I’ll say it, I thought that GM Mike Grier’s post-Trade Deadline availability was an insightful statement on where the San Jose Sharks are heading, even if he still won’t use the dreaded “R” word.
Grier should, by the way – I believe the fans can take it, especially after four seasons of losing. I think the die-hards will appreciate the honesty, and I think the casuals, well, they can see what’s taking place on the ice.
It’s not like many people are fooled by this “let’s not call it a rebuild” rebuild: The Sharks are currently filling SAP Center at 79.6 percent capacity, a far cry from their 205-game sellout streak in the heyday of the Joe Thornton era, and they traded their top forward, Timo Meier, for mostly futures.
Anyway, when I say that Grier made a insightful post-Deadline statement on Friday, I’m not saying that I agree with every move that he’s made. More, that he strikes me as a sure captain with a vision.
Of course, so was Captain Ahab.
Anyway, in case you missed it, here’s Grier on a wide range of Trade Deadline topics, from not trading Erik Karlsson to trading Mikey Eyssimont, not trading James Reimer to trading Nick Bonino, plans for Shakir Mukhamadullin and Henry Thrun, and what position most needs addressing in the organization. He also talks about adding more “skill” to the Sharks.
Mike Grier, on how he feels after his first Trade Deadline:
We feel good about it. We’ve added a lot of assets, prospects and pick-wise, to the organization. Not to mention, [Fabian] Zetterlund and Andreas [Johnsson], who’re helping our NHL team out. We’re happy about it, the staff did a good job. Shout out to those guys. They’ve worked hard and put a lot of time into it to prepare for the deadline. Right now, I think we’re happy with the way things went.
Grier, on how much interest there was for Nick Bonino:
There was a handful of teams that had interested in Nick, and rightfully so. This time of year, that’s what you’re looking for, the character and that playoff experience. Someone who can play in all situations like him. There was interest, but we tried to do right by the player and put him in a situation that he wanted to go to. Familiar coach, familiar place, so he’s got a lot of good memories and a lot of good friends on the team. Once Pittsburgh really got involved, I think that was probably going to end up being the best outcome for him.
Grier, on if he passed up better offers for Bonino to send him back to the Pittsburgh Penguins:
There was interest in him, like I said. He’s played long enough. We have a lot of respect for him, what he’s done with the group and the young players, helping establish the standard and identity in the room. I think he deserved to have a say in what he wanted to do, whether that was go or stay or which team he wanted to go to.
Grier, on why he didn’t use this third salary retainment slot on Bonino:
We’ve used two, so we just wanted to keep one open in case something happens down the road [in the summer].
Grier, on trying to trade James Reimer:
I think it wasn’t the right opportunity for him or right places for him. The goalie market this time of year, it’s always difficult to move goalies. Especially once [Joonas] Korpisalo and [Jonathan] Quick went, there was only so many teams that were looking for goalies. As you guys probably saw, it’s not easy for everyone to squeeze salary in this time of year too. Gotta add all that in together, and it’s tough to make it happen for a lot of goalies.
Grier, on if there are plans to call up Eetu Makiniemi or Strauss Mann, or is the plan to try to ride Kaapo Kahkonen and Reimer the rest of the season:
It’ll probably be Kaapo [Kakhonen] and James [Reimer] here. I think Quinny and [Thomas Speer] have done a good job of riding the hot hand, and I think it’s been good for them. I think Kaapo’s game [has] come along and picked up and he’s ran with [it] a little bit. That’s put some good, competitive pressure on Reims to keep up. We look forward to that competition down the stretch.
Grier, on the current and immediate future of San Jose Sharks’ goaltending:
I think it’s an area most teams would like to improve. There’s only a handful of teams that probably love their goaltending. For us, we’re gonna look into it and try and improve the organizational depth. Like you said, everyone’s on the lookout for a No. 1 goalie, whether you drafted [him] or free agent or trade for it. We’re no different. We’ll see how Kaapo and Reims do down the stretch. Maybe they can show us that they can be No. 1 as well.
