The 2011-12 season will likely be remembered as the season where the San Jose Sharks defied the percentages. In spite of finishing the season 2nd in the league in shots, the Sharks finished 13th in goals. By contrast, San Jose finished 8th in both shots and goals against. This was likely exaggerated by the Sharks' abysmal Penalty Kill, which finished theregular season below 80%, second from last, ahead of only Columbus.
San Jose allowed nearly 25% of their goals against while shorthanded. This was in sharp contrast to their 5-on-5 play, where the Sharks were one of the best possession teams in the league, posting impressive Fenwick numbers (measures of shots for and shots against) throughout the season.
So while the Sharks did many things well during the 2012 season, they will ultimately be judged for their failures. With the offseason sure to bring intrigue with the likes of Rick Nash, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise possibly available, many will be clamoring for GM Doug Wilson to make dramatic changes to the team.
How much change Wilson can make is up for debate.
For the upcoming season, the following players are under contract:
With these 14 players under contract, the Sharks are left with just under $8,750,000 in Cap Space (assuming the Cap does not increase) to round out the roster, which requires essentially two bottom lines and one defenseman, plus healthy scratches.
For the most part, the top two lines are set, and given that the 4 most expensive contracts (Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Burns) all carry some form of No Movement Clause, it's very unlikely any of these players aren't on the roster in 2012-13. Dan Boyle's clause becomes a limited NTC on June 30th, similar to Dany Heatley's last season, which opens the door for a possible trade. However, Boyle is the team's de facto number one defenseman based on ice time and points. It's unclear whether the team would be willing to move forward with a toppairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns.
Both are very promising defensemen approaching their prime years, but the team has leaned very heavily on Boyle in recent years. Despite his advancing age, Boyle still averages over 26 minutes per night, and almost four minutes a night of Power Play time. The departure of Dan Boyle would put immense pressure on Burns and Jason Demers to carry the load with the man advantage, one of the few bright spots for San Jose in 2012.
Near the trade deadline, it was rumored that the Sharks were talking to Columbus about a trade for Rick Nash, but the conversation reportedly started with Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture, at which point negotiations broke down. There were similar reports from Philadelphia when the Sharks were rumored to have asked about James Van Riemsdyke. Considering that the Sharks weren't willing to part with either young centerman, even when a high profile player may have been coming back the other way, it is also unlikely either of these two players will be moved either.
Michal Handzus was the team's most prominent Free Agent signing of 2012, and was expected to anchor the third line and stabilize the Penalty Kill. And while he had a bright start to the season, and provided effective mentoring to Jamie McGinn, Handzus was still one of the biggest disappointments of this past season. Injury, age and off-season personal tragedies all contributed to the worst season of Handzus' career. His regression prompted the acquisitions of Dominic Moore and Daniel Winnick. Handzus has a full NMC, but he also has only one season left on his contract. The lengthy off-season and an emotional World Championship performance may help to turn things around for Handzus, though.
Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray present interesting quandaries for the team. Both have been key contributors to the team's success in seasons past, but both are coming off disappointing seasons. Injury was certainly a factor for both players in 2012, but the St. Louis defeat may have exposed both Clowe and Murray, renowned for their physicality, as too slow to compete in the increasingly competitive Western Conference.
With one year remaining on their contracts, they make intriguing possibilities in trades for teams looking to put themselves back into the playoff picture in 2013. They also represent just over $6,000,000 in Cap Space, which could allow the team to make a splash in Free Agency.
The Sharks do also have decisions to make with regards to several of their own pendingUFAs and RFAs.
The Sharks have a wealth of players, both from last seasons roster and some call upsfrom Worcestor, who could fulfill the depth roles that the team still needs filled.
Winnick, Moore and Galliardi, all acquired at or near the trade deadline, were brought in to help the struggling penalty kill. And while Winnick appears to have done precisely that, injuries likely prevented Galliardi and Moore from truly showing their potential .It seems reasonable that all three of these players would return next season, and would hopefully solidify a true third line for the Sharks that can be relied upon to forecheck and be accountable in their own zone. What this means for Torrey Mitchell, who has never quite lived up to the potential of his rookie season following a devastating leg injury, is uncertain. Unless he is willing to accept a pay cut and a diminished role on the fourth line, Mitchell would seem unlikely to return.
Andrew Desjardins also would appear to be a fixture centering the fourth line. Tommy Wingels was the most pleasant surprise of the season, able to play with any line and generally providing positive results. In many ways, he provided what Benn Ferriero was expected to, and may end up making the Boston native redundant in the lineup.
Justin Braun is probably the player from this group who made the biggest statement in 2012. While his game may still be developing, Braun certainly held his ground in tough defensive deployments. He also helped to turn Jason Demers' season around after a very rough start. Sharks fans should expect Demers and Braun to be a long standing pairing for Team Teal.
Colin While, Jim Vandermeer and Brad Winchester, all brought in to provide physicality and veteran experience, are not likely to be retained.
It's probably safe to assume San Jose will address the lower lines internally, and not have to spend significantly more than they did in 2012 to fill lines 3 and 4, and the bottom pairing.
When the Sharks travelled to Winnipeg this past season while Martin Havlat was injured, TSN color commentator Ray Ferraro said of the Sharks that they looked to be one forward short of being a real contender. If the Sharks are able to fill out the bottom lines and healthy scratch roster spots for $6,000,000 in cap space, they would have approximately $2,750,000 in cap space, plus Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe as trade
assets, to acquire one impact forward and one impact defenseman. While it might not be enough to acquire the likes of Nash, Suter or Parise, there are intriguing options for the Sharks.
On defense, former Shark Matt Carle could provide an upgrade to Murray, and his current contract carries a $3,625,000 cap hit. For the same price, there's also Barret Jackman of St. Louis, whom the Sharks are sadly acquainted with, and his teammate, Carlo Colaiacovo, who made $2,125,000 in 2012. Jason Garrison had an excellent year for Florida and will be looking to cash in on his first lucrative contract.
At forward, the free agent market would appear to be dominated by top line talent that San Jose can't afford, aging veterans not likely to improve the team, or third liners who are largely on par with San Jose's own UFAs. The Sharks might be better served shopping Clowe for a replacement, or simply hoping Clowe has a turnaround season in 2013, which is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
Changes are probably coming for San Jose in the upcoming season. But they won't be nearly as dramatic as most people expect. And San Jose will probably be better for it.