Bizarre Thoughts in Sharks Territory

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It is fitting that as the unconventional 2021 San Jose Sharks season comes to an end, we note bizarre possibilities in Sharks Territory. In this case, a bizarre way for a record to be broken and a bizarre trade makes sense.

The Bizarre Record

History shined brightly in Sharks Territory this season, as forward Patrick Marleau broke Gordie Howe’s long-held record for regular-season games played.

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And with that accomplishment came speculation about how long Marleau’s record might last. Howe held the record for nearly six decades. Some wonder who might have a chance to break it. Two names come to the top of the list.

First is Marleau’s longtime teammate Joe Thornton. He is roughly 100 games behind Marleau, which equates to one full season and a bit of another.

While Marleau probably doesn’t get another NHL season after this one, the phone will ring for Thornton. Could one longtime teammate pass the other? It is possible.

But it is the other name which strikes me. It is none other than Gordie Howe.

Leagues have recognized statistics from other leagues, often on an “after the fact” basis. If the NHL decides at some point to incorporate the statistics of the World Hockey League, Howe will again hold the games played record.

If it seems a long shot, I’ll offer this. The NFL incorporated the records of the American Football League. More recently, Major League Baseball decided to incorporate the statistics of the Negro League players into their record books. The NBA should recognize ABA statistics, and it should have happened a long time ago. It is silly to see Julius Erving sitting between Tracy McGrady and Glen Rice on the league’s all-time scoring list, rather than between Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal.

Will Howe someday become, again, the league’s all-time games played leader? I wouldn’t rule it out. It’d be a bizarre way to break a record, but it is within the realm of possibility. And if it does, yes, the new mark would fall into the “unbreakable” category.

The Bizarre Trade

Sometimes trades make sense for all the wrong reasons. I recently floated a trade idea past long-time Sharks analyst Ian Reid. And as bizarre as the idea sounded to me, his concerns were quite modest.

Soon enough, the San Jose Sharks brass will need to announce the team is embarking on a multi-year rebuild. Sharks Territory demands no less at this point. It is the only credible thing management can say at this point, even though they aren’t saying it.

One issue which management surely must address is the long-term deals. In this case, I’m focusing on the contract of Erik Karlsson. He has six more seasons on his deal as the highest-paid blueliner in the league. Karlsson is clearly skilled and still among the better players in the league. But he isn’t worth his deal. He also has a no-movement clause in his contract, meaning he can veto any potential trade.

Would Karlsson waive the no-movement clause on his contract? If the Sharks signal a multi-year rebuild, it might be enough for Karlsson to consider moving to more promising pastures. Alas, few teams would consider such a deal, unless they could concurrently shed an albatross contract of their own. One team which fits all the criteria – Calgary Flames. The Flames are competitive, despite an awful contract of their own.

This brings me to the trade proposal. Erik Karlsson for Milan Lucic.

Bizarre Rationalized

This deal has to meet the needs of three parties. It has to meet the needs of the teams and it has to be approved by Karlsson.

Does it meet the needs of the Sharks? Yes. The Sharks aren’t competing for the Stanley Cup shortly, and a genuine rebuild means they don’t even sniff the playoffs for the next few seasons. This means Lucic, who has two seasons left on his abysmal contract, would come to Sharks Territory, be an albatross for two seasons, and allow the Sharks not to have the Karlsson contract for four additional years beyond that. That addresses the Sharks’ needs. They do not need an expensive defenceman for a rebuild. And c2025, they won’t need one in decline just as they are trying to return to relevance.

It meets Calgary’s needs, as they can replace a boat anchor in Lucic with a game-changer in Karlsson. For a team not far from being a legit contender, the trade up in talent is enormous and enough to take a fringe playoff team into contender status. This is where Reid questioned the deal; does Calgary think they are close enough? He sees them as a playoff bubble team. But is that how the Flames, with Karlsson, see themselves?

This brings us to Karlsson. Would he accept this deal? If he believes he’ll spend his next three seasons going nowhere playing in Sharks Territory, I can imagine he’ll strongly consider playing for a team with a chance to do bigger things. Reid’s same skepticism shows up here, as Karlsson also needs to believe this is a better place for him.

Karlsson’s no-movement clause gives him a veto over any move elsewhere. But it won’t prevent a trade Karlsson finds acceptable to him.

Few teams will take the risk that Karlsson’s deal carries. Maybe none. Maybe just one. Calgary meets the key criteria. Karlsson makes them a playoff contender and genuine playoff threat. Even if Karlsson sees Calgary as a less than ideal setting, his choice isn’t between the Flames and every other team. It’s between only two teams, the Flames and the Sharks – with the latter embarking on a three-year rebuild.

The idea of trading a Hall of Fame talent like Karlsson for a fourth-line talent in Lucic is bizarre. And yet, in the world of ‘now for later’, it makes sense for both teams. Further, it forms the seed of a strategy which we’ll cover shortly.

Sharks Territory, c2021

Such are the times when a player long retired and no longer among the living, might reclaim a record. Or an absolute talent getting traded for an absolute boat anchor making sense.

These are bizarre times indeed. That’s life in Sharks Territory, c2021.

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