Living in Los Angeles has its pros and its cons. On one hand, it offers one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world. In the same day, you can go to the mountains, the beach, Hollywood, and Disneyland. If you find yourself bored in LA, you have no one to blame but yourself. But on the other hand, it’s terrifying. Between the smog, the traffic, Inglewood, Compton, Disneyland, and other places where people get robbed daily, it can be intense from an outsider’s perspective.
However, none of these things come close to scaring me more than being a Sharks fan in LA next year.
I’ve made several pilgrimages to Staples Center, even before I moved down to LA. And each time, I’ve been met with ruthless, sometimes life-threatening heckling. Now, it’s my fault for wearing a Sharks jersey, sharks shoes, sharks socks, and Sharks hat to a game, but comments like “Get back on the 5 before I run your family over on it!” tend to stick. But that’s not what bothers me.
What bothers me is the complete LACK of interest and knowledge of the game most fans have at Staples.I was in a bar, watching Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. The Los Angeles Kings were en route to a 3-0 series lead over the Devils, and a bearded man with a Richards jersey was losing his mind with
alcohol happiness. When he approached me, the following dialogue happened:
KINGS FAN: GO KINGS! YEAH! This is AWESOME! L.A. ALL THE WAY! ARE YOU STOKED, or WHAT?!
ME: Well, I’m actually a pretty big Sharks fan, but I’m still glad to see you guys fin-
KINGS FAN: You’re a SHARKS FAN? Aw man, f@%* you!
ME: Hey, I was born and raised SJ, so I kind of-
KINGS FAN: No way, man! No excuses! (calling to friend) Hey, Paul! THIS GUY’S A SHARKS FAN!
ME: Like I said, I’m happy for you guys.
KINGS FAN: Damn straight you are! We’ll always be better than you Cupless losers! Sacramento ain’t never gonna have a Cup! Ever!
ME: …You’re aware the Sharks are from San Jose, right?
KINGS FAN: …Dude, Sacramento, San Jose, it’s all the same! All Loserville, USA!
To be fair, I didn’t know how to respond. I hadn’t heard the expression “Loserville” since 2000. Which, coincidentally, was the last time the Kings made it past the Quarterfinals.
I can safely say that I am friends with many well-informed and (now gloating) Kings fans, people who have stuck by the team and its lineups for most of the franchise’s 45-year existence. And for those people, I am happy. As a fan of a franchise that’s only 21 years old, I’m glad to see an older franchise and its fans get their due, even if it is one of our most hated rivals. But having a drunk, middle-aged man in a Kopitar t-shirt tell me how Patrick Marleau “was better as a King” and “won us a Cup three years ago” at Staples back in 2010 kind of makes me sick. Having a glitter-faced, teenage girl yell “OMG San Diego sucks! F@%* the Sharks!” in front of me boils my blood a bit. Seeing a thin, brooding hipster in a fedora lean in front of me and get all pissy when I politely ask him if he could lean back so I can see gets old.
The hardest question every Kings fan must ask themselves is “Name three players.”
Living in LA and watching the Kings win the Cup this year was an interesting look into how a trend rises and falls in Hollywood culture. In the days leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals, the town was covered in silver and black. Cars had flags, shops had signs, bars had huge Kings banners with the trademark “Go Kings Go!” in huge letters. My Facebook news feed was clogged with people suddenly interested in hockey, pretending as if they had followed the team all along, claiming “Kopytar” and “Mike Carter” as their heroes. The only thing that could stop Kings fans was traffic. But less than a week after the Cup had been won, it suddenly vanished. The NBA Finals started, and what was once an outpouring of pride turned into nothing more than a flash in the pan. The flags came down, the shirts came off, the newly-bought jerseys were put into a closet. A town that was covered in ice seemed to suddenly remember it was by the beach.
As much as they are our rivals, it made me happy to see such a sudden interest in hockey in the basketball-crazed city of LA. I hope that the fans come back once the season starts and make this rivalry as strong as possible.
