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Sharks Will Ponder Staying The Course


In case you missed the announcement yesterday, we are pleased to welcome Phil Coffey to KK as a special blogger.  Phil is well connected throughout the hockey community and his insight is most welcomed.

So, now what?

That’s the question being bandied about by the San Jose Sharks and their fans after another disappointing end to a season that held such promise.

Losing in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals to the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks might be of some consolation to other teams, but not in San Jose. Not when a Sharks team built to win now failed to grasp the last rung of the ladder into the Stanley Cup Final.

But back to the original question, namely now what?

In the instant analysis that follows, there will be calls for dynamite.

Ship out Joe Thornton!

Ship out Dany Heatley!

Ship out Patrick Marleau!

Ship ‘em all out and start from scratch!

As you can see, knee-jerk reactions following a playoff loss are rarely logical, much less smart.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” coach Todd McLellan said of breaking up the Sharks. “We have some very talented players that are under contract. We have a real strong core. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. We’ve grown as a team.

“In my opinion, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t be an elite team again next year, as we were the last three, four, five years. We expect to be there. That’s the standard we live by.”

Still, for GM Doug Wilson, the team’s direction for 2011-12 and beyond is a very important question he will ponder in the coming weeks.

Will he agree with McLellan that this particular group of players has more to give, or is a different approach mandated by another season that fell short.

Does the core of Thornton,  Heatley, Marleau and Joe Pavelski—all signed for the next three seasons at big bucks—have the moxie to overcome this disappointment and take another kick at the can?

If Wilson believes the core is strong, then his off-season becomes one of picking and choosing from his own unrestricted free agents—defensemen Ian White and Niklas Wallin top that list—and re-sign his restricted free agents—Devin Setoguchi, Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn being the top names here.

If breaking up the team is Wilson’s ultimate decision, then he has a busy summer ahead trying to find the right deals for some pretty high-priced players. And as we all know in today’s salary-cap world, dealing a big-earner is a lot easier said than done, especially if one is looking for an equitable return on investment.

Heatley is on the books for $7.5 million in 2011-12, Thornton will make $7 million, Marleau $6.9 million and Pavelski $4 million. That’s a lot of scratch for four players and defenseman Dan Boyle will earn $6.7 million. The Sharks will likely have to do some pruning to be cap compliant for next season in any event and a couple moves to get the restricted free agents under contract will see the inevitable changes that all teams face.

How big and widespread those changes will be is now at the top of Wilson’s agenda.

Filed in: NHL Teams, San Jose Sharks, Phil_Coffey, | KK Hockey | Permalink


TheFreak's avatar

Like you said, the knee jerk reaction is to get rid of the players. However, going back to paraphrase what McLellan said about Heatley’s under whelming performance in the playoffs, is that it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out a way to get him out of his funk.

So, by those words, McLellan and his staff didn’t do their jobs and are responsible, and seems to have put himself and others on the chopping block.

McLellan is a good coach and he obviously said those words to take the pressure off Heatley, but just saying you can also point the finger elsewhere.

Posted by TheFreak on 05/25/11 at 12:36 PM ET


You bet. And it’s always easier to fire the coach than the players.

But I don’t think firing the coaches in San Jose makes sense either. But upper management could opt for the total rebuild. It’s a possibility, but not likely based on the fact signing the core guys to long-term deals was part of their plan.

And is there another coach who can get Heatley going? Another open-ended question, but it appeared to me Thornton brought his “A” game to the postseason—despite being hurt—and you have to give McLellan credit for that since it was the major criticism of Thornton over the years.

—Phil Coffey

Posted by pcoffey on 05/25/11 at 12:43 PM ET

Ajax19's avatar

Well, at this pace the Sharks will win 2 games in the WCF in 2012, 3 in 2013, and should be able to make the finals by 2014.

I think the Sharks are still set up to be a very good team for a while. I don’t know who, if anyone, will be leading the “blow ‘em up!” rally.

They need to fine tune somethings, but they have a good core and I think they have solidified their netminding for a while with Niemi. The only albatross like contract they seem to be saddled with is Heatley. He looked a step slow all playoffs long and 3 goals just isn’t enough. His production in the regular season was down as well. Sure, he may play some better defense than before and do more of “the little things”, but you don’t pay a 25-30 goal scorer who does that sort of thing $7.5 million a year.

Ever since the cap era, I think the best way to really determine a value of a player is to see how they are playing against their contract. Heatley isn’t doing that in any way.

Posted by Ajax19 on 05/25/11 at 12:44 PM ET

Reggie Dunlop's avatar

Heatley shouldn’t be grouped with Thornton or Marleau here.  Thornton had his best playoffs ever and you can count on Marleau to come through with big goals every year.  Heatley has had two years now in SJ and completely failed at his role.  He hasn’t come close accomplishing what he was brought in to do.

