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The NHL expansion draft is over. Now comes the hard part for Doug Wilson – Marin Independent Journal

SAN JOSE – Multiple Sharks players said at some point during or near the end of the season that they were not interested in being part of a rebuild. Sharks upper management, too, avoided using the dreaded ‘r’ word, choosing instead the more palatable ‘reset.’

“That’s not something we want to live through,” Sharks president Jonathan Becher said of a full rebuild. “It’d be hard for me to sell a three-year season ticket plan to somebody and say, ‘and we plan not to be good for the next three to four years.’”

If the Sharks hope to break out of their two-year malaise and chart on a winning course for next season and beyond, the process needs to kick into high gear in the next week.

With the expansion draft in the rear-view mirror, the Sharks begin a weeklong — and perhaps transformative — period that includes the NHL Draft, the end of the first contract buyout window, and the start of free agency. Also, as of today, any NHL team – not just the Seattle Kraken – can resume making trades.

Simply put, this is the most critical part of the offseason for the Sharks and general manager Doug Wilson. And he and his staff know they have to get it right after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.

“Historically anytime where we’ve fallen down, skinned our knees, and not had a year that met up to our standards, we bounced back because of the work that was done by everybody from the end of that season to the next training camp,” Wilson said. “So there’s a lot of work to be done by everybody in our organization.”

“(Wilson) has never been shy about examining all possibilities and being aggressive,” TSN hockey analyst Craig Button told this news organization in an interview.

“When I look at his past history and the mentality that he has that we’re going to be competitive, and I look at the division — which I think is really important — depending on what else they do, yes, absolutely based on the division, they have a chance to make the playoffs.”

Friday will mark the first day of the NHL Draft, in which the Sharks have the No. 7 pick, their highest since 2003 when they drafted Milan Michalek sixth overall.

While no one player will be able to turn the Sharks’ fortunes around overnight, the Sharks need to find someone who can contribute within the next two or three seasons. This year’s draft is felt to be deep through the first 10 or so picks.

“We know we’re going to get a difference-maker in the top seven,” Wilson said.

Next Tuesday will be the last day of the NHL’s first buyout period, and there’s reason to suspect the Sharks will buy out the remaining three years of goalie Martin Jones’ contract.

Jones has mostly struggled each of the last three seasons, posting a .896 save percentage each year. With Hill is now in the fold, it may not make financial sense to keep Jones, whose contract carries a $5.75 million hit until the 2023-24 season.

A buyout would spread out two-thirds of Jones’ remaining cap hit over six years. Jones’ cap hit would be reduced to just over $1.9 million next season, $2.41 million the following year, and $2.91 million in 2023-2024. From 2024 to 2027, Jones’ cap hit would be $1.66 million.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 3: San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones (31) covers the puck against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, May 3, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

“It’s clear that with the acquisition of Adin Hill, the confidence in Martin Jones to deliver the goaltending necessary for this team to compete for the playoffs has pretty much vanished,” Button said.

The newfound cap space, should a Jones buyout take place, would likely go to another goalie that would work in tandem with Hill. The NHL free agency period begins July 28 and there could be plenty of quality goalies available, including Frederik Andersen, Linus Ullmark, Jaroslav Halak, or Petr Mrázek.

“We’re still exploring our goaltending situation, and we haven’t made any decisions at this point. We will have to in due time,” Wilson said. “There’s no doubt that we will continue to look at our goaltending and our situation and make those choices in the next week or so.”

Wilson reiterated that the Sharks could be in the market for a couple of forwards, with one likely to be a centerman who can fit into the middle-six.

The Sharks as of now, per CapFriendly, have about $9.275 million in cap space and a buyout of Jones would free up another $3.8 million for next season. However, the Sharks may need to make another move to free up more space and get the type of personnel they want.

“We’re looking at a couple of forwards that can play in, as we say, the men’s role,” Wilson said. “Sometimes last year we put some kids in some roles that was probably a little bit much for them, but that was part of the reset and replenish.

“We’re looking to add some players that I think can take our competitive level to the next level and also allow younger players to flourish, playing with some veteran guys. We’ll be able to add some pieces. We continue to have discussions and look into that.”

Asked Wednesday how good they feel the Kraken can be this season, Wilson, Sharks’ director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. and assistant general manager Tim Burke all felt Seattle has so far made some positive moves.

“I think they’ll be pretty good,” Burke said. “I don’t think they’re done yet. I think they’re still going to make some moves that’ll probably show up in the next couple of days, so I think they did a good job.”

“They might not have chosen the highest names out there, but of the players that they drafted that we know personally, they’re going to be a heart-and-soul, hard to play against team,” Wilson Jr. said.

It stands to reason, then, that while the Kraken might not be as good as the Vegas Golden Knights were in year one, they’ll still be a team the Sharks will have to contend with for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

Now it’s up to the Sharks front office to make sure the team is in a position to succeed.

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