Is it just me? Or does it seem as if the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs three months ago, not three weeks ago? Probably, that's because for the past two years in the Bay Area, we were still watching playoff hockey at HP Pavilion.
But not Monday. The Tank was iceless. The conference finals were being played elsewhere. Sharks captain Joe Thornton was dedicating a new street hockey court at a San Jose elementary school. And general manager Doug Wilson was still mulling over his offseason moves.
As he mulls, Wilson's stomach certainly gurgles. He can't enjoy the sight of two Pacific Division teams, Los Angeles and Phoenix, fighting for the Western Conference spot in the Stanley Cup finals. The Kings lost their final two games of the season to the Sharks. Since then, L.A. has gone 9-1, including Sunday's victory over the Coyotes in Game 1 of their series.
If the Kings should go on to win the Cup helmed by former Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi and former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter ... well, there might not be enough antacid in the 408 area code. Not just for Wilson. But also for Sharks fans, who may now be officially labeled as "long-suffering." Since the franchise joined the NHL in 1991, those fans have seen four more-recent expansion teams reach the Cup finals while the beloved Los Tiburones have never made it even once.
Wilson still has not told me -- or anyone else -- about his exact plans for the Sharks moving
The coaches? Todd McLellan has been tasked with formulating a strategic improvement plan for Wilson. Assuming the plan makes sense, McLellan will surely be back. But he may not be coaching many of the same men.
It has been widely assumed that several Sharks veterans can't be dealt because of no-trade or limited-trade clauses in their contracts. But in Wilson's last public remarks on the issue two weeks ago, he said: "The ability to move players, if we decide to, is there."
All right, so which players?
As the NHL playoffs have unfolded, the most stunning development is that the teams with seemingly the most skill, including Detroit and Vancouver and Pittsburgh as well as the Sharks, were gone the fastest. The survivors, including Los Angeles and Phoenix, have been the teams that obsessively stuck to a defense-obsessed game in front of a good goalie.
So is that what the Sharks try to match? And if so, how do they match it?
The first step should be to find a better penalty-killing strategy, and then find players who can kill better. In the playoffs so far, only the Pittsburgh Penguins (47.8 percent) have posted a worse penalty-killing percentage than the Sharks (66.7 percent). That's on the heels of a regular season in which they assembled the NHL's second-worst penalty kill percentage (76.9 percent).
So who goes? Michal Handzus, signed last summer as a free agent through next season, was supposed to be a PK-upgrade. He wasn't. You would have to think he will be on the trading block. It's a good guess that restricted free agent Torrey Mitchell, another frequent penalty killer, won't be invited back. Neither will unrestricted free agent defenseman Colin White. But would Wilson actually consider dealing PK stalwart and faceoff master Joe Pavelski?
The short answer: Wilson can't rule out anything. It might be time to let Patrick Marleau frustrate fans somewhere else with his brilliant talent and maddening inconsistency. It might be time for defenseman Dan Boyle, who can be competitive to a fault when he tries too hard to make something happen rather than sticking with the system, to do that elsewhere.
In fact, my view is that it's even money two of the following five Sharks "core" players will be gone before the 2012-13 season faces off: Pavelski, Marleau, Boyle, Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat.
If Wilson decides to revisit a possible trade for elite Columbus winger Rick Nash, which was heavily rumored at the trade deadline, the Sharks will surely have to give up one or more of those five players. But in the current NHL climate, where fewer interference penalties are being called, is another uber-skilled player what the Sharks really need?
Besides, there's another factor muddying the waters. The unsettled status of the NHL's labor situation -- the collective bargaining agreement expires this summer -- means that Wilson won't know for sure about salary cap and other considerations until things are settled. And the same goes for his potential trading partners.
Marleau would likely be the hardest Shark to move. He's owed $13.8 million over the next two seasons. Same goes for Havlat, owed $16 million over the next three seasons. However, Wilson has shown an ability to ship out big salaries in the past, as witnessed by last summer's Dany Heatley trade. As the Sharks general manager watches the Stanley Cup tournament unfold without his team in the mix, who knows what thoughts are skating through his head?
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.