A few weeks after Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson had a chance to finish digesting the season-ending series loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals, he said there would be changes to the San Jose team.
And the changes have indeed come.
Not satisfied in several areas of his team’s performance in the post-season, Wilson, in several separate moves, has immediately changed the complexion of the Sharks roster, which now boasts significant physical bite in addition to the deft scoring touches provided by Hart Trophy-winning forward Joe Thornton
, Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo and Captain Patrick Marleau
to name just a few.
That bite comes in the form of former first round selection Mark Bell, gritty forward Mike Grier and stalwart defensive forward Curtis Brown.
“If you look at the playoffs, we had to address our penalty killing and size,” said Wilson. (Brown and Grier) are both coming into the prime of their careers, they’re at the right age and they’re quality people.
“Bell is a big, tough physical kid that can play in all situations,” he added. “He’s already proved he can score in this league, and putting him in this environment will be really good for him, and for us.
"He’s a top-6 forward,” Wilson said. “That’s the beauty of our group. We’ve got guys who can play center and wing. We can have different looks. We’re trying to get players together who can get it done in the playoffs, guys who play with an edge.”
Brown spent last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he posted 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 71 games. He won 50.6 % of his faceoffs last season, tops among all Blackhawks centermen while taking the second-most draws (881).
In 2003-04, Brown spent the final 12 games of the regular season with San Jose posting four points (two goals, two assists) after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on March 9 in an attempt to help offset the loss of Marco Sturm to a season-ending leg injury.
In 625 NHL games with Buffalo, San Jose and Chicago, Brown has posted 271 points (116 goals, 155 assists) and 332 penalty minutes, along with a plus-68 plus/minus rating. He has been a plus player in all but two of his 11 NHL seasons. In 69 career NHL playoff games, he has 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists).
Brown was originally selected by Buffalo in the second round (43rd overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.
Grier spent the 2005-06 season with Buffalo, registering 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 81 games, including a career-high four game-winning goals. In addition, he posted eight points (three goals, five assists) in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games, helping Buffalo reach Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes.
The six-foot-one, 227-pound right wing has spent nine seasons in the NHL with Edmonton, Washington and Buffalo. He has played in 693 career regular season games and has posted 267 points (112 goals, 155 assists). He has appeared in 58 career postseason contests, accumulating 10 goals and 10 assists.
“He’s a physically dominant guy,” Wilson said. “Believe me, we would have loved to have him in the series against Edmonton. He kills penalties, he scores big goals and he punishes people, too.”
The Detroit native was originally selected by the St. Louis Blues in the ninth round (219th overall) of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
Bell, acquired on July 10 from Chicago in exchange for D Tom Preissing and C Josh Hennessy, had filed for arbitration while with the Blackhawks but signed a three-year deal with San Jose on July 25. Getting term in the deal was key for Wilson.
“It was very important to us and it was very important to him,” the Sharks GM said. “We have very high expectations for Mark to come in and play with the players we have in this environment. It’s a great sign by Mark to be willing to come in and commit to San Jose and give up unrestricted years.”
Bell finished second on the Blackhawks in scoring last season, setting new career highs with 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) and added 107 penalty minutes while playing in all 82 games for the third consecutive season. It was the second consecutive 20-plus goal campaign for the power forward in four full NHL seasons, each of which he recorded over 100 penalty minutes. In addition, he led the team in power play goals (11) and shots (225) in 2005-06.
“We feel Mark Bell has his best hockey ahead of him and that he is ready to break through to the next level,” said Wilson.
Bell, 25, was second on Chicago with 10 multiple-point games and posted an eight-game scoring streak from Nov. 13 – Dec. 2, registering 14 points (nine goals, five assists). He played his 300th career game on Jan. 11 vs. Philadelphia.
The six-foot-four, 210-pound native of St. Paul’s, Ontario is primarily a left wing/center, but can play all three forward positions. In 339 NHL games, all with Chicago, Bell has posted 151 points (72 goals, 79 assists) and 454 penalty minutes. He was originally drafted by Chicago in the first round (8th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
The Sharks also acquired a second round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 20 in exchange for left wing Nils Ekman and goaltending prospect Patrick Ehelechner.
"The decision to trade “Ek” was made because of the additions we've made to our team," Wilson said, also acknowledging the great strides made by Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier this past season.
Wilson also tended to his reserve list of current players, inking new deals with Group II restricted free agents Scott Parker, Rob Davison, Marcel Goc, Christian Ehrhoff, Mark Smith, Grant Stevenson, Jim Fahey, Doug Murray, Dimitri Patzold, Tomas Plihal, Garrett Stafford and Craig Valette. Wisconsin forward and leading scorer Joe Pavelski
joined the organization as has 2005 fifth round selection goaltender Taylor Dakers, signing their first professional contracts.
To further bolster the organization’s depth, the Sharks added forwards Mathieu Darche and Graham Mink, along with defensemen Scott Ferguson and Patrick Traverse.