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Overhaul keeps SJ in the thick of things
Wilson makes good on his off-season threat
9/20/09 - By Mike Lee -

Funny what winning a President's Trophy and then losing in the first round of the playoffs will do to a roster. If you asked general managers around the league if they'd want last season's Sharks team to take a crack at winning a Stanley Cup, it would be hard to find one that would turn you down. That's where expectations come into play, and in San Jose, those expectations have never been higher.

With each playoff disappointment, has come modifications to the lineup in order to find those last remaining pieces to the puzzle. The real wheeling and dealing began when the Sharks shipped Owen Nolan to Toronto in 2003 for Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a first round draft pick.

Since then, the Sharks have gone about the business of trying to build through addition and subtraction of players. From Miikka Kiprusoff, to Curtis Joseph, to Craig Rivet, players have come and gone. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson pulled off a coup when he acquired Joe Thornton in November of 2005, then essentially opened up his checkbook when he acquired Dan Boyle last summer to add the offensive defenseman he long coveted.

While all of those deals were significant in the grand scheme of things, nothing compares to the magnitude of activity that has transpired over the past three months.

Whole sale changes to a roster are typically associated with rebuilding in professional sports. An organization cleaning house rarely equates to a championship mentality immediately, but somehow Wilson has pulled that off.

He retains the core set of superstars that he needs to get over the playoff hump in Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, and Rob Blake, while also holding on to the younger players that can make a difference in Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Gone are the mid-tier performers that never realized their potential. In trading Christian Ehrhoff, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Milan Michalek, Wilson purged more than $10 million in salary, while losing little in terms of production.

Wilson also eliminated 3rd and 4th line guys that did little to seize their opportunities as role players. Marcel Goc, Lukas Kaspar, Tomas Plihal and Alexei Semenov will all don new uniforms this season, freeing up multiple roster spots in San Jose.

The Sharks did lose some veteran leadership with the retirement of Jeremy Roenick and the decision not to re-sign Mike Grier, but Wilson backfilled those spots by bringing in Scott Nichol and re-signing Kent Huskins. Right winger Jed Ortmeyer will also bring some experience and grit to the right side of the offense.

Oh, and with all of those changes, the Sharks managed to land an All-Star caliber forward, who has multiple 50-goal season under his belt. Wilson vowed that he would take a long hard look at this roster after the Duck debacle last spring, and true to his word, he not only looked, but he acted.

Dany Heatley is the cherry on top of a roster overhaul sundae, and Wilson whipped out his masterpiece without losing Marleau along the way. Keeping Marleau was the key to differentiating this off-season as rebuilding vs. tooling up for a playoff run.

Rumors swirled for months that the forward was being shopped by Wilson, and an ESPN report last Thursday suggested that Marleau's tenure in San Jose had come to an end. That report turned out to be false, but it was fueled more by the fact that San Jose was about to land Heatley and less about getting rid of Marleau.

I exchanged emails with John Buccigross, the ESPN anchor / reporter, who reported the deal that was supposed to ship Marleau to Los Angeles in a three-team transaction that had Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll heading to Ottawa, and Heatley coming to San Jose.

I asked him how the report evolved and if his sources may have twisted things as the deal was evolving.

"I got a text from someone very close to the situation on Thursday," Buccigross responded. "This was pretty much a lock source so I knew, without question, that Heatley would be a Shark. I tweeted and Facebooked that info. I sent a text out to a mutually exclusive source who has been 100% on for me."

"That source then forwarded an email to me from a high level front office member that spelled out the trade," he added. "I double checked with this very good source to make sure this was accurate and the source said, "absolutely." Additionally, the trade made sense to me in terms of what the three teams were getting. I thought it made sense for each team."

The deal turned out to be partially accurate. Heatley would in fact be a Shark, but the Kings had no involvement in the end. If they were involved in preliminary discussions is something we'll never know.

The biggest loser in that exchange may be Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi. The initial report brought two of his players into the mix, who could potentially question if they were ever really part of any proposal. While that's all now history, it's a cloud that could potentially hang over Lombardi as he tries to motivate his young upstart roster.

When I asked Buccigross if he suspected any gamesmanship by the source, his answer was direct.

"My immediate source would not do that," said the hockey pundit. "But, the secondary source? The front office source? I suppose that is possible."

In any case, Buccigross is the guy that stuck his neck out to report the information, and he's taking the heat for the way it played out. That's unfortunate, given his track record. You don't work for ESPN by making things up.

Now the Sharks have 8 months to put it altogether, because Wilson has given them the pieces to make a real run for a Cup. Failure might mean a real house-cleaning next year.


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