“Is their window closing?” This question gets tossed around with teams that are successful but are considered to be an “old” team. It is a question that is getting a lot more attention as the Sharks get ready to start the shortened season. San Jose’s top three players are all 33 years of age. The Sharks’ window is influenced internally by their own organizational structure and externally by what other teams have done to increase their chances at a championship.
Internally, the Sharks are a strong hockey organization. General Manger Doug Wilson is one of the best in the entire league, and the teams that Wilson has constructed are some of the top teams in league. The only knock against him is that he has not been able to win a Stanley Cup.
Wilson is great at acquiring top talent. He brought in Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and most recently, Martin Havlat. The next couple seasons are going to be crucial in his tenure as the Sharks’ general manager. Todd McLellan is a great coach as shown by his tenure with the Sharks. Plus, his teams have reached two conference finals and they won a President’s trophy in his first season as head coach. Many people believe that he is going to be on the hot seat this year due to the lack of success in the playoffs.
The Sharks are led by forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, and defenders Dan Boyle and Marc Edouard-Vlasic. This top-five group is considered to be one of the best in the league for their ability to play both sides of the ice at an elite level.
The major downfalls of this roster is the age of the core group. Boyle is the oldest at 36, while Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are 33. Statistically, Marleau and Thornton both had pretty good years.
Last year, Thornton had one of the better seasons by a forward according to advanced stats. Boyle, on the other hand, has seen his point totals drop in the last two season and has many wondering how much longer he can maintain his status as a top line puck mover.
Ryan Clowe is going to be 30-years-old, and he is fresh off the worst season of his career, which makes one think that his physical play early in his career is finally taking its toll on his body.
The Sharks do have some young talent as well. Logan Couture is quickly becoming one of the Sharks top offensive threats at the age of 23. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic look to be the future of the defense as they are 27 and 25, respectively.
The aging roster is compounded by the lack of depth in the system. The Sharks’ prospect system is ranked 29 out of 30 by Hockey Prospectus. They will have trouble replacing the elite talent that they have at the forward position with the lack of forward prospects. The system is also heavy on defensive prospects, but none of these players expect a top pairing caliber prospect.
San Jose’s salary cap might be what accelerates the window closing on this core group. Next season, they will have to make decisions on the contracts of three of their big players as they enter the final years of their contracts. The Sharks will have to decide if they will make one last run at the cup or trade to reload the farm system and build around the younger core of Pavelski, Couture, Burns and Vlasic.
With heavy competition from other teams in their conference, the window for the Sharks continues to close in on them. The Kings are the reigning Stanley Cup champions and the core of their team is entering the prime of their careers. The Minnesota Wild made the largest splash this offseason by signing the two biggest free agents available with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to go with their young talent that could make them quite dangerous in the next few years. Edmonton is a team that the Sharks need to watch out for in the coming years once their prospects develop fully.
The Sharks have about two to three years left with their core group of players. Wilson is a general manager that looks to the long term health of his team and I believe that he will not risk the future to make an ill-advised cup run at the end of their contracts. This shortened season is ideal for the Sharks to win the cup this year.