Posted by Reggie Dunlop on 05/25/11 at 01:06 PM ET


Agree completely on Heatley. I really don’t care if my top offensive guy is a Selke candidate too, I want him to put points on the board early and often.

After years of whispers that Thornton wasn’t much of a leader, he has put that to bed. Now, the onus is on Heatley to take his game to the next level and not look to get out of town.

—Phil Coffey

Posted by pcoffey on 05/25/11 at 01:07 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

I don’t see how they can change it. Even if you can make a convincing argument that it is the best thing to do for the on-ice success of the team, there are too many other constraints.

As you said, the contracts to the five core guys are huge. As much as any team would love the talent of any of those players, who can afford to take on the contracts (and with years left on them), both from a cap perspective and from a bottom-line financial perspective? The teams with the willingness and ability to spend don’t have the cap space or the need for those players, and the teams with the need and the cap space for those players don’t have the actual budget, cap aside.

Pavelski and Boyle are the only two of the five that are trade-able. And in Pavelski’s case, if you look at the upcoming FA crop, there are a handful of players that have put up similar numbers and will probably come in at a similar cap hit, and shorter term, which is amenable to most teams given the uncertainty of the CBA. That leaves Boyle as the most trade-able, and that’s only because a D-man like him is nearly impossible to find, almost never hits the open market, and considering his abilities, his cap number isn’t too bad at all. But, he has a full NTC still. Of course, we’ve seen those ultimately mean very little in most cases…

All that said, it just isn’t worth trying to rebuild it. They have a core of really good talent, they have money tied up in that talent. Whether they want to or not, they essentially have to stick with it. I think best they can do if they want a shake-up is to open up offers for guys like Couture in return for a veteran forward with a winning track record. Problem is, those guys just aren’t really available the way they were in the pre-cap world… and also, the league is kind of in a transition between generations, so you don’t have those still talented vets around like we did a handful of years ago (e.g. Guerin, Shanahan).

Posted by Nathan from wasting perfect passes from my teammates on 05/25/11 at 01:09 PM ET


Hi Nathan,

Keep in mind that the cap is supposed to go up for next season and that means the floor also will rise, so there is a possibility that a big contract could be sent to a team needing to get to the floor.

I know it’s a strange discussion, but cap flexibility and space are coveted commodities these days.

—Phil Coffey

Posted by pcoffey on 05/25/11 at 01:21 PM ET

awould's avatar

Todd McLellan said of breaking up the Sharks. “.....We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. We’ve grown as a team.

By now, the Sharks are the easily most educated team in the league. With every season and every playoff loss, they learn a new lesson.

Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 01:32 PM ET


Well ladies and germs, once again that fickle bastard Lord Stanley has screwed me.  I believed, I make sacrifices, I endure the slings and arrows of two nations for my beloved Sharks and what do you get?

A damned team, that’s what I get.

I now see that after Patrick Marleau having the captaincy taken from him, acquiring Dany Heatley, firing Ron Wilson, letting Malhotra walk, signing a third line center for $4 million, completely neglecting the 4th line, Using Nabokov as a scapegoat for the deficiencies of team defense, and not to mention the sad state our blueline is and has been, there can only be one solution:

Fire Doug Wilson

He knows as much of building a championship team as a Buddhist monk knows about fornicating.  He’s paying Heatley $8 million to disappear when this team needed him most, he continues to waste money ($2.7mm for Wallin with an NTC?, $1.7mm for Huskins? Mitchell at $1.3mm?  What the hell is that money for!?) while ignoring that Dan Boyle cannot play all 60 minutes.  Murray can’t either and after that, the drop off in talent is like taking a tumble down the Mariana Trench.  Ian White is the only one that could even have a shot at making a top 6 on a championship team.

There is so much talent out there on defense this year, both in RFA and UFA pools.  Bieska, Brewer, Ian White (I’d take him back), Errhoff (traded to make room for Heatley, irony defined), Andy Greene can chew up 22 minutes, many upgrades are out there, some for a lot less than $2.7 million.

Then you get to the RFA’s and we have to get one of these four guys:

  Shea Weber
  Keith Yandle
  Drew Doughty
  Zach Bosigian (even if he spells his name funny)

throw Dany Heatley money at one of these fools.  Weber is WORTH $8 million a year, Heatley is stealing that a year.  For hell’s sake, I could line up next to Couture or Thornton and pot 20 or 30 goals!  And I’m a WAAAAY better skater than Heatley and actually KNOW we have a defensive zone that I have to at least skate in from time to time.

In short: screw Doug Wilson for doing this to us and I hope our new GM addresses out the defensive corps.  He/She will also have to figure out how to get rid of Heatley with is No Movement Clause.  We can’t even demote him to the minors, another brilliant move! 

god go with the Canucks in the next round, because god know I won’t. 

p.s. the spam code I’m entering to post this is “22policy” which is about what Dan Boyle is to this team.  I’d take 22 Dan Boyles.

