Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

CSI: San Jose

The lockers are cleaned and the injuries have been revealed and the whole San Jose Sharks meltdown still stinks to high heaven. Some panic-attack fans and media are in "Trade Patrick Marleau/Fire Ron Wilson/The sky is falling" mode, but those extreme tactics probably won't be taken by GM Doug Wilson.

So, what the hell happened and what will happen in the off-season? Let's review.

Patrick Marleau: So the captain had a separated shoulder since mid-February. I'm not in the "it heals after three weeks" boat; while separated shoulders can get back to normal after a few weeks for most mere mortals, we're not taking the rigors of NHL hockey bashing our shoulders. Marleau wasn't 100% at the end of the season, looked pretty good but still not all there against Nashville, then looked awful against Detroit. Maybe something popped his shoulder against Detroit, maybe not. Bottom line is he didn't go into the boards as hard as he did during the first 2/3 of the season, his stickhandling ability was consistently inconsistent, and he didn't shoot nearly as much as he normally did. That's fine and that goes with the injury. However, brain farts about playing out of position don't. Owning up to this in the media is good on Marleau's part, and it's good that he's not blaming the injury for that, but he's got to consider why his defensive game dropped off.

Trade him? If I'm Doug Wilson, I would say 99% no, but I'd be curious to see if you could get a #1 defenseman in his prime. The ONLY way I'd trade Marleau is if that was possible and you knew you had a good chance of wooing Scott Gomez or Chris Drury to replace him. Otherwise, I'd absolutely keep him.

Ron Wilson: When Wilson gets his team to play his system at 100%, the Sharks proved they could roll over anyone. Problem is motivation, and the question boils down to whether or not that responsibility lies more on the bench or behind the bench. I'd keep Ron for now, but if the Sharks show the same inconsistent play that plagued this season by Christmas 2007, I'd be silently sending out feelers to see who's available. Maybe they could get Mark Messier's DNA and splice it into Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

The goaltending: While the platoon system worked for most of the season, both goalies demonstrated over the past two seasons that they can take the #1 position and run with it. So, now you have a dilemma. It's obvious there are holes to fill in the team and the goaltending is a significant trade asset. Do you try and move Evgeni Nabokov (consider his no-trade clause) and his locked-in high salary or do you try and move Vesa Toskala knowing that he could ask for Nabokov's or more when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 07-08 season? There's no easy answer to that one because so many factors are involved, including the fact that most teams that need goaltending don't have a lot of tradeable assets that the Sharks need.

Scott Hannan: It's reported that Hannan wants Chris Phillips-type money around $3.5 million. Unfortunately, Hannan's not as good as Phillips. Sure, Hannan's a great shut down guy, but he has a huge tendency to turn over the puck in the neutral zone and isn't as consistent as Phillips. If you take Hannan's salary and combine that with other cap space on a #1 defenseman, that'd be my first choice. Which leads to...

The power play: All of the elements are there. The problem is that the Sharks have a one-trick pony power play. It's really effective when a healthy Patrick Marleau is running the point. However, when Marleau can't shoot, stickhandle, or keep the puck in as well like we saw down the stretch, it turns to inconsistent Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle, or (shudder) Kyle McLaren. Now, Ehrhoff may be reaching his peak as a 35-40 point guy, and Matt Carle should only get better, but it'd sure be nice to try and get a true power play specialist out there. The big-money free agent options? Sheldon Souray and Brian Rafalski. Neither are natural leaders in the Scott Niedermayer mold, but that can be addressed elsewhere. The only way I think something like that would be possible is if the Sharks clear cap space by trading Nabokov.

Secondary scoring: Steve Bernier, what happened to you? Joe Pavelski, will you get better or drop off? A big part of the Sharks success next season will be if Steve Bernier, who never recovered from lost conditioning due to a foot problem, and Joe Pavelski can prove to be true second-line scoring forwards or if they are a pair of flash-in-the-pans. In the on-deck circle, highly touted Devin Setoguchi, who may become the next contestant in the "Find a winger for Patrick Marleau" game. Between Bernier, Pavelski, and Setoguchi, if just ONE of them can put up a fairly consistent 20-goal/60-point effort next season riding next to Marleau, the Sharks will be in much better shape.

Mark Bell: Holy jebus, did Mark Bell suck. Well, that's not totally true. He was decent in October and decent for the last four weeks or so of the season. In fact, when the Bill Guerin/Bell/Marleau line came together, we saw glimpses of the Bell the Sharks thought they'd be getting -- hard hitting, strong on the boards, and perched in the slot. Ron Wilson has defended Bell to some extent by saying that he's had hip/back/groin problems all season, and if that's true, that may explain why Bell looked slow and awkward all the time. So, if that was the case, maybe there's hope that an extended recovery period followed by a rigorous conditioning/power skating program could give the Sharks a player similar to the 25 goal/60 point guy they saw in Chicago. Honestly, I watched Bell quite a bit in Chicago and he didn't look anywhere near as inept or confused as he did in a Sharks jersey. Perhaps health, confidence, and conditioning can help him put this season (and his DUI) behind him. Otherwise, he's a black hole of $2.5 million in cap space.

