The Sharks will soon end their Summer of Shame. This is good.
But they are sliding into an Autumn of Angst. This is bad.
Or is it?
We are less than two weeks out from training camp for the beloved Los Tiburones. And this has hardly been a boring offseason, ever since they blew that 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings and were swept out of the playoffs.
Back in May after that debacle, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson pledged a "rebuild" strategy and declared the Sharks to be "a tomorrow team."
A few weeks later, Wilson clarified that the "rebuild" referred to the team's culture as much as anything, as just three veteran players were told goodbye.
Wilson also revealed that numerous players from last season's team had told him they felt "more like co-workers than teammates." He asked younger Sharks to step up into greater leadership roles, an indirect implication that some older players had not handled those roles successfully.
Then the Sharks announced in late August that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau had been told by coach Todd McLellan that they were no longer team captains ... after which Thornton told this newspaper that McLellan had "never mentioned anything about captains" ... after which McLellan called Thornton to clear the air ... after which Marleau offered up a text message that almost defiantly promised: "I will be wearing a letter after training camp."
Whew. The summer sure hasn't gone the way the Sharks wanted, has it?
"It's gone exactly the right way we wanted," Wilson told me on the phone the other day.
See? There's where we all might get confused.
But during a lengthy and healthy discussion of all these matters, Wilson finally figured out a different way to frame his message. Or maybe he finally just said out loud what he has been thinking all along.
"I really want people on this team who are comfortable feeling uncomfortable," Wilson said. "That includes the general manager, the coaches and the players."
In that case, mission accomplished.
Heck, even as a lowly journalist trying to explain the Sharks, I don't feel comfortable telling you what exactly is going to happen this winter or if the team still can put together a decent run at a playoff spot. But I'm comfortable with that. I guess. I think.
This much, I do know: Wilson has given his coach a challenging task.
No one has officially decreed that veterans' ice time will be cut and given to younger Sharks. But that's clearly what Wilson would like to see happen, in some fashion.
On the other hand, McLellan's job is to win games. So if the veterans show up in career shape and look terrific, who gets the crucial minutes at crunch time?
All will work out, Wilson believes. Whoever earns the ice time will get the ice time. He says that Thornton and Marleau have told him they are buying into the "tomorrow team" concept -- although it's important to note this whole business is hardly about just those two players.
Go back and watch the video. Other veteran Sharks had substandard performances in the 2013-14 season and during the inglorious playoff collapse. Thinking here of Logan Couture, Brent Burns and especially goalie Antti Niemi. And I haven't even mentioned Tyler Kennedy, who was acquired before last season to provide third-line spark at $2.35 million per season and has produced almost nothing.
All of them have something to prove this season. And the roster -- even after the departure of Dan Boyle (free agency), Martin Havlat (amnesty buyout) and Brad Stuart (trade) -- still looks like a playoff roster. The Sharks might just be fighting for a seventh or eighth spot rather than a top seed.
And you never know. Wilson has reminded me that 10 years ago the franchise went through a similar shed-experience roster revamp -- and that I predicted doom. He is correct. Before the 2003-04 season, the Sharks either traded away or didn't re-sign two of their top scorers from their 2002-03 team: Teemu Selanne and Owen Nolan. They also chose not to retain Adam Graves, an older and popular "glue" guy.
Wilson, who had just taken over as the Sharks' general manager, made no free-agent signings and just one minor offseason trade to replace those three players: He acquired 27-year-old Nils Ekman from the Rangers. Otherwise, ice time went to up-and-coming kids such as Jonathan Cheechoo, Alex Korolyuk, Niko Dimitrakos and Stuart.
The results were stunning. The Sharks won their division and two playoff rounds before losing in the conference finals to Calgary. In Wilson's vision, the current equivalents of those 2003 up-and-comers could be Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Mirco Mueller and Taylor Doherty.
We'll see. I am not going to predict doom this time. But I am going to predict a spectacular Autumn of Angst. Hockey people around North America often wonder if San Jose is a place where players become too complacent. Won't be a problem this season.