| 10 must do's this
Sharks need to be proactive in order to keep
Two weeks have passed since the Sharks were so
unceremoniously bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs but the sting of losing
is still painful. What's worse is the fact that the Sharks have become
irrelevant not only at the national level, but at the local level as well.
Losing so quickly in the playoffs after winning so often during the regular
season raises many questions about the direction San Jose needs to take to be a
viable contender for a championship, but nobody is even bothering to ask those
questions in the Bay Area right now. Hockey season is over as far as the Bay
Area media is concerned, and that stings a lot more.
All the signs
pointed to an early exit, but the glow of a President's Trophy blinded many of
the faithful. With a tarnished regular season record all that's left to
celebrate, the Sharks ownership group gets to decide how it needs to proceed.
The group of players the Sharks entered the 2008-09 campaign with, was
for the most part, the same core group of holdovers from the previous season.
That being the same group that was taken to seven games by a lower seeded
Calgary Flames team and then eliminated by a lower seeded Dallas Stars squad.
A 40-year-old Jeremy Roenick saved the day against Calgary in that
decisive Game 7, but there was no answer for the Stars. Losing in four
overtimes somehow left the Sharks brass with the impression that the core group
of players that would return the following season would have what it takes to
get the job done come the spring of 2009.
Granted, Sharks general
Manager Doug Wilson did solidify his blueline by adding defensemen Dan Boyle
and Rob Blake, but in order to make the pieces fit under the league imposed
salary cap, he was forced to send defenseman Craig Rivet packing.
an environment like the playoffs, guys like Rivet are worth their weight in
gold, but Blake's scoring ability lured Wilson into dealing the gritty Rivet to
Shoring up the lineup in the toughness department is
something the Sharks stood pat on until the trade deadline in March, when
Travis Moen and Kent Huskins were added to the mix. San Jose gave up quite a
bit for the pair of soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, and now has to decide
if they want to bring either back, or take the compensatory picks that will be
allocated if the two players sign elsewhere.
There are plenty of
issues that the Sharks still face, but fret not. I have all the answers. Here
are the ten things San Jose start with in order to avoid another post debacle
like they did this year.
1) Start at the Top - Sharks president Greg
Jamison has already publicly stated that GM Doug Wilson's job is safe. Too bad.
While Wilson gets an "A" for calming the season ticket holder base in the past
with his calm disposition, the fact of the matter is his roster is ill equipped
to do any damage when it counts most. The ownership group gave him the
resources to press the salary cap, but handing out big money, multi-year deals
to duds like Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo have hamstrung his ability to
do much beyond what he has on his roster today. If the Sharks were willing to
change the attitude in the clubhouse by bringing in Todd McLellan, then they
should be equally eager to do it at the GM position. Outline a timetable that
makes it clear to Wilson what he has to do and how long he has to execute on
the plan. That plan should include a championship during the 2009-2010 season.
Nothing less is sufficient anymore.
2) Bulk Up in Front of the Net - I
hate to say it but if a team can't get motivated to play hard when it counts,
then you either a) don't have the heart to compete, or b) you don't have the
talent to compete. In the Sharks case, I think it's a little of both. The one
thing the Sharks relied on during the regular season was their team speed. In
the playoffs clutching and grabbing is employed more often, because teams can
get away with more during the playoffs. Team speed means nothing on the power
play, because most teams will setup up their power play units before attempting
to score. In the Sharks case, their lack of presence in the front of the net
has always been a killer when it counts. Lose a few fringe players and try to
fill your roster with guys that are willing to pay the price.
3) Burn the Banners - The Sharks aren't the first top
seeded team to fail in the first round of the playoffs, but that won't bring
much solace to those fans, who have been paying big money in support of this
team for close to two decades. Hanging a banner in celebration of their
President's Trophy would only rub salt in the wound. Every division
championship banner already serves as a subtle reminder to the failures of
seasons past. The only banner that counts is the one they give you for being
the last team standing in June, so the Sharks should lower all existing banners
on opening night and burn them at center ice.