Defense: It's obvious that the Sharks philosophy of hoping that youth would overcome and prevail was flawed. The deer-in-the-headlights look of Matt Carle from the second half of the season onward showed the problems involved with putting a lot of your eggs in one basket. Re-signing Craig Rivet and his right-handed shot would be a good idea, but it depends on how much money he'd want. $3 mil might be too rich for the Sharks' blood.

Leadership: Does Patrick Marleau deserve the captaincy? Maybe, but maybe not. He wouldn't be the first captain to disappear in a playoff series (hello Ottawa fans and Daniel Alfredsson), and there's no reason why he couldn't redeem himself later (hello again, Daniel Alfredsson). Just because you're quiet doesn't mean that you can't lead -- ask Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman about that. On the other hand, some players aren't meant to be captain, like Mike Modano and Brian Leetch. Still, leadership is a group thing, and even Mark Messier had his lieutenants in Leetch, Adam Graves, and Mike Richter. The problem may lie in the fact that both Joe Thornton or Marleau are fairly laid back, happy-go-lucky guys. A player like Mike Grier certainly is a boost in the leadership department, but signing a veteran player who's won at least one Stanley Cup, even as a third liner, could prove to be a calming influence to a team that seems to panic in the face of adversity.

For fans who think the team should be blown up and put back together, take a deep breath and try to be as objective as possible. So many of the elements are in place, and there are moveable assets and some cap flexibility (minus the Vladimir Malakhov cap hit, the Sharks finished the season with about $3.5 million available). Doug Wilson's priorities should be a power-play specialist defenseman and a veteran who has Cups on his resume.


LoneSharks said...

SIGN RYAN SMYTH!!! It may involve leaving a bit of a hole on the blueline, but I'd be comfortable with that. Smyth is exactly the type of hard worker who plants himself in front of the net that we need on the power play to give it consistency. He's got sneaky skills and he would fit perfectly on a line with Joe and Cheech (that's a mean top line that no one wants to see hop over the boards). That would allow Milan to drop back down with Patty and give a lot of balance to the lineup. If Setoguchi can play you'd have lines that look like this:

Michalak-Marleau-(Bell? Pavelski?)

Smyth is like Mike Grier in the heart and effort departments, but unlike Grier he can finish with regularity. Based on comments from him earlier in the season, and his desire to play for a cup contender, I do believe he would take a small discount to play in SJ. Regardless some moves will have to be made to accommodate him (I doubt Rivet and Hannan could both return) but I would be comfortable with it. The Sharks need to start planning for next offseason, when I believe Marleau, Thornton, and Toskala become unrestricted free agents.

LoneSharks said...

That was supposed to be Bell, Pavelski, or Setoguchi as candidates to play right wing with Marleau's line.

The comments made by Smyth that I was referring to were him saying that he thought the Sharks were the most talented team in the West. For the life of me I can't remember exactly when or where I read that but it was sometime during the winter when it started to look like he might get traded.

jamestobrien said...

Good post, Chen.

It's odd that Marleau was such a bust this playoffs, because I always used to say that Thornton would wilt in the extra games while Marleau seemed to emerge that much more dominant. Show's what one bad playoffs can do to a player.

I wouldn't drop Marleau just yet.

With Bell, excuses or not, it's hard to forgive any player who is that unproductive spending (even if it was just the early part of the season) time on a line with Thornton.

Thornton made Sergei Samsanov look like a world-beater, for the love of god!

Mike Chen said...

My perfect world would be shipping out Nabby and letting Hannan walk, then signing Smyth and Souray. Well, that's not totally perfect -- I'd like Bell's contract to magically disappear, Setoguchi to be awesome, and Rivet re-sign for $1 million, but we can't have everything now, huh?

And again, that's not to say that I want to get rid of Nabby per se. It just relieves the cap space, and yeah, Toskala will probably require a similar price tag the year after, but you can do further shuffling around after that.

Ted said...

Great analysis of the year. I agree with almost all of it. The last sentence, I don't know. Maybe the biggest need is finding yet another contestant in the find-a-winger contest.

They can afford to hope Bernier, Pavs, Bell, etc.. will fill the gap, but if not, and it's not that unlikely, they might find themselves in the same position at the deadline, grasping for a scoring LW.

Mike said...

Souray would be a great fit, but I think he'll either be in LA to see his kids, or remain in Montreal.

As for available D, what about Brad Stuart? I'd like to see another D that has a dangerous point shot. Andy Sutton is available as well.

Sqb. said...

I think DeVries is available. Mean streak, won a Cup, but doesn't really fulfill the team's puckmoving need on D. I've always wanted Adam Foote, but it's the same issues as DeVries. These guys are really just upgrades on McLaren's role.

The issues for the D are pretty simple. Find a veteran that can skate and pass, to help the breakout, the PP, and Carle.

The FA sweepstakes for defenseman are over. So you're going to have to settle for a Timmonen, a Markov, a Sydor. The Sharks of 08 will try to run, again, without a #1 defenseman.

