My Two Cents for June 12th;
Crowning Achievement- The Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals to capture the franchises Stanley Cup in their 44 year history. The Kings entered this post season as the 8th seed in the Western Conference and not much was expected from them. However, the Kings turned out to play their best hockey as the underdog and routed every team they faced in the post season. After shocking the Vancouver Canucks in five games in the first round, the Kings took out the St Louis Blues in four games and the Phoenix Coyotes in five in the Western Conference Finals. In each series, the Kings jumped to a 3-0 lead in the series winning the first two games on the road. In the Stanley Cup Finals, nothing changed as the New Jersey Devils despite playing a better overall series then did the previous three Kings opponents, in the end all they could do is carry the series to six games before LA’s men in black ultimately prevailed.
The Los Angeles Kings in their amazing run went 16-4 tying the Anaheim Ducks for the second best post season in recent history, only being topped by the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers who went 16-2 in rout to one of their five Stanley Cups. Former Sharks Coach Darryl Sutter took over a slow starting Kings’ team and turned them into the team that would ultimately become the champions back in December. Another former Shark management team member, Dean Lombardi constructed a team that held together during a tepid regular season run in which they qualified for the post season one day before their final regular season game. Once the Kings were in the playoffs, the ride they took off on would prove to be one of the greatest post season runs the NHL has seen. When you look back on what the Kings accomplished, it’s nothing short of jaw dropping and completely phenomenal.
Game Six Recap- The Kings took advantage of a bad decision by another former Shark, Steve Bernier. It was Bernier who would make the fatalistic mistake of boarding the Kings’ Rob Scuderi behind the LA goal. Bernier’s hit jarred Scuderi against the boards, where Scuderi fell to the ice afterward with a facial laceration. Bernier would get a five minute major and a game misconduct penalty which gave LA a huge opportunity which they would make the most of. Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis all scored during the five minute man advantage to stake the Kings to a 3-0, and LA never looked back afterward. Carter would add another power play goal for LA in the second period, then Lewis and Matt Greene would add the “coup de grâce” late in the third period. Adam Henrique scored for the Devils late in the second period to avert the shut out for New Jersey. Jonathan Quick, who only needed to make 17 saves on the evening, took the Conn Smythe Trophy honors which were more than well deserved. Martin Brodeur meanwhile may have had his worst post season game ever, making just 20 saves on 25 shots faced (not counting Lewis’ empty netter). In the end, the Kings pounced on a huge opportunity given to them while the Devils simply ran out of gas. Game, Set, Match, Season. The Kings won the best of seven series 4 games to 2.
Lessons From This Years Cup Finals & Post Season- Ultimately the underlying lesson in the 2011-12 edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Post Season is “just get into the post season.” Once you are in, you are in. From there anything can happen as the Los Angeles Kings have just proven. Once the Kings got to the playoffs, they focused on the tasks at hand and did not waiver once. Their plan was fairly basic and they knew if they stuck together the men in their locker room were enough to get the job done and they had each others’ backside. Captain Dustin Brown was not only the leader, but also a catalyst. He went out there every shift and battled hard and relentlessly. The rest of the Kings followed suit and battled to the last shift, and to the last man. Quick was huge in goal not only in the finals but throughout the post season, and honestly his regular season was nothing to sneeze at either. Every player on the Kings roster contributed in some way or another, whether or not they got on the score sheet. The Kings solidified the true definition of what a team is and how it works. Personally, I was more impressed by this team then the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago who powered thru to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2010.
Where Do The Kings Go From Here?- First, the Kings will take time to enjoy this time. They deserve to and they should. As far as their future goes, I honestly believe they are set to be a power in the Western Conference for many years to come. It’s way too early to even speculate on next seasons playoffs or Stanley Cup Final, but rest assured the Kings will be a factor as long as Head Coach Darryl Sutter is at the helm. The Kings have one of the younger rosters and now will be able to attract any number of free agents pending cap space. I see the Kings as a power that will be perennial as they are now for the foreseeable future one of the NHL’s elite franchises. Congratulations to the Kings in their Stanley Cup victory. The Kings did it the right way, they earned it!
