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A Perfect 10
Establishing the foundation today for tomorrow's winner
11/3/2023 - By Ryan Hall

Alright, it would be easy to write a "Come not to praise Caesar but bury him" kinda article about the San Jose Sharks right now. In fact, it wouldn't even take much creativity and wit. So, let's just keep it clean and say that the 2023-24 season has not started the way anyone would have hoped. That goes for you, or any of your friends, who think the Sharks need to tank in order to get a high draft pick. New flash: they were always going to finish near the bottom. That's all they are built for. No one needs to cheer for losses, they will happen organically.

The real question is what comes next? I'm not talking about the long term. Rather, I want to know what is in the hearts, guts, and soul of this current iteration of the team. How do they handle this adversity? What is the mettle of the individual players?

Let's make a couple things perfectly clear from the get-go: no one in that locker room is soft. Not a single player is happy losing. Every one of them wants to win. It's such an overused cliché to think that a professional athlete, who has spent years chasing their dream, sacrificed thousands of hours in practice, would suddenly just not care about their craft. So, let's all assume that the Sharks, to a player, are trying and want to succeed.

The question is can they?

Obviously, this season is lost. Ten games in, on a blistering 8-point pace, it's safe to say the playoffs are out of reach. However, how the team rebounds and comports itself will lay the foundation for what future, perhaps more successful teams, will achieve. Tomorrow's victories start today. Does the current group have the ability, and the unity, to start making that investment?

At the moment, it's hard to see where the leadership to do this will come from. Logan Couture continues to deal with injuries and Tomas Hertl has never been a vocal, leader-of-men type. At least not in public. They represent the two strongest links to past, high achieving Sharks teams, and would be in the best position to help guide the new crop forward. There's Marc-Eduard Vlasic, another player who has ascended to the top of his craft, but who also doesn't seem to be a front-and-center leader.

Which means that the franchise will need to look beyond its boundaries to find the pathway forward.

That's a gamble, as it's easy for a franchise to sink into a hole that takes years to dig out of. Look at the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Arizona Coyotes. Losing can become endemic, not from a lack of effort, but from not having anyone around who remembers what it was like to win there. That's the key. Knowing how to win in that current location. It's easy to forget that in the earliest days of the Sharks franchise, they were blessed to have players that created and built that winning attitude.

Igor Larionov. Owen Nolan. Arturs Irbe. They laid a foundation, which was then passed to Jeff Friesen, Marco Sturm, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Evgeni Nabokov, and Joe Pavelski, who in turn inducted Couture and Hertl into the continuum. What happens if the current crop of players doesn't feel that connection? What if the link to the past dies?

While this may all sound romantic and sentimental, we shouldn't discount the emotional aspect to sports. For all the focus on analytics and numbers, it remains a distinctly human activity. Feelings and legacy matter. The Philadelphia Flyers always seem more physical than anyone else, just because of their history. Many Montreal Canadians greats have admitted that they often won games just because of the awe that was associated with the uniform and name.

There is a mystique to sports and losing your organizational culture - and connection - can mean an extended stay in the wilderness.

All of which is a long way of saying that, to me, the most important thing to watch in the remaining 72 games is how the Sharks as an organization react to these first 10 games. How do they adjust? How do they compete? What foundation are they laying?

This won't be the same as success on the ice. It won't be reflected on the scoreboard. It certainly won't show up in the standings this season. But if we pay attention, we will get an idea of where they are headed.

With the lack of talent on the roster for the foreseeable future, they can't afford to mess the culture up. Knowing the path ahead it's not even enough to get it mostly right.

They'll need a perfect 10.

Contact Ryan at at ryanhall@letsgosharks.com


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