- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Changing of the guard in the Western Conference?
Vancouver and Chicago still have plenty to say about that.
So let's deal with what we do know as of Sunday afternoon. Detroit and San Jose, the two franchises which have played the most playoff games since the 2005 lockout (Wings 97, Sharks 79) are both out in the first round.
How do we even recognize a Western Conference playoff without them?
The Wings and Sharks have been a staple for so many years; the Wings won the Cup in 2008 and were Cup finalists in 2009, and the Sharks were conference finalists the past two seasons. And both teams have always been in the thick of it all over the past decade.
So now what?
It's too easy to just say, it's a changing of the guard and the Wings and Sharks are on the downgrade.
It's not that simple anymore. The cap system seven years out has introduced so much parity that the construction and deconstruction of teams is a different process now.
"I think we're in an era now where every year is a new year, it's hard to sustain things for more than two to three years because of the cap," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Sunday. "It's also because we all have a better understanding of the system, there are fewer kids traded, fewer draft picks traded. There's more parity. The days of a team being at the head of the class for seven to eight years, those years are over."
In other words, the changing of the guard could happen almost every year. The turnover of playoff and non-playoff teams will happen more quickly. Get used to it.
After 20 years of contending (amazingly) and drafting with low picks, the system eventually catches up to you, and the Wings know that. But with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each still in his prime, it's certainly not about rebuilding. It's about retooling on the fly.
"Certainly we're going to explore all avenues, trade and free agency to try and improve our team," Holland said. "Our goal is to be a playoff team and position ourselves where we have the potential to be on a playoff run."
Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart and Ty Conklin are among the UFAs on the team. And, of course, so is captain and legend Nick Lidstrom. Turning 42 next Saturday, this could possibly be it for Lidstrom, although nobody knows at this point. The Wings certainly hope not.
"I'm going to give Nick until the middle of June, I want to give him lots of time," Holland said. "I'd like to know prior to the NHL entry draft. When you get there, that's when the trade talks and the real juices start flowing heading into July 1 free agency. Nick's got a good couple of months [to decide], obviously we want him back, I want him back."
If Lidstrom retires, it's obviously a huge blow to the Wings. The only bright side, if there's any, is that it would afford them even more cap room to play with. Should the likes of Ryan Suter or Zach Parise enter free agency, you can bet Detroit will be a heavy bidder.
The Sharks? It's a little more complicated than Detroit. For starters, they don't have anything coming off their cap that's really that noteworthy. The likes of Torrey Mitchell, Dominic Moore and Daniel Winnik are UFAs July 1, but all of the high-paid, core players remain signed.
Longtime Shark Patrick Marleau was a huge disappointment in the five-game loss to St. Louis, going pointless. He's got two more years at $6.9 million a year and a no-trade clause to boot. Martin Havlat had a disappointing, injury-filled year. After scoring twice in Game 1, he was barely noticeable in the rest of the series. He's got three more years at $5 million per season. Defenseman Brent Burns didn't have the impact this season the Sharks had hoped they were getting after dealing for him last summer. He's got five more years at $5.76 million per season.
The decisions won't be easy for GM Doug Wilson. But this team needs a core shakeup. Aside from Joe Thornton (who was easily San Jose's best player against the Blues), Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle, I'd be ready to trade almost anyone else on this roster.
Easier said than done, of course. But Wilson has a track record of making bold moves. He's not scared of change. He spoke with Columbus about Rick Nash before the trade deadline. Maybe he revisits that.
Either way, Wilson is on the clock this summer. His Sharks need retooling if they want to hang with the new class in the West.
It's too easy to just say, it's a changing of the guard in the Western Conference. It's not that simple anymore. The cap system seven years out has introduced so much parity that the construction and deconstruction of teams is a different process now.