With most of the rest of the NHL entering the offseason — with the exception of scouts who are already looking at 2023 and 2024 draft prospects at various summer events — the Sharks continue to supply the organization with new additions.
New general manager Mike Grier has been busy. Last week he named David Quinn as the club’s next head coach. Ahead of the Sharks’ announcement Monday, it’s understood the Athletics are expected to name several new front office members next week.
One is Chris Morehouse, who spent the past two seasons as the Rangers’ director of North American scouting after spending seven years in various roles in the Blue Jackets’ front office. Morehouse will be Grier’s director of amateur scouting.
Another would be Tom Holling, who was the Star’s vice president of communications and worked in the media relations department for the Sharks from 2005-13. He is transitioning to a new role with the hockey operations department. I’ve been told that Grier is someone he trusts after his time as a player with the Sharks, and several people have told me Saints is looking to step into a Hockey Ops role.
There are other examples of this movement around the league. Mark Janko moved into the front office 13 years ago from Stars Media Relations and spent the last seven years as an assistant GM. Scott Litwak began his time with the Devils as a media relations assistant but is now the Director of Hockey Operations and AGM for the Utica Devils.
If you look at the responses to my tweets, either in replies or quote tweets, you’ll have a good idea of how people in Dallas and around the NHL feel about the Saints.
“Mike (Grier) contacted me to ask if he was OK and if he was interested in bringing Tom in for something big with hockey operations,” Stars GM Jim Neal told The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro. We don’t have an issue with giving that (the interview) and Tom is growing and doing more in his role here than his job description. He is someone who always has information to share with me, helps with intel and is very knowledgeable about the game. If he is willing to take it, this is always the next step.
One last thing before we get into some questions. Grier’s front office structure is going to be different than Doug Wilson’s. A lot of people are going to participate. Titles may look a little different. I’ve heard from multiple people that Joe Will will remain as assistant GM and Tim Burke’s title may be different, but his role in the club’s scouting department will remain largely the same.
It may not be useful to overreact to any of this yet, as responsibility and influence can be very different from one organization to another. A special advisor may be the second most powerful person behind the GM in some organizations or just a member of the team in others. We don’t have the right information to go with Grier, from how the front office will be structured to his operations.
Now, let’s get to the many questions about how everyone has so many questions after a busy Sharks vacation.
What is Mike Grier’s plan? From what has been reported, it still seems unclear. As GM, his actions to date have made little sense. 11th pick and draft players, clearing cap space, turning around. Top six. He doesn’t seem to be trying to win now or build for the future. – Kyle M.
First, there were a lot of questions, so we really appreciate all the interest in the mailbag while we’re in the valley of the NHL offseason.
Second, he felt that at least a third of all questions were essentially variations of Kyle’s original sentence. I believe Grier has been intentionally vague with his message since being named GM, in some aspects, but direct in others.
Let’s start with the live parts — he didn’t field questions about why he let Jonathan Dahlen and Rudolph Balcers go or why he moved Brent Burns. Or why he targeted players like Luke Kunin, Oscar Lindblom, Nico Sturm, Matt Benning and Marcus Nutivara.
From the opening press conference, he made it clear that he wanted to change the identity of the group and the culture around it. Dahlen and Balcers play a certain way. Kunin and Lindblom play differently. I think Grier wanted to send a message to everyone inside and outside of the organization by shaking up the details of how he wants the Sharks to play and what kind of team they are going to be.
It was a calculated move — he jettisoned two players who are aging and haven’t shown the ability to consistently produce at the NHL level. Could they be NHL regulars? Sure, but aren’t any of them just complementary parts going to critical players? Probably not. Kunin and Lindblom could easily outshine Dahlen and Balcers in similar or lesser offensive roles next year.
There is an added advantage with players still on the roster. They saw his movements and heard him speak. They know what the expectations are now, and some may need to adjust how they play.
Grier also made it clear that he believes the Sharks aren’t ready to compete for a Stanley Cup right now and wants to give all of his veterans a chance to seek that opportunity elsewhere. On the one hand, people can play the “if you don’t want to be here, we don’t want you here” card. But I don’t think that motivated Grier with Burns. I think Grier remembers the end of his playing career and knows what it’s like not to win/chase a trophy.
There is an additional benefit here as well. Players around the league will see this and remember that Grier “did right” by Burns. And Burns probably conveys that message. Players like to play for organizations that treat them well and “do things the right way.” So maybe, with the Sharks ready to contend, letting Burns decide instead of forcing a trade (or keeping him) for something as small as Grier could help him choose a future free agent who lands in San Jose and another team. Sharks.
Were all these moves home runs? Or a net positive in terms of value on ice? Definitely not. I can certainly understand if a Sharks fan doesn’t like most of these moves. But I think Grier accomplished some of what he set out to do in his first season, even with no lead time and no strange situations to deal with.
Now, let’s look at the obscure parts. Grier has very little to say when someone asks him a question about the big picture and the long-term plan. Or what he said wasn’t much on the list, anyway.
He said he’s not breaking records for a total rebuild like he did in Arizona and Chicago. He said he doesn’t think the Sharks are ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. In the year He said he expects the Sharks to be a very competitive team in 2022-23 and basically we’ll see what happens.