Posted by zakk the bear from san jose, ca on 05/25/11 at 02:05 PM ET

Leo_Racicot's avatar

I think going after Heatley/Thorton/Marleau/Pavelski/Couture/Clowe is a waste of time.  These guys were extremely effective throughout the playoffs.  I saw one disttinguished writer go so far as to tweet Heatley’s regular season mutliple goal games compared to his playoff performances, which from a % standpoint was complete and utter nonsense.

That said, when you compare SJ’s 3rd and 4th lines to the other remaining teams in the playoffs is quite telilng, IMHO.  They don’t get the contributions (with ice time, special teams, and timely critical goals) needed to make it through four rounds of grueling hockey.

I also think they’re missing a key compliment to Boyle on the backline, their second PP unit was (at times) awful these playoffs and I imagine a guy like Erhoff would’ve been a boon.

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 05/25/11 at 02:05 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

“Heatley will score 70 goals this season”
-Keith Jones

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 05/25/11 at 02:09 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Using Nabokov as a scapegoat for the deficiencies of team defense
Posted by zakk the bear from san jose, ca on 05/25/11 at 12:05 PM ET


The Sharks absolutely wasted one of the great workhorse goalies of his era, by not putting a defense worth a damn in front of him.

Why’d it take San Jose fans so long to figure this out?

p.s. the spam code I’m entering to post this is “22policy” which is about what Dan Boyle is to this team.  I’d take 22 Dan Boyles.

I’d think one Boyle is liability enough….

Posted by Primis on 05/25/11 at 02:14 PM ET

awould's avatar

The Sharks cap situation is a mess. Good luck sorting that out.

Boyle makes $6.6? wow. not worth it.
Setoguchi is a UFA due a raise.
7 UFA, 3 RFA


Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 02:17 PM ET



Seto is a RFA, not UFA.  And while things don’t exactly look pretty on the surface, cap-wise, if it does in fact go up by $2-3 million or so, I think they should be able to fill out the roster similarly to this year.  The key is that no key parts, other than Ian White, I would say, are UFAs.  I like to think they have a decent chance of bringing him back, and if they insert Justin Braun into the lineup for Huskins and Wallin, that could lead to a faster, more offensively-aware defense, which is something they need.

Posted by nosferatu from Albany, NY on 05/25/11 at 02:53 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

Yeah, I really like White but having Ehrhoff back would be incredible.  I think if we had Boyle, Murray, White, Ehrhoff, Vlasic, and Demers as a defensive core, they’d be pretty good.  The key is Heatley.  I can’t see him waiving his no movement for anything.  Not when he’s on this team.  Hopefully, he can pull out of his two year funk and start getting back to his roots of scoring.  I didn’t mind him during the season, he played fairly well.  Okay defensively, and wasn’t a bad all around player.  But not good for a 7 million cap hit.  We’ll see if he can step up and bring it next year.  That’s about all I can hope for.  And please, please, PLEASE, don’t resign Wallin, and get rid of Eager and Huskins.  That’s pretty much all I’d ask. smile

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 05/25/11 at 02:54 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

Oh yes, thanks.  Braun would be a bigger help than Huskins and Wallin I think.  Let’s hope he’s back in all next year.

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 05/25/11 at 02:56 PM ET

Paul's avatar

Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail with his view of the Sharks,

Some would characterize the San Jose season as another failure because once again, they failed to advance to the Stanley Cup final. This ignores two factors: One, the Canucks are an exceptional team in their own right; and two, the Sharks are not that far behind. Those aching for a major makeover in San Jose will be disappointed again.


Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 05/25/11 at 03:00 PM ET

awould's avatar

Right now, SJ has 11 guys to sign/replace and about $10MM cap space, assuming cap goes to $62MM. Take, say, $3MM off for Setoguchi. Leaves $7MM. There are 3 UFA D making $7.3MM that need to be signed or replaced. They won’t be signing for less, I assume. So replace them I guess.

Anyone thinking they’re getting Erhoff or another big time D guy is fooling themselves…. he’ll command close to $4.5-5MM… if they did sign somebody that big, the remaining 9 spaces would be filled by guys making an average of $275k. And that’s not taking into account that Couture will be RFA in 2012/13 so they need to leave some cap space.

Like I said, a mess. They have near the lower end of signed roster spaces and the lower end of $/space for the remaining contracts. Compare to Detroit, 11 players to sign/replace w/ $21MM to spend.

I wouldn’t expect SJ roster to improve this next season. I would think one of their big O players needs to be traded if they want to restructure and give themselves some depth on D. Trade Nittymaki and replace w/ a real backup, not a starter who sits on the bench. What a waste fo money.

Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 03:19 PM ET


San Jose’s problem, in my view, isn’t necessarily that they have the wrong core. It’s that, compared to other talented teams around the league, their core makes too much.

Thornton makes $7.2 million. That’s maybe a little high, but close to right.
Heatley makes $7.5 million and Marleau makes $6.9 million. Those are superstar wages, but neither player is a superstar. They’re decent first-line forwards, nothing more. Going rate for that should be in the $5.5 million range.
Dan Boyle, at $6.67 million, is probably making fair market value. But it’s still a big chunk of change, and he can’t keep doing everything himself on the blueline.

Thornton, Heatley, Marleau and Boyle collectively make more than $5 million per season against the cap than Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Lidstrom. The “Big Three” alone make a combined $4.4 million more than Sedin/Sedin/Kesler. That’s a ton of, frankly, wasted space.

The net effect of all these mega-deals is that the bottom two lines and half the defense is very substandard.

If all of San Jose’s big-dollar players are playing well, all at the same time, they can blow the doors off of anybody. If they aren’t, it can be tough to get by without reliable depth players who can hold the fort.

The problem isn’t the stars themselves. The problem is that, in order to win, they all need to play well at the same time for two straight months.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 05/25/11 at 05:35 PM ET

awould's avatar

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 05/25/11 at 03:35 PM ET

I agree with that completely. It’s the reason why their cap situation is so screwed. Chicago isn’t much different - too much $$ tied into too few players.

Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 05:40 PM ET


The challenge these days is to maintain a balance between the stars and the pluggers on lines 3 and 4. It’s not difficult to go out and sign stars to big contracts, and ensure you get into the playoffs. But if you don’t have sufficient depth, you might as well forget it. The Blackhawks were very successful last year because they had incredible depth, and got rid of it to secure their stars.  The dilemma is when to sacrifice a star to maintain your depth, Vancouver’s advantage this year, aside from having a number of stars, is their incredible depth on defense, and their good fortune in having a number of really good performers such as Burrows and Raymond drawing moderate salaries.

Posted by chav from Vancouver on 05/25/11 at 07:06 PM ET

awould's avatar

Vancouver will lose some of its D this year…. no way they keep Bieksa, Salo and Ehrhoff. This is definitely the best team they’ve had in years and likely for years to come. But looks like they’ll capitalize as I don’t see them losing to any team in the East.

The real test for them will come in the next two seasons. Depending on how they handle the core D UFAs this year, they’ll have either a moderate problem or a major problem when Raymond, Samuelsson, Malhotra, and Burrows are due for new contracts. Also, the entire lower half of their offense is UFA or RFA this year, which is either a problem or an opportunity depending on how it’s handled.

Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 07:13 PM ET


Vancouver may not be quite as deep in the coming years, but if each Sedin continues to produce at close to 100-point pace and Kesler continues to be a 70-point, two-way force, the Canucks should have no problem reloading. Henrik and Daniel are only at $6.1 million apiece through 2014, and Kesler is at only $5 million until 2016. Those are very attractive numbers for players of their magnitude.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 05/25/11 at 07:33 PM ET

awould's avatar

Agreed. Just saying I think this is the pinnacle of their team right now, for this current core group. The salary hit of Kesler/Sedins is very good, actually. Depth will be more of an issue in the next 2-4 years, but they’re sitting much better than other teams (like SJ and Chicago).

Posted by awould on 05/25/11 at 07:41 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Keep in mind that the cap is supposed to go up for next season and that means the floor also will rise, so there is a possibility that a big contract could be sent to a team needing to get to the floor.

Posted by pcoffey on 05/25/11 at 11:21 AM ET

Does $1 - $3 million really make those guys more trade-able?

And as we saw last year with teams like the Islanders, there are ways to “circumvent” the cap floor, just like long-term deals “circumvent” the ceiling. It’s a lot easier to get to the floor this way, or by taking on a bad contract with a year left on it instead of multiple years.

Posted by Nathan from wasting perfect passes from my teammates on 05/26/11 at 01:18 PM ET


Hey Nathan,

You’re right, $1-3 million doesn’t mean much (Cripes we are removed from reality in sports aren’t we?), and all of this is speculation anyway, but there may well be a team needing to get to the floor that actually wants to get better, so giving a cap-strapped team a deal for wiggle room always is a possibility.

Right now, the Panthers are waaaaaaay under the cap and I could see Dale Taloon looking to make a move to give his franchise a shot in the arm

Posted by pcoffey on 05/26/11 at 03:58 PM ET


Hey there, Phil. It’s an honor and pleasure to have you posting here on Kukla’s Korner.

Looking forward to seeing more great hockey coverage from you.

~ Patrick Hoffman

Posted by Patrick Hoffman from Fairfield, CT on 05/26/11 at 05:12 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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