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Grier, Sharks’ Rebuild Plan Looks Familiar



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

The San Jose Sharks and Mike Grier are building something familiar.

Over the last two off-seasons, the Sharks have targeted a blend of veteran compete, skill, and leadership.

Nico Sturm, Matt Benning, Luke Kunin, Jan Rutta, Kyle Burroughs, Givani Smith, and the now-traded Steven Lorentz are examples of high-compete players, meant to establish the culture that Grier wants.

Mikael Granlund, Mike Hoffman, and Anthony Duclair, all coming off down campaigns, have been top-six forwards recently.

All these players will be expected to lead by example.

These additions are meant to supplement Grier’s larger goal, the development of the Sharks’ future, youngsters like William Eklund, and eventually, 2023 first-rounder Will Smith.

For an Eklund or an Henry Thrun, prospects both expected to have a role with the San Jose Sharks this season, the benefits of being around veteran leadership and skill should impact them in the years to come.

“They (the younger players) can not only learn from our example but they can talk to us.”

That’s not a quote from Sturm or Granlund or another recent Sharks acquisition.

That’s what veteran UFA signing Bernie Nicholls told the Associated Press in Oct. 1996, after a summer where GM Dean Lombardi acquired forwards Nicholls, Tony Granato, Todd Ewen, and Tim Hunter, defensemen Marty McSorley, Al Iafrate, and Todd Gill, and goaltender Kelly Hrudey.

Between these eight 30-something veterans, Lombardi had added over 5,000 games of NHL experience.

All this was also in the service of the greater good. After missing the playoffs in 1995-96, the Sharks were trying to rebuild around youngsters Owen Nolan, Jeff Friesen, Viktor Kozlov, Mike Rathje, and Marcus Ragnarsson.

“We were a very soft team,” Lombardi said. “Nobody didn’t like playing the Sharks.”

Sound familiar?

“We want to be a fast-paced and competitive and in your face and hard to play against hockey team,” Grier said after signing Burroughs and Smith on Jul. 1. “I think we’ve started to kind of lay the foundation for that.”

This Burroughs, Smith Trait Make Them Perfect for Grier’s Sharks (+)

Of course, things didn’t work out for the 1996-97 San Jose Sharks. They were 27-47-8 and finished 19 points out of the playoffs.

But Lombardi stuck to the plan, and it paid off.

The next year, he added veterans Mike Vernon, John MacLean, Bill Houlder, Stephane Matteau, and Murray Craven. He hired a new head coach in Darryl Sutter.

That group, along with the incumbent vets, teamed with Nolan, Friesen, Rathje, Ragnarsson, and rookies Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm to carry the Sharks to the playoffs.

4 Sharks Squads That Surprised

This 1997-98 squad would kick off a five-year run where San Jose improved their record every season. And while Lombardi and Sutter would get fired in 2002-03, the foundation they laid, manifest in the development of Marleau and Sturm and company, would lead to nearly 15 straight years of Cup contention under GM Doug Wilson.

Of course, all this didn’t result in a championship. But if Grier can go on a similar run as Lombardi and Wilson, 19 playoff trips in 21 seasons and multiple Western Conference Finals appearances, it will still be a resounding success. Being a constant Cup contender for that long is no small feat.

Anyway, it’s too early for that kind of talk.

Right now, as Grier said, the rebuilding Sharks are laying their foundation. Let’s see what he builds.

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