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Turmoil reigns in the Pacific Division!
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.
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
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!
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.
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?
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
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