Scary Possibilities for the Sharks

By Mike Delfino

As the 2000/01 approaches, the Sharks have question marks ranging from who will make it, who will be signed, and who will be thrust into action sooner than expected.

With the number of potential holdouts, it would not be inconceivable to see faces like Jim Montgomery, Shawn Heins, Robert Jindrich and Jarrett Deuling to see action, where otherwise, they would almost assuredly be in Kentucky of the AHL. They are combined with the possible debuts of Mark Smith and Matt Bradley, which adds up to some very interesting, and frightening possibilities for the Sharks.

The first hurdle the Sharks are faced with is signing many of their young players. There are still eight players who are restricted free agents, including the team’s identity, Owen Nolan, their goaltender, Steve Shields, and their possible future in Patrick Marleau. Also on the list are Yevgeni Nabokov, Marcus Ragnarsson, Marco Sturm, Todd Harvey and Alex Korolyuk.

With last year’s goaltending tandem of Steve Shields and Yevgeni Nabokov both in contract negotiations, the next in line is Miikka Kiprusoff who had a stellar rookie year in Kentucky. This will be Shields’ second year as the man backstopping the Sharks, and his chance to prove to the rest of the NHL that he is a legitimate NHL goaltender. For Nabokov, this will be the first chance for him to show that he is a legitimate backup, as whoever backs up Shields will get his chance to play. Not accounting injuries, Shields’ backup should play 20 games. Nabokov needs to realize that it is essential for him to get into camp, as Kiprusoff would be more than willing and able to take that job away.

While he’s not as integral to the Sharks as Nolan or Shields, another holdout who could easily influence things is Todd Harvey. While Harvey doesn’t score the goals, he was often a player who simply abused his opponent’s top line so much, they were too exhausted to deal with the top line of the Sharks. If Harvey holds out, there’s a chance you could see Matt Bradley suddenly finding himself on the second line instead of the third or fourth like he would be in normal circumstances.

Marcus Ragnarsson and Mike Rathje compose what is one of the most unheralded top defensive duos in hockey, however Bonnie and Clyde would have been nothing if it weren’t for their partner. It is the same with Rathje and Ragnarsson who feed off each other to be successful. While Ragnarsson doesn’t have the offensive numbers of a Sandis Ozolinsh, or the feared hits of Scott Stevens, Ragnarsson would be a key player on any NHL team. If Ragnarsson doesn’t start the season, the Sharks will be faced with some combination of Shawn Heins, Robert Jindrich, and Greg Andrusak joining an already young defensive pair in Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart. This would potentially give the Sharks four out of six defensemen who have a year or less NHL experience.

Three young players who simply can’t afford to hold out are Patrick Marleau, Marco Sturm and Alex Korolyuk. In the case of Sturm, it is his chance to show exactly what he’ll be in the NHL. He has the potential to be a very good third liner or weaker second line player. Holding out would not bode well for him. Alex Korolyuk needs to show that he can continue to build and improve year after year. If he can prove that he’s consistent offensively and strong defensively, he’ll earn a regular job. If he gets off to a slow start because missing camp, he could easily find himself on the outs. For Patrick Marleau this is his make or break year. He has the ability to be one of the top centers in the NHL, now he needs to prove it. An improvement upon last year will show that he’s still a young player who’s learning the ropes of the NHL. If he continues to struggle, the label of bust will be on his head, and probably ruin any chance of a promising career. He, more than any other holdout for the Sharks, needs to get into camp, and prove that he belongs in the NHL, and belongs in the upper echelon of NHL centers.

No article about holdouts would be complete without mentioning Owen Nolan’s situation. Unfortunately, the news on Nolan’s contract negotiations is only bad. Reports indicate that while meetings have been civil, they are still far apart on numbers. Now for the really scary part: if Nolan and Harvey are both MIA at the start of the year, you could be looking at a first line right wing of Stephane Matteau or Niklas Sundstrom. That’s not to knock on the ability of either player, but neither is a first line player.

Looking at all these holdouts, it is a very possible scenario where you could be looking at the Sharks roster on October 6th and saying to yourself “who are these guys.” Perhaps more than any other team, the Sharks are stuck in a very precarious position. They need some of these players to get signed, and get signed quickly, or they could find themselves off to a very slow start to this season.

The good news is that the likelihood of all eight of these players being out of uniform on opening day are incredibly slim. The bad news is that the likelihood of all eight of them being in uniform is just as slim.