Jonathan Cheechoo, Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek will likely be surrounded by some new faces in the dressing room this season... if they're still around, that is. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
As we make our way through the dog days of the NHL summer, there are a few interesting, potentially season-altering changes still to come – Dany Heatley, Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel are all expected to be moved; Alex Tanguay would look really nice as a contending team’s second-line left winger; and, as discussed during Monday’s THN Shootout, defensemen Derek Morris, Mathieu Schneider and Sergei Zubov are still looking for work, as are second-tier forwards Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Comrie.
But at the top of everyone’s What Will Happen list: San Jose and the long-awaited changes after yet another post-season paroxysm. Teams around the league will be waiting for the first fin to drop before signing or trading further players. But what, really, do the Sharks and GM Doug Wilson have of value?
Patrick Marleau pops to mind immediately, but his trade value is limited. The versatile forward makes $6.3 million worth of pretty pennies this year and then becomes an unrestricted free agent – so there’s no guarantee whichever team gets him can keep him. And, of course, he’s maddeningly inconsistent. Yes, Marleau is coming off a 38-goal campaign, but he managed just 71 points; not a bad total, but an assist every other game isn’t too much to ask.
And that after a 2007-08 season in which he failed to score 20 goals or 50 points, following seasons of 78 and 86 points. Wondering which No. 2 overall pick from 1997 will turn up this year is one reason GMs around the league either haven’t made pitches for Marleau or a wary of giving up too much for him.
Big Joe Thornton is the biggest chip the San Jose has to play. But moving Thornton – who, coincidently, was the first overall pick ahead of Marleau in ’97 – means cleaning house and beginning anew. The Sharks haven’t won with him, but they won’t win without him, at least not in the short term.
Evgeni Nabokov? Can’t win without a No. 1 netminder, either. And, unless UFA Martin Biron – who also doesn’t have a winning pedigree – is in their plans or a goalie is part of a package, there’s no one in San Jose’s system ready for front-line duty.
Dan Boyle? About $6.7 million per season through 2013-14 is pretty rich, even for a D-man who’s shown he can net 15 goals and 55 points regularly. Jonathan Cheechoo? That Rocket Richard Trophy is now a distant memory. No thanks.
Really, the only guys the Sharks have who’d be of interest to other teams are the guys San Jose wouldn’t want to part with.
Thornton heads the list. Next up, Milan Michalek. Also under contract through ’14 and entering his fifth season, the left winger is already good for 20 to 25 goals and 55 to 65 points. But people expect more, soon. He is tantalizingly talented, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds and isn’t 25 until December. Michalek would fetch a return, but only as part of a package could San Jose get anything culture-changing back. Forwards Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi also would garner interest, as would 22-year-old, three-year blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
But these players all represent the future in San Jose. Wilson is unlikely to give any up in a package for a proven veteran, because his team is already loaded with proven – or, in some cases, unproven – veterans, but veterans nonetheless. And since the Sharks are already up against the cap, Wilson will be looking to unload salary, not take any on. I’d put money on him dumping veterans for young players and draft picks before trying to re-load for another playoff run in one fell swoop.
Maybe a culture change is in the offing in San Jose. Maybe Wilson does have offers on the table he’s contemplating. I hope so and you should, too. Because if Wilson does makeover his Sharks, it will lead to a number of reciprocal moves around the league; just the type that make the dog days of the NHL summer a little more bearable.
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