If contracts weren't involved and the salary cap wasn't an issue, the San Jose Sharks would just as soon stay together for another go-around.
Despite another disappointing playoff result following a terrific regular season, the Sharks say the talent to win a Stanley Cup already is on the roster. The players said that advancing to the Western Conference Finals one year after winning the Presidents' Trophy and bowing out to Anaheim in the quarterfinals proves it.
"I believe in this group," said Sharks star winger Dany Heatley, who didn't score in a four-game sweep by Chicago in the conference finals and dealt with a lingering groin injury. "We've gone through a lot, especially this season. We battled through a lot of things and we'd like to see the group come back."
"I definitely believe in this group. You know, there's going to be a lot of people sitting behind a computer and a typewriter writing their stories (Monday). I know exactly how they're going to come out because that's what you guys do." -- Todd McLellan
San Jose will have seven unrestricted free agents this off-season, including goalie Evgeni Nabokov, defensemen Rob Blake and Niclas Wallin, plus forwards Jed Ortmeyer, Scott Nichol, Manny Malhotra and Patrick Marleau, who scored 5 of the Sharks' 7 goals in the Chicago series.
Forwards Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi will be restricted free agents, while the 40-year old Blake said he needs time to decide whether to keep playing or retire. Regardless of what happens, the sentiment inside the Sharks' dressing room is to keep as much of the team together as possible under the cap.
Joe Thornton, who had just 1 point and no goals in the Hawks' sweep, said he wasn't going to let it cloud his memory of the whole season, which saw the Sharks edge Chicago for the top spot in the conference.
"We played great all year long," Thornton said. "We can't hang our heads. We played great since Day One of training camp. I'm really proud of this group."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan also defended his team, bristling when asked about the tough decisions that lie ahead for San Jose General Manager Doug Wilson and his staff.
"I definitely believe in this group," McLellan said. "You know, there's going to be a lot of people sitting behind a computer and a typewriter writing their stories (Monday). I know exactly how they're going to come out because that's what you guys do."
It was a pre-emptive strike, knowing critics will say that falling short of the Cup Final demands a shake-up. Finances aside, McLellan strongly disagrees.
"When you're in between those walls, in those bricks, you know, we believe in that group," he said. "We have that (Conference Finals) experience now. You know, we've gone through that. Maybe we can expand on it."
That's opposed to the approach the Sharks took last season.
"We've come a long way as an organization," McLellan said. "We won the Presidents' Trophy last year. We went into a situation against Anaheim where we didn't play very well. You know, we held an evaluation of our team that was very intense and we scrutinized it very closely. A number of players were put on notice. We made a number of changes."
They don't want that to be the case this time.
"We've gained a lot of experience," McLellan said. "I think we can look at what the Blackhawks did last year and how they grew through losing (in the conference finals). Sometimes it's part of the process. Their team has been there and done it. They've learned through it. I'd like to think we could be that team."