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Spin the Wheel, Take your chance!
Turmoil reigns in the Pacific Division!
9/23/14 - By Ryan Hall -

After a season in which the Pacific Division became known as one of the most competitive in the NHL, things couldn't be less clear as the calendar gets ready to flip to October. Coaches have been fired. Players have retired. Captains have been stripped of their letters. It's enough to make fans go crazy!

All of this has rendered the once might Pacific into a line-up of desperate gamblers, staring at the roulette wheel, and trying to hit it big. One wrong move though, and their going bankrupt - but when has gambling even been for the faint of heart!

Let's consider the sweat streaked faces in this dimly lit dive, before turning to the real meaning of all this uncertainty.

Anaheim: After a year in which the Ducks accomplished just about everything they could during the regular season, Anaheim completed the campaign with a modest run to the 2nd run of the playoffs. Still, things seemed on the upswing until veteran Teemu Selanne ended his Hall of Fame career by throwing a live grenade into his former mate's dressing room. In case you missed it, Mr. Selanne stated that he'd still be playing hockey if it wasn't for Coach Bruce Boudreau. Since Teemu isn't usually known for his flippant remarks, his words will linger and add to the rumours that Boudreau is not a top tier NHL coach.

San Jose: Nearest and dearest to my heart, the hometown Sharks have had a horrible offseason. Anytime you strip your Captain and Assistants of their letters, fail to bring in any quality free agents, and basically give the entire squad a free pass for last April - you've had a bad summer!! Adding to this mess is the hot seat under Coach Todd McLellan, who finds himself facing the unfamiliar position of having to coach for his job. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Vancouver: While the John Torterella show has left the building for good, the Canucks still find themselves lost at sea! Nowhere was this more evident than in the trading of heart and soul Ryan Kessler (to the Blues) and the signing of Ryan Miller (from the Blues) to be their goaltender. What exactly is the plan in Vancouver, you might be asking? Are they rebuilding? Are they retooling on the fly? Or do they still think they can complete for a Stanley Cup? No one seems to know, and that bodes poorly for the immediate future of Vancouver.

Arizona: Armed with a new name, and no offense, the Coyotes enter another season hoping and praying to compete. Now a year removed from the financial fracas of the past half-decade, fans were hoping that the attention could be turned to events on the ice. Sadly, that continues to be a distant dream as early financial reports show that the Arizona franchise is indeed hemorrhaging money, and the continued budgetary constraints have led to another gutting of talent.

Edmonton: Another year, another high draft choice. What should be the cause of celebration is only adding to the panic in Edmonton as they reach year 2034898 of their rebuild! However, like previous versions this team still has no defense, and faces the weight of expectations that comes from playing in a hockey mad market. Even worse, with a new (old) face in General Manager Craig McTavish, head coach Dallas Eakins finds himself as the next one in line for the firing squad. While that might make for good theater (especially if someone accidently sprays him with water again), more tension in Oil town heralds trouble!

Calgary: Youth, moxie, talent - it should all be looking good for Calgary. Only trouble is that they face the prospect of another long season while mostly being on the receiving end of elite-level beatings. While that might not be a problem, there is already signs that fans and management are getting tired of the rebuild mentality, and they want to start winning a few games. After all, with their rivals in Edmonton getting a new building, the Flames are hoping to attract enough interest to finance their own state of the art barn. However, that takes owners with deep pockets, or the good will of a community - which is best secured by winning.

So there you have it, 6 teams in the Pacific facing big questions, with the only team sitting pretty being the defending champs in LA. Now, that alone would be cause for Sharks fans to be worried, but the real danger is that this situation simply can't last forever. You see, there are a handful of weak teams in the division right now, if not talent wise, then mentally. That means a veteran team like the Sharks could feast on that weakness and put up what appears to be a fairly good season. The trouble is that the window of true elite level play for San Jose is almost shut, meaning tough decisions need to be made in the near future.

After all, eventually some of these other clubs are going to figure things out, and the Sharks can't afford to be on the outside of that group looking in. To do that though, means taking a serious look at the state of the team, and comparing it now only right NOW to the rest of the Pacific Division, but where they will stand 5 years down the road. Hard as it may be to accept, the Sharks simply aren't a team that is one or two players for being a Stanley Cup lock.

Overall, there is opportunity in the current Pacific Division turmoil, but it might not be the most obvious path. Most of the other squads are facing distractions of their own, and that should lower the bar a little bit for making the post-season in the Pacific this year. For my money, that means it's the best time to make those tough choices and start retooling this roster, without giving up much in the overall competitive balance. Who knows, maybe the pain of trading a Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, or (dare I say it) Couture right now would fetch gains that pay off now and for years to come?

I say put it all on 00, spin the wheel, and let's see what happens!

Of course, it's easy to forget the Sharks are not the only team stymied for decades in their efforts to win a championship. Saint Louis fans have been waiting far, far longer (since 1967), as have fans in Vancouver and Buffalo (both began play in 1970) and Washington (1974).

Not everybody gets to be Philadelphia (Cup wins in their seventh and eighth seasons, none since) or Tampa Bay (a Cup win in their 12th season). The Kings, who began play in 1967, did not win until two years ago.

Yes, this is all off-season trivia. But this off-season is going to be a particularly long one for the Sharks and their fans.


Contact Ryan at at ryanhall@letsgosharks.com




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