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In Whine Country - time to vent
Lots of blame to go around
5/7/08 - By Ken Smyth

Game Six, Round two. Once again the Sharks find that familiar spot to give another team the handshake and go back to the golf course for the serious work of the summer. Never mind that they showed a pulse and almost pushed the series against the Stars to a game seven, the zero-to-three hole they came out from was of their own making. That 4-overtime game six will be something you'll watch on ESPN-Classic for summers to come; the Sharks being knocked out in the second round (almost in the first) despite their talent is nothing new.

I missed the first four games of the second round series; just saw the scores and they spoke for themselves. In games five and six I saw the Sharks being outplayed most of the time. Coach Ron Wilson is confident in his system of play, but that confidence and the defense-first style were used against him by an opportunistic opponent. Steve Lopez did an excellent critique a day ago , and while it limits an opponent's chances, like we saw against Anaheim on March 21st, it also ties offensive players to guarding their own blueline.

Time and time again the Stars rushed the puck up the ice, and kept it in the zone with Sharks defensemen unable to clear for two or three shifts. I'm sure replays will show Christian Ehrhoff wearing two left skates. Forwards flopped around blocking shots and got out of position to move the puck back up ice. By the time the puck was out of the zone it was time for a dump and a line change. Also, as Drew Remenda continually reminds us; the longer the puck is in the defensive zone, the more likely somebody will draw a penalty. Just ask Brian Campbell.

The Sharks dump and chase offense spent too much time chasing down the Stars forward who took a quick pass from the defenseman who beat our guy to the puck in the corner. The Stars were also masters of icing the puck at TV time-out intervals so their players would get a breather during the commercials and negating the effects of the no-change icing rule.

Critics of Wilson point out that he took Washington to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost with Jaromir Jagr in his line-up and now hasn't gotten past the second round three years running with Joe Thornton. Who would replace him? There's no "name" coach looking for a job around right now, though that could change between now and July.

Die-hard fans are pretty evenly divided between those who want Wilson out the door and those who want him out a fifth-floor window. It's not necessarily his fault, he didn't play a shift as Thornton pointed out; but canning him is a simple way for management to assuage the corporate ticket base. His testy response to a reporter's (KNTV's Daryl Hawks, I think) question about his job shows us a little of his personality.

He's considered one of the better technical coaches in the game, but is known for being snarky, self-assured and sarcastic; three qualities that Bay Area fans and journalists jealously reserve for themselves. He may, as Steve suggested, done a fantastic job in winning the division with this team but fan perception and the management assurance that This Is THE Year work against him.

GM Doug Wilson isn't off the hook either. Two years ago he was the genius who brought Joe Thornton to the Sharks, two months ago he was the genius who picked up Brian Campbell. Now it's "What has he ever done?" That's an unimportant question, the key one is what will he do now? Resigning Campbell, Jeremy Roenick, Ryan Clowe and Jody Shelley would be a good start.

Whoever coaches next season, Doug Wilson needs to look at the role of each player on the team and make changes accordingly. The defense (after Campbell, Craig Rivet, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) needs to be shaken up. Jonathan Cheechoo may be a 20-25 goal scorer who just had a great season once, not a 40 goal man. The team finished the regular season at the top of the league in penalty killing, tenth in power play goals but was very poor in both areas (14th and 12th out of 16 teams respectively) during the playoffs.

The real danger is that the Sharks will remain stuck as a third or fourth best in the conference, either getting old with nothing to show for it and/or get blown apart up with trades or non-signings because nobody can figure out what else to do. For recent examples, look at the St. Louis Blues (2000-2004) and Chicago Blackhawks (1990-1993). In both cases management got cheap and fans grew frustrated. It's scary to hear Greg Jamison's comment that the team lost five million dollars and he wants to break even, but it tells us the first step should be to hire a new accountant. After that???

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