It's easy to take the common line and talk about how, once again, the San Jose Sharks turned out to be a set of perennially disappointing players, destined for little more than mediocrity and a lot of "what could have beens." It's easy because that's been the common sentiment over the past few seasons. If you don't watch the team on a regular basis, you don't see all the trials it goes through, it's triumphs and smaller victories, you just see the bad stuff. The crushing defeats, embarrassing losses, drops in the standings. The call outs by on air personalities who make no secret that they don't like your team's former captain and they think he's a lost cause.
Once again the Sharks come up short in the post season. Two back to back trips to round 3 and two back to back eliminations. Yet, I have hope. A lot of it, actually. I am disappointed with how the season ended, but I believe this season said more good things about the the Sharks than bad, and with some very minor tweaks, this team could go all the way.
(this is an extraordinarily long season recap. If you just want to get to my recommendations for what can take the Sharks all the way, scroll down to the bottom.)
The season started off across the pond. The Sharks start was lackluster at best. A return home saw a continuation of the slow start, with little sign of recovery. The first half of the season was a struggle to say the least. Down, out, and practically eliminated from the post season before the race to make it really even started, the Sharks looked like a team destined to end their season in April. A six game losing streak in January, culminating in a verbal beat down by Ryane Clowe, signaled a potential turning point. The Sharks were either going to recover from this, or they weren't. The season was over, or it wasn't. Time was running out to recover.
But recover the Sharks did, and in dramatic fashion. Rebounded from what had been a snowball's chance in hell of reaching the playoffs, that Sharks went on a huge tear, not only gaining ground against their divisional opponents, but settling rather firmly into the race for one of the top spots int he West. While catching Vancouver wasn't likely (barring an epic collapse from the Canucks), San Jose suddenly found itself battling it out with Detroit for the number 2 spot in the West. Quite the comeback for a team that looked like it would be ending its season in April only mere weeks before.
Finally, the Sharks that we knew existed had come to be. A resilient, hard fighting, grinding, will smash you and anything else in my way to piece team had emerged. They played like fire until the very end of the season, reigniting post season hopes and displaying an uncanny ability to rebound from nearly any deficit.
The price for this resiliency, was a slow start to the playoffs. The fear was always there, but it wasn't until game 2 against LA that the reality of what that amazing run had do to the Sharks surfaced. Game 2 was a disaster. We all knew it would be a hard fought series, but at that point it looked as if all had been for naught, and the Sharks may, yet again, bow out early to a divisional rival. Then came game 3.
Down 4-0 early, it looked as if the season had come crashing down on the Sharks. Quick was too good, LA's D was too strong, and the Sharks were lost in a sea of skill they clearly couldn't compete in. A low point after such a brilliant second half. Hope wasn't gone, of course, the Sharks had come back before, they could do it again, but down by 4, what hope was there?
If I recall, I skipped a work function to watch game 3. Sitting at home, I found myself wondering why on Earth I had abandoned the opportunity to get free beer for...this monstrosity. Then the Sharks scored. And scored again. Suddenly it's 4-2 and I realized that a come back was possible. The Sharks must have too, because comeback is exactly what they did. After winning game 3 6-5, it was like, "this is it. THIS IS OUR YEAR!" How could it not be? With LA dispatched in 6 (which was one more than I would have liked, but about what I figured the series would be), the Sharks turned their sights to the next round, and their old nemesis, Detroit.
After taking a quick 3 games to none lead, the Sharks looked posied to sweep the Wings out of the post season, something that had never done before. Could there be any bigger argument to this being "our year" than a sweep of Detroit? Sadly, it was not to be, and the wear and tear caused by that Januardy push once again came back to haunt the Sharks, hindering their ability to close out the series and forcing them to 7 games. Hearts and skills were once again questioned. Had it been a sweep, no one would have ever thought to question the heart of the Wings, but oh, the Sharks are pushed to 7 and suddenly, they're being called out. Admittedly, they played like crap in games 4-6, but it got personal out there. Game 7 was a big "eff you" the the media from the Sharks, but it came too late.
The Canucks, the Sharks Western Conference Final foes, were well rested, and had taken the time to study the Sharks as they played Detroit. They were also largely uninjured, whereas the Sharks were starting to show signs of hidden injuries. Game 1 was disappointing. Game 2 was what we all thought the match up could and should be. Had the Sharks had the energy, the Canucks would have been a beatable opponent. This year it wasn't a hot goalie that shut them down, it was the combination of being hurt, tired, and worn out from a fight that had started 5 months earlier. Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to win, and in this case, it was perfect storm of things that combined to see the Sharks go down in 5 games to the Canucks. While I am not trying to take away from the Canucks accomplishments, taking out a team that was barely able to skate (or dress, in the case of Clowe), but managed t come out and play every night anyway is a lot like kicking down a kid who is half your height, then saying you won a big battle. The Sharks only played one game up to where they could (and were they able, should) have played. It was not a true defeat in that sense. It was, however, a sad and disappointing ending for a team that had fought so hard to prove that they have the fire and skill within to win.
Didn't you mention some tweaks at some point? I did yes, thank you for reading this far (or skipping to the bottom of the post). Your patience is about to be rewarded.
First and foremost, fire on all cylinders earlier. Start strong and stay strong. Play consistent hockey. None of this drastic up and down, can't win more than 2-3 games in a row nonsense. This will save you from having to play through injuries much earlier in the playoffs than expected. It will also save much needed energy. Second, bring in another quality D man. The defense is obviously competent, but we need another good set of hands on the blue line. Nemo needs a solid line in front of him. All goalies do. Remember that the goalie can only do so much, you really need a strong defense to keep the opposition out of his crease. Third, make sure your leadership guys hold the team accountable earlier. If something isn't going right, fix it. If public call outs are needed, do it, but don't rely on it. Make sure guys know how important they are to the bigger picture. Everyone needs to by in to the system from day one. You can't back into the playoffs and expect a long run. You can hope, but you cannot expect it.
I think the Sharks also need to get rid of some dead weight. Heater preformed far below his 7.5mil a year contract and needs to be moved. Huskins, as much as we love him and as much as he is the patron saint of this blog, didn't do much and could be replaced for cheaper. So could Wallin.This may be difficult depending on how the Dmen market looks this summer. They can be serviceable, but replacing them would be a boon in terms of price and potential. Demers needs work, but he's getting there. We get him into a solid paring and I think he'll do quite well.
I would keep Eager, but teach him to be better disciplined. Too many ill timed penalties hurt the team in the later rounds. Keep Wellwood, if you can. He was a good addition and will be useful next season when the Sharks make another run.
The Sharks core is solid over all and locked up for next season. Despite some concerns, I do believe that they have a goalie who can make a Cup run and hold his own. Nemo works hard, and I have no doubt he will spend the summer improving. The season run with him has proved that much to me. I have faith that he can be great. Nitty is capable behind him as well. As a pair, they should do well in their sophmore year as Sharks.
I really think that with a few D tweaks, the replacement of Heater, and a willingness to buy in to the system and their own trust in themselves earlier, the Sharks could be right on the cusp of a Cup this time next year. The time is coming, and it's coming soon.