The San Jose Sharks are coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons. The just-concluded 2021 season had the Sharks finish on a pace equivalent to 71 points in an 82 game season. The prior season, they finished on pace for 74 points in an 82 game season. The typical cut-off for a playoff team is about 95 points. In other words, the Sharks were and are a long way from being even a fringe playoff contender. Even further from actually making the playoffs. And quite clearly, further still from being a legit Stanley Cup contender. This is the landscape for the San Jose Sharks. The question the San Jose Sharks front office, and pretty much every other organization faces is, “how do we build a Stanley Cup champion?” For the Sharks, the path is clearly a lengthy one. To get there, the San Jose Sharks essential element begins with one word: honesty.
Honesty in Sharks Territory
Honesty starts at the top, and to be blunt, the early signs are not encouraging. In a recent interview, general manager Doug Wilson cited important needs as a third-line center and improved goaltending. it is hard to argue either point. But to suggest this team is a third-line center and an upgraded goaltender away from actual significance is, being honest, delusional.
The head coach, Bob Boughner, wasn’t much better with his assessment, “When you look at the analytics, you almost have to take out the first 10 and last 10 games to get a true view.”
And in case some aren’t clear on this concept, I’m not suggesting either the coach or the general manager is lying. But they are failing to take an honest appraisal of this team, where it is and what is possible.
The Missing Word
Restock. Replenish. Reload. Reset. Re-establish. I call them the R-words. These are the words Sharks management has been using. It’s all garbage. But worst of all, they are not honest.
The San Jose Sharks’ essential element is honesty. Honesty, painful as it might be, gets the right conclusion.
The R-word the Sharks team needs to use is rebuilding.
The approach one takes to a rebuild is completely different than the approach that one takes to any of these other R-words.
A rebuild starts by picking a future date when you think the team can return to being competitive and then seeing if there is a plan gets you there. If the plan doesn’t work, you set a different date and work on the next plan.
As best as I can tell, the Sharks are most likely not competitive until around 2025, and if things go well, they’ll be highly competitive for the rest of the decade. With a bit of luck, Stanley Cup competitive.
Simply put, too many things need to go right for any shorter time frame to work.
So, practically speaking, what does rebuild mean for the Sharks?
It means you give up on doing things that help “now” for things that help “later”. One example is the area of buyouts. A buyout in 2021 helps in 2022, 2023 and 2024. But hurts in 2025, 2026 and beyond.
The most commonly considered buyout candidates are Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones. A buyout of Jones hits the Sharks salary cap for six years, Vlasic for 10 years, Karlsson for 12 (until 2033!!). Buyouts are for teams wanting better “now” and are willing to sacrifice “later”. This should not be the Sharks’ approach.
Another essential aspect of honesty means telling the players there will be a multi-year rebuild. If players do not want to stick around, Sharks management should respect their choices attempt to trade them. If trades don’t happen this offseason, these players should know that the better they play next season, the greater the demand will be from other teams. If they want out of the rebuild, they have some control over it with their play.
While we noted the general manager and the head coach has some issues with reality, Evander Kane didn’t. He stated, “Nobody wants to go through a rebuild. I know I don’t have any interest in that. I know a lot of the guys on the team don’t have any interest in that.”
Evander Kane’s Honesty
Since Kane spoke honestly, I’ll use him as a case study. If Kane does not want to stick around for a rebuild, that is fine. There is no reason to resent a player who isn’t interested in spending a few seasons going nowhere.
If the plan is to be good in 2025, anything which acts to serve that plan is positive.
In 2025, Kane’s contract ends. He’ll be 34 years old, a time when power forwards often decline significantly. If the goal is to be good in 2025, Kane is probably not part of that process.
Kane is a “now” player. He just posted a strong season, leading the team in just about everything worth leading the team in. He’s a genuinely good player in a situation that doesn’t fit him. This is being honest.
There are other life factors beyond the “I want to win a Stanley Cup” mindset. But if this is important for Kane, it makes sense for Kane to get traded. Traded to a genuine contender where Kane can be a difference-maker next season. For the Sharks, it means getting high draft picks. The team is worse off in 2022 and better off in 2025.
Trading Kane is a three-way win. it is better for the player, better for the Sharks and better for the team acquiring him.
The San Jose Sharks Essential Element
The Sharks need to acknowledge the obvious. The era of continuous success defined by the primes of Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau among others, that era is over. And also, the attempt to keep the Stanley Cup window open by acquiring the likes of Kane and Karlsson has simply not worked as hoped.
The Sharks went with large, long-term deals that will take good players late into their careers. The approach was both rational and risky. It made sense if the Sharks could pull off a Stanley Cup before it all fell apart. But things fell apart ahead of schedule. The plan was rational, but it didn’t work. The time for a new plan is now.
Putting off a rebuild is puts the Sharks on an extended path to absolutely nowhere. The sorts of decisions made by a team are completely different from a “now” perspective versus a “later” perspective.
Unless and until the Sharks leadership understands the right word is rebuild, this organization is destined to flounder.
I’m just being honest.
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