Friday, April 24, 2009

Playing General Manager

Instead of getting much work done, I’ve been “busy” checking out hockey message boards and mailing lists, and the buzz of course is “what’s wrong with the Sharks?”

In yesterday’s post just after Game 4 in Anaheim, I pondered if Sharks’ captain Patrick Marleau is really the right guy to have as a team captain, as the go-to guy. Yes, in playoff days of old, he rose above the occasion and at times carried the team on his back. But in no way do I believe he’s ever been a leader in the room, as a vocal, get-in-your-face type, or as in the Steve Yzerman quietly inspirational type.

Being an NHL player in the Pacific Division is tough. You spend so much more time on an airplane and not training or resting/rehabbing properly. Sitting in a plane, no matter how nice and cushy the flight, is no way to relax and heal the body. Marleau has been a professional player since the fall of 1997, the year he was drafted. He’s a decent-sized guy (in hockey terms)—not super-tall or super big-boned, but big enough he can deal with some wear-and-tear. And he has, for 12 years this coming fall.

I know he’s no leader. Although I’ve not been around the team since 2003, Marleau has been promoted as the team’s leader, and ultimately the captain. Was it because of his leadership abilities? I think not—it’s all about marketing! “Our captain is a home-grown Shark; he came to us as a 17-year old and look what a wonderful player he’s turned out to be!”

In the locker room after a game, if you wanted a good quote, you went to Vinnie Damphousse. Or Teemu Selanne. Or Mike Ricci. Or Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan or Mark Smith. Heck, you could get better quotes out of the very sarcastic and dry-humored Brad Stuart! All you’d get from Marleau is a few mumbled words talking about how the team failed to do something, or how hard they had worked, but nothing of much substance. I can’t remember him ever saying “I have to do better; I have to make that play.” I know I got that remark out of all of the other guys, especially Hannan, even if he’d played a good game, he always found something to criticize regarding his play.

I was in the room the night Stuart got hammered by Jody Shelley, and though Brad wasn’t yelling or screaming or acting like a baby, his tempered (and highly censored by the media) words said everything. I wasn’t even allowed to use the actual word he used to describe Shelley—Brad called him chickenshit and “a marginal NHL player” several times during the interview. You could tell just how badly Brad was hurt, but we still got more out of him that night than you could ever get out of Marleau. (I know Brad’s no angel; I’m sure he was egging Shelley on during the incident, that’s just how Brad is.)

The title of this entry is “Playing General Manager.” I am not endorsing making Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson the culpable party just yet. I firmly believe the problem is “in the room,” to quote former Sharks GM Dean Lombardi. But Wilson’s idea of “build the Sharks in the model of Ottawa” might be blown up in the offseason. Besides, did the “Ottawa model” get the Sens into the postseason this spring? I think not … so what would I do? I know blowing the team up isn’t feasible; there are so many guys with no-trade clauses that Doug Wilson is stuck with plenty of albatrosses. But NTC’s can be waived by the player … so perhaps it’s time to have a talk with some players.

I confess to not paying much attention to what’s in SJ’s pipeline in Woostah, who is ready to move up, who isn’t. 

SJ’s NTC guys are as follows: defenseman Dan Boyle, centers Marleau and Joe Thornton, right wing Mike Grier, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

Dan Boyle is untouchable at this time, but the Sharks do need help on defense. As a unit they are simply too small, with the exception of Douglas Murray, who has picked himself off a scrap heap and worked on his skating and has turned into a decent defenseman. I’d go looking for some bigger, meaner defensemen. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf is having entirely too much fun running over Marc Edouard Vlasic … Vlasic being one of his “favorite” defensemen to play against as Getzlaf nearly always beats him.

I believe Grier’s contract is up this summer. Adios, Mike. 

What do the Sharks have in the goaltender pipeline? A few short years ago SJ was overflowing with goaltenders and goaltender prospects. Where have those guys gone?  I think there is no option but to keep Nabby unless something better comes along. Martin Brodeur isn’t available, nor is a younger clone of him.

We are left with Thornton and Marleau—the two highest-paid players on the team. Just because a guy is the highest-paid player on the team doesn’t mean he’s got to be the leader—unless you package him to the public that he is the leader! One’s got to be moved in the offseason, and I’d prefer to keep JT.  Management, learn a lesson here—if you are going to promote a guy as the team leader, make sure he’s a leader!  Don’t plan a marketing campaign based on “homegrown leader” unless the guy really is making an impact in the room.

I regret never asking “off the record” if Marleau was really a team leader. I came close to asking that once of Selanne, asking who the leaders were that the young guys could turn to. Selanne mentioned Vinnie, Ricci, Hannan (who is a mere 8 months older than Marleau, chosen 23rd in the 1997 NHL draft), and even himself as always being available for the young guys to talk to, to ask advice, to be a sounding board.

Hannan has a domineering (even bossy) personality, and will speak his mind, and will accept blame for a bad situation in a game, even if his actions weren’t that egregious.  Damphousse was the quiet observant type, and when he spoke, you listened, because what he had to say was of significance, even if he used only a few words. Same with Ricci, though Ricci used more words. Selanne was always positive, without fail.

(I wonder what Ricci would say about the current situation … hmmm…)

Keep Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, Marcel Goc, Tomas Plihal, Milan Michalek, and Joe Pavelski. Let Jeremey Roenick stick around another year if he wants to, but carefully manage his ice time. As much as it pains me to say this, Jonathan Cheechoo and Devin Setoguchi need to be trade bait on draft day, as does Marleau.

On defense, choose between Christian Ehrhoff or Vlasic and move one. Acquire or promote a couple of big, mean decent-skating defensemen. By big and mean I don’t mean guys who spend lots of time in the penalty box—I mean guys who are like skating into a wall as you try to get around them—a good positional defenseman with mobility. If Rob Blake is up for another year, fine, but at a huge pay cut and manage his ice time too.

The Sharks need an ice hog like Hannan was. The team sorely lacks a durable, mean ice hog. Nevermind poor Scottie has had any scoring ability coached right out of him—and that he plays on a crappy team with an inept head coach. Imagine a duo of Boyle and Hannan—the living embodiment of what Hannan and Brad Stuart were supposed to be. Hannan the positional guy patrolling the blue line, and Boyle the sniper who can show up anywhere. I doubt Hannan would waive his NTC to come back here, and I also doubt Doug Wilson finds Scott's $4+million salary acceptable.

Maybe a selling point for Marleau might be a nice trade to an Eastern Conference team where the travel isn’t as terrible. Perhaps that could extend his career …

At any rate, I’m sick to death of Sharks’ apologists making the same excuse for Marleau that they do every spring—“He’s playing hurt.” Guess what, every other player on the ice is a walking bag of black-and-blue bruised flesh.



Des said...

There are so many items here that I disagree with I'm at a loss for typed words. Rather than go into a long-winding exposition, I'll boil it down to what I consider to be THE one particularly egregious statement: "As much as (..) and Devin Setoguchi need to be trade bait.. ". Setoguchi is a swift, dynamic, forward and sniper. In my opinion it would be ludicrous to trade him. As for Scott Hannan, I think you need to step away from your interviewer-good interviewe relationship and acknowledge that he's a slightly better than average defenseman. The amount of "column inches" you devote to him suggests a proclivity rather than a cold, unbiased analysis :)

As always, it's a pleasure to read your posts.

design by