- two warriors of the Sharks’ contending teams of the past decade, but both also on expiring contracts and UFA-eligible after the season. The Sharks have talked contract with Clowe’s representative, but there hasn’t been a deal and the clock is ticking. He might fetch a decent sum even as a rental player, given how rare power forwards of his skill set are ever available. And although he’s had a disappointing season, he’d be a big-time playoff ingredient to add for a contender.
Know this: Whatever the Sharks decide to do, they saw this day coming. They’ve been planning for a long time that they would need to refresh their roster around this time. That’s why they’ve got only $27 million committed in salaries past the 2013-14 season, which affords them the roster/payroll flexibility to tweak away over the next two years.
What will be intriguing is how they go about it. Because the plan is to remain competitive while they’re doing it. And that’s no easy chore.