The Closers

Bright offensive camera flashes fill gloomy rooms while notepads are scribbled on endlessly; questions answered deliberately, slowly, and mechanically. Explanations are sought as a means to pacify the community and there aren’t enough news articles in the world to explain this away. Low cheerless looks are the main form of communication between those involved as they pass one another in fluorescent lit corridors and  hushed common spaces, and to an outside observer it would appear as if a crime has been committed here; as if some unspeakable act has taken place and the very essence of life has been stolen from this building.

Any moment now one would be expecting a team of top-notch detectives to walk through the door and begin investigating the crime scene, relentlessly seeking out those responsible; but that won’t happen here. This is no crime scene and there are no mystery suspects to be sought out; this is what happens when a team with remarkable regular season statistics and high hopes fails to deliver. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a representation of the annual repeated scene found in the hallways, conference rooms, and ever so private locker room belonging to the San Jose Sharks.

To many fans this unfortunate event is considered a crime, and why not? Unless the law has changed recently, choking is still considered a felony in the US and Canada right? Regardless, year in and year out the Sharks deliver a solid performance marked by talent, consistency, and most importantly wins, but struggle and fall apart in the postseason. Since their inaugural season the Sharks have rarely failed to make it to the playoffs, missing the fun in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup only five times since joining the NHL. Many would commend the relatively young team for their multiple playoff runs, praising them in fact for their three Conference Final appearances, but with the good come the critics…and unfortunately for Sharks fans, what can only equate to tragedy and anger.

So what do you do when you are out of ideas, theories, useful leads and need a different strategy? Call in a closer. Recognizing this need, the Sharks’ General Manager, Doug Wilson, acted as any good major crimes unit Chief would, and sought out the best possible people to pull in while eliminating the deputies that couldn’t get it done. Wilson, who in 2003 oversaw what would become the teams best season to date, has intervened in multiple seasons when the scenes have started turning a bit towards the dark side. He is patient to watch and see how players thrive or dive within the organization, and at times appears content to let things play out as they will. The three seasons following the 2004 NHL lockout saw the sharks consistently making appearances in round 2 of the playoffs until the 2009 postseason where they would slide into losing in round 1 and be faced with the prospect that perhaps they weren’t playing well inside Mr. Wilson’s crime scene tape. Mr. Wilson made the decision that changes needed to be made and promised they would.

Wilson followed through and by the beginning of the regular 2009-2010 season, a group of seasoned Sharks were ready to hit the ice with their newly acquired help. Rob Blake was given the captainship and as the season progressed familiar faces were noticed missing, replaced by those who were better equipped to clean up plays and better fill roles where others before them had fallen short. Fresh players see fresh blood, and fresh ways to do things. Mr Wilson’s theory worked, with San Jose progressing to the Conference Finals before ultimately being swept by the Chicago Blackhawks, losing yet another opportunity to reach their goal. Wilson would bring in another set of closers following what most would call an overall success of a season, bringing in Antii Niemi in hopes some solid net minding would be the trick. Following another Conference Final loss it would appear to the naked eye that the newest moves were lateral at best, and another new set of closers would be sought out…has the strategy minded Wilson finally managed to find the right keys to unlocking the Sharks postseason shortfalls?

New agents have arrived on the scene in San Jose, filling the locker room stalls left empty by Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle, dreamy eyed at the California weather and sun, but bringing an edge all of their own, most recently sharpened in the deep Minnesota winters. So far preseason stats show strong numbers. Burns has been falling right into play with his teammates, a seemingly perfect fit from an outsider looking in, and as Havlat heals and his abilities reach full potential, a solid Stanley Cup worthy team will emerge. The Sharks have been shining in the preseason, and have yet to lose a game. In the past two seasons, both which resulted in Conference Final appearances by the team, the Sharks have not won the first pre-game of the season, let alone the first four. Could this be indicative of great things to come? Are these closers going to work early on truly solving the issues that have been haunting this otherwise strong team and making their case for the postseason now, or are they simply in the middle of a crime of passion- hot at the beginning but cooling at the end, left with nothing staring back at them but an empty arena and the haunting memories of what could have been…let’s all hope for the latter. Let’s hope they take their cues from GM Wilson, and like him, act swiftly and effectively, with their eyes on preventing yet another barrage of postseason criticism.

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Tags: 2011-12 NHL Season Antti Niemi Brent Burns Colin White Doug Wilson Joe Thornton Martin Havlat San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup Playoffs

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