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Outlook 2005-06
Preseason suggests fruitful year
10/4/05 - by Derick Bellamy

It's only the preseason. In actuality, not a single game has been won or loss, nor a goal scored or saved, yet this year. But in these lovable exhibition games where the seats are cheaper (unless you're in Toronto, in which case you can't get seats any way,) one can sometimes get an idea of what's going to happen once the real season starts.

With unbiased reasoning, I do predict that this is the season in which all of my childhood dreams are going to come true, and The San Jose Sharks will win the Stanley Cup. While the headlines in my sports section are, of course, on the subject of Toronto going down to a 2 and 4 record (which makes my placing them 7th in the East look optimistic,) there is little being said about the fact that San Jose defeated LA 5-2 last night to give themselves a perfect 5 and 0.

This complete snub just can't be justified by the fact that San Jose is on the opposite side of the continent. The Sharks' current state is something that the whole of the NHL should be aware of, and the sports section in the biggest hockey city in the world shouldn't be taking them lightly. It was well said when someone at a press conference asked San Jose's coach Ron Wilson which team should be feared the most, and a fan yelled out 'THE SHARKS!'

Something should certainly be said about all the particulars of the team that won those five games, so that we can see just how likely it is that they'll win a whole lot more this year. Maybe we can get past the stigma built up by the embarrassing, record-breakingly bad 1992-93 season (the next season they went from 29 points to 82, a record-breaking improvement.)

Offense is their most superfluously criticized factor. Though they do have one of, if not the, best defensive squads in the league, they remain a young, fast club with an above-average offense, created by their ability to move the puck up the ice. This is the team that scored 5 goals last night, that has the second most in the conference so far this preseason.

They have their big point-getters in Marleau, Cheechoo, and Sturm (the first two of which really proved themselves last play-offs,) but this isn't what does it. More so than their offense or their defense individually, San Jose is the most in depth team in the league. They have 3rd and 4th lines that aren't afraid to step up and win a game. Christian Ehrhoff, who few have heard of, tallied 2 goals against Anaheim the other night for the win. Ryan Clowe scored twice last night in their defeat of LA. San Jose has a good offensive frontline, and coupled with their amazing depth and full stock of players who are willing to and able to act, they need have no worries about being able to score.

Not only are they defensive, they're a fast kind of defensive. The kind of agile, passing defense that doesn't hinder scoring and makes for an exciting game. Most important of all, the kind of defense that made them the team with the fewest goals scored against them last season. Scott Hannan is an agile youngster poised to rise in the league, while Brad Stuart is a D-man who isn't afraid to get offensive himself. Much like the rest of the team, it's a very deep defense with little distinction between the three lines. They aren't set up in three separate, hierarchal lines each game so much as they're six players who go out there together in different combinations and perform.

If there is one thing that this team certainly does not lack, it's chemistry. Few argue this, but few acknowledge it either. After San Jose was completely gutted at the beginning of last season, this (at that time) new, young combination was what, after winning the Pacific Division and then coming last in it, brought them back up to another division victory as well as the final four. Brad Stuart's 30 assists as a defenseman is an example of this chemistry, which can be seen in all of their games, no matter how the lines are set up. This is a team that knows how to play together, that can balance co-operation and individual talent in a way that will make them successful.

Any doubts about Ron Wilson can be accounted for by looking at that huge improvement, which took place just after he got there. Did he not do all of this for them? They fell, and he brought them back up, which is why he almost won the coaching MVP last year (and should have.) Evgeni Nabokov, who won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season, is the goalie for that team that had the fewest goals against it last season; he was also in the top 13 for Wins, GAA, Save%, AND shutouts, which he was 3rd in, last year. He, as well as the rest of the team, then received all the play-off experience required by getting two games within the Stanley Cup Finals.

Not much attention is being given to The Sharks right now. That, over a decade ago, team teal had the biggest failure (and recovery) in NHL history seems to have brought for onlookers an enduring atmosphere of 'The Sharks? Heh, they'll never win any thing important.'

This, not many people understand, is the team that had the best defense in the league last year; that came 2nd in the West and 3rd overall with a young and still improving, recently redone roster; that beat St. Louis in five games and Colorado in six before reaching the Western Conference finals and losing to a hot Calgary team, despite the fact that they were missing their second most effective forward in Marco Sturm. This is a team for which momentum has never been a negative factor and is just as likely to win when they're down going into the second, that has a history of reigning victorious against the predictions of the hockey masses.

In approximately nine months, when Patrick Marleau takes The Stanley Cup from its pedestal, people will finally understand, but that they do won't matter. All that will matter is that The Sharks did it, and when you think about it, they probably really will.

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