This Week’s Five On Five:
Five Reasons Why The Kings Are Better
Five Reasons Why The Sharks Are Better
Of course, bashing LA’s fans isn’t the point of this article (bashing the Kings is the point of this article). With the Kings’ dominating playoff run and Stanley Cup Championship, many are pointing to the Kings as the team to beat in the Western Conference next season. Truth be told, it’s hard to deny. When your team knocks out the top three seeded teams and goes 16-4 in the playoffs to win the Cup as an eighth seed, people tend to pay attention. And having witnessed it myself, it was pretty impressive to watch. It certainly served as a reminder to fans and teams alike that standings and seeds don’t seem to matter much when you’re playing for the Stanley Cup.
A closer look beyond the cover reveals that the Kings had a pretty easy route to the Cup. They took out Vancouver, but 67-point scorer (and second half of the Sedin sisters) Daniel Sedin was out with a concussion until Game 4. They took out St. Louis, but San Jose had taken out netminder Jaroslav Halak and dealt a blow the Blues’ stellar goaltending tandem in the round before. They took out the Phoenix Coyotes, but the league is already taking out Phoenix in their own special way. They took out the Devils, but we wanted them to at that point, because nobody cares about New Jersey, unless it’s the New York Giants taking out New England in the Super Bowl.
None of this is meant to discredit any of their hard work, of course. The Stanley Cup Playoffs is referred to the second season for a reason. But in a town that always feels like summer, Los Angeles certainly isn’t used to two seasons. They won a Cup, I’ll give them that. But one Cup does not an elite team make.
Five Reasons Why The Kings Are Better
I’ll let them bat first, since everyone’s obsessed with the Dodgers now anyways.
#5. The Kings Are A Team Of Borrowed Parts, But They’re Good Parts
After the Kings were
taught knocked out by the San Jose Sharks in 2011, the Kings wanted players who were talented, cocky, foul-mouthed, and could feel at home around other guys in a locker room.
Naturally, they went to Philadelphia first.
Flyers Sharks Kings GM Dean Lombardi I has put together one of the best squads in hockey, thanks to patience, hard work, and being able to attract winter-weathered hockey players to the beach-front paradise of Los Angeles. Joking aside, Lombardi has done a fantastic job assembling one of the deadliest top-six in hockey. Peppered with the firepower of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter, the Kings may have assembled arguably the best offense of its 45-year history in the league, even if they had to “steal” from the Flyers to get it done. Even Simon Gagne, maligned by a concussion, managed to tally 24 points (7G/17A) over 34 games with the Kings (although he was pretty much a non-factor in his four games played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs). If Dustin Penner can show up to training camp fat, hurt himself on a stack of pancakes, and still wind up with the Cup at the end of the season, the Sharks either need to eat more pancakes or start injuring themselves more often (actually, after last season, I think we already tried that route).
One point I can’t argue: The Kings have a solid roster, arguably the most competitive one they’ve ever iced. It’s taken them almost a decade to arrange it, but they have the pieces in place. However, if there’s one thing being a Sharks fan has taught us all, it’s that teams only look good on paper for so long. As impressive as their Cup run was, the Stanley Cup Playoffs still only offer a 16-game sample of a team’s talent. And while the Kings do have a Cup, their struggles to find consistency during the regular season serve as a reminder that this team is mortal, no matter how much the media fawns over them.
#4. Jonathan Quick
One man who will make an argument for the Kings’ continued success will be Jonathan Quick. With a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe, and perhaps the most memorable playoff performance of any goaltender since Domink Hasek, Quick certainly earned the right to be a household name in Los Angeles, along with the cherished “Kim Kardashian” and “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
I can only make jokes. The man put on a clinic in the postseason, and while he may have struggled against the Sharks in the past, he’s definitely come a long way since then.
#3. Darryl Sutter
There’s no doubt that Kings head coach Darryl Sutter turned things around in Los Angeles last season. Sutter took a team that was uncertain of its talents and gave it something it desperately needed, something former coach Terry Murray never did: structure. A gameplan. Murray dismantled that team, found what worked, what didn’t, and planned a set of guidelines and plays using the better parts of his players. And as the Stanley Cup Playoffs will evidence, it certainly paid off. It was only a matter of time before the Kings achieved their full potential, and Sutter was a key catalyst into completing the transformation.
Now that Sutter is in charge, don’t expect things to change much on his side. He’ll continue managing his team the way he did last season, and hope to continue to thrive. However, as most will remember from his time with the Sharks, Sutter isn’t the most adaptable of coaches. Once he finds the “perfect” way to play his team, he doesn’t do much to change it until it is usually too late.
