The Ugly Truth- There are some things in life that we may not want to hear about let alone read about. There are some things in life we simply do not want to believe albeit for whatever reason. One of the reasons we gravitate to sports is to escape from the realities of life if only for a few hours a day or every other day. We develop a following for teams and ultimately we also form options about that team. As Sharks fans we are as hardy as they come in the NHL. We love this team and we all but live and die with them through the best of times and the worst of times. After the most recent playoff endeavor that is now over a month past, the Sharks are anywhere but at the best of times. This offseason will test this franchise about as much as the post season and fall out has tested the fan base. The Sharks have a lot on their plate and know that this offseason will define this franchise for the foreseeable future going forward. Team Teal as a franchise must change their philosophy if they ever want to seriously challenge for a Stanley Cup ever again. To do anything less will only leave this team stuck where they are now with a lot of first round post season exits in their future provided they even make the post season again. At this point for this franchise this is all a given. There most likely will be some changes which will probably start happening shortly after the Stanley Cup finals conclude and should happen in earnest come late June and throughout July. As to why the Sharks have had so many post season failures despite 10 consecutive playoff births may have been answered in a recent column written by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. Kawakami’s article published on May 25th makes several strong and very valid points of which many Sharks fans will find hard to digest. However at the same time, the article goes a long way towards vetting the ugly truth of how the Sharks may have operated and why they have failed in the post season year after year. For some fans this would certainly be a tough read. Sometimes the truth is a hard thing to accept. At the same time the truth is still just that, the truth. Truth can be ugly at times, but again it also has no agenda. It’s just simply the truth.
The Teal Comfort Zone- In his article Kawakami pointed out that the Sharks franchise has become somewhat of a comfortable place to play especially for a number of the star players. The Sharks are set up as a franchise where players can be comfortable and not have to deal with the pressures to win that they may experience in the larger or more demanding media markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. It has gotten to the point where the Sharks franchise almost provides an escape from the pressure of having to win a Stanley Cup. Though winning the Cup would be great, it’s almost an afterthought if the team does not. All the while other teams who have enjoyed a much higher level of success than then Sharks are mentally a lot tougher, a lot sharper and more focused on the post season than Team Teal. The Sharks do not seem to enter the post season with the same or even a similar approach as the teams who have ultimately beaten them have such as the Kings, Blackhawks, Cancuks and the fiasco against the eighth seeded Ducks back in the 2008-09 season. If the goal is a Presidents Trophy, your franchise is already failing before the regular season even gets started. I may only disagree with Kawakami slightly on the point that players who come to San Jose don’t come to the south bay to win the Cup, however that disagreement is very slight at best as this is something I've quietly wondered about on my own. Aside from that this article from May 25th is point on and worth the read if you can look at this topic objectively. I agree that the Sharks have been a place trying to win while attracting “nice guys.” I’m okay with the nice guys just so long as they understand that during games in the regular season and especially in the post season its’ not only okay to stop being nice, it’s heavily encouraged. I don’t want to see nice during the game except for maybe when a given circumstance within the boundaries sportsmanship calls for it. Otherwise, stop being nice. I can guarantee the team they are playing stopped being nice about the time they arrived at the arena.
The Sharks have had a great deal of talent which has benefited them through many a regular season. This season it was enough for 111 points and the fifth best overall regular season record. However that’s all it was good for. Once the Sharks came from ahead to lose a seven game series to the Los Angeles Kings, and to lose it the way in which they did, all of that was not only forgotten but became null and void along with all of the seasons accomplishments and records. Suddenly none of that mattered anymore. The Sharks only needed to win one of four games and never came close. To lose game four was one thing since getting a sweep against the Kings was probably unrealistic. The series however was lost in Game 5 when everything changed after the Sharks were run out of their own arena within 10 minutes of the opening puck drop. As the series wore on, the Kings were able to make the needed adjustment because they are hardened from previous successes where they Sharks simply were not. It can be argued that the Sharks never were truly hardened for long term post season success. All of this has happened for a reason. It may start with the ugly truth that the Sharks have never been an environment that has been demanding internally when it came to post season success. If any good comes from how this last post season ended it, it’s clear the Sharks franchise can no longer ignore a problem that has become the big white elephant in the room. Team Teal GM Doug Wilson has stated that “status quo” is no longer an option. The Sharks must realize that if they don’t change a lot of their operating philosophy that has brought about and fostered post season failure year in and year out, they will no longer be taken seriously by even their own fanbase and would not deserve to be either.
Playoffs Are No Fun- One of the biggest take away’s from Kawakami’s May 25th article was that the Sharks have enjoyed a lot of their regular season success from a talented roster. The problem is that the roster is able to deal with the regular season because of the full houses night in and night out at the Shark Tank. In addition, there is no pressure from the press and the players can basically be assured of not being bothered too much by the local press. However once the post season starts this all changes. All of a sudden, there comes responsibility with the reward of a post season spot. With the responsibility comes the pressure to win 16 more games which requires the team to play into June. With the responsibility comes tougher and stiffer competition even from teams they have seen often in the regular season. The Sharks are now having to win four games out of seven against a team which is as talented as they are, which wants what they want just as bad if not worse. During the regular season the only pressure is to finish in the top eight of the conference. During the playoff the pressure and stakes are much greater. There are several teams that are built to handle this. The Sharks quite obviously are not one of those teams. In fact, they aren’t even close. Hockey stops being fun as it becomes all business. Team Teal stops having fun as their opponents are raising their games to much high levels. The Sharks are not a team that is set to raise their games to high levels which are demanded to be successful in the post season. Because of this they often times get outplayed and ultimately beaten out. The Kings outplayed and ultimately outlasted the Sharks, to the point to where Team Teal winning just one more game became a virtual impossibility.
