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Sharks as clear as mud
Roster situation far from resolved
7/13/09 - By Steve Flores -

At the end of the very disappointing first round playoff exit a very frustrated and angry GM Doug Wilson stated that changes were coming. The inference was that not only would there be changes, but these changes would be 'big changes'. Thus far it has been confirmed by the Sharks that Ryane Clowe has inked a four year deal at $3.5 Million for the first 3 seasons and $4 million for the final season. That cap hit breaks down to $3.625 per season. The team has also announced that they have re-signed defensemen Kent Huskins and Rob Blake.

So, in retrospect the team has re-signed three players. The team also announced that they would not be bringing back Center Marcel Goc. Several other veterans such as Mike Grier, Claude Lemieux, Travis Moen, Brian Boucher, Tomas Plihal, Tom Cavanagh, Lukas Kaspar and Alexei Semenov were also allowed to test the waters of unrestricted free agency. Interestingly only Boucher and Moen have thus far found a new home (in Philadelphia & Montreal respectively).

For a couple months Wilson has stated that he would be performing an autopsy on the club. He has stated that he would be interviewing all players and coaches and would confer with the powers that be in an attempt to chart a corrective course that would hopefully steer this team past that which seems to inhibit their post-season success year after year.

The challenge herein is that this team had the best regular season record in the league yet fizzled, once again, this time in the opening stanza of the playoffs. The hunt for the actual cause ('s) has been as elusive as finding a proverbial Leprechaun.

Most pundits have had difficulty putting a clear finger on exactly what the actual deficiencies are in regard to the San Jose Sharks. With such cryptic, nebulous and foggy issues at hand the answers have not come easily for Wilson and crew. The team seemed to have everything required for on ice success. The autopsy would surely yield an answer and in turn a new path that will lead to success.

Well, here we are two weeks into July and two weeks into 'Free Agent Frenzy 09' and the Sharks have made 3 re-signings and released several third and fourth line types, backups and role players. The top 2 lines remain intact and the defense untouched. A deduction of these events would lead one to believe that Wilson has concluded that the team's depth is an issue. Let me take a moment to stop and state that I agree 100%.

Goc scored 2 goals a season ago and one was an empty netter. Let's be honest guys and dolls Goc, Grier, Lemieux, Plihal, Moen etc do not exactly strike fear into opposing defenses and their numbers bear this fact out. The Sharks need more production from these lines.

For those of you that like to pick up the puck and run with it please let me state that I am not expecting 1st or 2d line production, but more than 1 goal form a 3rd line center should be expected!

A quick look at the current roster would show only two third and fourth line players currently under contract: Jonathan Cheechoo and Jody Shelley. Cheechoo makes $3.5 Million this year with a cap hit of $3 Million. He is oft injured and has looked increasingly out of place since Head Coach Todd McLellan instituted more of a fast paced Puck Possession style offense.

Under prior coach Ron Wilson the team played with more of a setup style offense and a healthy Cheechoo could pick his spots as Joe Thornton fed him pristine passes directly onto his tape. But now mix in a few injuries, the fact that Cheechoo has never been a good skater and the fact that Thornton is now more of a team of mobile performers on the power play and most of Cheechoo's plusses have been negated. Cheechoo's lack of speed and skating ability also makes him a liability on defense (see Anaheim series and awful reaction penalties) and a guy who cannot fit into a motion offense. Rumors have circulated that the Sharks were trying to deal him at the draft, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that his salary is a bit much to actually be moved.

Cheechoo's name has been emerging in unconfirmed trade rumors throughout this past weekend.

Shelley may stick unless the brass feels that the younger Brad Staubitz could take over the role as team tough guy. Jamie McGinn may also find a full-time job with the team. Cheechoo's slide from goal scoring grace has allowed for the emergence of Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi's was second on the team in goals scored this year with 34. It may just be me but it often feels like the Sharks are often unable to get that 1 big goal in crucial situations. The Sharks are unable to score that goal-scorer type goal that only a true sniper can unleash. A Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk type. Yes those players are few and far between. Yes they hit hard at the cap and yes they are a luxury. But, they are a force that changes a team that's close to a team that can or will.

In any case the team is in salary cap misery at this point (See NHLNUMBERS.COM) with $55,451 committed with a cap of $56.8 million. The team is also short several signed roster positions with Restricted Free Agents Torrey Mitchell and possible backup Goalkeeper Thomas Greiss still to be signed. Assuming these two players will be signed the team will still need 2 or 3 more forwards to fill out their 3rd and 4th lines. Wilson always clings to a philosophy of patience and thus far it has led to lots of regular season success at the Shark Tank.

Wilson has never really made a splash in the annual 'Free Agent Frenzy'. He tends to make more telling statements and deals at the trade deadline and he has inferred that this 2009-2010 team may not be complete until then. That statement alone leaves a lot of questions still to be answered. The roster needs to be filled yet the team's cap is almost full.

The one thing that would seem to be a necessity is the loosening of some cap space via a trade of one of the higher end pieces. Milan Michalek's name has also come up in the rumor mill as possible deal material. Michalek's cap hit is $3.5 this season. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff's cap hit is $3.15 this season and he too appears to be a marketable trade option.

The biggest and most constant rumor in regards to trade is, of course, Captain Patrick Marleau. Marleau has a cap hit of $6.3 and he also has a 'No-Trade' clause in his contract. So, unless the Captain is open to a deal he will still be here this season. It is also important to note that this is the final year of Marleau's current contract and he can leave as an 'Unrestricted Free-Agent' after the upcoming season concludes.

So, as you can see, there are lots of issues, decisions and entanglements for Wilson to deal with before the 2009 season kicks off. I have no doubt he will fill the roster (sometimes that doesn't happen - just ask the Calgary Flames). But whether or not that roster will be enough to contend for a Stanley Cup is dubious at best right now since we still don't know what that roster will entail.

If the team loses one or more of the likes of Marleau, Michalek, Cheechoo, Ehrhoff or some other key piece the team will surely have a different look than the past 3 or 4 seasons. The one thing I am sure of is that Wilson must clear salary space if he intends to fill out the roster. If he is able to merely squeeze younger pieces in from Worcester or if he is able to only sign lesser priced veterans then the odds are this team will not contend for a higher goal. If Wilson proves to be the savvy, worldly and astute GM that he has shown he can be then maybe, just maybe he will work deals that manage to actually make the team stronger.

Unfortunately, at this stage in the off-season we are still not able to see the results of Wilson 's autopsy. None of us have a clue as to what the 2009 roster will look like. Wilson has not done much speaking to the media and has stated that he feels that it is more important for him and the team to go about their business rather than share those plans with the media or the public at this time. This is his right as the man in charge. Most Shark's just hope that he has a plan and that the next version of the Sharks fares better than the last one or an autopsy won't be required to know what happened to the mangled reputation of GM Doug Wilson.

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