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Who are these guys?
And, would a shake up be a step up?
2/6/11 - By Ken Smyth

What can 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 questionable.

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 spot.

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 line-up.

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.

The reverse 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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