4) "C" is for Character
- I'll go on record by saying that I've been a huge supporter of Patrick
Marleau, but it's become evident that he needs to focus on making his immediate
line better, not an entire lineup. His performance in the 2008 Stanley Cup
Playoffs seemed to be a breakthrough in the "lead by example" department, but
his encore fell flat. Granted he did play through in injury in the Anaheim
series, but you don't need a healthy knee to motivate those around you. In
fact, you could say that his injury could have served to inspire. It didn't,
and that's why he needs to relinquish the captain's responsibility. Give that
job to Dan Boyle. The guy played like a true champion, even down to the final
seconds in Game 6. His demeanor is more suited for a team that needs to be
kicked in the pants. I've heard the arguments about how guys like Steve Yzerman
didn't have to be vocal to be a good captain, but guys like Yzerman didn't have
the responsibility of trying to lead a team that has consistently
5) End the Experiment - I don't think it's a stretch to
assume that the Claude Lemieux experiment has run its course, and that Lemieux
won't be back next season. Hopefully Jeremy Roenick comes to his senses as well
and decides to hang his skates up. The whole reason both of these guys were
even given chances to play again was to have veteran leadership in the locker
room. The reason both shouldn't be back is that a) it didn't work and b) it's
high time the players Wilson decides to keep figure out how to motivate
themselves. The Sharks need to commit roster spots to players that can score or
defend. Preferably by self motivated players.
6) Bolster the Blueline
- Focusing attention on the blueline is probably the last place you're thinking
the Sharks need to add any help, but some changes are required there before
they can address some of the other personnel changes needed to get over the
playoff hump. First, Wilson needs to bring back Rob Blake at a reduced price
tag. San Jose can't afford to bring back a 40+ year-old defenseman at $5
million a season, regardless of the performance Blake turned in during the
Anaheim series. If Blake really wants to win, he'll lop a 1 to 1.5 million
dollars off the cost of returning in order to free up some money to bring in
some more toughness up front. If Blake returns, it's also time to move
Christian Ehrhoff. The defenseman got off to a hot start at the beginning of
the regular season, then tailed off, even though the Sharks game plan
emphasized scoring from the blueline. The strategy was tailor made for Ehrhoff,
but he failed to seize the opportunity.
7) Retire the Sharks Head - It
was a cute gimmick when the arena opened back in 1993, but let's face it, the
shark head needs to go. If someone can convince me that Genghis Kahn or Ivan
the Terrible made their armies storm through inflatable circus props before
battle, then I'll let this slide. If you can't, then move the dumb thing out of
the playing area. I get the fact that the kids love it, so move it onto the
concourse, where the Shark-wannabes can play on it before games. It's always
appeared to me as a trophy. If you want to hang trophies in the rafters, sling
a duck's head or an octopus up there after you actually knock one of them off
in the playoffs.
8) Commitment to Youth - The injury issues that the
Sharks faced last season, created an opportunity for San Jose 's prospects, but
their inability to produce created a revolving door in Worcester . Injuries are
a part of the game, so it's safe to assume that San Jose 's youngsters will get
some of the same opportunity next season. Unless they're dealing with a blue
chip prospect, the Sharks need to have a little more patience with the
youngsters that they do bring up. Hopefully players like Jamie McGinn and Derek
Joslin get the chance to prove themselves in an extended tryout next year.
Getting rid of Lemieux and Roenick should make those opportunities more
9) Banish the Underperformers - The playoffs were just a
microcosm of one of the biggest issues that plagued the Sharks from mid-January
to the end of their run. That being the lack of players ready to pick up the
slack when the top liners were shut down. Those top line players carried the
load for most of the regular season, bolstered by a new defensive corps that
had four score more than 30 points. With the scoring being addressed by the top
liners and defenseman, the Sharks needed the checking line to fill the physical
void that was lacking the season prior, especially in the playoffs. Players
like Marcel Goc and Tomas Plihal don't get the minutes to build on the scoring
numbers, but the opportunities that they did get weren't being used to punish
other teams around. The Ducks re-exposed San Jose's lack of commitment by
second and third tier players who been collecting a pay check for too long.
10) Get Tough - It should be a given that the Sharks need to toughen
up in the playoffs. This suggestion isn't focused on the roster, but rather at
the local media and fan base. The Sharks have had 17 chances to get it right,
but when they fail, there's nothing in terms of backlash. This may be the only
thing written on the state of the Sharks between now and September. Don't count
on much attention being paid by local news outlets this summer. Hockey will be
a 4th tier sport in the Bay Area until the Sharks win something. You'll see
blurbs on personnel changes in the paper, but that's about it. It's time to get
tough. The Sharks plan on hosting a "State of the Franchise" open house on
Thursday, which will include Boyle, Thornton, Wilson and Sharks president Greg
Jamison. Hopefully those in attendance really move past the lip service and let
the franchise know how awful it is for hockey to be irrelevant in the Bay Area.
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