That can be frustrating, especially after spending the last three years with a group of fans spending every press release and every transaction asking, “Do we rebuild or do we do it?” Glasses. I think Grier, as a first-year GM, has the ability to worry about the optics and specifics of the long-term plan.
He wants to fix some short-term weaknesses, and build a long-term platform for success. Front-office maintenance is a big part of this. Grier wants more resources on player development. After being run by a relatively small circle of people for a long time, Sharks needs a lot of people involved at different levels in the organization.
Now, he believes adding more veterans and denying viewers NHL playing time means the Sharks will have to be more patient with their prospects. Sure, the Sharks played a ton of kids last season. But some of them were probably not ready for this.
Drafting players who aren’t even close to the NHL — side note, the Sharks weren’t going to take anyone at No. 11 who’s close to playing for them, anyway — makes sense if they want to build a stronger player roster. group. Give them more players to work with. At least three of the Sharks’ top four picks in this draft are higher than the players ahead of them, but they may need longer to develop.
Maybe this didn’t work for the previous regime, which was pressured to deliver NHL results. It is not that there is no pressure on Grier, but naturally it should be less.
Also asking everyone, “Are you rebuilding or moving?” I think it’s wise to try to stay away from that. Talk as much as possible. The owner was adamant that none of those options were on the table, at least not until the summer of 2022. And while I had some fun going in to “smash and grab” the Stanley Cup, that wasn’t it. A realistic alternative, either.
This is already a long answer, so let’s move on to the next section.
Is next year the first year of this rebuild? – Gonzalo R.
This sounds like organizational restructuring. I don’t think the roster has changed that much and everyone agrees it should be called a “rebuild.” If one more Timo Meyer, Thomas Hertl, Logan Couture or Erik Karlsson wants to join Burns this summer, the conversation will change. Organizationally, however, much is changing. It looks like Grier may have new plans for how many different aspects of the franchise should take place.
Hockey fans, the media, everyone not in the ‘war room’… we’re all focused on the players for this one. And to some extent the coach. Does the team have the players it needs to be competitive? Will the team remove players to begin a rebuilding process? Is the new coach more of a “get through the rebuild” or “help win playoff series” type of coach?
The last team he covered, the Devils, had been rebuilding for years, but some parts of the fan base couldn’t even agree on when the “rebuild” started, leading to panic over how long it would take. And how long is it taking?
I don’t think Grier has a timeline or specifics as to when the Sharks will move on to him and eventually everyone in the organization wants to be. He’s not trying to push more chips into the middle and sacrifice future value. He’s not actively trying to break it and secure a top-3 pick in the 2023 draft.
Mayer’s next contract could be telling. With a new team, the road back to cup contention will be long. But overall, I think Grier is more concerned with implementing the process he wants this season, expanding the front office and development staff and establishing how the organization works and how the team plays.
So to answer Gonzalo’s question, this may be more than “year zero” for the roster, borrowing time in college football. Once we know where Meyer will be playing after next season, and with some big contracts coming up a year away, we’ll have a better idea of the course he’s charting.
Is Grier’s strategy like GMs to collect some talent like UFA and build/rebuild the team at the trade deadline? – Robert T.
i don’t think so. At this point, there are six new guys expected to compete for a spot in the NHL lineup – Lindblom, Kunin, Sturm, Benning, Nutivaara and Steven Lorentz, who arrived in the Burns trade.
Since Kunin and Lorentz are RFAs, Grier signed all six to contracts. Five are under contract for more than a year – Nutivara is the only one signed for next season.
Perhaps Nutivaara is a good candidate for this strategy. He’s been hurt a lot lately, but if he can stay healthy and play all four, he could rebuild some value and the Sharks could flip him for a draft pick in February or March. But the rest of these players will likely be here at least until the start of next season.
Benning got four years. Sturm signed for three. Because Grier wants to help all these players create a new identity/playstyle/etc. Now … if the team is out of contention at the deadline and someone makes the call for a tough-to-pass guy like Kunin or Lindblom, it could be a different story.
Any news on the glut of goaltenders on NHL/AHL rosters? – Lizbeth D.
Who do you see next year? Do you stick with (James) Reimer for a year or do you hand over to (Kaapo) Kahkonen? – Steven D.
Chances are for two things: 1. Is Aiden Hill a Shark at the end of the season? 2. Can Hill take over 1 Giga if he stays? – Michael B.
Ah yes, more goalie questions (there may be another in Part II!). Most teams will have four or five under contract, which makes sense — two at the NHL level, two at the AHL level and maybe a fifth as a starter in the ECHL when everyone is healthy.
San Jose has seven goaltenders signed to NHL deals, three on one-way contracts and four on two-way deals. There were seven goalkeepers on the move in July. Two were traded for each other (Cam Talbot and Philip Gustavson), while the other five were all traded for draft picks (Ville Husso, Vitek Vanecek, Alexander Georgiev, Matt Murray and Petr Mrazek). Murray and Mrazek needed sweeteners to move.
