Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sharks Have To Decide Between Marleau And Nabokov

When the goal is hoisting the NHL Stanley Cup, anything short of that is perceived as failure, so here are the San Jose Sharks once again going thru the annual post-mortem of a season that ended too soon. Only two members of the Sharks have played in both of the team's NHL Western Conference finals appearances.

Will both be back for another run at the Cup? Patrick Marleau, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov are among San Jose's five most notable unrestricted free agents, and it might be tough for the team to keep both.

Three days after being eliminated from the post season, the Sharks packed up their gear, signed some final autographs, and said goodbye. But it still stings that they're not in the Stanley Cup finals.

Each is an elite player and will be pursued by other clubs, and though there are breakdowns that show how teams can get all their current players to fit under the salary cap, several Sharks executives Wednesday emphasized that the figure that San Jose really considers is its own budget.

Maxing out the cap (which is expected to be about $58 million) isn't something the Sharks are looking to do, and forget long-term back-loaded deals that might hog-tie future payrolls. That means the team is unlikely to retain all its unrestricted free agents.

"Systemically, that's not a reality," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said at the team's practice facility. "Every team has to go through tough decisions, that's part of the business. Right now, sitting here, it would be premature to assume anything."

"When you lose, you think the world is going to end and then you kind of have a couple of days to think about it, reflect on the year and I think we had a pretty darn good year. It was a big step we took this year, and we just have to learn from it and build on for next year," says Sharks center Joe Thornton.

The team will now begin putting together next year's roster with three key free agents: Sharks center Patrick Marleau, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabakov, and Rob Blake.

"People should not get into the point of premature assessments or jump to any conclusions. We will make those decisions going forward. These are people who have done tremendous jobs for this organization," says Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.

Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabakov have the longest tenure in this locker room and both would like to come back and finish what they've started.

"Sometimes when you're part of something for so long, and you get the job done so you want to be here to get the job done," says Evgeni Nabokov.

"To help put that work in and get that feeling of winning a couple of series, it's an experience you've got to build up," says Patrick Marleau.

"This season is a success as long as we do something with the growth next year. If we take a step backwards, we can't look at this as being a successful one," says Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.

Two restricted free agents, forwards Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi, are looking at hefty raises, making it even less likely that both Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabakov - who each made more than $6 million last season - can return.

There are good arguments for keeping each man: Patrick Marleau is coming off a 44-goal season and he was San Jose's best player in the conference finals. Evgeni Nabakov is among the game's top goaltenders, and the Sharks have few other options in net.

Should the team part ways with Nabokov, Wilson would have to look to the free-agent or trade markets; there are some notable restricted free-agents there, including Montreal's Jaroslav Halak and ... Chicago's Antti Niemi.

Patrick Marleau , Nabokov and useful one-year contract additions Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra all expressed a desire to come back.

"We've put down roots here and love the area," said Marleau, whose wife is from the South Bay. "It's become home."

Evgeni Nabakov raved about the organization and said, "We took a huge step this year. I hope to be a part of it the next couple of years. ... Let's face it: The mission is not accomplished yet. I want to be a part of it but I don't know if it's up to me. We'll see."

Asked if that means it's up to the Sharks, Nabokov said, "I think so. That's how things are. It's not in my court, really. It's a weird situation. I don't know the right answer.

"I don't like to not finish something. I'd like to finish something and say, 'Now I can sleep well.' "

Along with some personnel changes, there will be some tweaks coming in terms of the team's play. Head coach Todd McLellan said that after reassessing the sweep by Chicago, he and his staff will look at potential issues such as the Sharks' drop-off in scoring from the blue line during the NHL season, as well as the lack of secondary scoring in the conference finals.

"Just when you think you have it solved because you're getting it, it goes away," he said.

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