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Ok, what now?
Plenty of questions to answer
5/25/10 - By Steve Flores -

It has been just hours since the San Jose Sharks were dealt the final blow that ended their 2009-2010 season. The bottom line is the same; the Sharks will still not be making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. The bright spot in this year's elimination is one of taste. The flavor in the mouth of Shark's fans is no where near as sour as it has been in season's past.

In prior playoff appearances the Sharks were eliminated by teams that most fans and hockey pundits alike felt were inferior to San Jose . This years failure to the Chicago Blackhawks came against a team that was, quite simply, better!

The Sharks played the Hawks 8 times (including both post and regular season) and San Jose came away with 1 victory: That one victory was also a game where they got off only 14 shots on goal and Evgeni Nabokov had, perhaps, his best game of the season. If not for that contest the Sharks would be O-FOR against Chicago . The post season games were all close but 7-1 is pretty dominant folks.

Anyway that is all H2O under the bridge now and, as usual, it is time to look to the future. The Sharks are, to say the least, up against the salary cap and GM Doug Wilson will have some serious issues to deal with when it comes time to set the roster for next season.

Let's get a couple things outta the way up front. Wilson and Head Coach Todd McLellan will both be back. There is a certain segment or element, if you will, of the fan base that continually wants the heads of everyone when a team fails to achieve the whole enchilada. These fans tend to live their sporting lives on the edge of their seats and give little thought to who would be replacing those 'should be traded' individuals and they pay little attention to cap implications. But, with that said the emotions exhibited decry a passion and fervor for this team that fans can be proud of.

McLellan and his staff coach an exciting, puck possession style, that only a skilled team could play well at this level of the game. I doubt that those that want the coach's head are season ticket holders. The Phoenix Coyotes and a few other teams play the more zone-trap style of game: Defensive, boring hockey. If this is the kind of game you enjoy watching more power to ya.

I enjoy watching skill, creativity and a more wide-open style of skating. These are the higher skills of hockey and the Sharks are allowed to play this style under McLellan's supervision. Season ticket holders and Shark's fans in general are lucky to be able to watch a team that plays such an entertaining style of the game.

McLellan is the right man for the job.

Wilson has made trades for big names. Wilson has traded away many future draft picks. Wilson has signed many free agents. Wilson has his fingerprints all over the Sharks current sheet of ice.

Some fans have rode him for years for continuing to 'trade away the team's future' in his attempts to win now. I have supported him all the way down the line because that is what I believe teams do when they are close to achieving the ultimate goal. Thus far the Sharks have not been able to get over the hump and their window may be closing with this current group. Wilson 's legacy will be determined based on whether or not they can achieve the ultimate success before they end up rebuilding or re-loading. Time will tell. Bottom line - Wilson stays.

Ok enough of the blah blah. The most important issues for the Sharks for next season revolve around the salary cap and the team's six key free-agents.

Right of the top the team's two longest tenured veterans Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov are both unrestricted. Both players made in excess of $6 million each this past season. The Sharks also have to deal with two other key unrestricted in Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra. Both of these guys were key cogs in the strengthening of the team's grit and depth this past season - both of which had seemingly always been missing from the franchises roster.

At the restricted level of free agency the Sharks must also deal with Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. Both must be re-signed and both will make more cash for sure. As mentioned earlier Wilson has dealt away a lot of draft picks and Pavelski and Setoguchi are two of the younger quality players that the Sharks must have if they are to continue to remain competitive on the ice for years to come.

That brings us back to Marleau and Nabokov. Let's be honest folks when all is said and done the Shark's will not be able to bring them both back. Both will want at least as much as they made this year and the team simply cannot afford to pay them. If they can afford to keep only one the choice is clear that it MUST be Marleau.

Marleau is, quite simply, the most talented player on the roster. He was the one guy to show up big against the Blackhawks and he scored two game winners against the Red Wings in the second round. He has natural abilities that cannot be taught and is truly a world class performer on both defense and offense. His loss would leave a void that the Sharks may not be able to fill for 5, 10, 15 or perhaps even more years.

Nabokov has been a fixture between the pipes for years. He is the best goalkeeper the franchise has ever known and is a fan favorite. He is a very good keeper who is able to raise his game from time to time. He is, however, not been the sterling raise your game type consistently in the post season and will be 35 years old next season. The Sharks boast a few solid prospects in goal in the minor leagues. The highest touted prospect is young Alex Stalock. Stalock appears to be the heir apparent to Nabokov.

Is he ready to replace the multi-time NHL All-Star? No, he is not. But he is coming off a fantastic season in Worcester and scouts think he will be a quality NHL goaltender. He is approaching his 23rd birthday and could be on the roster next season. If all goes as planned he will not be ready to take the reigns for a couple of seasons. This means that the Sharks will need a veteran net minder to lead them for a couple of years. There are several quality names available via free-agency. Marty Turco, Vesa Toskala, Chris Mason and Tim Thomas should all come in far cheaper than Nabokov and all are quality keepers. Are they as good as Nabby? Probably not but remember that even with Nabokov the team has failed to reach the grail. Whoever they sign will probably be keeping the pipes warm for a couple years for Stalock.

In any case Wilson and the Sharks brain trust will have many decisions to make and I believe that the Sharks will once again field a competitive team next season. Whether or not they will actually contend for a championship is an unknown. The Blackhawks are deep and young, but they also have cap implications and will be making some deep cuts themselves. They will not be losing the likes of Jonathan Toewes, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith. But the likes of a Patrick Sharpe or Chris Versteeg or some other quality players will have to be moved. So it is no foregone conclusion that the Hawks will simply waltz into the finals next year.

The cap is the great equalizer. Doug Wilson is aware of the cap and its ramifications.

The Sharks management is quality. They are willing to spend the money to make this team the best they can be. Wilson will make decisions that he feels will allow the Sharks to be the best that they can be next season. Who will be on the roster remains to be seen. But rest assured the 2010-2011 San Jose Sharks will still be very competitive and the Sharks brain trust will do all that they can to once again try to get this team past the seemingly insurmountable hurdles that continue to prevent this franchise from reaching hockey's ultimate prize.

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