The biggest San Jose Sharks loss isn’t a single game. It isn’t even on the ice. It is the result of a broken process.
Two weeks ago, Joe Will held a press conference. Will is the San Jose Sharks acting general manager in the absence of Doug Wilson, who remains on medical leave (Will said Wilson is involved in decisions, even during his leave).
Will’s press conference highlighted what he saw with the Sharks. Alas, it isn’t what the fans see.
Will was optimistic about re-signing star center Tomas Hertl, an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will further said the team’s success (or lack thereof) in the upcoming weeks would determine their approach to the trade deadline.
Sadly, he offered up the same sort of path which started the season. Which also started last season and the season before. In each case, Sharks management was far more optimistic about the roster and what it is capable of compared to what it delivered.
Wilson called this a reset season. To date, it is a reset to nowhere.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Omissions and Commissions
Being dishonest is sometimes about what you say. And sometimes, it is about what you omit. In the press conference, Will painted a rosy picture about the team’s near-term future. Including that their prospect pipeline is ranked as high as 12th. This is a massive improvement over prior years, though still the middle of the pack.
Other facts were omitted.
For example, the Sharks AHL club is dead last in the entire 31-team league. This is the primary feeder to the Sharks team.
Last month, when The Athletic ranked the age 23 and younger players (both in the league and in the team’s pipelines), the Sharks had exactly one player in the top 100, ranked 33rd. The Sharks had just three others on the list of 160 players. The team may not be dead last in this area, but it is well below average.
One hard truth emerges from this, the Sharks are not going to be saved by their youth anytime soon. If at all.
One truth is simple. The Sharks are due for a rebuild. A ‘start nearly from scratch’ type of rebuild. Lest the screams go up, here’s another truth: being bad doesn’t mean a team can’t become good not long after.
Another fact: the last four teams to win multiple Stanley Cups drafted a total of eight key players with a top-3 overall draft pick. These teams were all bad for a bit, drafted at the very top of the draft, and became good. Then became champions. Combined, these teams have hoisted the Stanley Cup in 10 of the last 13 seasons. And all of the last 13 champions had at least one player they’d drafted in the top four overall on their roster.
Here’s another hard truth. Joe Will whiffed big-time with his comment that the team’s performance between now and the trade deadline will impact what the team chooses to do.
The organization’s executive decisions can not be about this season. They should never have been about this season. While playoff hope was not lost at the time of the press conference, the executives had to know that this was not a serious playoff contender from before the season even started. That management needed to spend their time on things with payoffs down the road, not playoffs in 2022. They HAD to know.
The biggest San Jose Sharks loss is not on the ice. It is a loss of trust. The fan base no longer trusts the team’s management. Nor should they. It is one thing for management to make errors. It is another to deny those errors and fail to adjust. Management refuses to honestly assess where the team is. And because they can’t, they also can’t move forward.
The franchise is stuck.
Instead of going into rebuild mode, the team (if Will is to be believed), is interested in keeping Hertl instead of trading him.
Hertl is a superb player and one of the few reasons for Sharks fans to show up at the Shark Tank. But no one will be well-served with his re-signing.
Hertl is 28, still in the prime of his career. These are the years he can lead a good team to a Stanley Cup. He should be playing for a contender. This season, next season and for several more. But the Sharks are unlikely to be Cup competitive for the next several seasons.
Trading Hertl gives him the chance to play meaningful games this season. The Sharks can sell high, a rarity for this franchise. And after the season is over, Hertl will find a big payday, likely for a win-now team. A win-win scenario.
What would retaining Hertl require? The team will likely give the 28-year-old an eight-year deal which takes him to age 36. This is exactly what a rebuilding team doesn’t need. The Sharks need players who will be on the upswing in four years. In four years, there’s a good chance Hertl is starting his decline, as power forwards tend to start falling off in their early 30s.
Losing Hertl in return for high draft picks will not be the San Jose Sharks’ biggest loss. It will hurt for a few years, but the Sharks are going to hurt for a few years. Honest management would know this.
Play On the Ice
Many fans are unhappy with the team’s play this season. But the team is merely playing to the talent of the roster. It was, optimistically, a bubble playoff contender. And when healthy, it played to that level. But like pretty much every NHL team, the Sharks have lost players to injuries. Unlike good teams, the Sharks do not have the depth to overcome injuries.
There will be temptations to blame the coaches, but this is misguided. The team exceeded expectations by hanging in the playoff chase as long as they did. This was always a team likely to finish with a point total in the 80s, which is where they track now.
It is on management to tell the truth about the team as it is now and to tell a credible story about the team’s future. This is not happening. Back in July, this writer wrote about the team’s honesty issue. We still can’t tell if they are lying to themselves or lying to the fans. Either way, it still isn’t good.
The Biggest San Jose Sharks Loss
The Sharks have until the trade deadline to make the long-overdue decision and begin the full rebuild. They are already losing time which means they are losing opportunities. The Calgary Flames were a prime trade candidate for the Sharks. But they traded for Tyler Toffoli, making any meaningful trade with the Sharks highly unlikely.
Pederson is a good example of the Sharks’ misguided approach. He was acquired in the offseason for a fourth-round draft pick. The team invested for this season. The team traded away a down-the-road opportunity. This is the opposite of what the organization needed. The team needed to, and still needs to, invest for later, not for now.
A team can recover many things. But trust, once lost, is hard to regain. And the Sharks have lost it. Specifically, this management team has lost it.
It is the biggest San Jose Sharks loss.