My Two Cents for June 18th:
The Dust Is Settling- The Stanley Cup Finals concluded last week with the Los Angeles Kings crowned Stanley Cup Champion for the 2011-12 season. The Kings were the prime example of a team which got hot at the right time and blew away their competition in going 16-4 in the post season. After just barely qualifying for the playoffs, the Kings certainly accomplished something phenomenal. Not only did they win the Stanley Cup, they went about it the right way and are a franchise that not only has become elite, but will be a force and a power that can dominate in the Western Conference for years to come. This also has consequences for the Sharks too. Basically, baring some dramatic change in the philosophy on how that Sharks do business, the Kings gains will also equal the Sharks losses, and for years to come. If you are a Sharks fan and are hoping for a Stanley Cup, I’m not going to say to” let that dream go…”. but I am going to advise to “keep that dream in it’s proper perspective” if you are able to. Doing that will lessen further disappointments with this franchise. The Sharks are at their franchise crossroads and what they do this summer will likely impact them years to come.
Tough Decisions Ahead- General Manager Doug Wilson will likely have his busiest summer yet as a GM. It is clear at this point that you have two cornerstones for the franchise’s future in Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. After that, you have a roster of players for which a good number of you have to know by now are not going to be the ones who will bring a Stanley Cup to the Shark Tank anytime soon if at all. You also have players who have no movement contracts, which in effect now may make those contracts bad contracts that will enable those players to walk after two or three more seasons, without the Sharks getting anything back in value or compensation. A number of these players will ultimately have to go if the Sharks are ever going to be able to more forward or into the future. What DW has to do now is play no favorites if the plan is for the Sharks to regain prominence and be able be a threat to the LA Kings and other western foes.
I don’t envy Wilson for one moment as I know his task will be an enormously difficult one, and the line he is walking is a thin one. Where DW has been a hit has been his ability to find some of the best talented players in the NHL, a number of which could be in the starting line up for other NHL clubs. Where DW has missed is that despite the talent level of these players, virtually all of them have never won a championship anywhere outside of juniors or the collegiate level. A number of players who are with the Sharks now are years removed for playing for championship teams and with age and basic human endurance, many of these players will soon start to wear down. The Sharks this past season went from a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals twice in back to back seasons to basically another “also ran” team who’s playoff appearance was token at best.
The Sharks Don’t Need The Best Players, They Need The Right Players- I call this the “Herb Brooks Rule”, and it’s what he famously said when he was assembling the USA hockey team that would win the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. How does this pertain to the San Jose Sharks today? What has been bothersome for many Sharks fans is that the Sharks have actively traded away draft picks, players in the minors whom were decent NHL prospects in order to acquire some of the players they have today. At the time of those trades, that Sharks were targeting winning a Stanley Cup. Though some of those teams were at times entertaining to watch, when it was time to show that in a championship setting the team simply failed to deliver time and time again. I do not believe the Sharks should have regrets in their pursuit of a championship, the attempts to create a team to get there were sincere enough. However, what the Sharks may have missed on was that many of the players they had acquired via trade for other players, draft choices and AHL players may have come at the expense of missing on getting the “right players”, and at mortgaging the future.
I’m not saying the Sharks were wrong to pursue a championship team, they were not. What I am saying that it’s conceivable the Sharks in some cases may have overpaid. As the Sharks enter this off season, they are going to have to be both smart and frugal, yet at the same time find free agents that will bring a strong impact to next season’s team. You cannot trot out the same team next season that you had this season and expect a better result. That’s not going to happen. If the Sharks do nothing though, it’s move over Calgary and Minnesota, you now have company come the first week of April. Doug Wilson does not need to identify the best players out there, but right about now he absolutely needs to identify the right players. Rick Nash will net at least 30 goals a season baring injury, but is he the right player? You can ask that question about several players that are on the Sharks roster now. I can guarantee you all but three of the Sharks UFA’s do not fit that bill and are not even close. DW must find “the right players” this time around, or the Sharks will not be a playoff competitive team next season. The Sharks right now are dealing with the stigma of being the NHL’s version of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, and sadly it’s a warranted comparison. Both franchises build up what are supposed to be championship caliber teams, and advertise them as such. In the cases of both franchises, they usually post great regular season records, statistics and games. When the post season comes around, both teams lose the mojo that got them to where they are in the first place. The similarities are erie to say the least.
Scouting and The Farm System- I feel by and large at the team scouting and player development at the minor league level has either lacked or come up short. This has led to missed opportunities of the draft, one of the most obvious being missing out on Anze Kopitar, meanwhile making decisions such as drafting Steve Bernier several years ago. Kopitar now has a ring, and Bernier is one of the reasons for it as he became the goat of this seasons Stanley Cup final, and has been a journeyman his entire career. Scouting is difficult, but truthfully outside of Couture and Charlie Coyle (whom they’ve since traded) they’ve done little else to help. The Sharks need to go in a different direction here and turn over the entire scouting and player development department. They should have already done that by now. The fact that they haven’t does little to help the Sharks franchise going forward as the farm system is in need of repair. Again, I’m not looking for scouts and player development heads to predict the future, I want them to be sure of the talent that they are getting will ultimately be able to positively impact the bottom line for the San Jose Sharks franchise. As far as this years’ draft goes, the best advise I would give the Sharks is to draft only players whom you know will be able to ultimately contribute to this franchise. Draft only those whom you plan on developing and keeping.
