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Closing the Window
Sharks fans could be in for long slide
4/23/12 - By Paul Krill -

With the Sharks' cameo appearance in this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs now over, the arena crew can remove the "This is Sharks Playoff Territory" sign painted on the walkway in front of the building and bulldoze the ice, since it won't be needed again anytime soon. For the team itself, what moves to make aren't so clear.

The failed 2011-12 season could indicate that this Sharks team's several-year window to win a Stanley Cup has now closed. And it could be time for a housecleaning. The Sharks are filled with high-salaried, over-30 players such as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle. Then there's some good still-young players such as Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, followed by up-and-down players such as Ryane Clowe and others. Then there are players we can presume won't be back, like Colin White.

Do the Sharks get rid of many of their players and start over? This could be tough to do since, as an entertainment venture, stars are still needed. Joe Thornton seems to fit the bill here and nobody can point the finger at him for the playoff shortfall, even if his regular season stats are not what they used to be. I know some have wanted to cast away Patrick Marleau and I suspect other teams will still want this consistent 30-goal scorer. But he probably won't have the trade value he'd have had a couple of years ago.

For starters, maybe the Sharks owners need to start at the top of the hockey operations pyramid, with GM Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan. Perhaps it might be time to turn loose these two guys. But who takes over? It's one thing get rid of the existing staff, but is it wise to just roll the dice on somebody new? Or is Scotty Bowman beating down the door run things in San Jose? (Probably not.)

This year's failed playoffs (yes, we can call a five-game playoff stint a failure) might mark the sign of even worse things to come. The existing talent is only going to keep getting older and it's questionable whether a top free agent like Zach Parise would want to come to a now-declining team with one of the league's worst travel schedules, even if the salary cap space can be cleared.

If we look at the Sharks farm system, there's only room for tears, there, too. The Hockey News recently ranked the top 50 prospects awaiting entrance into the NHL. The Red Wings, who are always drafting near the bottom, had three prospects on this list. The Sharks? Zero players on that list. So either the Sharks have not had great prospects in their system lately or Wilson already traded them away. Hockey's Future, which also tracks NHL team prospects, had the Sharks ranked dead-last in its list of organizational rankings in November.

None of this would be so bad if the Sharks had at least made it to the Stanley Cup Finals once in recent seasons. But as we know, the Sharks could never get over that hump and will remain on a very short list of teams that's never been to the Finals. Meanwhile, Nashville, a franchise that entered the league seven seasons after the Sharks, might very well exit that list in a month or so.

Yes, this is all dreary and depressing. But right now, I'm just not seeing much room for optimism.


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