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Sharks' commitment to rebuild one of offseason's biggest risks

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

San Jose is walking an unknown path. (Getty Images)
San Jose is walking an unknown path. (Getty Images)

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It was understandable in the wake of an extremely bitter end to their season that the San Jose Sharks were going to look at making some big changes from a team that didn't get it done when it mattered most. It was a frustrating end to the season and was incredibly discouraging to lose a 3-0 series lead to a rival in the first round.

Not much has changed in the last six weeks, even after watching the team that vanquished the Sharks, the LA Kings, go on to win the Stanley Cup. Losing to the eventual champs and what has to be considered the best team in the league as a result is nothing to hang your head about.

Still, Sharks GM Doug Wilson is singing the same tune, promising change like it's 2008 again.

"The rebuild is committed to," Wilson said (via CSN Bay Area). "The players that fit for now and the future, their growth is going to be the primary thing. ... Remember where we're trying to get to. It's not about here, it's about there.

"We now become a tomorrow team."

It's not often you hear a GM throw around those buzzwords so loosely, it's a bit dispiriting to a fan base; who likes a rebuild?

What's even rarer and a bit on the perplexing side is why the Sharks would do this, break up a core that was one of the NHL's very best this season and was top six in the NHL in both scoring and goals against. A playoff failure doesn't seem to be a good enough reason to rip up an otherwise good thing. Clearly the Sharks team was doing something right.

You can't help but feel this is a classic overreaction to one series against an excellent opponent. Undoubtedly it was tough but the season was still full of a lot more positives than negatives. The Sharks were a top five team all season.

Further, the last team that suffered a devastating loss when up 3-0 in a series was the 2010 Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers. All the Bruins did the next season was win the Stanley Cup. There's a recent precedent that a soul-crushing defeat is not a complete indictment on the makeup of a franchise but instead a sign of the cruelness that hockey can deliver.

Yet Wilson says he doesn't see this team as currently constructed being able to win even though the fact that they did so in the regular season might seem to indicate otherwise. It's not every offseason you see a team of the Sharks' caliber get put into a rebuild, especially when the salary cap crunch isn't hanging over their heads. The Sharks are relatively tight on the cap but not in any pressing danger at all.

There's always a tremendous risk in trying to change the direction of a franchise in a rebuild when it's not entirely necessary, which this isn't for the Sharks. It's hard to replace a player of Joe Thornton's or Patrick Marleau's quality, the two veteran players that are the rumored players the Sharks would like to part ways with. They both signed new deals that are just about to kick in and for high salaries but a lot changed with that postseason series. They already parted ways with Dan Boyle and promised to do the same with Martin Havlat as well. Boyle, like Thornton and Marleau, has been a pretty critical component of the team's success in recent seasons.

Now a Sharks rebuild wouldn't be the same as a rebuild for a floundering team, mind you. Wilson talks about taking a step back to take a step forward. The Sharks would still be more than competitive with a core led by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Tomas Hertl. It's not as if they would drop into a cavern.

But there's certainly no guarantee you're going to be able to get a team as strong as the Sharks have now and would be projected to have for another couple of seasons if they were to part with an elite talent like Thornton. There are few if any assist men better in the league than Thornton, he helps make all the players around him better. He's been a top player in the league for years now and those kinds of players don't grow on trees.

In a perfect world the Sharks could upgrade the defense and perhaps get an upgrade at starting goaltender and remain as a true Stanley Cup threat for another couple of seasons, at least. That would be a reaction that seems more in line with this postseason exit.

At the same time, though, we all know this isn't just about one season. The stigma has been hanging over the Sharks' now veteran core for some time that they couldn't win the big one, that they're chokers or whatever other way you want to put it. Maybe their own GM has started to believe the hype; blowing a 3-0 series lead could do that to a man. This isn't the first time the Sharks came up short of expectations.

But the simple fact that the Sharks had a change of heart within months of signing Thornton and Marleau to extensions tells you much of this is, in fact, hinging on the most recent playoff failure. Pretty clearly Wilson didn't feel thist way back in January.

You can understand why the Sharks might have run out of patience and are committed to the "rebuild," they have had their chances as a group. They will keep a solid core to build around even after a summer of promised changes but sometimes you don't know what you got until it's gone.

 
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