What Does This Mean for the Sharks?- The San Jose Sharks franchise is now at the biggest crossroads they have faced in franchise history. The Sharks are now in a division where three teams have won Stanley Cups (Dallas 1999, Anaheim 2007 and now Los Angeles in 2012). Two of the three franchises reside in California, and the Sharks will certainly hear about this for as long as they do not have a championship. It’s really tough for me to have much sympathy for them anymore, and I am as die hard of a fan as they come. However, it is also my job to tell you the reader the truth, even if it hurts (and this does). Sadly for the Sharks, the reason the team teal does not have a Stanley Cup or have not even participated in a single finals series is largely as a franchise their own fault. The Sharks truly have nobody to blame but themselves for the position they are in today. There are a number of reasons for why this is so.
The Sharks in their history have made the post season 15 times in 20 years of existence, which still is something most franchises cannot say. To put things in perspective, it took the Kings franchise 44 years to win their first Stanley Cup. The Kings for many years dating back to the days they were owned by the late Jack Kent Cooke spent many years at the bottom of the NHL. Even “The Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky could not bring LA a title though he did come close in 1992-93, after winning five Cups in Edmonton. The Kings were a team this year. In sharp contrast, the Sharks were a group of players in disarray for a good portion of the season. The St Louis Blues made the Sharks look like the Columbus Blue Jackets minus Rick Nash in the first round of this years’ post season. The Sharks at times were almost embarrassing and unwatchable this season, and it’s a tough thing for me to say but it’s the truth. I remember the excitement everyone felt after the Sharks hammered Phoenix 6-3 on opening night back on October 8th. I now refer to that game as the “Mirage Game” because the Sharks as it turned out were not to be anywhere close to being “that” good. It was just one game, one night, end of story. The next 81 games required me to have a bottle of Tums next to my computer terminal, and not because of the hot wings I ate earlier in the evening either.
Now, I feel the Sharks do have a good core starting with Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. Outside of those two, and maybe Joe Thornton and Ryan Clowe (because he at times was one of the few showing passion), the rest of the lot should be on the block if for no other reason to be just a reminder that what happened in the 2011-12 was way below the supposed standards that have been set by this franchise for itself. However, this team as it is set right now won’t even dent the top eight teams and challenge for the post season. This team as it is set right now will be lucky to get 80 points and likely on the outside looking in, possibly even upholding the other four teams in the division, worst case scenario given. Yes, the Sharks as constructed right now may be in some trouble going forward barring management becoming very involved in reconstructing this team so it can be a serious player next season and for seasons to come.
What Do The Sharks Need To Do?- First, the Sharks need to realize that status quo means basically “…Not Doing Jack.” The Sharks don’t have to do anything, and they don’t have to make the post season next year either. However, I cannot imagine management will stand pat especially now that the Los Angeles Kings have won the Cup. The Sharks simply cannot afford to do nothing unless they want to sink closer to one day becoming irrelevant. The easy thing to do is nothing. The hard thing to do is to realize it’s time to either “fish or cut bait,” because that where the San Jose Sharks franchise is at right now. “Fish or Cut Bait”, those are the choices for this franchise. Like it or not, they WILL find themselves doing one or the other. The Sharks don’t need to pursue every single free agent out there come July 1st, but they need to have identified and targeted players from the list of available free agents that will bring the most impact to this team.
Second, it’s time to identify trades that can be made and what the assets are. Since the farm system is not all that well stocked outside of a few goalies, the Sharks have to look at players that can be moved. The one thing that the trade of Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild on July 3rd last year proved No Trade Clauses can be negotiated. My suggestion to Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson is to realize that there are a number of players on this roster that will not be able to deliver a Cup. Your foundation is Couture and Pavelski. After that, it’s time to dig deep and identify the types of players that are needed to bring this team back to a level of prominence. Yes, this means some household names will need to be moved, and should be. I would rather see them moved now while they still garner some trade value, as opposed to watching them walk away in 2014-15 anyway. If you feel your can’t win a Cup without player A or player B, just remember that it’s obvious you probably wont win a Cup with them either. Again, Fish or Cut Bait. Getting Brad Stuart’s rights from Detroit at least is a good start, but much more needs to happen this off season. If the Sharks can get a deal done with Stuart, that will at least help the penalty kill which has been otherwise plain awful.
