The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Who would have ever thought that the Bay Area’s most promising teams would be the Giants, Niners and the Warriors? Well, the Giants have a pitching staff, the Warriors just drafted Stephen Curry, and the Niner’s press is consistently raving about the progress of Crabtree and our two competing, yet theoretically insufficient quarterbacks (small hands). And where is the one team on which we have relied? After another early exit, the Sharks and the rest of the hockey world has ventured into the realm of free agency.

At this point, we have seen a good quantity of trades and signings, many surprising, many predicted. We have seen teams improve, Toronto being the obvious example, and we have seen teams lose a plethora of talent, as epitomized by Detroit’s struggle to maintain a dominant position in the West while staying under the salary cap. However, the one thing we are yet to see is a fix to what is the biggest disappointment of last year—the San Jose Sharks. Something needs to happen, and the question is: what?

The current situation does not look terrible on paper—a team of four league-proclaimed all stars in Thornton, Marleau, Nabakov and Boyle. Each has claimed fantastic statistics and play throughout their career, despite rough patches (Joe can’t perform in the playoffs, Marleau has had issues with performing since he began wearing the ‘C’ on his chest, Nabby’s production has dwindled since the lockout and he cannot play without competition, and Boyle has been the victim of single-game meltdowns accruing multiple penalties on more than one occasion, at least two of which have lead to losses—albeit he is one of the more consistent D-men in the league today). But after these playoff catastrophes over the last few years, something needs to happen. And with the sharks about a million under the cap essentially lacking a fourth line and parts of its third, they will need to shed one of their ‘powerhouses.’ And that leaves every shark wondering, who will it be, and why hasn’t it happened yet?

Let’s start by addressing the front office. This will be the make it or break it period for this hockey clubs administration. They will either find a way to salvage a team out of this catastrophe of a financial situation, or they will lose some of the greatest skill this club has ever had the privilege of coaching. We also have one of the greatest supporting casts you could ask for, second and third lines with workers like Pavelski, Clowe and Seto—players who would make the old regime of less skill, more heart Nolan and Ricci proud. And that is the real issue here: heart. And of this list of assets, only Marleau has proven his devotion for this franchise, and if he remains on the roster, I would be surprised if he didn’t offer to take a contract reduction to keep us on the winning track. Both Nabakov and Big Joe have proven to us in their various playoff runs that they won’t be skating any harder come the post season. And Boyle has done nothing to let us doubt he dedication—in fact his flaws could even be characterized as overzealous passion. So where does that leave us? Boyle needs to stay to solidify the defense. No, it’s not the strongest set of lines in the league, but they can hold their own against anyone out there, especially with the talent we see in guys like Vlasic and Murray the train. Marleau is a leader. He should not be the captain, and I would even go out on the limb to suggest Pavelski would be a better candidate (although he might not be here much longer; he deserves a huge contract next year and our cap issues won’t just go away). So with Boyle and Patrick eliminated, who do we trade?

Right now we need to fill out our roster with quality lower liners, and someone who can help Murray with the enforcer role. Our farm system is lackluster at best, and more realistically crippled for the next few years. Our top goalie prospects need much more development, Greiss is nowhere near starter abilities, and there are only a few players who could be called up that wouldn’t necessarily hurt the team. And this situation hasn’t gotten much better with $1.5 million more than we should be paying to maintain Huskins and Clowe. And this is where our office has been effective. With all the big names, and therefore contracts, hopping from team to team, we will undoubtedly be able to capitalize on lower line players being shifted around the league to allow big movers to stay under the cap. But with a little over one million to spend, we could barely afford another Lemieux to sit on our bench and play a few minutes a game. We need quality ten minute a game guys, and they can’t be had for that little. Someone needs to go:

  • Nabakov: we can probably expect one of his better years this year. He is obviously upset at the early exit (and the criticism for his poor physical condition) and he is in a contract year, meaning pressure. His best season since the lockout came while fighting Toskola to maintain the starting job, and his best before that were in his winning of the starter status. He needs to prove he is worth something, but how much can that really help the aging goalie?
  • Thornton: There is a lot to be said about the supporting cast affecting his play; even if he is incapable of accelerating his play come late spring and summer, he might not have too. If he wasn’t the entire offence (and playing healthy), he could still be the amazing set-up guy. He just can’t do anything with two guys on him at all times. And with only two strong lines, any opponent will be able to gain the matchup advantage. I wholly believe that if we add another quality line to the two incredible lines we have, there will be no advantage to be had with matchups. Everyone will be able to hurt you, even if Thornton’s purpose is reduced to merely tiring out the primary defensive line.

So who? Nabakov is my choice. He has fewer years left and done less. Not to mention the goalie needs to fuel the rest of the team, and can’t be supported by adding a quality line under him. But making only $5.4 million, his departure won’t solve our problems. Yes we will get rid of Goc, Cheech, Shelley, etc., but those are just more roster-spots to fill without the resources to do so. And there isn’t another Sterlow to mold us a new goalie or a Gustavsson to sign under a million (not to mention he’ll need a year to acclimate himself to our smaller ice).  So with no money, the dominant status of the team attributed to four players, more salaries to increase next year and an empty farm system, this team will struggle to even field a quality team of 21, much less 23. So as thousands of onlookers wait for a real, productive move from DW and the front office, I can once again comfortably say: “life is hard as a bay area sports fan.”

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~ by mitchsolomon on July 9, 2009.

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