Forwards are more complicated, and the playoffs showed that. SJ has a great set of forwards, but it doesn't have a consistent top 6 that works. (Look at Anaheim's top 9. It never changes.)

You needed Michalek on the top line, which gave Thornton the speedy winger that Bell wasn't. Now Marleau's playing with the leftovers. You waste his skills with Pavelski and Guerin; he can't take as many risks.

There are other incompatibilities, like Bell...where does he fit? In Goc's spot?

Anonymous said...

Smyth is an over-rated cheater. The Sharks should never sign him. Your advice is bad, and you should feel bad for giving it. Shame.

Mike said...

The FA sweepstakes for defenseman are over

I don't know what you mean by this. There will be at least a dozen teams bidding for Pandolfo, Souray, and Timmonen. Maybe not as quite as high-profile as Chara or Pronger, but Souray is going to get close to the max.

Sqb. said...

Pandolfo's a forward. What I meant was that a Rafalski/Souray summer is really different from a

Jovanovski, Redden, Chara, Blake summer.

And the Sharks' need is in the Redden/Blake mold...more than the Timmonen/Rafalski mold.

You're right that Souray will make a big buck, though.

Earl Sleek said...

Whoever pays near the max for Souray is going to be regretting it, I think.

I'm coming around to think that very few defensemen should be making north of $6 M in this league, but thanks to scarcity and free-agent bidding, many more are.

Chara, Jovanovski, Blake... a lot of money went towards these guys, presumably not for their spring golf game.

Still, it's kind of nice for Duck fans--watching teams pay big dollars for defensemen who won't carry them very far. It makes our two big-money defensemen seem quite the deal, by comparison.

Kent W. said...

I would suggest Timonen is the crown jewel of the UFA blueliner crop this off-season. He's not very big so he kinda flies under the radar. However, he consistently puts up points and he's been playing tough minutes for the Preds - competently - for a long time. I think he could help any team in the league - including the Sharks.

Mike said...

Sorry about the Pandolfo/Rafalski thing, for some reason those two names get mixed up in my head.

I would suggest Timonen is the crown jewel of the UFA blueliner crop this off-season.

Souray is younger, has more points, points on the power play, and PIMs. Because he's been a minus player where Timonen is very solid defensively makes it a closer call. For the Sharks, I don't think it's a close call, with Vlasic and McLaren already around. Souray is the better choice for San Jose.

I have no idea if that means he'd be willing to sign here, or if he's worth $6M+, which he will surely get. Timonen will be cheaper, probably in the $4-5M range.

Doogie2K said...

Smyth is an over-rated cheater. The Sharks should never sign him.

Care to defend that assertion some? I love how so many people swoon over Holmstrom and the stuff he does, and yet Smyth's been doing it better for longer, spent more than 1:12 killing penalties this year, and he's overrated. I really can't figure that one.

Your advice is bad, and you should feel bad for giving it. Shame.

That's just uncalled for.

LoneSharks said...

Seriously, have you ever watched Ryan Smyth play? His ability to take a stick to the face and come back in the same game in the Edmonton series last year was a huge factor in the turnaround, as big as the Michalak hit or the OT game winner. It showed that the Oilers' best player simply would not be denied, and the rest of the team fed off of that. There's a reason they call him Captain Canada.

As four Souray I agree with Sleek. There are only 3 guys playing D that are worth paying $6 million a season: Niedermeyer, Pronger, and Lidstrom. In my opinion there is a big drop off from that trio to the next tier which includes guys like Chara, Dan Boyle, and Sergei Zubov. I like Chara's size but he's not as naturally skilled as the others, and it can be exposed at times. I live in Boston and watch the Bruins and he's not the difference maker some would have you believe. One argument Boston fans make about the Thornton trade is that it allowed them to sign Chara AND Savard, but the team didn't improve. If you put one of the big three on the Bruins I believe they would have improved more even without the presence of Savard. If you take a look at Souray's career stats this past season was an anomaly, not the norm. At age 31 you can't make a case that he has finally developed, if he was really this good he would have put up similar numbers the last 4-5 years and that's not the case at all. Throw in the fact that he is a left handed shot and was -28 last season and there's no way I'd pay more than $3-4 million for him.

In a perfect world the Sharks would find a stud #1 dman who can play the point, kill penalties, and play 30 mins a night but those guys aren't out there and are definitely not gonna be unrestricted free agents. In light of that, I think it makes sense for the Sharks to target Ryan Smyth, who can be a difference maker at another position of relative need. It will be tough to work, but life is tough. This team needs to look in the mirror a little bit and ask itself if they want to win the cup or be a nice competitive team for a long period of time (a la the Braves). I don't know what the answer should be. Financially it probably makes more sense to be competitive over time, but the fans won't continue to stand for close but no cigar. It's time for some self-reflection before free agency starts to determine the next step for this franchise. Whatever approach they decide to take, I would like to see Mark Bell gone (even if it involves giving someone a 2nd or 3rd round pick to take his salary off our hands).