I love the Sharks. Last year, I bet on them to win the cup. Before the season started. I did it again this year. I firmly believe, as I have the past 5 years, that this is finally their year. A Bay Area native, I went to school in the east coast. All my friends used to make fun of my hockey team, call them the Sharkies. Until that fateful day in 2005 when Joe Thornton walked in the San Jose dressing room. Affectionately, I still call them the Sharkies in complete mockery of anyone who’s ever, well, dared mock my team.
Aaron Fulkerson Flickr
Back then, we were going to win because Jumbo turned Jonathan Cheechoo into a Rocket Richards trophy winner. Yeah, I laughed writing that. After the now-derailed Cheechoo train it was because we brought in Boyle, Blake and, to a lesser extent, Lukowich. Year after year, of course, I spent the summer reliving the previous spring’s fateful final playoff game. The quadruple overtime game against the Stars still stings. I stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning the night before a final exam watching that game. Hoping somewhere, somehow they’d pull it out.
Last year, Doug Wilson added Niemi, a Stanley Cup champ who had made playoff moves Nabby only dreamed of. Then Ian White, Wellwood and Eager joined the roster right around the trade deadline. Their additions led to the best record in the league the final half of the season and a second place finish in the West. At that point, it was just destiny waiting to happen. Before the playoffs even started I was certain a trip to Vegas to cash in on my winnings loomed somewhere in the summer horizon. The only thing more heartbreaking that ripping up that ticket was watching the Rogers Arena stanchion jump in on the action at the end of game 5. My Canadian friend, a Vancouver fan, told me later he was certain we were headed back to San Jose for game 6.
And this year? Why this year do my beloved Sharkies tell me that this is the summer I’ll finally get to spend reading articles and looking at twitpics of black and teal’s days with The Cup?
Have you ever seen Brent Burns play hockey? I watched the Canucks – Sharks preseason game last Sunday, watching especially for #88. Seeing him skate out from behind the net with the puck in one hand and a helpless forward slashing pettily at his other arm gave me a… well, got me excited. He’s like a taller, slimmer Murray with WHEELS. The dude can fly. And he’s so smooth.
I know we gave a lot up to get Burnzie (@Burnzie88 – worth a follow, for sure), but usually when you give up a surplus (top 6 forwards) for something you desperately need (ice-time eating, crease-clearing, puck-moving top 2 defensemen) more often than not, it works out. It defense builds championships, the Sharks just added a serious cornerstone.
Havlat for Heatley? I bet if you traded in NHL ’12 their overall ratings would be pretty close. Except for Havlat’s speed advantage. You could still consider the move a gamble but it’s a wager I’d push my chips to the center of the table for any day. So long as Marty’s healthy come spring, I don’t care how many games he misses during the regular season.
Now I know what people are saying. Swept by the Hawks in ’09, ousted by the ‘Nucks and the Stanchion (band name anyone?) 4 games to 1 last year. At this rate it’ll take them another 3 years to win 4 games in the conference finals. Utter. Playoff. Failure. I understand the only goal of a professional sports team is to bring home the hardware. And I realize the Sharkies have yet to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup yet. But what I don’t understand is how a team that has made it to the playoffs every year since the lockout, and to the NHL’s final four twice in a row, can be considered a playoff failure.
Every year a few analysts pick the Sharks to go all the way, only t have the comments section beneath their columns fill with virtual laughter and crazed Vancouver fanatics. I just want to ask all of those commenters – when was the last time your ever-proud franchise made it that far in the playoffs? In back-to-back years?
Not only do these guys know what it takes to get that far, the core of this dangerous team has grown up together through those experiences and learned together. Boyle, Pavs, Jumbo, Patty, Couture, Clowe. The guys no one is talking about – D. Murray (a personal favorite), Pickles, Torrey Mitchell. These 9 guys have duked it out together through these past visits to the Western Conference Finals. Many of them have been together for longer. And in the offseason what did GM Doug Wilson do? In a conference known for its big, fast teams he went and added Brent Burns and Martin Havlat. Two big, fast dudes.
Don’t forget about Handzus. For a team ranked 24th in penalty kill last year, this guy and his flow are gonna free up some offensive zone time for guys like Pavs and Marleau. I can hear the “Zeeeeeuuuus” chants already. Or Vandermeer and Colin White, Andrew Murray (the grit) and the young guns Jamie McGinn and Tommy Wingles, Dejardins and even this season’s opening night starting goalie Thomas Greiss. Guys committed to doing whatever it takes (even if it’s in a role-playing position) to get to this team to the Cup.
So let’s review. Underperforming or inconsistent pieces removed and swapped for better-fitting additions? Check. Key issues addressed? Check. Strong core intact and ready to boldly go where no Sharks team has gone before? C’mon, is that even a question?
Doug Wilson knows it’s time. The Sharks players and coaching staff know it’s time. The new additions are fired up (seriously, check out @Burnzie88 – he loves The Bay Area) about joining a Cup contender. The fans, who keep the Shark Tank one of the loudest and most ferocious venues to play in night in and night out, they know, too.
For everyone from black and teal nation, I hope you’ll heed the battle call – wear your jerseys, wave your towels and keep the Sharkies close to your heart. Because you all know as well as I do that this year, it’s time.