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Step back
What will it take to move forward?
2/18/15 - By Ken Smyth -

We're now seeing another meaning to the "take a step back to take a step forward" talk coming out of the Sharks' management last summer. Nothing to do with the junior high cheer squad drama with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, nothing to do with how certain defensemen can't seem to guess right when handling the other team's break-out from their zone. The step back is that the one-time contending Sharks are now one of the mediocre teams in the NHL: neither very bad nor very good.

This could easily cost the Sharks a spot in the playoffs. Being mediocre doesn't mean you can't wind up in the Stanley Cup Finals, but it does mean that playoff success will hinge on players getting hot and carrying the team.

Look at last May, who would have figured the Eastern Conference Finals would be New York against Montreal when viewing the standings in February? But does this Sharks' team have the players who can carry a playoff push? Speaking as a fan, I don't have a lot of confidence.

The Sharks win and lose with Joe Thornton's offensive skills and a defense that keeps the puck out of their own net. We've already seen this season what happens when Joe is out for a period due to injury or suspension. Joe Pavelski proved last season's scoring was no fluke, but he needs Thornton to set him up.

The defense lost Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart over the summer, forcing the Sharks to play a very green defensive corps on the back end with an aging Scott Hannan playing way too many games. Moving Brent Burns back to the blueline was a difficult choice, but forced by the Sharks' having more depth at wing than defense.

Given the trade deadline coming up, will Doug Wilson be a buyer or a seller? This team as currently playing is more than one or two players from competing with Los Angeles or Chicago in a seven game series.

Wilson once would toss first round picks to get a Burns, a Boyle, or a Bryan Campbell, but now the Sharks need to look past the present season. I'd hope that some experienced bottom-six players could be moved for picks or prospects. It's likely that goaltender Antii Niemi is available as well, this would be a good time for Alex Stalock to get his audition for the #1 job.

Both LA and Chicago are expected to be seriously squeezed by the salary cap over the summer and the draft is a deep one. Can Wilson keep his job if the Sharks step back out of the playoffs but with the team set up for a good draft, and with enough salary cap space for some useful free agent signings? Things could get very interesting over the next eight weeks.

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