Monday, May 24, 2010
What do the Sharks do from here?
The San Jose Sharks have once again disappointed fans in the post-season. It's not shameful to lose to the current Chicago Blackhawks team, but to go out in 4 straight, and get out worked in every aspect of the game is. The Sharks were consistently outworked in front of their own net, behind the net, beaten to loose pucks, and Antti Niemi seriously outplayed Evgeni Nabakov. Since the lockout, the Sharks have failed to reach 100 points only once, a 99 point season in the 05-06 campaign and have finished 1st or 2nd in the Pacific Division. Yet only this season have the Sharks advanced to the Conference Finals. San Jose was ousted in the first or second round the previous four seasons.
When most fans look at the Sharks, they seem surprised as to why this team hasn't won more in the playoffs. Let's break apart this team and see what went wrong:
1. No depth. As good as the Sharks top 6 players are, their bottom six are so weak (Malhotra excluded) that Sharks coach Todd McLellan went with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards for their playoff series against Chicago. You can't trot out players like Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell and expect to be able to roll four lines with the NHL's best.
2. Poor defense. The Sharks have very good defensemen. Rob Blake, Doug Murray, Dan Boyle and Marc Vlasic can match up with just about everyone in the NHL. However, the drop off after that is staggering. Kent Huskins, Jason Demers (give him the benefit of the doubt only 21 yrs old) and Niclas Wallin are brutal. And coach McLellan dresses all of them? We will get to him later. As good as the top four are, outside of Murray, the Sharks defense and team is very reluctant to get to the dirty areas to prevent the opposition from scoring. Chicago's series clincher was a perfect example. Vlasic didn't even attempt to put a body on Byfuglien and take nothing away from Dustin, but that was a goal my cat could have swatted in with his paw.
3. Evgeni Nabokov. Once again, Nabokov was heavily outplayed in a series. Nabokov gave up 2 softies in game 1, another in game 2 and Antti Niemi was flat out better. For a guy that rumor has it, whines like a child when he isn't the starter for the Sharks, his play hasn't backed it up. Nabokov now, especially in big games can be labeled as an underachiever. Just ask people in Russia how the Olympics went. The other issue with Nabokov is the amount of games he plays. He played 71 games during the regular season, then played in the Olympics. It would be very impressive for Nabokov to feel his best after such a rigorous schedule. Playing that many games is ultimately on the coach. We'll get to him soon.
4. Todd McClellan. McLellan is known for his offensive knowledge. As assistant coach with Detroit, the Red Wings reeled off impressive power plays during his coaching tenure. I'm not sure McLellan has the Sharks playing tough enough or if his defensive structure is playoff tested. Let's be honest, after winning the President's Trophy last season, they lost in the first round to the 8th seeded Anaheim Ducks and this season's Conference Finals drubbing, the Sharks are missing some important pieces and a better coach could be one of them.
5. Joe Thornton. When watching Thornton play for the Bruins, and hearing the rumblings that he wasn't the best locker room guy I immediately thought the Sharks were doomed when the acquired him. Now the Sharks and Thornton have had their regular season success, No Show Joe proved himself once again. A whopping 1 assist in the series against the Hawks and a -11 for the playoffs. -11??!?! Nice job Joe. Way to step it up. In 91 career playoff games, Thornton has 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points. For a player that averages over a point a game during the regular season, these numbers are alarming for any Sharks fan that still holds hope he can lead them to the Stanley Cup.
6. Dany Heatley. After Heatley held out in Ottawa, the Sharks took a chance with this star's me first attitude. Heatley put up 39 goals and 82 points during the regular season but scored only twice in 15 playoff games. He was also a -7 during the playoffs and looked disinterested during the 4 game sweep.
So where do the Sharks go from here? Three major players become UFA's this offseason. Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Marleau. That's 16 million in cap space. All together about 20 million is coming off the books for the Sharks this offseason. They have many options on where and how to spend this money. Will Evgeni Nabokov come back? I wouldn't give him 6 million a year again to put up average numbers in games where it matters most. What about Patrick Marleau? For all the negative bashing we have done to the Sharks in this post, one positive has to be Patrick Marleau. Here is a guy who got his Captaincy stripped from him and yet was the only player outside of Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski to show up for the Sharks during the entire playoff run. Marleau has been unfairly blamed as the scapegoat during the past few seasons and has done everything this fan base and team could have asked him for.
Rob Blake? Does he retire? Does he have enough left?
If the Sharks fill their needs by re-signing Marleau and Nabokov, and adding 2 tough, stay at home defensemen would it still be enough to win the West? The Western Conference and Pacific Division is getting tougher. The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are two teams that will look to improve next season. The Canucks, Blackhawks and Red Wings will all be thinking they can reach the Stanley Cup Finals next season as well.
Is the current Sharks run over? Do they learn from their mistakes and rebuild for the future or do they give it another go with some tweaking? Bottom line, the great fans of San Jose deserve better. Although the Sharks don't have the storied history like Montreal and are still a young franchise, the fans show up every night in that Tech driven city to root on their team. I hope the powers at be get things right and their fans witness some post-season success.
If you were Sharks GM Doug Wilson, what would you do to fix the Sharks?