There is rarely much news on the San Jose Sharks in late summer. The photo list sums up news that indicates they have their eyes fixed on the start of training camp, from their inactivity again in the NHL free agency period to the stories posted on the team website and CSN Bay Area leading up to Tuesday, July 22.
As usual, examining their meaning is a little more subjective. It is also interesting for debate that is the backbone of any good democracy. Nevertheless, no good debate starts without a good study of the facts that suggest the focus is already on September.
For one, the Sharks have had a few time changes on their 2014-15 NHL season schedule to begin planning for. They also quite literally started looking forward to September (when all home preseason games are played) on Monday by announcing preseason tickets would go on sale Friday, July 25.
More substantively, Tuesday was the seventh consecutive day without any personnel moves for San Jose. That the most significant off-season addition was John Scott while three more significant players were moved out suggests a roster that is set for training camp.
After the Sharks were statistically the biggest chokers in North American major league playoff history during the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals, general manager Doug Wilson started calling for a rebuild. Unfortunately he is handcuffed by having given each of his core players various no-trade clauses. His subsequent redefining of a rebuild rings of backtracking.
That is bad news for San Jose. If Wilson indeed wanted captain Joe Thornton and perhaps others to agree to move on, there could be residual hard feelings.
If that is the case, tough beans. Anyone part of the Sharks that fell further in goal differential than anyone ever has over four consecutive elimination games must be able to accept open criticism.
The likelihood that Wilson's bluster was followed by attempts to move players that still wanted to stick around after his criticism suggests they are being accountable for their part in that epic failure. If so, that allows the team to move on to September when training camp opens.
By not adding much of anything through free agency, Wilson has at least stayed true to his stated desire to hand the team over to younger players. (Then again, Scott is 31 and San Jose re-signed 35-year old Scott Hannan.) They look to younger players to step up instead of finding new players to take the place of the two blue-line changes: Brad Stuart and Dan Boyle were ironically the only two Stanley Cup champions on the ice for the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals choke.
That leads us to a real problem: Wilson wanted big changes but only sent away two of the 20 players on the roster when the Sharks began their slide in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. His inactivity in either trades or outside free agents suggests he is moving to September with essentially the same roster that failed in April.
Then again, there is no doubt this roster had the talent to go deeper than it did. Could that be changed by merely a more accountable attitude that started with Wilson's angry statements? If not, could a young player stepping up or a late-season trade be enough to get the Sharks over the hump?
It seems the national television executives think San Jose is worth watching. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported Tuesday that NBC Sports Network or the parent company would cover 13 San Jose games in the 2014-15 NHL season—almost double what they carried last season.
Perhaps most importantly, CSN linked a piece from Pro Hockey Talk that might suggest a new voice taking charge in that dressing room. Even though he admitted feeling Thornton does not deserve so much heat, Logan Couture showed he is ready for the captaincy by the way he addressed the 2014 Stanley Cup choke:
Obviously it was tough, the way we finished last year, but I’m really hoping this summer guys build off it and come back a lot stronger, a lot hungrier. ...It's really stuck with me the whole summer.
Couture's words show leadership, and perhaps that internal fire can provide enough fuel to get over the hump. As was referenced in the piece, the last team to choke a 3-0 series lead (the Boston Bruins in 2010) won a Stanley Cup the next season.
However, no mention was made that there were 10 new players on the ice for them in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs that had not played during the year they choked. Some of those players were promoted from within and some were added after the season began, but that is major change.
Such an overhaul is unlikely in San Jose given it is unlikely to start the 2014-15 NHL season with more than three changes. While the team must look ahead more than back, history suggests more of the one step back Wilson originally stated in May was necessary before there will be any true move forward.