Some Tough Love- The 2013-14 season has come and gone for the San Jose Sharks. A campaign that looked promising even before the season began ends in another heart breaking climax. The Sharks loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs season can be described in several ways. Were the Kings that good in the clutch?... or were the Sharks that bad in clutch? The answer is probably both. The Sharks weren’t just defeated, but in the final four games against the Kings basically had their hats handed to them. The Kings wins in Games 4 through 7 were about a decisive as blow out wins can be. There was no question as who the better team was after seven games. If not for a tip-in that went in the Sharks favor in Game 3 of the series, the Kings most likely would have won the series in six. The Kings in the end not only showed why they have won a Stanley Cup (and that it was not by accident), but also why the Sharks have never really come close to one. The worst part of this for the Sharks is that they as an organization and franchise only have themselves to blame. The Kings were and are a better team for a reason. As a matter of fact, Anaheim and Chicago to go along with Boston and Pittsburgh are also far better teams than the Sharks for a reason. The Sharks have made the playoffs for ten consecutive seasons now. While that should be commended on that accomplishment alone, not even having won a single championship or even playing in the finals just once has become an albatross for this franchise. The Sharks can no longer be blissfully ignorant of the fact that like it or not they are viewed by many to now be the Buffalo Bills or San Diego Chargers of the NHL (even though those NFL franchises at least played for championships in their histories). The Sharks are the Ottawa Senators of the west, period.
Out of the three California NHL franchises, the Sharks a clearly only the third best as they realistically are not even close to either the Kings or Ducks. The Kings just flew by the Sharks two seasons ago and have never looked back. The Sharks franchise for all it has accomplished now has the dubious and embarrassing distinction of owning one of the worst playoff collapses not only in league history, but also in the history of professional sports in North America. Only four other NHL teams have done this in their history. Although all four of those franchises eventually would win championships in subsequent seasons, the Sharks are not constructed as those franchises were. The previous first round exits to Anaheim (2008-09) and St Louis (2011-12) had at least logistical reasoning behind them. This one came down to only needing to win one game with four chances, and the Sharks never came close. By the time game seven rolled around Team Teal was basically “Dead Man Walking”. Seeing how Game 7 played out the Sharks to a man apparently all knew it too regardless of whether or not they openly admitted it afterward. If the Sharks organization is not embarrassed by what just happened, they damn well should be. The Sharks are so far behind the Kings in Ducks now, it can almost be argued that out of the three NHL teams in the Golden State, the Sharks are basically a distant fourth.
Coaches Not at Fault- Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan and his entire staff wasn't the problem. The team collectively is incapable of raising their game to a level necessary to be successful in the post season. That is the one thing that cannot be coached or even taught. As players and as a team you either have that collective ability or you do not. It’s not a gray area, it’s very black and white. If you can have an assistant coach of the caliber of one Larry Robinson (who has forgotten more about winning Stanley Cup titles than anyone involved with the franchise put together knows), and still have the end result still being what it is, the franchise then has much greater problems. I give Coach McLellan a ton of credit for answering the tough questions not only after the Game 7 loss, but also for continuing to do so two days later as the team cleared out their lockers for what will be the longest offseason in franchise history. Sure, you could always fire the head coach and his staff, that’s actually the easy thing to do. As the old saying goes it’s much easier to fire one or two than it is to fire 25. However if the Sharks do that McLellan will be the head man either in Toronto, Vancouver or Washington in just a matter of a few days. McLellan was not the problem or the reason the Sharks ultimately lost. Even if you change the voice and face of your head coach, it won’t change the makeup of the franchise. The team still is what it is. The Sharks are a regular season juggernaut. In the post season, the Sharks are just paper tigers. This is known not only with the fans, but throughout the NHL. Does anyone honestly think the LA Kings didn’t know this?