#2. Their Penalty Kill Is Still Deadly
At 87% (4th in the league) during the regular season and 92.1% (T-1st) during the postseason, the Kings boast possibly the best short-handed unit in the game. Sutter took a powerful blue-line and made it elite, bolstering the Kings’ playoff run as a result. Although their blue line features the likes of Alec Martinez and Drew
Holdout Doughty, none come close to the team’s greatest penalty killer, Jonathan Quick. Quick’s play shorthanded certainly kept his team in the clear, and helped keep his team alive in key moments throughout the playoffs. The Sharks, who infamously struggled on the penalty kill last season (76.9%, 29th), are in dire need of retooling the penalty kill. As covered earlier, this is still a glaring problem.
#1. They Have A Cup, And We Don’t
It’s an easy fact, but a fact nonetheless, and something Sharks fans are going to have to accept going into next season. Rather than let the Kings pull us down with it, I hope the Sharks can rise and continue their dominance over the Kings.
Well, that was certainly enlightening and depressing. Let’s get to the good part.
Five Reasons Why The Sharks Are Better
There’s only five?
#5.The Sharks Are Still The Sharks, And The Kings Can’t Keep This Up Forever
We’re still here, with an answer to the Kings. Top-ranked penalty kill? We’ve had a powerplay ranked in the top ten for the last seven seasons (2nd last year). Dustin Brown? Joe Thornton. Anze Kopitar? Logan Couture. Drew Doughty? Brent Burns. The Sharks match up with the Kings in almost every regard. Each team certainly has its advantages over the other, whether in net or on the powerplay. We have a better powerplay, the Kings don’t. The Kings have Quick, we have… Havlat. Yep.
I’ve heard from many Kings fans that they “can’t wait to keep beating the Sharks” next season. Excuse me? The Kings are 52-57-7-9 all time against the Sharks during the regular season.”Stanley Cup” me all you want, the Sharks still dominated the Kings 5v5 and 5v4 last season. And make all the choking jokes you want, but I think both teams can agree that the Canucks are the new West Coast scapegoat after the last two postseasons. There’s no doubt the Kings have vastly improved, but let’s get one thing clear- this is still an open ball game. Just because the Kings had a miracle run doesn’t mean they’re suddenly untouchable. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau are no doubt getting more and more eager to win a Cup. New faces like Logan Couture and Martin Havlat will only further the Sharks’ pursuit. Most of the Sharks last season suffered from injury, and failed to find chemistry as a result of the constant line juggling. Similar to the Kings, once this team gets healthy, and gets put in shape by new assistant coaches Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson, I like our chances.
#4. Jonathan Quick
Yep, him again. There’s no doubt Jonathan Quick put on quite a show in the playoffs. But with a newly-signed 10-year, $58 million contract, one has to wonder if getting $7 million next season will go to the young netminder’s head, similar to Roberto Luongo’s shortcomings after signing a 12-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks. As I discussed last week, front-loaded, long-term contracts tend to negatively impact players in the long run. Placing that kind of faith in Quick is a kind gesture from the Kings’ organization, but may cause him to become a bit shortsighted in his upcoming seasons in Los Angeles.
He’s struggled in the past against the Sharks, and I don’t see that changing going forward. One phenomenal performance in the offseason doesn’t make elite talent. Antii Niemi should be a prime example, and although he is a phenomenal goaltender, Chicago didn’t give him a multi-year contract after one phenomenal season. Quick still has many weaknesses to battle through. Ryane Clowe, for instance, has him figured out glove side.
Quick always seems to be second guessing himself playing against the Sharks, unsure of where he is, and where the puck is going. Next season may be different, but Quick still has a lot to prove against the Sharks. He definitely improved last season, and I look forward to next season being even more heated.
#3. The 2011 Playoffs
As mentioned earlier, The Kings are 52-57-7-9 against the Sharks all-time in the regular season. They’re 2-4 all-time against the Sharks in the postseason.
Cup or no Cup, the Kings still have weight to move against the San Jose Sharks in the offseason. And while the rivalry is as hot as ever, the Sharks had no say whatsoever in the Kings’ march towards the Stanley Cup this year. Next year, that will certainly change, as both are primed to be contenders once more. For now, as far as I’m concerned, any postseason comparison between these two clubs begins and ends in six games in 2011, until proven otherwise. That was the last (and only) time these two clubs faced each other in the playoffs, and while both have certainly evolved since then, it remains to be seen who will take control of this rivalry next offseason.
