Less than two weeks after falling on the wrong side of a historic playoff collapse, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson stated his intentions Thursday to overhaul the underachieving roster. The organization has already announced its faith in coach Todd McLellan who will be back, leaving Wilson with the unenviable task of retooling a roster that has become synonymous with playoff failure.
On Thursday, Wilson announced the team will not try to retain veteran defenseman Dan Boyle when he hits free agency this summer as the team plans to move converted forward Brent Burns back to his natural defensive position. In addition the team stated they will move on from oft-injured and unproductive forward Martin Havlat.
Boyle has been a mainstay on the Sharks’ defense the last six seasons since coming over from Tampa Bay. But the soon-to-be 38-year-old has seen better days, and his departure will provide a different look on the blue line with Burns in his place.
Havlat is a more interesting matter since he still has one year left on his contract that will pay him $6 million in real money but carry a $5 million hit. The market for his services will be thin, even if the Sharks pick up some of the tab. Perhaps he makes sense at a discounted rate for a team like the Islanders, where general manager Garth Snow has shown a willingness to try and find value with damaged goods (and of course an uncanny ability to botch even the simplest personnel decisions, but I digress). Most likely, the Sharks will use one of its two remaining compliance buyouts on Havlat and gain valuable cap space.
While it’s a start, San Jose can’t stop there. The team will have roughly $53 million in cap space tied up to 15 players after it rids itself of Havlat, so Wilson will have money to spend. The team will most likely retain backup goalie Alex Stalock, who saw a surprise start in the series against Los Angeles. But will they look to upgrade from starter Antti Niemi?
Niemi is set to make $4 million next year ($3.8 million cap hit) in the final year of the contract he signed after winning a Cup in Chicago. Despite the limited goalie market, the Sharks should be able to find a team to take a flyer on the 30-year-old netminder for one year. After McLellan yo-yo’ed Niemi in its opening round matchup against the Kings, it would be best for both sides to go their separate ways this summer.
With Niemi out of the picture, the Sharks need to make a serious push for free agent Ryan Miller to man its nets for the rest of the decade. Rumor has it that Miller is looking to play on the west coast and despite his pedigree, his options will be limited. If he wants the west coast and a chance to win, the Sharks make the most sense.
Sure the 34-year-old will get overpaid and will command a seven-year contract. But the Sharks have a three-year window with veterans Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton to win. After that, their contracts will expire and both will be staring at age 38 and no doubt seriously considering retirement. The time to win is now.
The next move is to add some more experience and toughness on the blue line. In a division with the big-bodied Kings and Ducks, the Sharks need to bring in their own big bodies to counter. Veteran defensemen like Brooks Orpik or Matt Greene would bring a nastiness to the Sharks’ blue line and won’t be afraid to mix it up with their division rivals. Signing one of these guys will make the opposition think twice before entering the offensive zone with them on the ice.
The final piece for Wilson should be to bring in a legitimate top-six winger to balance out the offense. There were rumors before the trade deadline that the Sharks were interested in trading for Ryan Callahan. Obviously it didn’t work out that way, but that shouldn’t stop the Sharks from pursuing him this summer. Despite his outrageous demands mid-season (rumored to be seeking over $7 million a year), Callahan should command a more reasonable contract in the five-year, $25-$30 million range. Assuming he can stay healthy, he’s the type of playoff performer a team looks for in April and can lengthen the Sharks’ offensive attack.
Does adding Miller, Greene, and Callahan while subtracting Boyle, Niemi, and Havlat make the Sharks a better team on paper? Absolutely. Throw in the expected improvement of youngster Tomas Hertl, and all of a sudden the Sharks don’t look like playoff pushovers anymore, do they?
Wilson was given a one-year reprieve by ownership to get this team over the hump. It’s time for him to go big or go home.