Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Sharks may have got bitten this series, but they have built themselves up for long term success

The San Jose Sharks suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, to lose for the second consecutive year in the Western Conference Finals. Most analysts will look at the way that they played in the series, and decide that the five games defeat was not indicative of  the strong performance put on by the Sharks. For some unexplainable reason, this assessment is meant to offer some condolence to their fan base. I also believe that the best days for the Sharks lie ahead, but not due to their play in the series. The cause of my excitement is because of the structure of salaries of their team. For this the fans should get excited.

The San Jose Sharks from a salary cap standpoint, are built for long run success. The biggest problem facing most teams recently like the Red Wings a few years ago and the Blackhawks last season, was that their players were all coming into their primes at the same time. Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook all needed big contracts at the same time, and in the new salary cap era, it is an unsustainable formula, which has lead to the semi collapse of a team that otherwise could have been a dynasty.

The Canucks are faced with a very similar problem with their defence this off-season. After signing Hamhuis this past offseason to ensure that they have the deepest defence in the entire league, the Canucks will need to re-sign Ehrhoff, Bieksa and Salo this off-season. While Salo, may not get the big bucks again because of his injury concerns, Ehrhoff and Bieksa are both looking for their long term most expensive contracts. With the inexplicable acquisition of Kieth Ballard and his ludicrous 4.2 million dollar deal this past off-season, it will be almost impossible for them to maintain the services of both stars.

Parenthetically, that may have been the weirdest trade in the entire NHL in the past five years. The Canucks, felt the need to go after a 4.2 million dollar player that would be the sixth defenceman on their team, and gave up Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a 1st round pick. Sounds like Florida got a steal right? Wrong. They promptly waived Grabner and allowed the Islanders to pick up a player that had the most goals in a season for a rookie since Alexander Ovechkin. I think both GM's must be kicking themselves these days and rightfully so.

The Sharks on the other hand, have their players coming through in waves, which will allow them to maintain longevity of their successful team for many years to come. Right now the team has Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley all playing (albeit Heatley has been on vacation for a while) in the prime of their careers on their big money contracts. While they are receiving their big money, the team has young players like Devin Setoguchi (who is an RFA looking for a raise this summer) and Logan Couture playing on their entry level deals. Also, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski are already playing on contracts that will run through the 2014 season. With all of their top players locked into long term contracts until 2014, the Sharks are not obligated to give raises to their young guys while paying the veterans on the team heavy duty contracts. This recipe will allow the Sharks to continue to hold onto all of their offensive star talent. When Heatley is on your third line, you know that you are a pretty deep team, and the ability to hold onto all of those players is a luxury most teams have not allowed themselves to have.

The defence for the San Jose Sharks which was 4th in the NHL in goals against, also has their glue guys locked up for the foreseeable future. The salary cap situation is very similar on the defensive side of their game. Dan Boyle is still locked into his megadeal for the next few seasons, M.E. Vlasic and the upcoming Douglas Murray (I still cannot believe with a name like that, that he is Swedish) already finished their entry level deals,and  there are no big money players getting older that they need to give a raise to. The defence is actually in line for a significant influx of new talent. Ian White ($3 million) Nicklas Wallin ($2.5 million) and Kent Huskins ($1.7 million) are all coming off of the books this season and if they do come back, will be at significant discounts. With Jason Demers looking like he is ready to join the top six, the Sharks may be willing to throw the extra money available on defence at a star player. Would it not be an amazing story if Kevin Bieksa was somehow lured to San Jose for next season? He sure made a good impression this series.

The goalie situation is very stable as well for the Sharks. Antti Niemi, after his rough start acclimating to the Sharks, ended the season on a very strong level. He had some rough patches during the playoffs, but I think, as does GM Doug Wilson, that Niemi is their goalie of the future. A couple of months ago he received a four year deal that will pay him roughly $3.8 million per year. An extremely fair number for a goalie that has proven that he is capable of leading a team deep into the Playoffs. Also, with Anterro Nittymaki as his backup, the Sharks are set in goal. (Great Sharks trivia: Who is the last Canadian born goaltender to play in a game for Sharks?)

My message to Sharks fans is the following: Over the next three years, the Canucks will need to find a way to fit Burrows, Bieksa, and Ehrhoff into their tight salary cap. The Red Wings were beaten by you this year and are only getting older. The Flyers, do not have a goalie that can stop a wiffle ball never mind a puck. The Lightning are saddled with some bad contracts and will need to shell out top money for Stamkos and Hedman in the upcoming seasons. Boston is really the only team that is in a similar situation financially to the Sharks. Most of the serious competition is not going to be able to afford to seriously improve from the current team that they have now, or even keep all of their top players that they have now. With some savvy free agent signings this off-season and an increase in production from star rookie Couture and a rejuvenation of Dany Heatley, the Sharks core may be the most talented come the end of 2012. For that you should be excited for.

Hope you enjoyed!
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