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The miserable season officially ends
Kings capture what San Jose most covets
6/12/12 - By Mike Lee -

The 2011-12 NHL Season is finally over. After enduring two miserable months of playoff hockey that started with the Sharks laying an egg, another season of discontent came to an end Monday night with the scourge of the south winning it all. I can't say that this one was any more painful than seasons past. It's natural to think that a rival winning the Stanley Cup makes it tougher to take than other seasons, but the Sharks sputtering late in the season made the outcome inevitable this time around.

Think about what New Jersey Devils fans are going through. Nobody thought they'd stand a chance in the playoffs, but something clicked and fell two wins short of a championship. That's a much tougher pill to swallow, compared to the plight in San Jose.

I say "plight" because the Sharks didn't get better this past season. They got worse. There's still much work to be done and the draft and free agent signing period can change the outlook of things in a heartbeat, but the fact of the matter is that San Jose has an aging base that hasn't demonstrated that they're capable of finishing strong. 2011-12 was quite the opposite.

The Sharks acquisition of Brad Stuart, doesn't exactly speak volumes about filling holes. Stuart is a decent defenseman, but it's not like he's a shutdown kind of guy. Defensively speaking, the Sharks couldn't stop anyone from scoring, so they need a stay at home guy that can help stop opposing top lines night after night. That assumes that San Jose can even re-sign him.

All signs suggest that he will be in teal next season, because his home is in San Jose and stability on the home front is something that becomes more important once a player starts a family. Business is still business, so anything's possible.

What was most frustrating about last night's game was that it reminded me of just how far the Sharks are from truly contending. San Jose is made up of skilled guys that can win hockey games, but they lack the mettle to get things done when the chips are on the table.

Too many floaters. Too many guys that don't step up when it counts. That's not to say that the Sharks are completely devoid of talent worthy of winning a Cup, but they lack an adequate number of guys that have a fire burning in their bellies.

The defensive holes were glaring last season. The special teams were a bona fide disaster. As I've written numerous times, the Sharks have become too predictable. It's reasonable to expect a team to lean on its strengths, but not recognizing when to make adjustments is just plain amateurish.

Not implementing a scheme that can adjust when things aren't working suggests that either your players are too one-dimensional or the plan is too inflexible to be effective.

So now San Jose has another summer to figure out how to implement reasonable adjustments. Don't expect an overnight transformation like the metamorphosis in Los Angeles. Dean Lombardi had a lot more flexibility because he had tons of cap space. Finishing in the basement year after year allowed the Kings to stockpile good young talent, which Lombardi was able to build on.

He learned a lot in San Jose, made a lot of mistakes here, then got a second chance to build on those learnings. Having a war chest to go after guys like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter made his job a lot easier, but at the end of the day he got the job done.

Wilson doesn't have the cap flexibility that Lombardi enjoyed, albeit a self made mess. Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have contracts that could turn out to be huge handcuffs for Wilson. Figuring out a way to lose one of them and pickup a guy like Rick Nash would be a step in the right direction, but it doesn't address the defensive holes.

As I try to absorb the 18% increase in my season tickets this summer, I'm left wondering if that money really could be better spent. Given the chasm that San Jose needs to hurdle to get to the promise land, positioning this team to be a Cup champion could take an overhaul that isn't going to happen overnight.

Any regular reader at will recognize that there hasn't been a lot to read around here since April. There really hasn't been much to say that hasn't already been said. You can only voice frustration so many ways.

Bay Area fans are as fickle as they come, so it'll be interesting to see what happens a year from now. Will the loyalty still be there. If you learned anything from last night's outcome, anything is possible, but you still need the pieces to be successful.

Those with patience will wait and see.


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