GM Mike Grier talked about the state of the San Jose Sharks for an hour yesterday.
While Grier didn’t always tip his hand, he was consistently direct, and there was no topic that was off-limits in this mid-season check-in.
Does Grier really want three first-round picks for Erik Karlsson? How are extension talks going, if at all, with Timo Meier? What might cause him to trade both Karlsson and Meier? What do the Sharks need most as an organization to get back to their winning ways? Are recent free agent signings Nico Sturm and Matt Benning available this Trade Deadline? What’s going on with Joe Thornton?
Grier answered these questions and a lot more.
He also talked extensively about San Jose Sharks prospects – why Ryan Merkley wasn’t promoted, where he wants William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau to improve, if Ozzy Wiesblatt will return to juniors, what he thinks about “tanking” – that portion of his Q&A will appear at NBC Sports Bay Area likely tomorrow.
Let’s focus on the current Sharks here. Grier had plenty to say about his 13-23-8 squad.
Mike Grier’s opening statement:
Certainly, we’re not where we had hoped to be right now as a team. We’ve found different ways to lose games and things like that where I thought the effort and the compete has been pretty good. We’ve probably done enough to win some games, and unfortunately, we didn’t.
But I think myself and our staff, I think we all feel like we’re a better team than what our record is. I know [Quinn] and the coaches feel that way and I know talking to the players, they feel that way as well.
The record is what it is. That’s kind of where we are.
But I think, for the most part, a couple of things that I wanted to accomplish coming into the season, I think the first half of the season, I think we’ve done some of those things.
The main thing was kind of changing the culture here. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. I think the guys have done a good job with that of buying in. They’re playing for each other. They’re showing up, working hard and competing every day.
For someone like myself, went through a season, somewhat similar to this in Washington, and it’s not easy coming to the rink. It says a lot about how things are in the room that I think guys are still enjoying coming to the rink every day. They’re coming in, enjoying being with each other, and they’re showing up and working hard. I think that says a lot with some of the changes of the culture.
I think the other thing that’s given us a chance to win pretty much every night is this style of play that Quinny has implemented. It’s one of the things that was important for me when I was looking for coaches, that aggressive, in-your-face style of play, and being on top of people. I think the guys have done a good job. It took a little while, I think, for them to get adjusted to the system, but I think they are.
I think between the attitude of the players and the style of play, I think it’s given us a chance to win most nights. So I think those two things have been really big and we’ll kind of see what happens the rest of the season.
Could go maybe we win some games that we lost the first half of the season, maybe we win a few more. You never know what can happen in sports.
I think the other important part of it is that the guys are still showing up. They’re still playing hard. They’re still playing for each other. No one’s quit. No one’s sulking. No one’s hanging their head. I think that’s really important not only for the rest of this season, but for the group and the organization moving forward.
Grier, on how the culture has improved from past seasons:
Well, I’m obviously looking at it from the outside, coming into the group. Like I said in one of my first press conferences, culture is, to me, it’s not always just about words, it’s about your actions. I think the guys probably needed a little bit of reset and a new voice coming in. I think that’s helped.
I think I’ve stressed and Quinny stressed and Quinny is a great communicator, which is a big part of it, so the guys know where they stand. But we’ve just stressed how we’re going to treat each other, the importance of working hard, everyone earning what they get.
Then the players that we’ve brought in, it’s been a little bit of some new blood. We kind of targeted some guys with high character, high work ethic, high compete, and I think they’ve helped change the locker room, whether it’s [Nico Sturm] and Luke Kunin and Steven Lorentz.
I think those guys, they’ve come in, all to different levels, but they’ve assumed some leadership of the group. It’s changed a little bit of the locker room dynamic. I think it’s made guys enjoy coming to the rink.
Grier, on how the disappointing record plays into his decision-making about the roster, or if that’s affected by the team’s relatively strong underlying play:
We are where we are in the standings.
The guys are still playing hard, and we’ll kind of give them a chance to see what they can do, but at the same time, at some point, start looking towards the Draft and the future and things like that.
So it hasn’t changed too much of what our plan is as a staff, I think it’s just given us an idea of what the group, some individuals within the group, how we look at them.
Grier, on what the San Jose Sharks need the most in the organization:
We got some older guys, and then we’ve got a little bit of a middle class. Right now, we don’t really have young guys pushing to grab the torch from the older guys, which I think you’ve had that in the past.
Whether you’ve had Jumbos and Pattys and Pav here, and you had Tomas and Logan and those guys kind of pushing up from the bottom to kind of grab the mantle. To some degree, if I was going to point to one thing where we’re kind of right now, we don’t have those young guys who are ready to kind of take over the core.
Grier, on if he’s surprised by Erik Karlsson’s start:
This is who I think Erik is. This is the player, [who] I would show clips of to the girls on the women’s team or clips to young defensemen in New Jersey. This is who I think he is. He had some injury issues and hasn’t played up to his standard. I think the frame of mind that he’s in and the health that he’s in, I really believe this is who he is as a player.
