While the Sharks' top priority is the health and safety of their players, employees and surrounding community, there's no denying that the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is going to severely impact San Jose's bottom line.
Though Sharks president Jonathan Becher couldn't give a specific value, he admitted Tuesday that the financial losses would "be a big number" and will "significantly exceed what [the franchise] traditionally experiences and be the largest it has been before."
San Jose is not alone in that reality. With no games being played, all 31 NHL teams are going to experience something similar.
Even so, Becher anticipates that the Sharks will spend up to the salary cap this offseason. Of course, nobody knows if or when the current season will resume, when the next one will begin or what the salary cap will be set at. F
or general manager Doug Wilson, whose directive is to get San Jose back to a level of contention in short order, the ambiguity of the situation isn't a desirable added challenge and he must have contingencies prepared.
"This is a difficult situation for everybody, as a community, as a society -- and that's what the priority is," Wilson said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "On the hockey side, we look at it and we say, OK, when it does start up -- and it will start up again, whether it be for this season or next season -- here are the parameters we have to operate under.
"We may need to have younger players coming, or players on entry-level contracts. We may have to make some tough decisions on some key players. That's just going to be the nature of our business. We've had to go through this before, and as I said, it's the same for everybody. So, you plan and you go down parallel paths of, whatever may come, you're prepared for. It doesn't make it easy, but that's our job."
Wilson hasn't been through a previous pandemic with the NHL, but he was the Sharks' GM during the 2004-05 lockout, which is about as close as the league has recently been to the current situation. He is hopeful those tough decisions are kept to a minimum, but he isn't wasting valuable time and energy worrying about what might or might not happen.
"I think every team has got that same concern," Wilson responded when asked about potentially buying out one or more players. "Am I fearful? No. It'll be mandated to us what the rules are moving forward, what the cap is and all that. So, until then, we just focus on the things that we can focus on, which is preparing for the draft, preparing for some decisions with players that could be available, such as Brinson [Pasichnuk] and John [Leonard].
"We've got a couple more things in the hopper that we're looking at right now. Potentially, who could be UFAs. You look under every rock to find ways to get better."
Just this week, Wilson got two collegiate stars in Pasichnuk and Leonard to agree to join the organization. Leonard was San Jose's sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who just finished as the NCAA's leading goal scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist for UMass, while Pasichnuk was a three-year standout at Arizona State. Suddenly, that 2018 draft, in which the Sharks drafted top prospect Ryan Merkeley and selected another who ultimately was traded for high-scoring Swede Jonathan Dahlen, has the look of a franchise-altering one.
Given the current state of the Sharks, Wilson knows the upcoming 2020 draft class must do the same. He reloaded San Jose's pick arsenal at the trade deadline, and the Sharks will now go into the 2020 NHL draft with seven selections, including three in the first 60 picks.
Wilson and his staff are doing their best to capitalize on such a crucial draft, though social distancing has forced them to get creative. Like so many of us, they've been staying in touch through teleconferencing, and despite the unprecedented situation, Wilson feels they're "extremely well prepared."
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Nonetheless, he's feeling the pressure to hit it out of the park.
"It's not the perfect-case scenario," Wilson explained. "It isn't. But it is the same for everybody. Our guys are on top of it. They have meetings every day. They're exploring, gathering as much game tape and as much knowledge. I know the league and the combine will provide us with every piece of information they can, but it's just going to be different.
And it's a very important year for us with three picks in the top 60 in a draft that we think has got a lot of things we're looking for -- especially in the top 60 picks. We've got to get it right. It means more work and more focus without as much information as we usually have. So be it."
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic will greatly impact the Sharks' financial bottom line. But the bottom line for Wilson is that his directive remains unchanged.