Shark chum or apex predator?

The NHL trade deadline for the 2014-2015 season is March 2, noon PT.

The Sharks are still pushing for a younger “generation” as leaders and key players as part of a “reset, refresh” (aka “rebuilding on the fly”), with finding new homes for ineffective veterans and expanding roles for young vets and rookies.

What did the Sharks do last year?

Last year in the weeks leading up to the March 5 trade deadline, the Sharks were sellers, trading away 3 minor league players, only acquiring 1 minor league player and a conditional 7th round pick in exchange. Not very active, and no NHL roster impacts.

Over the summer, they traded Dan Boyle’s rights, bought out Martin Havlat; traded Brad Stuart. They also signed four UFAs (Scott plus 3 minor leaguers), and made one trade acquisition (McGinn).

Since last spring, the Sharks have signed three undrafted free agents (Carpenter, Goodrow, Jevpalovs) and three draftees to ELCs (Bergman, Chartier, Goldobin); Goodrow is the only one that made the NHL roster out of camp.

Where are the Sharks this year?

The Sharks have swapped D men (Dillon for Demers, retaining salary), and demoted Burish to AHL.

And managed to stay in the playoff sweepstakes, even with some impactful injuries, even after setting NHL record with 15 road games in the first 21 games of the season.

What assets do the Sharks have for trades?

Sharks have more than $4m in cap space, and about five NHL contract slots available to acquire players, with 4 goalies, 12 defensemen, 29 forwards active on NHL deals. (That contract limit reduces if any player heads to the NHL after their European/junior year is over.)

The Sharks have 14 pending RFA (and/or group VI UFA) players, 10 pending UFAs, plus 10 players on AHL deals.

The Sharks have their own 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th plus acquired 4th and 5th 2015 draft picks, but given the expected depth of the draft, I’m guessing the Sharks would like to acquire more picks if possible.

What do the Sharks need?

Goal tending is an obvious need.

The fans are not sold on Niemi as a starter, but neither Stalock nor Grosenick have shown the skill and drive to take the net from him. Some fans have expressed an opinion that no goalie currently in the organization is the long term answer to the Sharks need in net. Sateri went to Europe (defected RFA), but I don’t feel that he can take the starter position either. Bergvik is the only unsigned draftee goalie in the pipeline, and it would be a year to two before he’d be in the NHL, if he has the skills and drive.

Since the death of Warren Strelow, the Sharks have not developed any NHL starters (back ups, yes, including Carter Hutton, Thomas Griess). This may also point to a need to change the goal tending coaching/development in the organization.

But can the Sharks acquire one via trade, or do they have to draft a possible #1 goalie? What are they willing to “spend” to get one via trade?

Defense is always a need.

Sharks have had some blue line prospects that have succeeded in the NHL, but a few that flamed out in development as a bust.  There are a couple AHLers (Tennyson, Abeltschauser) close to NHL time, but limited number of other drafted blue liners close to being in lineup.

Additions to the pipeline are always needed.

Forwards are forwards.

You can never have enough top flight offensive players.  Goldobin is someone who will be in the NHL perhaps as early as next season; Chartier and Jevpalovs have been showing their skills in the CHL; and Rod made a very good impression in the WJC tournament.

But finding young (under 27) such players available via trade can be a very expensive proposition.

The Sharks have had a good track record of finding/developing “character”/glue players for the 3rd and 4th line, but you’re always looking for more to keep the pipeline filled.

While often “less expensive” than an offensive player, it still takes the right combination to “make a deal.”

What might the Sharks do?

Wilson has said the Sharks won’t be acquiring any rental players at the trade deadline (I’d define “rental” as pending UFAs), but he might be targeting some pending RFAs or prospects for acquisition.  (This emphasis on youth has eliminated the Sharks from the services of top UFAs in the past couple of off seasons, as most of these players are closer to or past their “best used by” date, and the Sharks aren’t just “one player away” from a sure-fire Stanley Cup finalist (on paper). Plus given the Shark’s salary structure, they are not likely, nor willing, to offer the “max term, max $$” contract that some UFAs would be demanding.)

Some might be thinking Wilson is “overdue” for a big splash at the trade deadline. But right now, I’m just not seeing that as a very likely outcome.  The Sharks are probably more focusing two seasons down the road when Marleau’s and Thornton’s contracts expire, as to what the Sharks will be and become starting in the fall of 2017. (Not that they aren’t looking at filling the needed holes between now and then.)

While there were many rumors over the summer and continuing into the winter (perhaps brought on by the removal of captaincy/assistant letters) that the Sharks were looking for new homes for Marleau and Thornton (by waiving their respective NMCs), the team has never confirmed they were on the trade block, but has confirmed neither player was asked player to waive their NMC.  The truth is that both Marleau and Thornton are still effective on the ice and it would be hard to make any trade that returned even half of the offense (much less an equivalent amount of hockey sense). (And given their contract $$s, it would make more sense to trade them in the off season than at the deadline.)

There are a number of former Sharks players/prospects I cringe every time their current team faces the Sharks, including Bonino, Carle, Coyle, etc.  There are some very good former Sharks out there because they were traded away (for what I now perceive to be more of a short term fix). With the Sharks emphasis on youth, many of these players might not be offered in a trade today.  But you have to “give” a good player to “get” a good player.

However, I believe GM Wilson is more likely to be a seller.

NHL-experienced assets the Sharks might be looking at trading include Burish, Kennedy and Niemi.  While I might lump Hannan in that category, he’s been a solid #6/7 D man and has been depended on this season, so might not be offered.

There’s a rumor that the Sharks have been unable to trade Tyler Kennedy. But even if the Sharks did want to trade Burish, Kennedy, and Niemi (even as a package), it’s unlikely they’d get much return.  But realistically, if the Sharks get a good return for any of the pending UFAs, the return might be the thing that helps consummate the trade.

The Sharks have been much more conservative with their draft picks in the past few years, trying to hang on to them to help keep the pipeline filled.  The 2014 draft was the first in years where they selected not one collegiate-bound player; and while they have had some pretty good results from drafting the college-bound, they also have had some pretty horrendous busts, like the Daniels twins they drafted years ago. The philosophy seems to be to find more collegians as undrafted free agents, where they have had very good results (especially with spots opening up from players not retained meaning a higher slot in the depth chart).

Even if there’s a key injury between now and the trade deadline, the Sharks may lean more on their AHL depth to fill the hole, than attempt to acquire an asset for a short term fill.  (Now, if a good replacement for a season-ending injury comes up, that might be made, but I’d say it less likely, with the desire to hang on to draft picks and quality prospects.)

Time will tell what actually does transpire between now and the trade deadline.