Follow-up Article- In his June 1st column, Kawakami’s article regarding the team pointed out to the Sharks “Free and Easy” days being over even for players such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. DW stated to the Mercury News “I want players that want to play here, not just live here.” If this is true, DW no longer wants players who are just attracted to the South Bay Area as a nice place to live. He wants players who will proudly and boldly represent the Shark crest in front of the teal sweater. What’s on the front of that sweater is all that matters, not who’s wearing it. He wants players who are willing to fight for the right to not only play with the team, but stay with the team and become a difference maker both in the regular season and playoffs. If DW holds true to this and is sincere about it, then the Sharks will be taking a big step towards changing their philosophies which have held them back in past seasons. It is hopeful that DW sees the writing on the wall and knows these are thing that need to happen starting right now. To be fair there are no guarantees, however changes in the beginning are never easy. The franchise in the offseason clearly not only needs to trim some fat, but also must operate as a lean and mean organization going forward in regards to every decision they make. This is all business now. It has to be now and going forward. How this past season ended was simply one of the lowest points in franchise history and one of the more embarrassing events for this franchise in it’s 23-year existence. It will take a while to recover from it. The sooner that process begins, the better.
When To Expect Major Changes- The Sharks have already made some major moves with the announcements that neither Dan Boyle or Martin Havlat will be returning to the team. This is only the beginning of what needs to happen. The Sharks won’t require a full rebuild or house cleaning, but some tough moves will have to be made without question. Look for the majority of moves such as trades to start after the Stanley Cup Finals conclude. I cannot speculate on what player moves the Sharks will make, however do keep in mind after the conclusion of this past post season nothing can be off the table for Team Teal. I will say it is somewhat of a safe bet that at least two or more “household names” will be moved and maybe at least one blockbuster deal. What the Sharks get back in return will depend a lot on what type of team they want to take the ice in the 2014-15 season and beyond. If there is a “fan favorite” or two that does get moved, we all need to keep in mind that this is for the growth and betterment of the franchise. This team cannot afford to go out this next season with the same exact philosophy and line up and expect the end results to be any different. To do so would not be fair to younger players on the team or to the season ticket holders and fan base in general. One of the reasons the LA Kings have become highly successful over the past three years is because of former Sharks Head Coach Darryl Sutter. When Sutter came in the Kings knew that their philosophy of being a soft west coast hub wasn’t geared for long term success. Sutter given full authority to manage a talented but floundering group of players went right to work on day one. Sutter announced in his first meeting with the team that the “Country Club” is closed. Eight months later they won the Stanley Cup. DW knows the time to close the Sharks Country Club for good has finally come and is long overdue. DW knows this and so does majority owner Hasso Plattner. This season’s failure is on DW and he knows it too. This is most likely the reason he’s had to reassess his own approach and be more willing to make the changes needed to make the Sharks a viable Cup contender once again. The next playoff failure won’t be on DW, it will be on Mr. Plattner himself. (If Mr Platter does not want that responsibility, then Mr Larry Ellison is always a phone call away.)
Stanley Cup Finals- The aforementioned Los Angeles Kings will be advancing to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. The Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 Sunday night in Game 7 of their Western Conference Finals series. The Kings rallied from a early two goal deficit to take the game in overtime. The Kings will be playing the New York Rangers who defied a lot of odds to get to the finals. In the finals the Kings will emerge as the heavy and in some cases be viewed as a prohibitive favorite. Like it or not the Kings have earned that respect. However I am hoping the NY Rangers who will be the ones who will emerge with their first Stanley Cup Championship in 20 years. The reason has very little to do with any partiality against the Kings. It has everything to do with two players on the Rangers whom I have a ton of respect for. Dominic Moore is a former Shark who returned to playing hockey this season after the tragic loss of his wife to cancer two years ago. There is no way to even begin to measure what Moore has been through. He has been through more worst moments in the last few years than most people can ever even begin to know. Moore scored the playoff clinching goal for the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Montreal. He has always been a class act who has found teammates who have done nothing short of rally around him. The other player is Martin St Louis who came over to the Rangers at the trade deadline in a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. St Louis recently lost his mother and has been dealing with a very difficult situation to say the very least. Despite this, St Louis along with Moore have been standout players in the post season. The rest of the Rangers team has fed off of this all post season long. Hopefully it will be what leads them to the Stanley Cup Championship. The Rangers were certainly not the best regular season team, but they have won when it has mattered the most. For St Louis and Moore, I hope the NY Rangers are the one’s who will be lifting up the Stanley Cup sometime in the next two weeks.
...just my two cents...
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