Grier, on if this is an opportunity for Kahkonen to show the San Jose Sharks what he’s got:
Absolutely. To his credit, Nabby and Speersy have asked him to make some changes. It took a while for those changes to stick with him, but I think over the last month he’s been pretty good. These 20 games will be important for him and important for a lot of other players to show us what they got and try to earn a spot. For some guys, earn NHL contracts, whether that’s with us or another organization. It’s an important time for the group.
Grier, on trading Mikey Eyssimont:
For us, we thought it made sense to do that, value-wise. But what it really is, is a tribute to Mikey. He came in here, he got an opportunity to play in the NHL everyday and he ran with it. He took advantage of it. He played hard and played with passion, a lot of things that we’re looking for in players and he did it. For an organization like Tampa Bay to want him to be a part of their playoff run just shows that. So really, it’s credit to Mikey. We’re obviously happy to turn him into a pick, but I got a lot of respect for him as a player.
Grier, on improving the San Jose Sharks as fast as possible but responsibly:
I think the Timo deal pushed us forward, and even adding Henry Thrun the other day, we’ve been able to retool the depth on the defensive side of the prospect pool, and I think that goes a long way to getting us back to where we want to be. We believe in those prospects: Henry, Shakir, Nikita [Okhotiuk]. I don’t think Nikita got talked about too much about being part of the deal, but he was a huge part for us. Our scouts love him and he’s a throwback player. We think he’s going to be a big part of the future. So with those guys, and some of the picks we made on the back-end last year with Havelid and Michael Fisher, we just feel like we’ve taken a step forward, adding to the defensive side of the prospect pool. That’s the hardest part to grow and develop. We feel like it’s pushed us forward.
We’ve been able to create a little bit of cap flexibility, starting with Burnzie and now Timo, we’ve given ourselves some room financially. If a player becomes available in the summer that makes sense, and is in the right age and time frame, maybe we can get on them and add them to the group and keep building this thing.
Grier, on striking the balance of not taking away too much from a Barracuda team trying to make the playoffs, but also rewarding prospects who have excelled like William Eklund:
Yeah, you’re dead on with that. Eky got the call today because he’s earned it. I’ve talked about that from day one, I didn’t want to hand these guys anything. I think Eky, for the last month, has probably been the most consistent and best player down there. We felt this was a good time to reward him for that. He’s put his head down, he’s never complained. Never asked, “Why aren’t I up?” So now he’s gonna get an opportunity.
We don’t want to pillage the Barracuda. I think it’s important, hopefully, that those guys can make the playoffs. But if they don’t make the playoffs, at least they’re in it right to the end. Those can be really important steps for player development.
Grier, on the market for San Jose Sharks players with longer-term but reasonable contracts like Nico Sturm, Matt Benning, Alexander Barabanov, and Steven Lorentz:
There was interest in those guys. We do have to field a team at the same time. (laughs) We’ve listened on some players, but also felt good enough about them to not to feel the need to move them. That they can be a part of the group for the rest of this year and into next.
Grier, on if the plan is to keep Eklund up with the San Jose Sharks for the rest of the season:
We’ll see how it goes. It’s all in evaluation. His game might dictate to us what happens next. We’ll see how it goes. We’re just excited for him. But, we haven’t really penciled him in for the rest of the season, or not. We’re just going to play it game-by-game and see how it goes.
Grier, on how Nikolai Knyzhov is progressing with the San Jose Barracuda:
I think his play is getting better. He’s such a good kid, but he’s hard on himself. No matter who you are, if you take 18 months [off] from competitive hockey, you’re not going to step back in and be the same player you were. He, probably in his head, thought it would be a quick turnaround where he would find his game right away, but it’s taking a little while. But watching him, I think we see the improvement each game. That’s what we’d like to see for him and also good health. Hopefully, he can keep himself healthy and then we’ll see what happens.
Grier, on if he plans to bring Shakir Mukhamadullin over to San Jose is his KHL playoff run ends early:
We’ll bring him over here. I’ll talk with Quinn and the coaches and discuss what we think is best. When the season’s over—it’s a long season with athletes—if he’s not too beat up or exhausted, we look forward to seeing him either with the Sharks or the Barracuda. We haven’t decided. But, we will bring him over here as soon as he’s done.