Grier, on the interest level in Karlsson:
I mean, there’s interest in him.
There’s some teams that have reached out about him. I’m not surprised being that this is a right-shot, dynamic defenseman, how often do those guys get on the market?
So I think it’s only natural for teams to kick the tires, it’s my job to listen to all offers, and see what I think is best for the organization, short term and long term.
There’s some interest in him, and like I said, he’s one of the top, if not probably this year, the top D in the league. So I think it only makes sense that if you’re a playoff team that you kind of kick the tires.
Grier, on if Karlsson buys into his short and long-term vision for the San Jose Sharks and if he thinks the team can be back in the playoff hunt next year:
I’d definitely be okay having him on the roster. He’s driving offense for us. He’s been great in the locker room.
I’ve really enjoyed my time with him. We try and talk every few weeks and just kind of check in. He’s kind of refreshingly honest about the good things and the bad things and his flaws and things he doesn’t like, and likes. It’s been good. I can see him being part of the team when we get this thing turned around.
Would you hope that we’re battling for a playoff spot next year? I think that’s the hope but there’s a lot of points to make up and a lot of ground to make up too. The hope is to be there, but at the same time we’ll have to see how it goes.
Grier, on if it’s realistic to think that the San Jose Sharks could be back in the playoffs next year:
I mean, that’s a good question. In sports, things can happen.
Guys can play well, you can kind of have an unexpected season.
I don’t know if it’s realistic or unrealistic at the same time. Everyone’s a year older. Things like that. I think it’s the hope.
Grier, on if he’s asking for three first-round picks for Karlsson:
I’m not gonna really get into what we’re asking for. But I don’t think that’s totally accurate.
Grier, on if he has a type of offer in mind that would make him seriously consider moving Karlsson:
It would have to be an offer that we feel makes us stronger in the future and gives us the ability to help turn this thing around quicker.
At the end of the day, it’s gotta be something that makes sense for us as an organization to move someone like him. I’m not out there dying to get rid of this D who is on pace for 100 points. (laughs)
Grier, on if the Brent Burns trade provides a model for a potential Karlsson deal:
It’s a different situation, for sure. I think the age of the player, No. 1, the term left on the player’s contract.
The age and Burnzie, me having a couple of really good conversations with him and trying to respect his wishes to have a chance to win a Stanley Cup as his career winds down.
They’re kind of different situations. But I think the main thing is, more of age of the player, going towards the end, where I think Erik can still play at a high level for many years.
Grier, on how much league-wide interest there is in pending RFA Timo Meier, or if he’s a player that the San Jose Sharks see long-term with the organization:
Timo’s a unique player.
I think if you’re starting a team from scratch, and you got a chance to grab someone like Timo, you’re going to take him and put him on your wing and forget about him for the next 10 years.
That being said, he’s the type of player that teams want, especially teams that are planning to be in the playoffs. He’s big, he’s fast, he can score, so yeah, there’s plenty of interest in him. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ve had some good talks with him about his situation and the team situation and things like that. I’ll kind of keep those between me and him and me and his agent and all. But I got all the respect in the world for him as a player and we’ll have to kind of see how it all shakes out.
Grier, on how much Meier’s desire to be in San Jose (or not) affects the GM’s decision with the player:
Yeah, that’s always a part of it. I’ve tried to have honest conversations with all our veteran guys. He’s no different. That’ll be a big part of it.
And it’s obviously a salary cap world.
It’d be great if we didn’t [have to worry about the salary cap], but we do, and there’s only so much money to go around. All that stuff will factor into the decision.
Grier, on if he’s had serious extension talks with Meier’s agent Claude Lemieux:
We’ve had talks with him. We haven’t really gotten too much down the road as far as exchanging proposals or anything. But we’ve had good open, honest and positive talks to this point.
Grier, on if he would consider trading Meier:
It’s not too different than Erik, really. It’s my job to do what I think is best for the organization, short-term and long-term.
When you have these kind of high-end assets, it definitely does give you the possibility to kind of change things over more quickly.
Grier jokes, on if he’d take three first-round picks for Meier:
Yeah, that’d do it. (laughs)
Grier, on how he values some of his long-term additions like Sturm and Matt Benning as the Trade Deadline approaches:
It’s definitely a little bit of a balancing act.
They’re guys that I value highly because of what they bring, like I said off the ice and on the ice. They’re pros. Everyone loves being around them. They work hard. They show up happy, not taking for granted that they’re in the NHL, and that they’re playing in this league. I think that’s important. They’re guys who have overcome a lot to get to where they are. I value them a lot.
I’d really have to think pretty strongly about moving someone like them. I think at the same time, people around the league, those playoff teams value those type of players as well.
I don’t know if “overwhelm” is the right word, but it would take something significant to get me to move off those guys.
