SAN JOSE -- The best thing about the Ryane Clowe trade for the Sharks is that they sent him to the New York Rangers. The worst thing about Tuesday's trade is the uncertainty about everything else. By going to New York, Clowe is assured of not facing his old team in the playoffs -- unless both the Sharks and Rangers reach the Stanley Cup finals. That's about as likely a scenario as Newfoundland voting to outlaw trout.

The uncertainty is the harder part to quantify -- until it becomes uncertainty. But this is a deal that, while making perfect sense on several levels, could still go sideways for the Sharks.

Clowe (who indeed is from Newfoundland and indeed has fished for trout there) was going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Clowe was making too much money with the Sharks, more than $3 million per season, for a guy who had not scored any goals this season.

If Clowe wants that much money next season -- and indications are he does and that other teams will pay him that much, according to at least one NHL scout -- then the Sharks were not going to re-sign him. So while they could receive value for him from other teams, the Sharks were smart to trade Clowe and pick up three draft selecitons from the Rangers. A very fine return, actually.


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And yet ... what happens if, after this recent five-game Shark winning streak with Clowe on the roster, the team now goes totally south and falls out of the playoff hunt without him on the roster? Even if none of it is due to Clowe's absence, it will still be where people point, as the easiest variable.

Clowe may have been goalless this season. His point total may have slipped from 62 in 2010-11 to 45 in 2011-12 to 11 (in 28 games) this season. He may have demonstrated that in the newer, faster NHL there is less of a need for a slower and more physical guy who has a penchant for taking ill-advised penalties. However, he was an immensely popular man in the Shark dressing room. It had everything to do with the way he supported every teammate on the ice.

It didn't matter if you were a first linee or a fourth liner. If an opponent took a cheap shot, Clowe was there to police it. Douglas Murray, as a defenseman, played the same role. And he's gone, too, shipped away in a trade last week -- for draft choices, same as Clowe and same as Michal Handzus, the third Shark who's been traded away in the past week.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, when asked last week if he wanted to be a buyer or a seller as Wednesday's noon trade deadline approached, said he wanted to be both. But so far, he's been selling. Obtaining draft picks could be seen as buying, of course, but it doesn't help the team right now.

The Sharks now have 10 picks in the upcoming 2013 entry draft, which by law of averages should yield them three or four future NHL players. But unless Wilson makes another deal or two before the deadline that yields actual living and breathing NHL bodies, the Sharks will have to make do over the next two months with the players they have.

Wilson admitted that Tuesday's deal was "extremely difficult" and saluted Clowe's "tremendous character." Which at least raises the question of whether the Sharks' character tank is less full.

You can plug in any of several player into Clowe's spot on the ice. But the intangibles are harder to replace. The energetically scrappy Tommy Wingels can try to be physical playing alongside Logan Couture, the way Clowe was. But Wingels is two inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Clowe. Not the same thing.

The Sharks are still a playoff team. They proved that Monday night when, with Clowe sitting out the game to protect his health in light of the imminent trade, they defeated a quality Vancouver Canucks team. From here, it appears the Sharks will make it to the finish line someplace between the sixth and eighth slot in the West.

And that's where Clowe's absence could finally come back to bite the Sharks. The playoffs are a grind. Injuries always occur. Roster depth is a major component for a team to make a successful run. In past years at the trade deadline, Wilson has been good about acquiring players to be there when depth matters.

Of course, that strategy never did pay off for the Sharks with any Stanley Cup finals appearances. So you can't criticize Wilson for trying another strategy.

Summed up, that would probably be: We're going to roll the dice with the pretty good players we still have on the roster. If they get angry about popular teammates being traded away, maybe they will channel that anger into trying to prove a point. Maybe they'll get hot enough to make the postseason and hope stay healthy enough to surprise some people. Meanwhile, we will use all our new draft picks to draft a core of players who can keep us competitive through 2015 or 2016 or 2017.

Who knows where Clowe will be then? He leaves San Jose hockey fans with a lot of good memories. Too bad one of them didn't involve a cup named Stanley.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.