#2. Doug Wilson
Take a look at the Anaheim Ducks. Then, take a look at the Chicago Blackhawks. Both were Stanley Cup winners, and then watched as their teams were mismanaged into the ground (The Ducks certainly more so than the Blackhawks). Many will criticize Sharks GM Doug Wilson for being too passive, too resilient, or too afraid to make blockbuster moves. Doug Wilson’s patience and research is what separates him from the rest of the pack. He is a new breed of GM- one who doesn’t get bullied by fed up fanbases into making rash decisions to appease the catcalls of naysayers.
Wilson is a GM who has stuck by his team through thick and thin, tinkering with his parts but never rushed into getting new ones unless the need is there. And when the time comes, he delivers. What other GM could fleece Joe Thornton like Wilson did back in 2005? In a league where defensemen rule, how is VLASIC under contract for less than a $5 million cap hit? The answer is Doug Wilson.
#1. Sharks Fans
You’re a fan of a team and a city that grew up together. You’re a fan of a team whose players have come to call their city home, and dig roots deep within the Bay Area. You’re a fan of a team who has a giant Sharks head lead its players out onto the ice. That alone wins the argument.
Whenever I drive back home to San Jose from LA, I like to count how many Sharks bumper stickers I see on cars. I usually see at least five on I-5. By the time I get to 85, I’m up to about thirty. Sharks Fans love their home, and will go to the ends of the Earth to show support for their team. We love our team because it’s all we have- we don’t have the Lakers, we don’t have celebrities, or Hollywood. What we have is each other. We have a fanbase of a team that for two decades now has reshaped and invigorated downtown San Jose, has made itself heard throughout the league, and most importantly, will not back down in the face of defeat. Season after season, letdown after letdown, the fans get louder. More shops put up “Sharks Territory” signs. New jerseys are bought, and older ones given to others. We regroup, regain, and regather to become something more. Something greater.
The 2012 Playoffs wasn’t a “changing of the guard”, as many
Phoenix fans are quick to suggest. It was, however, a reminder that teams cannot get by on their history and intimidation alone. When Detroit is knocked out by Nashville, San Jose is knocked out by St. Louis, Vancouver is knocked out by Los Angeles, it’s a testament that teams who want it more will win. Teams who don’t rely on old tactics and adapt each year will thrive, and those who root themselves in tradition and history will not.
The point of this article isn’t to snark, or to come across as a sore loser. The point I’m trying to make is just because the Kings won, doesn’t mean the Sharks lost anything. They never faced each other in these playoffs. If they had, maybe things would have gone differently. Maybe they would have been the same. The fact is, there’s no telling in what could have happened, so stop dwelling on the past. Give the Kings congrats, but don’t think of them a better team. They’re a team who won the Cup. And in a game that is equal parts strength and chance, it’s impossible to tell whether or not the past could have happened differently. So look forward. Don’t worry about the future, prepare for it.
If there’s one thing each Sharks fan should remember, it’s that we cannot give into our feelings of doubt, become desperate for a Cup, and trade everything for a chance at something new. Whenever I talk hockey, I tell my friends all the exact same thing: Hell is being a San Jose Sharks fan. It’s a roller coaster of triumph, uncertainty, and playing pucks off of benches. But the more we dwell on our shortcomings, the more we let teams pressure us into playing catchup, the more we will continue to let ourselves down. At twenty-one years old, the Sharks are still a franchise trying to find a name for themselves. And at twenty-one, the San Jose Sharks have accomplished more than the Kings have, even without a Cup. In forty-five years, the Kings have never won a Pacific Division title. The Sharks have six. In forty-five years, the Kings have never won a President’s Trophy. The Sharks have. What the Sharks have that the Kings may only just now be getting iis a fanbase of dedication. People who will stick by the Sharks, even when they have nothing to prove. As fans, we cannot let ourselves buy into this notion that we’re a “lesser” team. We’re still growing, even if we’re a bit ahead of schedule. And if there’s one thing being a Sharks fan for my entire life has taught me, it’s that it’s only a matter of time.
It will happen. I promise you.
Because history fights back.
Blades of Teal ~ The Final Word On Sharks Hockey.