Grier, on how much he talks to Sharks owner Hasso Plattner:
He’s a busy man. (laughs) We talk, whether that’s through text or phone call or e-mail, I would probably say every couple of weeks.
He watches every game. He’s sharp. He’s got his thoughts on the group, on the players. So it’s always nice talking with him and to see how passionate he still is about the Sharks.
Grier, on Plattner’s thoughts on the season and how quickly Plattner wants the Sharks to compete:
I’ll keep the conversations I have with him, keep that between us. But I think it’s safe to say he wants this team to do well and wants us to get back to being in the playoffs and having the chance to win the Stanley Cup as soon as possible.
Grier, on if he met Plattner during the Berlin exhibition:
He did not make Berlin. I met his daughter there. I had talked to him right before we left. He was planning on going, but there was a change of plan. So we talked maybe three or four days before we left.
Grier, on if there’s a place for Joe Thornton in the Sharks organization and if anything official about Thornton’s status will be announced soon:
There’ll be a place for him whenever he decides he wants one. I think he’s just enjoying being a dad, to be honest. He’s being a little bit of a hockey dad. Driving River around. He’s on the bench and on the ice.
Had a weekend with his daughter and things like that, where it’s just him and his daughter for a weekend. I just think he’s enjoying being a dad, not having any time constraints or having to be anywhere.
When he wants to do something else, there’s a spot for him here, but in the meantime, he’s been a good sounding board for me. He watches our games, he watches the Barracuda games. He’s someone I can ask his opinion on different things.
Grier, on if keeping Karlsson and Meier expedites trying to build a winner, as opposed to the effect if he lets them go:
I don’t think it’s definite one way or the other, really. If those guys stay, we still got to figure out a way to get some younger impact players into the lineup.
And if they go, it opens up the possibilities of cap space to bring in players and some of the pieces that we get from those deals. If you hit on a couple of those, that’s also something that can help turn things around quicker.
Grier, on Mario Ferraro’s season:
Mario, he’s competitive. He’s got some personality, which I think is great. Don’t think there’s a ton of it in the room. He brings a little bit of a spark and personality to the group.
His season has been up and down. He’s had some good stretches of play. I think like a lot of the group, there’s been times where he’s struggled.
We’ve asked a lot of him, maybe unfairly. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to play your offside if you haven’t done it much growing up. We’ve asked him to play the right side quite a bit. That’s not always fair to him.
But in general, he’s someone I don’t really worry about too much, right? Because you know you’re gonna get an honest effort from him every night.
Grier, on the long-term plan for the San Jose Sharks goaltending and their struggles short-term:
When I look at the goalies [around the NHL], I think there’s maybe a handful of GMs in the league that go to bed sleeping peacefully about the goalies that they have.
I’m sure there’s some goals and some games both guys would probably want back. But at the same time, they’ve given us chances to win games. I can think of a couple games where [James Reimer] and Kaapo [Kahkonen], they’ve stood on their head, allowed us to win games.
There’s been some breakdowns. There’s been some not great defensive play. Puck management, things like that, have led to 2-on-1’s and breakaways and things like that.
Some of it goes back [to] when you’re playing this kind of aggressive style. I think guys are also getting used to that and trying to make reads and be aggressive and sometimes, maybe it’s not the right read or we’re late getting there.
It’s a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 the other way and guys are getting Grade-A scoring chances. It’s not all on the goalies, I think.
They’re both pretty competitive. They’re both putting in extra work with the goalie coaches to get better. Generally, I can’t be too hard on them.
Like the majority of the league, you’re always on the lookout, trying to find that No. 1 goalie and someone you can ride for 60 games a year, and right now, we don’t have it.
Goaltending depth’s pretty good between the two guys here and [Aaron] Dell and [Eetu] Makiniemi and Strauss Mann. We feel like we have some depth.
Can Makiniemi be the No. 1? That’s the question that we’ll try and find out here in the next couple of years.
Grier, on if we’ll see free agent signing Markus Nutivaara this year:
I don’t know if we’ll see him.
I think he’s pretty disappointed. One of the happiest guys around after a preseason game that I’ve ever seen in my career. So happy to get back and playing, and then kind of tweaked his injury again.
So he’s a tough one. I can honestly say I don’t if we’ll see him again this year.
For me, it’s more about the person than the player right now.
He’s got a young family and he also has to think of his long-term well-being, how hard he wants to push himself to possibly get back and play in the NHL. So right now, it’s about the person and not the hockey player.
Grier, on trading pending UFAs like Nick Bonino and Matt Nieto:
That time of year, guys like that, they’re valuable for a reason.
We want them around here and we want them around our young guys and kind of driving the culture. It’s the same reason playoff teams will have interest in them.
You know, it’s no different than Erik or Timo, it’s my job to listen and if someone calls about those guys, listen and make the decision and see what’s best for the organization.
Special thanks to Max Miller for his help transcribing!
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