Who’s Coming, and Who’s Going?- It remains to be seen who’s going to be with team teal next season, and who’s going to be suiting up for play in another team’s uniform and gear. I have thought of a few ideas for trades in my own mind but I will not use this forum to post them since (1) I don’t want to be responsible for starting any trade rumors, and besides I have no inside information anyway and would not post it if I did. That would breach confidentiality agreements.This is not the right forum for that. And, (2) If you followed the Sharks for any length of time you can probably write down the names of five players (aside from Couture and Pavelski, whom I’m convinced are staying as they are the franchise cornerstones.). After you’ve written the names of the five players, look over the list. You can be sure at least one or two of those household names will likely be moved in the coming weeks, and don’t forget the draft is this coming weekend where the hot stove league usually kicks off (so to speak).
Also, The Sharks need to stop acquiring projects and players who have been injured and maybe have not played in a year or two. This truthfully just serves little purpose. If they are injury prone once, they will be injury prone throughout their careers and carry no trade value. Whatever the scouts have told you, keep in mind most of it was prior to that player sustaining injuries. If they have been out a year, though I feel bad for them, I would ill advise signing them unless your just trying to find a player to complete the roster…in Worcester.
Lowering Expectations?- So as Sharks fans what should we do? Well, one train of thought is maybe it’s time to realize that winning a Stanley Cup is a pain staking process that requires much. It’s always been my own belief that it requires players who can pick up for each other and a team that can distribute the “heavy lifting” equally. This is what made the Los Angeles Kings successful, every player on that roster from Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick on down all played a vital role in the Kings success. The Sharks meanwhile have had players who either take shifts off or just for whatever reason can be very vested or very disinterested in the events unfolding before them. This is what gets team teal in trouble of good deal of the time, just not being on the same page.
Defensive lapses were at an all time high. In one regular season game versus St Louis on March 3rd at the Shark Tank, Andy McDonald scored a goal in which a puck was mishandled by Antti Niemi in the trapezoid, and McDonald easily took the puck and deposited into an empty net as the Sharks in their defensive zone just stood around and looked at each other and were not quite sure to make of what had just happened. That play alone did a lot to sum up the Sharks regular season. The post season was just an embarrassments of riches in which the Sharks were frankly lucky to even qualify for let alone not getting swept. It was clear after the nine game road trip from hell, and getting manhandled by the Blues and the arch-rival Ducks who did not even make the post season the Sharks were in deep trouble and sinking fast. Defensively and perhaps mentally the Sharks were just not there. If you are not there mentally, being there physically wont matter. Even the Sharks piers were keenly aware of this as Couture was the only Shark invited to the All Star Game in Ottawa. It was great to see Couture there and to get to play, but it was also erie that no other player on the Sharks roster was good enough…per their very peers. I’m only surprised that Metallica didn’t call the Sharks and tell them to stop playing “Seek And Destroy” before they came out onto the ice unless they really meant to “Seek And Destroy”, as the Kings did in the post season.
What Lies Ahead for 2012-13- I do not possess a crystal ball and can tell you no more about how the Sharks are going to do this next season than I can tell you what color you should paint your living room. What I can tell you is that I have to side with our own Lead Writer Amy on this one and that realize that there is a Sharks team out there somewhere waiting to be built and assembled, and that team will be built of not necessarily the best players, but of the right players. And when that team comes together it will be something special, just like what LA just experienced. Unless DW pulls off the deals of the century this summer, I’m not really looking for the Sharks to raise the Cup anytime soon. It’s conceivable the team will have to be taken apart and reassembled, and that may be a task that is accomplished beyond DW’s days as GM here. If the Sharks don’t get it done next season, the days of reloading (ala Detroit) are over. It will be time to stop kidding ourselves, and it will be time to rebuild from the ground up.
Not The Best Public Relations Move- Having been in business myself, I know personally that occasionally you have to raise costs to stay competitive because of market demands and what the cost of doing business dictates. However sometimes you have to pick and choose how you would go about this, and to do so carefully. The Sharks raised their ticket prices right after they were blown out in the first round of the playoffs by St Louis. Shortly thereafter, the second team of three teams in the state of California (not named “The Sharks”) wins the Stanley Cup. The price increase effects the area where the Sharks are on offense for two of the three periods, lower sections 103 through 113 and upper sections 203 through 213. Not the wisest of moves by the San Jose Sports & Entertainment Enterprises ownership group who seems to be only more out of touch with the fan base with this move. Especially when the Sharks very well may be a power on the decline, this isn’t going to help the bottom line very much.
The more I think of SJSEE, the more I’m starting to like Larry Ellison. But that’s just me…
This Just In: Brad Stuart Signs A Three Year Deal- The Sharks announced a three year deal with Brad Stuart, who returns to team teal after six seasons away. This was reported by 95.7 The Game just at the time I posted this article. This is a good start for the Sharks, but a lot of work still lies ahead for Sharks management. A good pick up for the Sharks.
Salute to Matt Cain- Even though this is a hockey blog, I will also take a moment to recognize great achievements by Bay Area team sports athletes when they accomplish something truly phenomenal. Enter Matt Cain, a starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants who last Wendesday (6/13) pitched a perfect game as the Giants defeated the Houston Astros 10-0 at AT & T Park in the City by the Bay. Cain struck out 14 Astros hitters and was helped by a diving catch in the 7th inning by Gergor Blanco which could end up being one of the plays of the year in MLB this year if not the play of the year. Cain’s feat is only equalled back in 1965 when Sandy Kofax through a perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Chicago Cubs while also striking out 14 hitters. Congrats to Cain in throwing the first ever perfect game in the 128 year history of the Giants franchise. Maybe the Sharks can draw some inspiration from that (though that’s a “big maybe”)…
…just my two cents…
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…