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Time to prove them wrong
Sharks should turn the tables on pundits this season
10/10/10 - By Mike Lee -

There is an opportunity that comes with the start of every new season. It exists for every club that is a franchise member of the league. For the Sharks, this is the 20th time that opportunity is reset, but for the first time in a couple of years, the expectations aren’t there. At least not from those outside the Bay Area.

The national media seems to have written off the Sharks this season. Every pundit east of the Mississippi is taking the softball pick in the Chicago Blackhawks, given their youth and the fact that they’re defending champions.

Bodog, the online betting service, has the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks at 6/1 favorites to take the Cup this season, followed by Chicago at 13/2. They have the Sharks at 12/1, another sign that there isn’t as much faith as there once was.

That’s what playoff failure after playoff failure will do to your reputation. Picking the Sharks to fall short is now the trendy thing to do. It’s a relatively safe play given the Sharks track record. Other teams made big moves to improve during the off-season, notably the same Penguins and Canucks that the odds-makers have so high on their boards.

If the Sharks are good at anything, it’s throwing a curveball at expectations, which is why it’s potentially a good thing to be off the radar or sorts. It’s not like they’re going to sneak up on anyone, but if everyone expects failure, what better time to take advantage of the lowered expectations.

The heavy firepower is still essentially the same. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau are still integral parts of this team. Thornton even assumed the role of captain, which threw everyone for a loop, so the team is already off to a great start.

If Jonathan Cheechoo gets a call up to the big club from Worcester, start booking your June calendar for a Finals appearance. If anything that whacky transpires, it’ll start looking like a season of destiny. Who would have ever thought that the Sharks would bring back their former Rocket Richard Trophy winner. Cheechoo has already scored a goal for the Worcester Sharks this season, so it’s not like it couldn’t happen.

There’s also the Antti Niemi factor. Here’s a guy that was on top of the world less than four months ago. He won an arbitration hearing that should have paid him the salary that was due a Stanley Cup winning goaltender. But in the blink of a eye he was on the street looking for a job after the Blackhawks jettisoned him and his $2.75 million payday.

Niemi wouldn’t stay unemployed for long, and it was Pittsburgh or Vancouver that he signed with. OK, so neither of those teams needed a goaltender, but work with me here. The Sharks decision to pass on Evgeni Nabokov and another fat contract for the Russian goaltender setup the possibility of Niemi moving from Chicago to San Jose in the first place. A bit of karma perhaps? Maybe some divine hockey intervention?

I’ve gone on the record before as saying that I have no clue where the Sharks will finish this season. Predictions are wild guesses for the most part, and the Sharks just end up making you crazy when you try to prognosticate their outcome. Besides, it’s more fun to come up with theories that go against the grain.

If any team can get it done, it’s not the Sharks. Or is it?

Team Notes:

The team will practice on Monday morning, but the remainder of the week's itinerary is still to be determined. After returning home from Stockholm early Sunday morning, the team took the rest of the weekend off to recooperate from the long flight. San Jose jumped on their charter immediately following Saturday's overtime loss to Columbus.

Priority one is adjusting back to Pacific Standard Time. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan did not rule out another day of rest this week. The team will resume it's game schedule on Saturday for teh home opener against Atlanta.


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