Sharks Must Change As An Organization- Changes for Team Teal absolutely and without question must happen and this time the Sharks must be serious about it. "Refresh and Reset" does not work and has been proven not to work. “Not Right for Sharks Hockey” does not work either and is nothing more than a very lame, dismissive, asinine and completely ridiculous company line at best. It also serves as nothing more than a poor excuse by Sharks management to dismiss questions they don’t want to answer. This all has to change, and it has to change right the hell now. Team Teal needs to send shock waves through the organization this off-season. It starts with Majority Owner Hasso Plattner who can no longer be silent. Platter needs to address the season ticket holders who are the share holders of this team. They are owed at least that considering what season tickets and playoff tickets cost. Plattner also needs to make strong moves and must be willing to do so no matter what. He has no excuses not to. The buck stops here. If Plattner is not willing to do this, the Sharks are already sunk as far as future seasons go. This would go a long way towards alienating an already pissed off fan base. If he wants to win as bad as some say he does, now is Plattner’s time to put up or shut up. This franchise must show it’s fanbase how much of a priority winning the Stanley Cup is and that they mean business. Anything less than that means the Cup is clearly not a priority for this franchise. If this turns out to be the organizational mind set, it will explain a lot of the franchises past and present post season failures. The Sharks as an organization must be willing to change as a franchise and discard their old ways and philosophies and do so immediately. It will be the only way this team can honestly move forward to reach the ultimate goal. The old ways and philosophies simply just do not work. They all have been disproved beyond any reasonable doubt.
Team Assessment- As for the team, the only player the Sharks should focus on resigning is Alex Stalock, period. You only have just six others that are untouchable players otherwise. They are Brent Burns, Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto, Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and either Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture (but not both). The rest are on the table and are subject to trade. The Sharks cannot do this "refresh and reset" BS again otherwise it will be the same result or worse. “Refresh and Reset” only coincides with the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result that ultimately never happens). "Refresh and Reset" is a recipe for future franchise failures. After this loss they have no excuses unless the Stanley Cup means nothing to the franchise which sometimes I wonder about. DW either needs to be willing to change too, or the Sharks need to bring in a strong GM who will make what changes are needed (preferably one who has won a Cup as a GM). Team Teal will have a stain on their franchise now that will take many years to erase. The only thing that will erase this quite frankly is a Stanley Cup Championship. As for Plattner, if he is not willing to speak to even his season ticket holders, then the season ticket holders need to demand he sells the Sharks to someone who can set a strong course for the teal franchise (Oracle Owner Larry Ellison comes to mind). Agree or Disagree, these are my own thoughts on the matter. I've been a Sharks fan since '91 and I have never been more disappointed. It's not that they loss to the Kings again (LA is a damn good team too), it's how they lost. The Sharks are one team who definitely seems incapable of learning from history and thereby are only doomed to repeat it unless they are willing to immediately scrap the franchises philosophy of "Refresh and Reset". It just doesn't work, period.
Doug Wilson Has Had His Chance- I will be the first to say I like Doug Wilson as a person. Wilson was the first “face” of the Sharks franchise from their early expansion days when the team entered the NHL in the 1991-92 season. Wilson as General Manger has made some moves that were shrewd over his time going back 11 years which have made the Sharks perennial contenders. Wilson did lock down both Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture last off season which were both smart moves. It didn’t hurt the team to lock down Raffi Torres to a three year deal either. However at the same time his loyalty to a fault with some players may in the long run have done more to hurt than help the franchise. I may have been in the minority on this, but I feel that signing both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to contract extensions at the trade deadline in retrospect may have been at best premature. It wasn’t as if either player was planning on leaving the franchise at the end of the season. However for some reason DW and the franchise could not wait until after the season to do this. This is not to pin the playoff loss on either Thornton or Marleau alone as it was a collective collapse as a team. Wilson has also made some highly questionable moves in trading away players such as Jamie McGinn for two players who are no longer with the Sharks, one was marginal (TJ Galiardi), and the other never wanted to be here in the first place (Daniel Winnik). The Sharks also lost a top prospect in Michael Sgarbossa in this trade. Sgarbossa could have been a future player of impact with team teal. The story was that McGinn was disrupting the growth and development of Couture. What? Really? Wilson also traded a top prospect in Nick Bonino to the rival Anaheim Ducks for two others players who were less than marginal acquisitions at best (Travis Moen and Kent Huskins). I would also mention Charlie Coyle, however Brent Burns has done a lot more to help the Sharks than hurt them. Wilson had the Wild interested at (Devin) Setogucci. Coyle was basically a throw in.
The bottom line on Doug Wilson is that he has done a lot of good things as the Sharks GM. However at the same time Wilson has this franchise no closer to winning a Stanley Cup today than he did before he became the GM. As much as I like Doug Wilson, I feel he needs to be removed as GM and perhaps reassigned elsewhere in the organization. The Sharks need to bring in a GM who can infuse new blood and life into this franchise and give the fanbase a reason to get excited about this organization once again. I don’t blame Doug Wilson for the Sharks playoff losses, I just don’t feel he’s doing anything that is going to bring this franchise to the next level where they can truly compete for a Stanley Cup Championship. The Sharks clearly may have jumped the gun in resigning both Thornton and Marleau which took away leverage for the greater good of the franchise as a whole. There is no reason to think that Wilson will do anything different at this point. He won’t do what the Sharks need him to do, and that is to change the way in which player acquisition and development is handled. It’s time to for another voice in the GM’s office, and this is something the Sharks must be willing to do if they are to move forward as a franchise especially after how this last campaign ended. If the Sharks do replace Wilson as the GM, they should target someone with a Stanley Cup pedigree such as a Dale Tallon or Ken Holland type GM. Perhaps even making Larry Robinson the GM would not be a bad idea either. Robinson would not be afraid to make needed moves and would force players to leave their ego’s at the door. He’s had a year on the Sharks bench to observe the team and should have a strong grasp on what this team has as well as what it needs to get to the next level. Robinson would be most likely the one man who would not mind keeping McLellan on as the Sharks Head Coach.
Who Should Go?- If Martin Havlat had be spent more time on the ice than in the training room he would have been of value to keep. There is no sense in paying a player $5 million for a season when there is no guarantee he will be there for you come regular season or playoffs. Since Havlat's contract makes him impossible to trade, the Sharks need to buy him out and move on. Dan Boyle has spent his time admirably as a Shark and has been a good role model both on and off the ice. He will be 38 when next season starts. Age may not be a factor with Boyle, however unless he is very willing to take a hometown discount so-to-speak, the Sharks would be best served to move on here too. Antti Niemi has great games, and he also has poor games. So have most other goalies who have ever donned net minders' gear in the NHL. The problem with Niemi however is that he became too erratic when the Sharks needed him most this season. The Sharks would be served best to trade him while he still has good value and while Team Teal can get something for him in return. Alex Stalock should be given ample opportunity to compete for the Sharks top goalie position. There are enough quality goalies that the Sharks can also pursue who may be more reliable under pressure than Niemi has been. As is the case with DW, Niemi too has had his chance. With Thornton and Marleau locked up under no trade clauses, Niemi becomes one of the Sharks most tradable assets. As mentioned earlier, the Sharks have six untouchables aside from Stalock (once resigned). They are Burns, Wingels, Nieto, Hertl, Vlasic and either Pavelski or Couture (but not both). Between the two, Pavelski seems to have emerged to be the better player by the slightest of margins. This is not to say that the Sharks should deal either one, however if the franchise is going to move forward they will need to see what can bring them the biggest return which can help them move forward as a franchise.
Thornton And Marleau- As for Thornton and Marleau, the best example I can think of in comparing one or both them is to Barry Bonds when he played for MLB's San Francisco Giants. During his time with the Giants, Bonds was one of their best players as well as their highest paid player too. The Giants management was also loyal to a fault to Bonds as well. However his attitude effected the team as a whole and was maybe also the one barrier that kept the Giants from competing for a title with the exception of the 2002 season. In short, Bonds career ended with the Giants after the 2007 season. This freed up a lot of cash for the Giants who used the money to sign other free agents and cultivate players in the farm system as well. Long story short the Giants won the world championship three years after Bonds was gone, and he wasn’t missed either. What the Sharks can learn from this is that sometimes the top players in the organization may put people in the seats, but can also be the reason your team isn’t moving forward as well. At some point the Sharks will be forced to cut ties with one or both players. This is coming from someone who owns a Marleau jersey which makes this part very tough for me to write. If the Sharks however had this money freed up, they would be able to be active in getting talent that can get them over the hump and become serious Cup contenders once again.
Team MVP’s- The Sharks playoff MVP was by far Alex Stalock. Stalock was one of the few Sharks who could not be blamed for the teams failures this post season. He kept a 3-0 game in Game 5 versus the Kings from becoming 10-0 after relieving Niemi early in the second period. His team simply broke down mentally in Game 6 (which set the stage for what happened in Game 7). The team MVP is Brent Burns. What Burns did on the ice was be nothing short of being arguably one of the Sharks best leaders, and he will continue to provide the leadership this team needs. Hopefully this will earn him an "A" on his sweater next season. Off of the ice Burns also is involved with Defending The Blue Line which gives back to military families. Burns has been involved with this organization since 2009 back when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. Burns is one professional athlete who understands there is a lot more to life than just the game of hockey itself. He is a role model of a player that many can look up to.
My Two Cents Returns- With the season now over look for My Two Cents to appear here every other week starting with this column. As news events concerning the Sharks and the NHL happen, more columns will appear.
...just my heartfelt two cents...
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