There were plenty of complaints about the San Jose Sharks not only selling at the trade deadline of the 2014-15 NHL season, but the return general manager Doug Wilson got. Everyone should feel fortunate he got what he did based on what CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz pointed out in his column Thursday, August 20.
First of all, the idea that being deadline sellers was the wrong move seems absurd in hindsight. No player that could have been acquired would have made the difference of the nine points the Sharks needed to reach the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs over the 19 games remaining after the deadline. Wilson thus got talent for players that were no longer going to help the team earn meaningful wins since they would have left in the summer for no return.
It should be noted that the draft picks he accumulated gave the team a great position for the richest draft in over a decade. Accepting that the team’s flaws were not going to be changed enough to compete in the remaining six weeks also probably helped Wilson move up about three places for the rich 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Now that we can accept Wilson was right to move the players, we can examine whether he got the right return. The fact that most of them remained unsigned indicates that what seemed a low return at the time was in hindsight (the only way to really judge anything on those occasions in which it is actually available) really quite high.
The advanced-stat nuts went on about how Tyler Kennedy was not being used properly in San Jose. While trading away a second-round pick to sign him in the first place was questionable, but getting what turned out to be a seventh-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft for a player no one wants is obviously not an indictment of Wilson.
To think coach (Dan Bylsma) after coach (Todd McLellan) after coach (Jack Capuano) chose to play him less often than using the healthy scratch designation for him because none of them could figure out how to use him correctly was not rational. To now think every general manager in the league is choosing not to sign him because multiple people that make their living assessing and using NHL talent are more likely to be wrong than a statistic is absurd.
Advanced stats are appropriately named. They tell the tale of a game with more accuracy than any other statistics. Real-time stats are much simpler but less accurate.
The problem is that hockey is not baseball and winning a Stanley Cup cannot be reduced to an equation. There are far more things that are immeasurable in hockey, and not just the frequently-mentioned “intangibles” like presence and leadership but components taking place on the ice.
Another questioned move was trading James Sheppard for a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He was seen as a player with enough potential to hope for better and just breaking into a consistent role on a team thin on checking-line forwards, but became an occasional healthy scratch with New York Rangers after the move and also sits unsigned.
On the other end of the advanced stats was another of Wilson’s expendable assets, Andrew Desjardins. A solid fourth-line pivot and penalty killer possessing great chemistry with the Sharks and popular with fans lamenting his trade even though he was near the bottom (299th among 386 forwards with at least 400 minutes ice time) of the league in Corsi.
Amazingly, he was able to defy all of that and win a Stanley Cup and return to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2015-16 NHL season. That does not mean Wilson was wrong to move him or to determine he did not want him back this summer.
Desjardins has now turned 29 and his gritty play adds to his age, making it likely he is near his ceiling if not already his decline. The primary returning player Ben Smith looked good in his brief audition and is younger, plus moving up in the best draft in over a decade. Chicago certainly got what it wanted but the jury is still out on whether the trade was good for San Jose.
Kurz also touched on Adam Burish as another of the former unsigned Sharks on the market. No one complained when the grinder brought in for his presence was waived, surprised when he was unclaimed nor is likely shocked now that he has not landed elsewhere now. There were rumblings he had reacted poorly to being assigned to the minors once he cleared waivers.
It was his signing in the first place that understandably put Wilson in the spotlight. Burish was just another in a long line of failed attempts by the general manager to bring gritty players into San Jose, and at an amount (almost $2 million per season) that seemed high even at the time.
The problem is Wilson has often had to choose grit or skill. What good does it do to the Sharks to put in a gritty player like Burish if the on-ice talent suffers? The lack of grit at their core that seems to resurface every Stanley Cup-playoff series they get eliminated in is not going to be solved by a borderline fourth-line forward.
Burish had certainly proven himself skilled enough for that role before coming to San Jose, but it was certainly foreseeable that four years and over $19 million was too much. Wilson was forced to buy out the last season without any return, but even here a case could be made it was a good move in terms of addition by subtraction to get rid of the distraction of a disgruntled player.
None of those departures were instrumental in the Sharks missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2003. Maybe the return on them could make a difference for one in the future.