| Who are these
And, would a shake up be a step
2/6/11 - By Ken Smyth
you say about the 2010-11 San Jose Sharks so far? Are they really the San Jose
Sharks at all? Let's see: Goaltender controversy, defensive lapses again and
again, big money forwards who don't score at crucial times, a rookie savior but
other young players who just haven't developed. Overall, they can look good
winning against big opponents, but they'll stink playing lesser ones.
If I didn't know better I'd swear they were the New York Rangers missing the
classy blue sweaters and the recovering substance abuser. (I could have said
the Philadelphia Flyers, but most nights there's more heart in the empty
Gatorade bottles the Flyers leave behind their bench then in many Sharks'
players). Seriously, though, this Sharks team is showing the signs of
transition from the philosophy that held through most of the twenty year
history of the franchise.
Typical Sharks teams featured good skating,
good defense, top level goaltending and so-so offense. Good penalty killing and
a lousy power play. That's the Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter/Ron Wilson stamp on
the team. Slowly that seems to be shifting under the Doug Wilson/McClellan era
to a more forward oriented team, with better and bigger offensive talent up
front, less experienced defense, and less speed; Torrey Mitchell and Patrick
Marleau being notable exceptions there.
The team started the season
with an experiment in goal and young players on the blueline. Both of these
moves were forced by the Sharks' contract structure against the salary cap; a
PC way of saying Doug Wilson was bent on keeping Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton
and Dany Heatley all on the team. While the goaltending experiment isn't a
rousing success it isn't dragging the team down, but the defense is seriously
The young defensemen are still making young defenseman
mistakes while Nilklas Wallin and Kent Huskins look no better then the old
hold-overs they are. Forwards are dropping down to play defense to compensate
and it may take a whole shift to get possession and move the puck out of the
defensive zone. Too many nights it looks like a replay of the 2010 playoffs
against the Blackhawks where the Sharks were out-skated and out competed.
So far this team is playing .500 ish hockey in a very tight
conference. Two weeks of good play and they're up around fifth place, but a bad
two weeks will put them in tenth. If it's any consolation, the Blackhawks don't
look a lot better and the Los Angeles Kings, a team built by Dean Lombardi, are
copying the offensive futility of the Sharks a few years back. With about
eleven teams less than ten points apart in the standings, it could be that
doing a little better than .500 against the conference will grab a playoff
Totally brutal hindsight says that Doug Wilson should have let
both Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov walk and signed a stud free agent puck
moving defenseman over the off-season. (He sort of tried that with Niklas
Hjalmarsson) Then again, who was out there? Adrian Aucoin? Zbynek Micalek? Not
a really big selection, as you see with Andy Sutton getting over $4 million.
Considering that it's traditionally a sellers' market for rent-a-players
towards the trade deadline; I will be weird and say Doug Wilson should look
ahead to the long term and dump some guys for young talent or draft picks.
Splicing in rental players has brought only fair results over the
years, and Huskins, Wallin, Mitchell, and Devin Setoguchi are at peak value
now. Why not pick up a few second round picks to put in DW's pocket for some
dealing later on, or rebuild a farm system that could use an infusion. Moving a
bigger contract, such as Dany Heatley's, may require one of those wacko
NBA-style trades where both teams trade some unlikely players just to squeeze
by the salary cap. I wouldn't mind that either.
All this would run the real risk of the Sharks not
making the playoffs at all. But it would also reduce the risk of the Sharks
soon needing to blow up the roster and rebuild from scratch. To me that's the
greater concern. Point is, the Sharks should be looking forward. I think the
Sharks have been playing much of the year without the big names really involved
in the game, and moving one of them out wouldn't be as big a shock as some
might think. When Ben Eager comes in and looks like a breath of fresh air with
his play in the offensive zone, there really is something wrong with the
One of the smart (or lucky) things about the Detroit
organization since the 1990's was the way they moved new players in and old
ones out keeping the core of the Red Wings from getting too old all at once.
Some years were better than others but the Wings have been a force in the NHL
for almost as long as the Sharks have been around. If you're looking for
somebody to emulate in team identity, they're a good one.
example might be the New York Islanders, who kept the players from their early
1980's dynasty around to retirement. The Isles have been "rebuilding" ever
since. The Sharks need to take a cold, we're talking Bill Walsh pushing out Joe
Montana and Ronnie Lott cold, look at the present team.
Does this mean
I'm giving up on the season? No, because the season that really matters starts
in April. In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs on the last day of
the season with a shootout win over the Rangers. Literally down to the last
shot. The Flyers then went on to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the
Blackhawks in six games. Considering the Sharks' playoff history, winning two
games in the finals would be a step forward.
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