| An incomplete
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.
those kudos handed out it is however time for the HOWEVER!
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
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.
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
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.
Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
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