Now that veteran defenseman Douglas Murray has been dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for two draft picks, what will the San Jose Sharks do over the next eight days leading up to the trade deadline?
It's fair to say not even general manager Doug Wilson is sure of that answer.
On the job in San Jose for nearly 10 years, Wilson doesn't like to throw the word "rebuild" around, believing it sends a message that the team will spend the next six or seven years trying to become competitive again. Instead, Wilson prefers "reset and refresh," a process that involves reshaping the roster and not so much blowing it up. That began with dealing Murray to the Penguins on Monday.
Wilson said just how much resetting and refreshing will be done before April 3 depends on how the Sharks perform in their next five games. They are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference with 18 games remaining, one point out of eighth and six points out of fourth.
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"They're all big boys. They know what's on the line here," Wilson said. "To me, actions speak louder than words. Play well. Let us know where you're at with your game. … In many cases, we've either beat ourselves or not taken advantage of the opportunities during a game to win games. We've got an opportunity ahead of us now. After [Monday night in Anaheim against the Ducks], we've got a group of (four) home games, but we certainly have to play better than we have for the last 20, 22, 23 games. That's not acceptable.
"I don't think our guys need any messages. The reality is we haven't played up to the way we think we're capable."
The Sharks spat in the face of the notion that they were an aging team whose window for a Stanley Cup was closing by starting the season 7-0-0. But they have faded since, going 6-11-6, forcing Wilson to put his team on notice.
It doesn't take long to figure which forwards need to prove themselves over the next five games.
Ryane Clowe is in the final season of a four-year, $15 million contract and is in the midst of his worst NHL season. The 30-year-old has zero goals and nine assists in 25 games and hasn't played since March 16 because of a shoulder injury.
Thirty-six-year-old Michal Handzus is also in the last year of a contract that carries a cap hit of $2.5 million. He has one goal and one assist in 28 games, by far the lowest output of his 14-season career.
Martin Havlat, 31, has once again been hampered by injuries and has just three goals and five assists in 23 games. He has two years and $10 million left on his contract following this season.
Wilson didn't specifically discuss which players would be under the microscope in the coming week, but said he's open to just about anything in terms of a trade.
"This is coming at a crunch time," Wilson said. "We've had some inconsistency that if you look at any teams that have really separated themselves from the pack, they've played by committee, they've played strong defense, created some offense and played a consistent approach to it. We haven't done that. We need to do that now.
"There's teams that certainly are calling me. The phone has been busy and we'll take all calls to explore anything that fits for our group, just like we did on this deal."
The most prominent Shark being discussed is defenseman Dan Boyle, whose contract expires after the 2013-14 and carries a cap hit of $6.67 million. The 36-year-old's numbers have declined in the truncated season, as he has just four goals and 13 points in 28 games. After averaging a career-best 3.1 shots on goal per game last season, he's averaging a shade over two per game this season.
Wilson discussed what Boyle would attract on the open market and after Murray fetched two high draft picks, it's fair to say an offensive defenseman who can carry the puck and quarterback a power play will be worth a lot more.
"People are always looking for that," said Wilson, who played 16 years as a defenseman in the NHL. "It's one of the reasons why we acquired Brent Burns. When you take a look at it in the UFA market, those guys just aren't available. You look at what happened this past year with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Finding those players that can create offense from the back end with a big shot and run a power play -- I'm slightly biased for obvious reasons, but I think defensemen are the most important people on a team."
By dealing Murray, the Sharks have freed a spot for either Jason Demers or Justin Braun to receive more playing time. Veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, although the latter did most of his damage during that seven-game stretch to open the season, have been close to their usual selves offensively. Wilson also cited young players Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Antti Niemi, Tommy Wingels, Burns, Matt Irwin and others who are contributing now.
Wilson also said the team expects to sign 2012 first-round pick Tomas Hertl in the near future.
This was a period in the team's history that Wilson saw coming. On its own, the trading of Murray for future assets doesn't signal the end of an era. But the next handful of games will dictate just how much work Wilson does before April 3.
"This doesn't take away our goal of trying to compete to make the playoffs this year," Wilson said. "We knew that this window would be getting here. We look at how our contracts are structured and what we have committed in dollars. … We're fortunate that we have some very good players in key positions such as goaltending, the center position and the back end. So we think we have those foundation pieces. Do we need to add some pieces to our group going forward? Absolutely.
"Can it lead to other deals? Sure it can. There's certainly a lot of teams that are in contact with us."