It’s the same story every year. The San Jose Sharks make it to the playoffs, only to falter. They’ve gotten close three times, most notably against the Los Angeles Kings in the second round. Of course, in sports, “close” doesn’t cut it. Every team and every fan in the League knows that. That’s especially true for Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson and the rest of the organization. Sharks fans are let down year after year, so — as the popular question goes — why should this year be any different?
We all know what happened last season. The Sharks got off to a historically blazing start, which saw Patrick Marleau have four two-goal games and tying the League record with former Montreal Canadien Cy Denneny. Then after winning 7 in a row, San Jose lost a whole bunch of games and — soon enough — found themselves on the outside looking in. Thus, Wilson and the coaching staff decided it was indeed time to flip the switch and implement the new North/South philosophy, which has now become the new Sharks identity.
Leading up to the 2013 Trade Deadline, the Sharks traded big body Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins for two second-round picks. As much love as he received in San Jose, he slowed the game down despite being a shot blocker, hard hitter, and a player who wasn’t afraid to drop the mitts. It’s the same case with former Shark Ryane Clowe. He generated lots of momentum with hits and fights and is considered in part an enforcer, but he just didn’t have the speed that the Sharks were looking for. As a result, he was traded to the New York Rangers for three more draft picks. Finally, we had Michal Handzus, who in my opinion really didn’t do much for San Jose other than win face-offs and shootouts. Off he went to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fitting the New System
After the Clowe trade, San Jose knew they had to make up some lost ground in the physicality department. However, once again, they needed someone who had speed and grit. That’s when Doug Wilson traded a 3rd rounder to the Phoenix Coyotes for Raffi Torres.
During the 2013 offseason, the Sharks made one more move and grabbed Tyler Kennedy from the Penguins. With all the necessary transactions of the 2012-13 season done and over with, the next step moving forward was to sign contract extensions for the new core.
Rise of the New Core, Youth
For as long as San Jose Sharks fans can remember, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton had represented the leadership of the club along with Dan Boyle. With all three having entered their final contract year without an extension, it’s clear cut that a new core has developed, consisting of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and — most importantly of all — Brent Burns. Along with the core come the new rookies. Enter Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. However, don’t count the old trio out just yet, as so far they’ve shown no signs of letting up.
A Faster & More Dangerous Working System
While last year’s playoffs was just a taste of how much better we would prove to be this season, it wasn’t until the just-as-stellar 6-0-0 start the Sharks managed to pull off that the League truly got a taste of just how lethal our team is. Once again, it’s not just about who helped pull off the wins, but how we did it. This season, including the team effort in the 9-2 dismantling of the New York Rangers that was overshadowed by Hertl’s phenomenal coming-out party, has so far been all about playing by committee. They’ve got a younger and faster group of individuals that can beat other teams to the puck. They have the grit and work ethic to out work other teams along the boards and grind it out. They have the smarts to play very good hockey, and most importantly with the new system they are not afraid to shoot the puck, which blends in perfectly with the current pace of the NHL.
That’s why barring any injuries along the way, I think the San Jose Sharks have a legitimate shot at Lord Stanley (given that they can beat the defending Stanley Cup Champs).