So strange, all this hockey talk in July. But the Sharks are forcing the conversation.
And this morning, after taking a deep icy breath to assess all the trades and free agent signings, here is the overriding thought: This has officially become the riskiest offseason ever for general manager Doug Wilson.
Here's why: He has profoundly shaken up a roster that, after all, did reach the Stanley Cup semifinals the past two springs. That means the Sharks were a pretty good team. Usually, this means minor tweaks and caulking, with maybe one semi-major purchase.
Instead, Wilson went to Home Depot and came home with a pickup truck full of flabbergast.
The risk wasn't just the Dany Heatley trade for Martin Havlat. The risk wasn't the Devin Setoguchi trade for defensive pop Brent Burns. The risk wasn't the signing of Michal Handzus as a third-line center or the addition of Jim Vandermeer as defensive bulk.
The risk is about all of those maneuvers, combined. It's about how the team will look after the largest number of summertime roster changes made by Wilson during his tenure, which began in 2003. It's about how all the new players will fit into the Sharks dressing room as well as into the Sharks system.
Wilson thinks he knows how things will mesh. But he also knows he really doesn't know 100% for certain. Because no one does.
"Any move is a risk," Wilson conceded Tuesday after celebrating his 54th birthday with a round of golf
The moves, on paper, do improve gaps in the Sharks overall structure -- especially on defense, where Burns ought to create problems for opposing teams that have concentrated most of their attention on Dan Boyle. But the Heatley-for-Havlat deal, in particular, isn't necessarily the slam dunk bundle of wonderfulness for the Sharks that some people think.
The best illustration might be the original Heatley deal by the Sharks two summers ago. Wilson acquired him from Ottawa for Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and a draft pick. A steal, some called it, considering Heatley's offensive firepower. Heatley had also played with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on various Canadian teams during international competition. Obviously, the three would form a dynamic line for many seasons to come, right?
Try half a season. The Marleau-Thornton-Heatley threesome were great together the first part of 2009-10 and then never quite could get in sync, except on power plays. And when Heatley was moved to the second line for most of last season, he struggled to find his game as he fought through injury. Now he's gone -- and it is Havlat who is supposed to thrive alongside Thornton and Marleau.
In theory, that's a swell idea. But in Minnesota, the rap against Havlat was that he passed too much, didn't take enough shots and found no chemistry with center Mikko Koivu. And while Havlat's playoff history shows he scores more goals than Heatley during the postseason, it's worth noting that Heatley actually has averaged more postseason points per start (57 points in 66 games) over his career than Havlat (49 points in 67 games).
Wilson believes that Havlat's issues with the Wild were the result of being on a team with few other potent offensive players -- and that he'll prosper when surrounded by the Sharks' superior attackers. Havlat's speed should also allow him to separate and create more open space to shoot, something that Heatley was finding increasingly difficult to do with his slower feet.
So was the Heatley-for-Havlat deal a risk worth taking? Absolutely. Is a positive result guaranteed? Nope.
Likewise, while signing Handzus away from the Los Angeles Kings as a penalty-killer and No. 3 center appears to be a solid acquisition, we won't know for certain until he lines up alongside (probably) Torrey Mitchell and Jamie McGinn come September.
Still, you've got to give Wilson this much: He plays the general manager position aggressively. Other teams in the NHL -- and in all pro sports -- tend to operate their front offices almost defensively. They make trades or signings only when those moves seem completely safe and logical, or are forced on them by circumstances. By contrast, Wilson and the Sharks front office is on the attack nearly every offseason.
"We're trying to win," Wilson repeated. "We're not trying to not lose."
He would dispute it, but Wilson's previous most risky offseason happened in his first summer as general manager. With the Sharks coming off a losing season in 2002-03, Wilson allowed leading scorer Teemu Selanne to walk as a free agent and made no effort to replace Owen Nolan, who had been dealt away the previous winter. Wilson also traded away backup goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to Calgary for a draft choice that became defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, then made a deal with the New York Rangers for winger Nils Ekman.
Skeptics abounded (guilty plea here). Who was going to score the team's goals? As it turned out, a whole bunch of guys. The Sharks won their division and reached the conference finals.
In retrospect, Wilson continues to believe his riskiest deal ever was trading for Joe Thornton in November of 2005 -- because his contract had only two more seasons to run.
"I knew if he didn't want to be here, he would be gone in a short time," Wilson said.
As it turned out, Thornton has since signed two contract extensions with the Sharks and become a centerpiece around which Wilson is attempting to build a Stanley Cup champion. But at age 32 -- the same age Marleau will be in September -- the window of opportunity may stay open for just a couple more years.
So the general manager continues to attack. Another benefit of intelligent roster churn, again in theory, is that it creates intrigue among the incumbent Sharks and keeps them more engaged during the long-slog regular season.
Or maybe that part isn't a theory. Because here was the tweet from center Logan Couture after he heard about the Havlat-Heatley deal: "Heater was a great pro and a tremendous teammate. Learned a lot from him. He will be missed. But excited to get a fantastic hockey player in Martin Havlat. Is the season starting soon?"
Not until October. Hard to imagine it will be more exciting than July.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.