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Over it?
Still a tough pill to swallow
10/2/14 - By Ken Smyth -

Over it? I'm not. This is the third time in six years that the Sharks' lost four straight in a playoff series. Going into the 2014-15 season, the San Jose Sharks find not only their team logo carved on Mt. Chokemore, but their 75% off game-worn jerseys on sale in the gift shop and a photo booth with a cardboard Joe Thornton. For a nominal price your head can be 'shopped into a photo of the Sharks shaking hands with the LA Kings after losing the first round series. Yes, I'm still a bit disturbed.

There is talk of turmoil going into training camp, "C" being stripped from Joe Thornton, leadership questions and so on. Well, dropping four straight to the Kings is not a positive statement on the team's character. Add their defeats at the hands of the Blues, Canucks (where they DID win game 3) and Blackhawks and you see there is Something Really Wrong. When this team hits a wall, they don't climb it; they ask for a cigarette and a blindfold.

I can't blame GM Doug Wilson for going a little crazy over the off season. It almost looked like some pro wrestling story line. Wilson turns heel, loads the team with goons, and hires a villainous Russian coach like Andrei Nazarov. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are belittled whenever possible. Maybe get Jeremy Roenick into the act as well. All the drama leads up to the outdoor game.

Between the second and third periods, with the Sharks down 4-1 the climax is reached as Wilson and his coach are called out and fired by owner Hasso Plattner. Owen Nolan stands behind the bench, Drew Remenda comes back to the booth, and the Sharks' roar back for a 5-4 win. Were that really the case, I'd have a bit more confidence in this season.

In the real world, this team is getting older in a conference where there are two dominant teams that know they're better than all the rest. The Sharks are in the second tier with Anaheim, Colorado, St Louis and maybe Dallas and Minnesota. All of those teams are younger and seem more on the way up than the way down. Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart are gone, leaving two holes on the blueline.

If Brent Burns is really moving back to defense full time that closes one of them, but can Burns play the style of defense that fits Todd McLellan's approach to the game? Considering that the Sharks have a mass of young forwards in camp, there are no worries about finding four lines up front, although the nagging injuries to Raffi Torres and James Sheppard mean the lower lines will be a work in progress.

Goaltending is another puzzle. Today's NHL is filled with goaltenders with .910 save percentages and GAA's around 2.0, never mind why, so either Alex Stalock or Antti Niemi need to be impressive or there could be a new guy between the pipes in March. Last season showed that teams were not above flipping #1 goalies at trade deadline time and not above pulling them in the playoffs.

If the team starts off stale, McLellan may be let go. I say that every season, it's bound to be come true sometime. If Detroit does not get coach Mike Babcock re-signed by the end of the season, the Sharks should consider jumping into the bidding for his services.

So, guesses for the season? The Sharks will finish 3rd in the Pacific Division behind LA and Anaheim, beating back an Arizona team that is missing something. Either the Vancouver Canucks or Calgary Flames make a charge but in the end are sitting home again as the Central Division takes both wild card spots.

Edmonton finishes last again and drafts yet another smallish forward who doesn't play much defense. So much for the enthusiastic pep talk. If watching the Kings put up their second Stanley Cup banner on Opening Night at the Staples Center doesn't light a fire under these guys then nothing will.

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