Change for the San Jose Sharks was inevitable. After ownership revealed that general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan were safe, that left the roster as the area most open to restructuring. Wilson revealed a few of those changes coming to the lineup in a teleconference Thursday afternoon.
Among the most notable changes, pending free agent Dan Boyle and buyout candidate Martin Havlat will not return to the club next season. Additionally, Brent Burns, who was converted to forward with great results last season, will move back to defense. (via CSNBayArea.com)
Boyle has been one of the key members of the Sharks' veteran core since he arrived as a free agent in 2008-09. The offensive defenseman, who will turn 38 this summer, had his least productive season over a full year as a member of the Sharks with 36 points in 75 games, though he did score 12 goals. He had four assists over seven games in the playoffs.
The veteran blueliner who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 posted 269 points over his six-season run with the Sharks. He was twice named a league All-Star and was part of Canada's 2010 Olympic team. Boyle will likely be a coveted unrestricted free agent, but with his age and declining production, it is hardly a surprise the Sharks will want to move on.
Burns should be a solid source of production from the back end to make up for the loss of Boyle, if the team does stick with that plan. He had 37 points in his first season with the Sharks from the blue line and 46 the year before that with the Minnesota Wild. He improved on his career-best by two points as a forward this year, but scored 22 goals playing on the wing full time.
That Havlat is on the way out via buyout is hardly a surprise. He dressed in only one postseason contest after putting up 22 points over 48 games in the regular season. The oft-injured forward just turned 33 and though his offensive potential remains, he would be too expensive to keep with one year left on his deal at a cap hit of $5 million.
What matters now is what the Sharks do after making these subtle changes. They have a top-end defensive prospect in Mirco Mueller, who the team drafted in the first round of last year's draft. Should he be ready to step into the lineup, there's one hole filled, but the team may covet another veteran for their defense corps.
Up front, the Sharks got great production out of their core forwards and little will be changed there, probably. As young guys like Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto continue to develop, they should be strong sources of offensive production down the road.
One area that may yet need addressing is goaltending. Antti Niemi struggled this season, but remains under contract for one more year. Should the Sharks choose to ride out next season with Niemi, it probably wouldn't be the worst idea. The 30-year-old netminder could certainly bounce back and he is playing on a rather affordable contract for a No. 1 goalie with a cap hit of just $3.8 million.
There are definitely a lot of pieces in place for the Sharks to build off of. They have a defined core of forwards that most teams would envy with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture forming the heart of that group. Add in Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the back end with the younger players like Hertl potentially jumping up to that level next year and there's potential.
Seems we say that every year, which is why this offseason may be the most important for Wilson. By not blowing up the whole operation, the Sharks remain in win-now mode. If they can find some of those “missing pieces” at a reasonable rate, that might be just enough to get them over the hump. If not, it likely will cost Wilson and McLellan their jobs this time.