Entering their Thursday night contest against the Dallas Stars the Sharks were the ninth team in the Western Conference and out of the playoff picture which, of course, is not an incredible surprise since general manager Doug Wilson announced last summer that the team was going into a “rebuilding” phase. Rebuild or not, it has become clear that the Sharks can’t repair the issues they have with scoring in the bottom six and on the blue line simply by relying on developing and drafting new talent. They’ll need to try something else if they wish to remain as competitive as they have been for the past ten seasons.
At the beginning of February I was able to attend a exclusive team event with 30 or so other guests, and we were treated to an intimate Q & A session with Wilson. He made it clear to us that under no circumstances was he willing to part with any first round picks or top prospects at the deadline. He also voiced that the team had a healthy stable of ten NHL-caliber center men so that was a position they would not be looking to fill.
It seems the GM has decided to completely ignore the blue line, apparently satisfied enough with the play of defensemen Scott Hannan, Matt Irwin and Justin Braun. The freshest and most ripe rumor we’ve been treated to as the deadline approaches is the possibility that goaltender Antti Niemi is on the block. The 31-year-old Stanley Cup winner has averaged almost 80% of the starts since he arrived in teal and is currently a pending UFA. I must mention that during that session with Wilson, when asked about a possible extension for Niemi, Wilson was quiet. Trading Niemi would be the Sharks throwing in the towel on the season. Niemi is an NHL-caliber starting goaltender. The same can not be said about their 27-year-old backup Alex Stalock.
The Sharks have been playing mediocre hockey lately, and the addition of a first round pick next season will not help them this season. A star player, or a vetted voice in the locker room, could boost them to the top of the standings, and maybe even carry them through the playoffs. The Sharks have always operated best as a cohesive unit, and it still seems they are playing more as coworkers then teammates. Logan Couture’s comments after their performance against the visiting Lightning could point us in the direction to believe this when he said, “You lose because the whole team isn’t on the same page, and that’s what’s going on with us right now. I mean, we need to get ourselves out of this if we want to give ourselves a chance to play beyond the end of the regular season.”
The current state of the Sharks from my vantage point as the deadline approaches? They have one NHL goaltender, which they are apparently shopping. They have no pure defensive core and are looking to make no moves. And they are satisfied keeping players in their bottom six where they are, like Tomas Hertl centering the fourth line.
Fasten your seatbelt.