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Top of the mountain?
SJ has the tools to make the ascent
10/2/06 - By Steve Flores

After completing a season of true roller coaster-like proportions the San Jose Sharks are nearly ready to embark upon a ride that they hope will lead to a Stanley Cup championship and not merely up and down the league standings. The Sharks will be bringing back a team that very closely resembles the team that ended the season in a 6 game conference defeat at the hands of the eventual Western Conference champion Edmonton Oilers.

The newest Shark additions are veteran's Mike Grier, Curtis Brown and new top line winger Mark Bell. Grier and Brown effectively replace Scott Thornton and Alyn McCauley - most would call these replacements a wash.

Most of the team's chances at an improvement in playoff performance ride on the seeming upgrade at wing with the acquisition of Bell from the Chicago Blackhawk's. Bell is a younger, tougher, more physical presence than the departed, and out of place on the first line, Nils Ekman. Bell has done well in the past few seasons with the Hawks despite having minimal players around him. He will drop the gloves and will be tougher to intimidate than players the Sharks have had in past seasons.

Bell will have to contend with the recent drunk driving arrest as well as having a natural adjustment period with his new line mates (NHL Goal scoring champion Jonathan Cheechoo and league MVP and scoring titleholder Joe Thornton). But the hope is that he is the final complement to ensure that the Sharks #1 line is as good as any in the league. If Bell actually does solidify the top line then the Sharks truly will be loaded as their #2 line of Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier appears to be as good a second line as present in the league today.

At a couple of recent practice sessions the #2 line seemed to be close to mid-season form as the sheer size, speed and skill of this trio was not only evident but impressive. To actually label them a second line is almost demeaning. This line is as exciting as any in the current NHL. Team Captain Marleau has been in the city for several weeks now and his lead in running the 'Captain's Ice' program (where the Sharks captain rents out local ice and works with roster players) has more than shown his dedication to the team, his title as Captain and his commitment to winning.

Michalek, by all reports, seems to have added some muscle weight and is skating as fluidly as ever. It should come as no shock that Michalek has attempted to add strength as he suffered a playoff injury that may have been the key that ended the Sharks season several months ago. Bernier, a mid season call up in 2005-06 seems to have been the perfect third piece of the puzzle and gives the Sharks serious sizzle on the second tier. The Sharks biggest questions lie in the defense as both youth and NHL inexperience run deep on the roster.

Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren are the established leaders of the rear guards. Christian Ehrhoff, Josh Gorges and phenom Matt Carle are also seeming shoe INS to make the club. The defensive youth is so visible on this club that one can understand a Shark's fans desire to have gone out and found a solid veteran blue-line presence. In fact most people feel that the Sharks should have dealt either of their #1 status goalkeepers Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala to acquire said top line defender. Alas that did not happen. Sharks G.M. Doug Wilson was unable to find a deal that he felt would effectively improve the team and therefore we currently have the 'situation' with 2 top line keepers and the possibility of unrest.

Both players have made their feelings known regarding their desire to be top dawg and despite G.M. spin the decision to deal one of the goalies will have to be made at some point in the earlier part of the season. So until then the Sharks bloggers will continue to ride the 'Trade Nabby' route that they have been on for almost a year now. Luckily for the Sharks Wilson makes the decisions and not the bloggers.

I, for one, am not up for a twisty ride this season and I don't think Wilson is either. I trust that he will make the right decision for the team to ensure the franchise is given its best chance to ride straight to the top of the Stanley Cup mountain.

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