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Or Tinker at the Tank?
5/31/09 - By Steve Flores

American dictionaries have plenty of definitions for the word "ANSWER". To 'understand the meaning of', a 'solution' and to 'be liable or accountable' are three very good attempts at defining the term. However even a month after the San Jose Shark first-round elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs we still don't have a clear cut answer to exactly what went wrong.

Yeah everyone has their opinions. Just take a look at the blogs and you will read the expert opinions of Shark's fans ranging from calling the team 'heartless, gritless, overrated, soft, and even lacking in commitment. The opinions are varied, wide and plentiful. The fans of the team have felt the pain of the loss and it has cut deeper than the many prior post season failures because this team was dominant early and ended with the league's best overall record. Hopes were high.

The team succumbed to more than its share of injuries from the midway point of the season right up till the end of the regular season. Key players were lost and the youth of Worcester was on a continual shuttle to fill the voids throughout the entire season. Mix in some defensive adjustments by the rest of the NHL's franchises along with the Sharks inability to maintain chemistry and thus the team was never able to rekindle the fires that they exhibited early in the season.

I have read virtually every opinion given by people within the NHL. People in the know have given a wide variety of reasons as to why they think the team continues to fail. They range from 'too many like personalities', 'too comfortable in their roles', 'players lacking in determination', and 'an overall lack of depth'. The word is that other teams simply don't worry about the Sharks 3rd or 4th lines. I could go on and on but you guys have heard and read all of these. The answers to the team's problems are that there are no clear cut answers to the problems. The solutions to the Sharks issues are nebulas at best. This is what makes GM Doug Wilson's off-season tasks quite daunting.

It is clear that Wilson is going to attempt to make changes. He, Head Coach Todd McLellan and Sharks management have by now finished their team 'autopsy' and are now attempting to find a solution to the issues that they feel need to be resolved before the next season begins in October.

Most people see the team choosing one of two options in regard to dealing with getting over the post-season hump; a major overhaul of the roster or a matter of small tinkering here and there.

Bloggers have wanted the heads of virtually every Sharks roster player not named Boyle with particular deference to Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov. Obviously (at least to some but not all) the team is not going to get rid of all three of their highest profile players. I, myself, am not sure that any of them should be jettisoned. Luckily Wilson is a cooler and calmer customer than those that spout off on the internet about the correct path to be taken by the team.

This team won a lot of games in the regular season and lost to the hot Anaheim Ducks in the first round and those same Ducks came eerily close to eliminating the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in the next round. The Wings, however, have mental strength that the Sharks do not possess and despite a truly valiant effort on behalf of the Southern Cal boys the Wings managed to gut through and move on.

That the Sharks lost to the Ducks in the first round was bad, but in hindsight it wasn't quite as big a failure as it may seem. Let me explain.

The Wings just defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals. The Wings will soon face off in a repeat of last season's final again the Pittsburgh Penguins. I think the Wings will prevail. I also think that if the Ducks had gotten past the Wings that they would be playing the Pens and would also have had a very good shot at hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.

The fact that Shark fans detest the Ducks doesn't take away from the quality results that they were putting up. It took everything the Wings had to topple them. Is this my way of letting the Sharks off the hook? By no means. To be the best one must beat the best. The Sharks have to contend with a strong conference and must learn to win when it counts, in the post-season. No excuses.

But do you honestly devastate the entire roster of a team that is just coming off of a season of 117 points? Does Wilson select, say, Marleau and deal him away just because the team needs to make changes? Does trading Nabokov after a less than stellar season and playoff make this team better? These changes require research and eventual answers before they are attempted. Shouting at the moon is a response but not the right one.

Wilson and McLellan hopefully now have a better feel regarding that which the team is missing. McLellan has stated that the team has the talent but lacks in the mental part of the game. A general consensus is that the team needs a bit more grit. I feel that the Sharks lack a pure goal-scorer.

Nabokov had a great season in 2007-08. Let's be honest he was probably cheated out of a Vezina Trophy by a league that loves to fawn over Martin Brodeur. That's not a slight on the New Jersey goalie's greatness, but honestly Nabokov was the best keeper in the league that season. This season Nabokov was not on his usual stellar game. He had a bad season/playoff. His inability to stop the five-hole goal and his continued ability to allow the soft-goal were beyond frustrating this season.

He wasn't at his best.

Patrick Roy had years that were not as good as other years. Nabokov is no spring chicken but who will you bring in to replace him. Bloggers throw out the names of Ray Emery, Martin Biron and Scott Clemmensen. I am not even going to comment on the lunacy of those ideas. Nabokov will be in the pipes unless Wilson can find, via a trade, a better stopper.

Captain Marleau is prime blogger trade fodder right now. The Captain of the Sharks has been here since the dawn of time and is a soft-spoken guy. He has traditionally been one of the league's best playoff performers. Check the stats I am not making this up. This post-season he was contending with a serious knee injury. The MCL strain that he suffered was enough to render his world-class speed mute. Marleau's entire game is speed and agility. Both were damaged severely with the knee injury. It is nice to sit here and claim that you must rise above it however although those are bold, spirit ridden words they are still only words. Have you ever had a sever knee injury? A wood splinter in the finger is enough to turn most men into blithering babies. So it makes good headlines for Wilson to state that the guys must find a way to win. They must, I agree. But, some injuries are serious enough that they cannot be overcome - that is a fact.

The Sharks will make changes. Wilson will attempt to and probably will succeed in making trades. If he deals Marleau and or Nabokov let us hope that he brings in an actual goal scorer; a pure sniper that lives to score 50 goals each season. There aren't too many out there folks. The team also does have a salary cap to contend with.

Wilson must revamp the 3rd and 4th lines.

A healthy Torrey Mitchell will help. The Quebec native has speed and agility and under a full season of McLellan will be able to show offensive numbers that are clearly better than that which Marcel Goc provided this season (1 non-open net goal all season). Grit is needed and Ian Laperriere is a free agent. He is tough, rugged and does a great deal from a team perspective that the Sharks simply do not have right now. I haven't spoken to Wilson but I can almost guarantee that this guy is on the mind of the Sharks GM.

So, in closing, I am all for changing the roster. What they presently have did not work. I am not for some devastating roster overhaul that leaves us with 6 or 7 returning players. The contract status of the roster will not allow this anyway. A key trade, or two or maybe even three along with a couple of specific free agent signings may well be enough to change the culture from hopeful to can do. In any case we shall see if Wilson 's 'autopsy' results in any better results next season. If not it will be Wilson lying on the coroners slab this time next year.

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