For the San Jose Sharks ownership group, the 2008-09 NHL season will see the club’s player payroll hit record levels. While team revenues may have trouble keeping up with the expenses, the Sharks owners are more than happy to provide the bankroll to keep a group together that has the potential to reward them with a Stanley Cup championship.
“Hockey is not a business for those looking to make a lot of money,” said Sharks President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Jamison. “Our ownership group is committed to seeing a Stanley Cup parade in San Jose.”
Keeping the right players in place is the primary reason the payroll has risen and provides a good example of why going to the limit every year can be exciting in the short term, but deadly in the long term.
“Everything works in a cycle,” said Sharks Executive Vice President Doug Wilson. “Last year, Detroit and Pittsburgh played in the Stanley Cup Finals with payrolls (in the bottom half of the league).”
The payrolls for NHL clubs in 2008-09 can reach just over $56 million and the Sharks are already in that range. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh are also either at or near the top dollar number.
Even with the player payroll jumping up, it is not really a change in strategy for the Sharks ownership group that has been aware for a while that keeping this group together it would not be cheap.
“I have always said that I have been provided the necessary resources to compete for a championship,” said Wilson. “When it comes to individual players, it is important the compensation matches the performance.”
The fans at HP Pavilion this season will be treated to a Vezina Finalist in Evgeni Nabokov, a recent MVP in Joe Thornton
, a past Rocket Richard winner in Jonathan Cheechoo, a former Norris Trophy winner in Rob Blake and recent All-Stars Patrick Marleau
, Jeremy Roenick and Dan Boyle
Then you add in contracts to rising youngsters like Marc-Edouard Vlasic
, Joe Pavelski
and Ryane Clowe
and it’s easy to see why the Sharks have seen their payroll jump well above $50 million.
However, this is not the first time the current ownership group has lifted payroll near $50 million. Back in 2002-03, the Sharks faced a similar situation as the core players had fans, media, players and owners thinking about a title. Technically, the Sharks original owner George Gund still owned the team, but it was the current group that had already come to terms on the deal and bankrolled the effort. It did not result in the playoffs as every subsequent year did, but it was an example of the player payroll cycle moving up.
While they see the need to raise the dollar contributions off the ice, the Sharks have always gauged their club based on what happens on the ice, not in the salary game. In truth, San Jose’s men in teal have had opportunities to crash the Stanley Cup party with much of the same talent when the payroll was lower, but couldn’t quite finish the job.
“We have always demonstrated we will do what’s best for the organization and our fans at the right time,” said Jamison.
The simple logic of payroll comes down to the talent on the club and the stage the players are in their career. Players who have hit unrestricted free agency like Marleau, Thornton, Blake and Boyle tend to cost more money and those who have restricted free agency have the chance of an outside bid coming in.
“The key is making the right decision when allocating contracts in today’s NHL,” said Wilson. “Spending just to spend can handicap a franchise for several years and cost it an opportunity to acquire Joe Thornton
, Dan Boyle
or Rob Blake when they become available.”
By keeping the Sharks core intact the management team hopes they can add a Conn Smythe winner and a Stanley Cup to the Sharks trophy case. Whether team payroll is $40 million or $56 million, a Stanley Cup ring is always the goal in San Jose.
The key for the Sharks is to make it so the group, regardless of the pay scale, is set up not just to take one shot at the title then fall off the map, but to position themselves with an opportunity at several championships. Since 2003-04, only two clubs (Detroit and Anaheim) have won more playoff series than Team Teal and only Detroit has appeared in more series.
“Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and not to just do it once,” said Jamison.
By not locking into long-term free agent contracts when it appeared there was room within the salary structure could have locked the Sharks out when it came to keeping their own players like Thornton, Nabokov, Michalek, Marleau, Cheechoo or Vlasic. San Jose has committed more than $75 million long term to keep such productive fan favorites around and to shoot for the stars.
“Our goal is to win now and in the future,” said Wilson.
The Sharks have always been smart when it comes to player payroll and by managing their contracts properly the past several seasons, they have set themselves up to spend to the NHL’s pay limits and keep one of the NHL’s best nucleuses together.
Now, they can hope for the ultimate payback, and they are not thinking in terms of dollars.
Head Coach Todd McLellan was asked if he would rather the season began a week ago or if he’d rather have another week to prepare.
“As a coach, you always want more time and you worry about adding this or that,” said McLellan. “We have 82 games to adjust. We’ve picked the important pieces (to have ready) and we’ll polish as we go.”
The Sharks expected lines for opening night include:
After they cleared waivers, Kyle McLaren, Brad Staubitz and Riley Armstrong were assigned to Worcester. FRIESEN WATCH
There is no change in the status of Jeff Friesen. He remains with the club as a tryout, but other things are in play, such as Marcel Goc’s injury.
The Sharks will open their regular season Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. against Anaheim. The game will be carried by CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com, with a pregame and postgame show on both television and radio.