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An incomplete season
What ifs abound
5/6/08 - By Steve Flores

Yes folks the San Jose Sharks once again fell short of their Stanley Cup dreams. Once again the team was eliminated in the Western Conference Semi-Finals and once again the team and its fans are both disappointed and frustrated. In the midst of all of the disappointment the team has managed to shred itself of the reputation as a 'team with no heart'.

After losing the opening three contests - and almost sure playoff elimination - the team dug deep and won games four and five in dramatic fashion, before falling in a quadruple overtime game six that will end any talk of this team having a lack of desire. The Sharks efforts in those games will be the talk of the Bay Area for quite awhile for although it ended in elimination from these playoffs the team's efforts seems to have finally moved them into the mindset of local sports fans.

Monday morning water cooler talk seemed to involve the more common Bay Area sports fan discussing the efforts of the local hockey club. This is a first for the team and despite the loss on the ice their efforts may have won them some long sought extra press coverage as they move into the sports-psyche of the Bay.

With those kudos handed out it is however time for the HOWEVER!

Despite the gritty and gutty comebacks and efforts, the team did, once again, fail to achieve anything more than a second round elimination.

The bottom line is winning the Stanley Cup Championship. The bottom line isn't to be a very good regular season team and then lose in the second round of the post season. The Sharks do this on an annual basis.

The Sharks will make changes. The question that comes immediately to mind is whether the Head coach and his staff will be fired by G.M. Doug Wilson.

Head Coach Ron Wilson is the winningest coach in San Jose Sharks history. He is a strong X's & O's coach and he definitely has his system in place.

Wilson's system, in a nutshell, is one where the forwards must be accountable on defense. That accountability was taken seriously by the teams players and they road it successfully all year. The Sharks were one of the leagues top two defensive teams all season long.

For the uninitiated a look at the team's excellent goals allowed and penalty killing might lead one to believe that the Sharks defensemen were the reason for the great numbers, but that's not completely accurate. Yes Christian Ehrhoff did improve immensely on his blue-line skills. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a young and improving stay at home guy and Craig Rivet is a steady force in the rear. Douglas Murray made great strides as well but Matt Carle struggled in his sophomore season and the Sharks really had no shut down type of guys or guys on defense. Brian Campbell was brought in to work the power play and add a dimension that the team has never had. During the regular season he did just that. He struggled a bit in the playoffs but he is an important component and will be the Sharks primary target at a contract in the off-season.

Anyway back to my point - The Sharks were a top notch defensive team not so much because of its defenders but because of the defense provided by its forwards. This is a truism. Re-watch the games on DVR folks. The Sharks system is neutral zone trappy and their forwards are always setup to support the defense in transition. This type of system is both good and bad.

Wilson really went heavily to it when he saw that his team was not going to be scoring a lot of goals early in the season. The team struggled at first and then adapted to the system and flourished. This is the reason that I believe Wilson is the NHL's Coach of the year. It doesn't mean that I enjoy watching this style of hockey and it doesn't mean that I endorse it for next year, but the Sharks road it to the division title and into the second round. The problem with the system is that it minimizes the offensive chances that the Sharks have.

Please don't give me the stat sheet that points to 'shots on goal'. That stat is the most misleading stat in the league. If you are honest you will admit that you get frustrated every time Joe Thornton flicks a pass across the crease to Casper the friendly Ghost. In other words more times than not the Sharks have no one in that crease for the pass or a rebound because their forwards are in position to get back on defense rather than to follow up on the offensive chance.

A friend of mine - who is a casual fan of the sport - made an interesting point in regard to this topic. He asked "Why don't the Sharks let their defenders play defense and their forwards concentrate on offense"?

Some critics will state that this question shows no respect to the intricacies of the game or that this person really doesn't understand the complexities therein. To a degree, I agree, however his point is well taken.

The game is not brain surgery and its not nuclear fusion. It is a stick and ball (puck) game. I think that pro coaches, athletes and management tend to over think their game. A good solid basis of fundamentals is almost always the way to victory. A lack of mistakes is also a must.

The Sharks have talented forwards. Yes a lot of the guys are young, but they are improving rapidly (I.E. Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek, Torrey Mitchell). I suggest that they bring in a truly solid defensive defenseman, re-sign Campbell and perhaps add a top 6 forward (although I'm not 100% sold that the forward is necessary) and change the system so that the defense is, well, allowed to play defense. I am not saying to remove all defensive responsibility from the forwards but perhaps a more open game offensively will allow for a higher goal total.

The Sharks had trouble scoring goals all year. I don't know how many times where it seemed as if a third goal would have locked up a victory! The concept may sound overly simple but I think it would allow more chances, make the game more openly enjoyable for the team and the fans and be a win-win for everyone.

The Sharks have the bulk of their key players signed through 2010 and 2011. The only current roster unrestricted Free-agents are Campbell, Mike Grier, Curtis Brown, Patrick Rissmiller, Jody Shelley and Jeremy Roenick. The Sharks will surely attempt to sign Campbell and Roenick has expressed an interest in returning for one more run.

In any case Doug Wilson will be making changes whether those changes involve the coaching staff remains to be seen. His team did make strides in terms of no longer being 'Tin-Men' but the ultimate glory is still being sought. The Sharks have about four months before training camp 2008-09 opens. Time will tell whether this 'underachieving' team can make the next move to elite.

For now I will tip my hat to this team that did show me a few things that I didn't think they possessed and I wish them they best until they return for what will hopefully be 'their turn' next season.

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