Third, use the draft to rebuild and restock the farm system. Stop trading away so many draft picks. It’s also time to look at who’s running the farm system and for that matter who’s doing the scouting. Bringing in “fringe” players from Europe or players who have been injured and are unable to play are usually not smart acquisitions regardless of how or why they were obtained. If they can’t play, they can’t play. Why are you drafting them or taking them in trades of an asset while getting back that player and a used puck bag. Really? Also, whomever decided that Devon Setoguchi was a better draft pick than Anze Koptiar, if they haven’t been dismissed already they should be. The scouting simply has come up short and it’s time to really look at that as a weakness that needs to be addressed. I’m tired of hearing about the players that the Sharks didn’t draft that are now skating on the ice with the Stanley Cup in hand. I don’t expect the scouts to predict the future, I just want scouts that can really spot solid talent that can legitimately contribute to this franchise. I also no longer want to hear “That player was not right for Sharks hockey…etc…etc…” Huh, Kopitar wasn’t? Really?
Fourth, I don’t mind seeing the Pacific Division Champion banners hanging from the rafters of the Shark Tank, they represent that this team has been a contender and takes pride in that which is good. However, please, take down and permanently remove that “Presidents Trophy” banner. It’s like the banner the Colorado Rockies baseball team once had on their outfield wall being a “wild card” team in the post season. That banner only reminds me and most fans of the failure that ensued in the first round of the 2008 playoffs when the 8th seeded Anaheim Ducks ran the Sharks out of their own rink. It has no place up there. I seriously doubt the Sharks neighbors to the north, the Vancouver Canucks will have a banner hanging from the rafters saying “Back to Back President’s Trophies”. Having those banners are basically like shouting out to the world “In a beauty contest of two people, we finished third.”
Fifth, and last but not least. There is an old saying, “Too many chefs spoil the meal”. San Jose Sports and Entertainment Enterprises. This team basically has 10 owners. I don’t know what their own stakes are in the team. What I do know is this. When this many people are involved it’s really hard to say who’s running the organization. Most Sharks fans do not know that much about the ownership group. What I want from the ownership group is to stop being anonymous and faceless with the fan base. Don’t worry, we are not all IRS agents and were not calling you in for a tax audit. The fans just want to know who is calling the shots and who is willing to stand up before the fans, just as Greg Jamison did when he was part of the group. We want to hear the ownership group to just come forward, say that this franchise is here to do all it can to win a Stanley Cup. If you give the fans some assurances that at least you are trying to be a positive force in the community as well as with this franchise in the way it’s constructed, that’s all most fans will ever need. Where I come from it’s called “being accountable.”I want all the owners to have a true vested interest in this team. I don’t want any owners who see this a just a “toy”. And if anyone in the ownership group is just there to “be there”, and has no real vested interest in the teams success, just being there to be a part owner, please do the season ticket holders and fanbase a huge favor…call Larry Ellison (Oracle Corp.) and sell him your interest. He’s looking to own a team in part or whole, and wants to win.
Next Up: Free Agency, Retooling the Sharks- The ball, or in this case “The Puck”, is now in the Sharks court. What they do from here on is up to them. What they do from here on may forever define the direction which this franchise takes. It’s time to “Fish or Cut Bait” for the San Jose Sharks. If the Sharks are not motivated by seeing the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup, and from Anaheim already having a Cup, then simply put this franchise cannot be motivated from the top on down. If so, they’re in big trouble. Let’s just hope the Kings did the Sharks a favor and got their undivided attention. They’ve got mine…
The King Shark
Blades of Teal: The Final Word On San Jose Sharks Hockey
PS: *The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect on any other staff member’s opinions with Blades Of Teal, or the website itself… The King Shark…