UPDATE (7/2/2018, 5:05 PM) The Sharks re-signed Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl on Monday, and this article has been updated to reflect that.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has acquired “difference makers” by most means imaginable.
He traded for Brent Burns and Martin Jones around the draft, as well as Joe Thornton and Evander Kane in-season. Wilson even traded up in the draft to select recently re-signed Logan Couture. Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier were first-round picks, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic (second round) and Joe Pavelski (seventh) were not.
The Sharks have signed complementary pieces in free agency, like Paul Martin and Mikkel Boedker in back-to-back summers. Yet, the splashy free-agent signing has eluded Wilson.
That continued on Sunday, when prized free agent John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 27-year-old would have fit like a glove in San Jose’s lineup, providing the team another top-tier scoring threat and placing them firmly among the league’s elite.
As was reportedly the case when Steven Stamkos returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning two summers ago, Wilson told reporters in a conference call Sunday that the miss wasn't for a lack of trying.
“We were in it right up until [Saturday and Sunday,]” Wilson said. “That I know for a fact, and I trust both [Tavares and agent Pat Brisson]. How it was handled...was really good. We were really comfortable throughout the process, and the respect I had for [Tavares] going into this has only gone up.”
Left to Plan B, the Sharks opted to sit tight. Older centers Paul Stastny (33) and Tyler Bozak (32) signed as Wilson kept quiet, outside of announcing Couture’s eight-year extension.
That's not a bad outcome, all things considered.
He surely would have preferred the alternative with Tavares headed to San Jose,, but Wilson played things correctly by standing pat after Tavares signed. He went all-in on one of the best players to hit the open market in recent memory, and didn't panic to spend that money after missing out.
“As far as exploring other players, we looked at it,” Wilson said. “[Tavares] was the one we wanted to swing at. We feel that we have a very good hockey team...but I’ve always explored opportunities to add players of this ilk and that’s what we did.
“Do we feel like we lost out on anything? No, not really.”
With around $8 million in salary cap space after locking up Thornton and Hertl on Monday, the Sharks are in position to take another swing. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, and wingers Max Pacioretty, Artemi Panarin, and Jeff Skinner are some of the players who are reportedly on the trade block. Centers Matt Duchene and Tyler Seguin can become unrestricted free agents a year from now.
A trade carries costs that free-agent signings do not, namely draft picks and prospects. But even without a first-round pick next season, San Jose has intriguing pieces it can offer in a trade. Plus, there’s space to take on a bad contract and drive down the asking price.
In the meantime, the Sharks will take care of business internally. Wilson said the team is still negotiating with Dylan DeMelo after not issuing a qualifying offer. Chris Tierney remains a restricted free agent.
But that doesn’t mean Wilson will stop trying to acquire another “difference maker,” he said.
“If it’s now, if it’s next week, if it’s early in the season or any time prior to the trade deadline, we have the cap space and the assets to be able to do that.”