Maybe Grier needed more immediate help, and didn’t like the idea of trading Reimer or Kahko for a draft pick or two? Or were the offers for one or both of them not enough draft capital to make them want to do the deal? Both seem very reasonable.
The three goaltenders traded for strong draft picks — Huso, Vanacek and Georgiev — were all significantly younger than Reimer and had more NHL experience, success, or both than Kahkonen or Aiden Hill. Two of the teams that appear to need Reimer’s services the most – Edmonton and Washington – have already signed two of the best UFAs on the market to big deals.
Other groups that appear to be business partners for one of the three, such as No. 1B/No. 2 (Toronto, St. Louis, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh) signed free agents for $2 million or less. That makes them the cheapest of the three San Jose goalkeepers.
Could Grier/Sharks have missed the opportunity to move on from them before the draft? Sure, but also keep in mind that he was drafted on the Tuesday before the draft and there were sad, stressful situations on the Wednesday. Is it possible that there wasn’t a strong enough market for Reimer or Kahkonen or Hill to trade one of them? for sure.
Where does all this leave them now?
Well, this is still the most obvious opportunity to look good among the other 31 teams with injuries at the position in training camp, and the Sharks have one more NHL goaltender to offer them. One possibility is that the Sharks go into next season with three goals at the NHL level, but considering the number of skaters they have, they’re asking for a waiver that feels unlikely.
Another option is to put Hill on Weaver and keep him with Barracuda until one of Remer or Kahkonen gets hurt. That leaves the door open for the Sharks to lose Hill for nothing, which seems bad because they gave up a second-round pick for him last summer, but that’s not what concerns Grier’s roster.
If the Sharks move one of their three NHL guys before the season starts, the depth chart looks to be (relatively) clear to one level. Strauss-Mann and Etu McKiniemi will likely be regular tandems with the Barracuda, while Zach Emond will act as an insurance policy in the ECHL and Aaron Dell at both levels. The Sharks could also look to loan Mann or McKinney to an AHL club that could provide more playing time. If Hill ends up with the Barracuda, he could be a busy man trying to get more credit for their goalies until Joe Will gets injured.
To answer Steven’s question, if all three NHL guys are healthy and still on the roster in camp, it’s probably an open competition. There is no reason to transfer Quinn to a goaltender. Without a clear favorite after the preseason, my guess is Reimer and Kahkonen both start with the Predators in Prague and then alternate until one plays better consistently or one of them gets hurt and/or traded. .
To answer Michael’s question, I think the possibility of Hill not being on the roster at the start of the 2022-23 season is the last of the three. I didn’t think he was the most likely of the three to be traded, but now that the final goaltending musical chairs are up, Hill ends up on another roster or is waived or traded after someone’s backup gets hurt in the preseason.
That said, I’ve said at least once or twice that if Hill is on the roster, it wouldn’t surprise me if he could take over the No. 1 role next season. Goliaths are strange. The difference in their game from year to year is very high. Here are Reimer’s last five years: .913 save percentage, .900, .914, .906, .911. If he gets back into the .900-.906 range this season, there will be ample opportunities for either Kahkonen or Hill to take the No. 1 job.
Hill in 2010 Do I expect him to be a breakout star in 2022-23 and look like a long-term No. 1 option by the end of the season? No, but would it have been that crazy if, in a surprising fit or injury, Hill had started five or six games in a row for the Sharks at some point and was at least 1 on the depth chart every two weeks? not at all.
(Brent) Burns is in Carolina so who is the best quote on the team? – Ryan M.
Before we get to Part II (and more serious, big-picture questions) later this week, one fun ending…
This is at least selfishly appealing to members of the media covering the group. Burns wasn’t necessarily the group’s best quote.
Sometimes he certainly was. He had a media session, for this story and where he spoke with The Athletic’s Saad Yusuf on this Joe Pavelski, he’s incredible and both stories are full of great quotes from him. But Burns also didn’t like to speak at times, and when he did (after a loss) he wasn’t all that fun to be around. Even when he’s angry or upset, I find him very cute. I don’t judge players whether they like interviewing them or not. I’m sure there are days when we all say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’
Although Jake Middleton and Jasper Weatherby are in the discussion, the best quote on the team last year may have been Andrew Cogliano. Cogliano has been a media star for his entire career. Middleton was a breakout star in that department, which he added when he moved to Minnesota, and the press corps immediately enjoyed his presence. Also, Bob Boughner deserves a mention – he was one of the most savvy coaches in his dealings with the media.
If Vegas puts the odds on this one, Steven Laurent is probably the favorite. His introductory press release definitely hinted at “interview to the media”. There are players who consistently provide insightful answers, namely Logan Couture and Nick Bonino. It can also depend on what people want – Thomas Hertl and Mario Ferraro bring a lot of energy to their interviews which plays well with members of the TV media. James Reimer is one of the nicest human beings on the planet and is always willing to talk even after terrible games, which might make him a major player in this segment for some people.
And if members of the still-at-large media are allowed back into the locker room next season like in other major sports, my opinion of who the best interviewees are on the team may change. The stories I and others covering the team will be better for him.
(Top photo: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY)