My Two Cents for September 30th, 2013
The New Season is Here- Tuesday, October 1st marks Day 1 of the 2013-14 NHL season which opens with the first three games of the season on the slate. The San Jose Sharks portion of the schedule begins on Thursday, October 3rd with their season opener at the Shark Tank versus new Pacific Division rival Vancouver. The Sharks wrapped up their Pre-season portion of the schedule with a fairly decent 6-1-1 mark which included an impressive win over the Canucks before a national cable audience this past Tuesday. This is the time of year when everything is new and has a sense of renewal. For the Sharks, it's a clean slate and new year. It's another season to bid for hockey's ultimate team prize, The Stanley Cup. The Sharks will have plenty of competition and will need to prove and overcome a lot the demons which have denied them in the past. For players such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, all three know that they are in the final year of their deals and need to make a stand now as this likely will be their last chance to do so together.
Though it could be the last go around for the threesome of Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, it may not be the last go around for the Sharks as a team and franchise. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are the new cornerstones of the team and are signed through the next five seasons. Brent Burns, 28, has come into his own not that Head Coach Todd McLellan has moved him from a defenseman to a forward. Tyler Kennedy coming over from Pittsburgh in an off-season trade will be a great locker room presence and is a player who has won it all before and knows how to win. The Sharks also have a promising player in Thomas Hertl. At 19, Hertl is a player who is well advanced for his age and if he makes the roster to start the season (or at anytime during the season), it will be a spot that is well earned. Players such as Tommy Wingles, Jason Demers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Andrew Desjardins and more have one more year of experience under their collective belts and are now better equipped as veterans to handle most any game situation that arises.
In the net Antti Niemi will be the main man providing the goaltending duties for team teal. Both Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri had very good pre-season camps and to decide which of the two will back up Niemi is a toss up. For once the Sharks in this department have what is called "A nice problem to have..." as you really cannot go wrong with either one. With all due respect to the departed Thomas Greiss who did a decent job while he was with the Sharks, I feel a lot more confident with either Stalock or Sateri backing up Niemi. If not for a bad injury two years ago, Stalock may have given Niemi even stiffer competition for the number one starter in the net.
One of the things that gives the Sharks a better than decent chance in the Pacific Division and Western Conference is the fact that the players here have been together as a team for some time now. They are familiar with how each other plays. They each know one another's habits, capabilities as well as how each is a fit for the roles in which they play as well. There are no strangers on the team or issues as far as in house fighting or other problems and controversies. This team knows how to check their ego's at the door as it is a team first and foremost organization. With the exception of maybe Tyler Kennedy who only got here in July, this team knows one another quite well and needs no introductions. Head Coach Todd McLellan along with assistants Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson, and Jay Woodcroft are one of the best coaching tandems in the game. NHL Network Jamal Meyers, who played for the Sharks two seasons ago this week on one of the network season preview shows called McLellan one of the most organized and prepared head coaches that he had ever played for. The Sharks have plenty going for them going into the 2013 season and it's just a matter of getting this roster to play the type of hockey they are capable of on a consistent basis. This will also require the team in addition to their core to also integrate the type of players to fit their system coming in from minor league affiliates Worcester (AHL) and San Francisco (ECHL).
As for players who have impressed throughout the preseason that may (or may not) be on the opening night roster Matthew Nieto, John McCarthy, Bracken Keans and Matt Pelech have all made strong cases for being with the big club at some point in the season. Pelech definitely showed he is not afraid of being an enforcer much in the same mold that former Shark Ryane Clowe was. With Raffi Torres down until after the Olympic Break in late February (more on that later), players such as Pelech and Adam Burish will be looked to assume these roles. Add in the veteran experience of Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan and the Sharks have a complete team ready to do battle not only in the Pacific Division but also in the Western Conference.
Raffi Torres Out 3-5 Months- There is an old saying that the only thing that counts in the pre-season are the injuries. That saying gets most commonly thrown around in the NFL, however as the Sharks learned this also applies to the NHL as well. Torres' collision with Anaheim's Emerson Etem September 20th has turnout out to be a costly one. Torres this weekend has successful surgery to repair an ACL that was torn in the collision with Etem. This is a huge blow for both Torres and the Sharks who will now be without their main enforcer anywhere from three to five months. The early reports are not to expect Torres back until at least after the Olympic Break in late February. Head Coach Todd McLellan has acknowledged that this is a blow to the team and it will be something the rest of the troops will have to rally around. In a statement given to the San Jose Sharks team's official website, General Manager Doug Wilson stated that ”Raffi’s surgery went very well and we look forward to having him back in our line-up later this season..."*
Kingshark Line: What Could Happen in 2013-14- The last four weeks this column previewed each of the four divisions and made projections on how each division may turn out in the upcoming season. In the Atlantic Division the top four teams predicted in order of finish were: 4) Ottawa Senators (92) ; 3) Toronto Maple Leafs (95); 2) Detroit Red Wings (99); and 1) Boston Bruins (105).
In the Metropolitan Division, the top four teams were 4) Columbus Blue Jackets (92); 3) Washington Capitals (94); 2) New York Rangers (96); and 1) Pittsburgh Penguins (102)
In the Western Conference, the Central Division projections showed the top four teams as 4) Colorado Avalanche (85); 3) Dallas Stars (91); 2) St Louis Blues (99), and 1) Chicago Blackhawks (112).
In the Pacific Division, the top five teams were 5) Edmonton Oilers (85); 4) Phoenix Coyotes (88); 3) Anaheim Ducks (95); 2) San Jose Sharks (96); and 1) Los Angeles Kings (105).
Now under the new playoff format the top three teams in each division will earn an automatic bid to the postseason. Each conference will be allotted two wild card playoff spots, which will be distributed to the two teams who had the highest point totals amongst non-playoff qualifying teams regardless of which division in which the team resides. The wild card teams will be matched against the teams with the highest points. With this in mind the Kingshark Line Projects the following ...
In the Eastern Conference starting with the Atlantic Division, I see Red Wings edging the Toronto Maple Leafs while the Boston Bruins handle Ottawa Senators. Between the Red Wings and Bruins, the Bruins will edge Detroit in a very competitive seven game series. Over in the Atlantic Division Pittsburgh should overtake Columbus while the Rangers and Capitals battle it out in a seven game set. Somehow the Capitals behind Ovechkin get it done over the Rangers in another seven game set. With Pittsburgh against Washington, on paper the Penguins have the edge. The Capitals will give the Penguins a fight and somehow edge out Pittsburgh in seven game set. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals continue to play hard and throw everything they can at Boston. However the one team in the NHL that is built to survive and win a seven game series is the Bruins and I see Boston coming out of the Eastern Conference once again.
In the Western Conference, Edmonton and Colorado are tied with 85 points however the Avs will edge out the Oilers on a tie breaker in much the same way the Wild edged out the Blue Jackets last year. In the Central Division Chicago will simply dominate all challengers and get to the Western Conference Finals. As a formality, Chicago defeats Colorado in five or six games. St Louis will edge the Dallas Stars in six or seven games. Chicago then takes St Louis, though it will be a fight that should go at least six games as well. In the Pacific Division, the LA Kings should have little problem with the Phoenix Coyotes, however because of Mike Smith the Kings will need six games too. This leaves a heated rivalry in round one between the Sharks and arch rival Anaheim. This series will go seven games, and the Sharks with home ice in game seven will edge out the Ducks. (It won't mean payback for 2008-09, it will just mean a hard fought victory over a worthy rival). Between the Kings and the Sharks, two teams that know each other all too well, the Sharks will find a way to edge the Kings. I only say this because you have players on the Sharks that for some this will be their last go around and will be more dangerous because they have nothing more to lose at this point. Sharks in seven. However after two hard fought seven game series against their California rivals the Chicago Blackhawks will be awaiting. The Blackhawks are a team that's built for a dynasty. They will edge out the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. That said, the Sharks will have enough fight in them to make Chicago earn it. This wont be a sweep, however I can't see going past six games either. The Blackhawks are just too good at this point and time.
In the Stanley Cup finals, the Blackhawks and Bruins rematch. To some may seem like a bad match up for the Bruins. People forget that last seasons' final could have gone seven games had it not been for a late game six collapse by Boston. However Chicago just has too much and is primed to take their second straight title, and their third title in five seasons.
All of this said, there are no guarantees that any of this will happen. This is just me having house money and going to Las Vegas with it (not to encourage it at all). If the Blackhawks say were to lose Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, that could certainly level the playing field. The LA Kings and Sharks could meet in the post season and the Kings could take down the Sharks just as they did last season. With the right breaks the Kings could end of coming out of the Western Conference. So could the Ducks. For that matter, so could the Sharks. The point here is there is a ton of hockey to be played and the outcome is guided by many factors from teams skill levels, ability to avoid the injury bug, and the inner ability not to be phased by pressure situations or things in which they cannot control anyway. Chicago is certainly the new gold standard in the NHL and the question at least in the Western Conference is who can match it or better it. This is a tall order for teams such as St Louis, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles and ofcourse the Sharks. It's not impossible, it's just going to take a lot from a team that is willing to go to that level. That's one reason the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports. The team that wins it usually is the team that did the most to earn it both on and off of the ice.
Goings On In and Around the NHL- With a few days remaining before the puck drops for real this Tuesday night, teams around the NHL are still finalizing things before they get started on their 2013-14 campaigns. Andrew Ference was named team Captain for the Edmonton Oilers. Ference came to his hometown Oilers after seven seasons in Boston which included a Stanley Cup championship three years ago. Meanwhile in Calgary, Mark Giordano has been named the Flames team Captain. The Anaheim Ducks have acquired center Mathieu Perreault from the Washington Capitals in exchange for minor league player John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft in late June. The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed John-Michael Liles on waivers. Veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney, who spent the last four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers agreed to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers. The Panthers also signed Tom Gilbert and one-time Shark Brad Boyes to one-year deals each.
Pucknology's Sharks Tweet-Up #3- Twitter has not only changed the way of delivering quick news and information, but also has been a huge boom in social media as well. For the third straight season Shark fans will be able to tweet at each other as well as meet and greet each other at a Sharks game. This year the October 3rd Season opener has been chosen as the game in which Tweet-up #3 will be held. The event has been a highly successful one. The first one actually ended up being featured on the Sharks CSN TV program "Shark Bytes". The tweet up beings at 6pm Thursday, October 3rd at the SAP Center (aka The Shark Tank). For information on the tweet up contact Eric @Puckguy14 who has successfully organized the first two tweet ups. If this one is as successful as the other two who knows, maybe this could lead to another tweet up later in the season. For still more on the tweet up here is a link to the story and information: http://www.pucknology.com/opening-night-sharkstweetup-info/
Someone Please Take Barry Melrose to Mens Wherehouse- When watching the NHL Pacific Division Preview show last night on NHL Network I could not help but notice the loud fire engine red jacket and tie Barry Melrose was wearing. It looked like something that he borrowed from Don Cherry or Captain Kangaroo (if you are under 25 and reading this, ask your parents about who Captain Kangaroo was. I don't want to write a second column today). Last season Phoenix Coyotes color commentator Tyson Nash had the worst suit of the season as he shared a sideline booth with Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda in a game last spring. This suit that Melrose had on Saturday night made Nash's suit look good by comparison. Also, the jacket was almost down to Melrose's knees. Kathryn Tappen and Jamal Meyers were doing their best not to laugh during segments. This has nothing to do with Melrose not liking the Sharks (that's a given), but come on Mr Melrose. With all due respect, you could have at least borrowed a blazer and maybe even a tie from Jamal Meyers (he probably would have given it to you). Yeesh!
Final Thought- Here is looking forward to another exciting season of San Jose Sharks hockey. Puck drop is Thursday Night at 7pm at the SAP Center (aka the Shark Tank). The season will have a lot of bumps, bruises and many tests along the way. This team will win a lot, and will lose from time to time. Whatever happens, as Sharks fans we are all in this together. To borrow something from @Puckguy14, we are all "#SharksFam".
...just my two cents...
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*Next My Two Cents: Monday October 7th