Grier, on if they plan to bring over junior prospects if their seasons end early:
They can come and play. We don’t have too many of those guys, but they’re welcome to come even if they don’t play. I think it’s a good experience for them to come over here. Practice and be around the pros and get a little taste of what pro life is. When Henry’s Harvard season is over, he’ll come over and we’ll do the same thing with him.
Grier, on his confidence level that the San Jose Sharks will sign Henry Thrun:
Pretty good. We feel pretty good about it. Hopefully, some of the Boston-ties can help us out in that regard.
Grier, on bringing over Filip Bystedt and Mattias Havelid to the Barracuda after their SHL seasons end:
They’re right on the bubble over there. There’s definitely a possibility that we bring those guys over and at the very least bring them over, get looked at, talk to them, get to know them a little bit. There’s definitely an opportunity for them to possibly sign and maybe play some games with the Barracuda. But we’ll probably bring them over at some point, just to get a face-to-face with them and have them spend some time around the pros.
Grier, on if Eklund’s ELC can still slide into next year:
It’s still there. So if he plays nine games or fewer, it’ll slide another year.
Grier, on why he didn’t just keep Eyssimont:
He’s a UFA. That plays into it too. It’s always a balance of trying to do what we think is right for the organization and not get too emotionally involved in it. I’ve got a ton of respect for how Mikey plays and he does a lot of things we’re looking for, and the passion [he has]. It’s my job to do what we think is best for the organization. In this situation, we thought that was the right move.
Further clarification: If Eyssimont hits a certain number of games with Tampa, including playoff games, he can still be a Group 2 RFA. But to the Sharks, no playoffs, he would've been a Group 6 UFA
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 3, 2023
Grier, on how close the San Jose Sharks were to trading Erik Karlsson:
Various times throughout the season, there were talks that went on. I don’t know if they ever got to a point that we were really close, but there was a lot of talks with other teams. A lot of interest in him, and rightfully so. There’s a lot that [will go] into the [potential] deal. It never got to the point where we felt like we were close, to actually bring something to Erik. It never got that far.
Grier, on if he has a particular area of focus for the Sharks, forward, defense, or goaltending:
We’ve still got to keep building this thing. I think we’ve addressed the D a little bit. We’ve addressed some of the size concerns in the organization, we’ve gotten a little bit bigger. So now, I think we have the ability to try and infuse a little bit more skill into the prospect pool and not be so focused on one thing or the other. A little infusion of skill, and like I said earlier, I think goalie is a priority for us. It’s probably a priority for a lot of teams, but we’ll keep building. There’s still lots of holes to fill. Lots of things on the shelves to keep trying to fill up.
Grier, on what he takes away from first Deadline:
It was fun. You’re trying to make pieces of the puzzle fit. Then just the human side of it, which I understand and I try to be cognizant of when it’s trading players. Even the players that don’t get traded, I know it can be difficult for them to even have their name out there. I tried to be open and have some discussions with the players leading into it. It was good. At the same time, it can be tedious and a grind, but I had a lot of support. The staff, scouts and everyone put a lot of time and effort into this. That made it easier for me.
Grier, on if San Jose Sharks can hopefully focus better on the ice now with Trade Deadline over:
That’s something that gets lost with athletes, because they’re playing a sport, there’s some profile, they’re making some money. We’ve got to remember that these are human beings first and foremost, who have families and some have kids. There’s a lot going on. To be traded, or the thought to be traded, you have to uproot your family, maybe be away from your kids for another two months. It’s a lot. While it is your job, to expect people to completely block it out and just play is probably unrealistic. The group now, they can probably take a deep breath here. Expect them to play hard every night, like they’ve done for the most part all year. Play hard, compete, and we’re going to try and win every game. We’d like the guys to keep competing, whether it’s an audition to show us that they belong here, [that] they can be a part of the future. Or, every night there’s other scouts from other teams in the building. There’s jobs to be had, whether here or with another franchise, so I expect these guys to go out and give it [their] all every night. I think for the most part this season they have, so that’s always been good to see.
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