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The view from 35,000 feet
Time to look forward
4/18/04 - by Ken Smyth

So there I was, way out in Taiwan, missing the Sharks' series-clincher over the St. Louis Blues. What a game to miss. The hero, Mark Smith is one of those guys who plays hard and does whatever the team asks him to do whenever they ask it of him. He just doesn't get asked often enough. This season he's usually a healthy scratch if not playing on a fourth line that sees limited ice time. Last season he was taking one for the team, then another and another one after that as he filled with the physical work after Owen Nolan was traded and Scott Thornton and Mike Ricci were hurt.

Only 5-10, Smith was the man who went out and faced up to some of the bigger defensemen in the league after they worked over Patrick Marleau and Teemu Selanne. That's the sort of thing that earns you the respect of your teammates even if you regularly get the stuffing knocked out of you.

Smith's ice time this year has been limited since the Sharks got better up front and stayed fairly healthy. But he's still a good face off man, notice how GM Doug Wilson seems to be collecting those, and is fast enough to skate with almost anyone on the team. He's just the sort of player you like to see coming up a hero in the playoffs.

It's time to look ahead. Enabling you to follow your favorite team in any sport anywhere in the world is one of the four insanely great uses of the internet, the other three are the distribution of pornography, downloading of music files and conducting a 24/7 flea market. The Sharks are still not the big buzz. Darryl Sutter's Calgary Flames are, and you've got to think that the NHL brass is cheering them on a little behind the walls because a) it's a good story and b)a Calgary series win sends the Vancouver Canucks home and eliminates a lot of stories mentioning Todd Bertuzzi. (BTW: rumors have it that Bertuzzi is either hunting seals, or trying out for the Raiders' defensive backfield.)

The Eastern Conference is getting the most play (like, what else is new?) and if you're salivating over first round upsets leading to a classic Toronto vs. Montreal series you're a little ahead of things. Still, Eddie Belfour is hot in goal for the leafs and that could carry them over a faster Ottawa team, and the Habs are showing a lot more than was expected, by Toronto fans naturally, in push the Bruins to game 7. That Philadelphia /New Jersey series looked like a grinding one that would leave the winner too tired to play well in the next round but the Flyers took the Devils down pretty easily. Last year's Anaheim/New Jersey Stanley Cup final series convinced me that any team that eliminates the New Jersey Devils before the finals should be given a $5 million salary credit by whichever network is broadcasting the games and an extra first-round pick by the NHL. The Devils are that boring.

The Sharks get a few days off to heal Alyn McCauley and Scott Thornton. Their next opponent will be either Colorado or Vancouver. Should Calgary win the series against Vancouver then the Flames will play Detroit. I was really pulling for the Nashville Predators to upset the mighty Red Wings and Tomas Vokoun stole a couple games for the Preds. (I can't bait the Wings too much right now, I'm on Northwest Airlines between Taipei and Tokyo and some Detroit fan might be looking over my shoulder!). Vokoun was another hot goalie, though not hot enough.

Blue Notes

Looking behind the Sharks at the St. Louis Blues, besides the obvious joke about Mike Danton misinterpreting his coach's remarks to "go put a hit on somebody", they looked old and tired. Like that grungy '75 Buick stuck on your bumper down 101, they can do major damage in a collision but they need an overhaul if they're going to compete. I'll admit that back in the bad old days of the Sharks I looked at the Blues as a measuring stick, a "benchmark" as business babble would call it.

The Brendan Shanahan-Tony Twist-Brett Hull-Curtis Joseph version St. Louis Blues were a nasty team that was happy to trade punches and power-plays with weaker opponents and on a given night could play with anybody. Those Blues were a good basic, over five-hundred NHL team that always made the playoffs. It seemed like the next step in evolution for the Sharks.

The problem with the Blues, then and now, is that they don't get past that level, even with a year or so of Mike Keenan to shake things up. In the last twenty-five years they made the playoffs, certainly, but never made it into the finals. Good players came and went: Doug Gilmour, some Sutter brothers, even Wayne Gretzky himself; but not even a look across the ice at the Stanley Cup. That's not an example we want the Sharks to follow. I'm not saying this to rag on the Blues fans (twenty five straight years of buying playoff tickets for zero Cups!) but some of them are wondering if it might have been a good idea after all to move the franchise to Saskatoon back in the '70s..

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