Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson has a specific plan in place as he tweaks his roster to improve on the 2004 run to the Western Conference Finals.
In the free agent market, while San Jose laid out a hefty offer to Scott Niedermayer (the Norris Trophy winning defenseman chose to play alongside his brother in Anaheim), Wilson is not looking to loosely throw money around.
The Niedermayer offer shows that San Jose's wallet is open for the talented player who fits the Sharks specific needs. Plus, Wilson is confident that answers to many Sharks fans questions lie within the system - just as he said the answers were there in 2003-04 when Team Teal came within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals.
"We're here to build a great team," said Sharks President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Jamison. "I'm pleased the way our organization went after Niedermayer. Doug understands how the pieces need to fit this franchise and how to build a champion."
Two year ago, it was, "Where will the scoring come from with Owen Nolan and Teemu Selanne gone?" The answers, from within the system, were Jonathan Cheechoo, who tied Patrick Marleau
for the club lead with 28 goals and Alyn McCauley (who had never scored more than nine goals in a season) who produced 20 goals.
Many were looking for a bigger free agent splash in 2003-04 than the Nils Ekman signing. All Ekman did was pump in 22 goals, a team-leading 33 assists and a team record +30 plus/minus rating. Wilson knows when the puck drops, the name is not as important as how someone plays.
Wilson's staff knows the style of hockey the Sharks play and who will fit that system. About the only prediction he made prior to 2003-04 that didn't come true was his feeling that San Jose could have six 20-goal scorers (they had five - Alexander Korolyuk scored 19 in only 63 games), but the club did score more goals than the previous season.
Currently, Wilson is working to sign the Sharks own group of restricted free agents, but will always explore any option to improve his club. For San Jose views every day as a trade deadline and a time to focus on available free agents and other moves.
And when it comes to improving their team, the Sharks have a lot less work to do than several other franchises attempting to fill their rosters. With the new rules and current talent level, the core returning from 2003-04, the Sharks are a franchise that most others much catch. Wilson is fine tuning the Sharks engine, not fixing everything under the hood.
A big forgotten from the Sharks run to the Western Conference Finals was that two forwards from Opening Night did not play in one playoff game, or past early March for that matter - Marco Sturm and Milan Michalek.
Sturm ranked near the top of every Sharks offensive category before his season-ending ankle injury took away the final quarter of the regular season and the playoffs. It must be remembered that Michalek, the sixth overall pick in 2003, is not just someone the Sharks hope can make the roster based on potential. He made the 2003-04 opening night roster and scored a goal in his first game.
These will be two very big "additions" for 2005-06. Not to mention the fact that 2003 playoff hero Marcel Goc (he scored one series-clinching goal and set up another) has yet to play in an NHL regular season game.
The NHL's new rules (and enforced old rules) meshing with the Sharks style, speed and puck possession will be a great combination for defensemen in the development system looking to make the next step.
San Jose did look to make a big signing in the free agent frenzy this summer, but just because the checkbook was open for a special player like Niedermayer, doesn't mean that they will necessarily spend $3 million on a player just for the sake of saying they did something.
Wilson said in 2003-04 that he believed in the players within the system and his knowledge was rewarded. Wilson has the same belief about his team heading into training camp. That should be comforting news to Sharks fans.