When the Sharks retired Patrick Marleau’s No. 12 jersey last week, it was a beautiful smorgasbord of nostalgia. It was also a stark reminder of how drafting a player like Marleau transformed an inconsistent, floundering franchise into a perennial playoff team. Under Marleau’s leadership, the Sharks only missed the playoffs in two of the 19 seasons since drafting him with the 2nd overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.
Fast-forward to the 2022-23 NHL season, where the Sharks find themselves firmly at the bottom of the NHL standings with 48 points. Only the Chicago Blackhawks (47 points) and Columbus Blue Jackets (46 points) have had more dismal seasons thus far. Barring a never-before-seen turnaround, the Sharks will miss the postseason for the fourth consecutive season. The franchise is arguably at its all-time low point.
However, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Sharks will likely find themselves in the same situation they were in during the summer of 1997, with a chance to get the 1st overall pick. That year, they barely missed out on the Joe Thornton sweepstakes, instead ending up with the 2nd overall pick and selecting Patrick Marleau. Eight years later, the Sharks acquired Joe Thornton via trade from the Boston Bruins. Missing out on the 1st overall pick in 1997 did not hurt the franchise, but the stakes are even higher this time around.
Connor Bedard, a Canadian phenom, is widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2023 draft class. Bedard has been compared to Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers superstar and one of the best players in the league. Bedard possesses excellent speed, vision, and an elite scoring touch, making him an attractive prospect for any team in need of a franchise-changing player. Any player drafted after Bedard isn’t as sure of a bet to change the fortunes of the team they land with.
Some experts have also compared Bedard to Chicago Blackhawks legend Patrick Kane. "It’s very reminiscent with me with Patrick Kane. Just the speed, the quickness, those big, timely goals when they're needed, and the accuracy to finish on the play, or just in general to create the scoring chances when you need them," said NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr.
"Bedard is absolutely dynamic in everything that he does as he’s a complete package offensive powerhouse," said Peter Baracchini from The Hockey Writers. "He’s got elite level IQ and awareness, as he’s able to quickly evaluate the situation and pick out routes for him to generate a quality opportunity."
It has been difficult to find a hockey analyst who doesn’t gush over Bedard. They all cite his skills, hockey IQ, work ethic, and leadership as reasons why he will be a once-in-a-generation type player. The comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid have not fazed him, as he is performing at his highest level yet heading into the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
The NHL Draft Lottery heavily favors the team that finishes with the worst record, giving them a 25.5% chance of winning the 1st overall pick. The team that finishes with the second-worst record has only a 13.5% probability of landing the first pick. The odds for the team finishing with the third-worst record come in at 11.5%.
Only two points in the standings separate the Sharks from having either a 25.5% chance of scooping up Bedard, or a much lower 11.5% chance. The Sharks have never had the 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. If there was ever a time when they should position themselves for that opportunity, this is it.
If the Sharks continue to lose, they will have a better chance of securing the 1st overall pick. Landing Bedard would ensure they get a future star who can help turn around the team's fortunes. He would be the cornerstone of their franchise for years to come.
Having the 1st overall pick can invigorate a franchise. The Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Matthews quickly became a star player for the team, leading them to multiple playoff appearances and helping to turn around a franchise that had struggled for years. The Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick in 2005. Crosby helped turn the team around, leading them to three Stanley Cup championships and numerous playoff appearances.
Are the Sharks and their fans prepared to make a short-term sacrifice for a tremendous long-term gain? It seems like they are already taking steps to move in that direction. The recent trade of Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils was a salary dump that was predicated by their place in the standings. The team dropping their ticket fees will also help soften the blow for fans attending any of the remaining 11 home games.
Patrick Marleau’s No. 12 banner now hangs from the rafters at SAP Center. If the Sharks front office and fans are looking for inspiration, they can look up and think back to the summer of 1997. Drafting Marleau changed the fortunes of their franchise that day. The NHL Draft Lottery takes place this summer. After that, we will find out if Connor Bedard will also be able to look up at Marleau’s No. 12 banner 41 times next season.
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Right Winger Kevin Labanc after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.
Goaltender James Reimer after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.
Head coach David Quinn after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.