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Celebrating Almost
Sharks hanging another banner
10/12/2022 - By Mike Lee

The Sharks return home on Friday to begin their official home schedule with a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The game will also mark the homecoming of former defenseman Brent Burns, who was traded to Carolina last July. Being the second game of the season for Carolina, Burns hasn't been gone long enough to warrant much of a sentimental reunion. The Sharks actually did Burns a favor by shipping him to a contender, but their bigger favor was a gift by former General Manager Doug Wilson. Almost.

Wilson, as we all know, inked Burns to an 8-year $64 million contract in 2016, which seemed reasonable at the time. Burns went on to win the Norris Trophy in 2017, but over time, Burns production began to slip and over the last three seasons, Burns has been more defensive liability than offensive advantage.

The contract was a big enough burden on the Sharks that they were forced to deal him this past summer. With losses stacking up and no light at the end of the tunnel, San Jose began to try and correct Wilson's vision of grandeur.

Ironically, San Jose will celebrate Wilson with a special ceremony at SAP Center on Saturday night when the Chicago Blackhawks come calling. Wilson played 14 of his 16 NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, so it makes sense that the ceremony be held against his former club. What's more ironic is the Sharks celebrating the guy that has handcuffed them for the next several years by raisng a banner in his honor.

How, you might ask, is a team that hasn't made the playoffs the past three seasons raising a banner?

It's not secret that Wilson has been ill, which is was motivated his retirement, and his Hall of Fame career warrants great adulation, but that's not what the Sharks are recognizing him for.

The Sharks are hanging a banner to recognize Wilson's accomplishments as GM. Those accomplishments include 763 wins, 484 losses, 12 ties and 155 overtime losses (59% point efficiency). The Sharks were division champions 5 times over that 18 season span, and were conference champions twice. The black mark on Wilson's resume is the lack of Stanley Cup Championships. In 18 seasons, Wilson's teams reached the Stanley Cup Finals once, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016.

It was their greatest almost moment.

A President's Trophy for best regular season record in the NHL in 2009 was quickly rendered irrelevant by a 1st round exit to the Anaheim Ducks. The last division championship came in 2011, but that was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. When they finally made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, they were the 6th seed in the West.

During Wilson's tenure, the Sharks missed qualifying for the playoffs four times. The issue is three of those four misses have come the last three years. This has been the greatest span of not almost in team history.

Wilson sold his soul to the salary cap devil in an attempt to lock up players that he thought would be long term contributors to championship runs.

He overestimated and the Sharks are now in hockey hell.

Burns contract, while steep, was one of the more reasonable deals. The contractual land mines that he would plant began to start ticking when he acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson. The Swedish defenseman has been a shell of his Norris days, but after a year in San Jose, Wilson signed him to a 8-year $92 million deal that handcuffs the Sharks with an $11.5 million salary cap hit each year until 2027.

The Karlsson deal left the Sharks unable to retain Joe Pavelski, who turned out to be the Dallas Stars leading scorer last season. In terms of the worst deals Wilson inked, Marc-Edouard Vlasic's contract may parallel Karlsson's.

Vlasic signed an 8-year $56 million in 2017, which was worth the money for a single season. Vlasic's play has declined significantly since 2018, but the cap hit remains. The defenseman continues to see ice time, but he's become a defensive liability. That's a tough pill to swallow for a guy that's consuming $7 million in cap space until 2026.

The biggest problem with Karlsson and Vlasic is that the Sharks can't even move them. Nobody will touch their contracts.

That becomes more of an issue when San Jose will be forced to make a decision on forward Timo Meier, who becomes a restricted free agent. Meier will demand a raise from his $6 million salary, if you use Tomas Hertl's 8-year $65 million contract. San Jose will need to find $2 million in cap space next year assuming they don't increase anyone else's pay.

The Sharks could start by ridding themselves of another bad Wilson contract. They're still on the hook to pay Kevin Labanc $4.7 million each of the next two seasons. Labanc missed most of last season due to injury, but even then his offensive output was down.

Current General Manager Mike Grier was so limited in his bargaining power during the off-season, that he had to deal Burns just to open up the space required to sign a bevy of bottom end players that are unlikely to get the Sharks to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

In fact, the salary cap grim reaper will hover over SAP Center for several more seasons. The decade will almost be over by the time they rid themselves of Karlsson and Vlasic's contracts. Yet, Sa Jose is going to hang a banner on Saturday to celebrate.

The Sharks are great at celebrating almost.

As a result, fans will continue to almost buy tickets. TV ratings will almost be meaningful to the networks.

Congratulations Doug Wilson on a job well done. Almost.


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