My Two Cents for March 24th:
Teal Twilight- When Doug Wilson took over for Dean Lombardi as General Manager of the San Jose Sharks on May 13th, 2003, he came in with a plan to build the Sharks up into a viable Stanley Cup Contender. Wilson in the beginning wanted to build the Sharks up not only to be a title contender, but also wanted to cultivate a winning environment that would be sustained within the organization for many seasons to come along. Wilson had a good plan and for many seasons it looked it may be the formula that would bring the Stanley Cup to San Jose. Wilson's philosophy was in the beginning was to bring in impact players but at the same time grow and cultivate talent within the organization. The plan for awhile actually worked pretty well and seemed to pay dividends that could deliver the sought after Holy Grail of Hockey. Now, to be fair Wilson never guaranteed this formula would result in the Sharks winning the Cup. No sane man would ever make such a lofty guarantee, nor should that be expected. When Wilson came into the GM's chair, he had to make some tough decisions including the trading of then team Captain Owen Nolan. In the 2005-06 season he brought in Joe Thornton via trade to infuse new blood into the line up. In between this, you had the Sharks team that went to the Western Conference Finals against Calgary in 2003-04. There was also ofcourse the lost season of 2004-05, and who knows what could have happened there had their actually had been a season (thanks Mr. Bettman).
Wilson did not bring bad ideas to the organization. However at the same time recent years have seen a clear drop off in the teams play. The Sharks last real good look at a possible Stanley Cup finals appearance ended two seasons ago when team teal dropped a five game Western Conference Finals to the Vancouver Canucks. There was a fairly noticeable drop off in the Sharks play from last season. This season even a lockout abbreviated season could not mask the Sharks flaws as a team. After winning their first seven games of the shortened 2012-13 campaign, the Sharks have dropped 17 of their last 23 (counting the six overtime and shootout losses). Team teal is clearly taking on a lot of water and this time it may be more than they can handle. The Sharks are not a team that is built on a group of just average hockey players. Quite the opposite, the Sharks are built on a roster of star caliber players. There are a lot of teams that would love to have players such as Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi, and Logan Couture to name a few. If you remember last seasons trade deadline and later the offseason, the Sharks were looking to possibly acquire Rick Nash from Columbus. However the Blue Jackets made it clear that unless Couture was part of the trade, there was no trade. The Sharks stuck to their guns and in the long run are better served for it.
At the same time, the Sharks have also made some poor decisions in the draft and in recent trades. No Sharks players drafted between 2009 and this season have made the parent club. In 2005 the Sharks passed on Anze Kopitar as they had their heart set on signing a rookie free agent, Steve Bernier. In February 2008, Bernier was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a disgruntled Brian Campbell who showed some flashes but was clearly playing for a contract...elsewhere. Campbell bolted from the Sharks the first chance he got signing with the Chicago Blackhawks, and winning a ring two seasons later in part at the Sharks expense (basically getting the last laugh on Wilson, the fans and the entire organization. Campbell will probably go down as the most hated ex-Shark by the fanbase next to Ed Belfour, not that he cares anyway). There was the trade that send two summers ago that sent Devin Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild for Brent Burns. The two players being swapped by themselves would have probably been enough, but most Sharks fans are a little more bent that former number one draft choice Charlie Coyle was thrown in by the Sharks to sweeten the deal for the Wild. In retrospect, sending Coyle to the Wild may have meant the Sharks bit off more than they can chew (no pun intended). Speaking of wild, last years' trade deadline shocker was the Sharks sending a promising stalwart in Jamie McGinn to Colorado for Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi. A year later, McGinn has emerged as one of the leaders of the Avalanche while Galiardi is basically an average player for the Sharks. Winnik meanwhile was not retained by the Sharks and he decided to go south and join the arch rival Ducks, where he has had a career revival with a team that will likely go deep into the post season.
Today the Sharks are at a crossroads as a franchise no matter how one cares to slice it. The Sharks are a talented roster that for whatever reason just cannot put together any stretch of consistency. The Sharks have only scored three goals or more in 13 of 30 games and have been shut out three times. The Sharks are ranked overall 19th amongst the NHL's 30 teams. Team teal's power play ranks 17th in the NHL, just 30 of 126 attempts despite one stretch where they went just 5 of 64. The only thing that may even be keeping the Sharks in the Western Conference race at all is the fact that they have the fourth best penalty kill in the NHL. If the penalty kill was even in the middle of the pack, the Sharks likely would be near the bottom of the pack in the overall Western Conference Standings.**
Difficult Decisions Ahead- With the trading deadline less than two weeks away (April 3rd), the Sharks have a lot of decisions they are going to have to make and may have to be very well prepared to live with those decisions for some time to come. Do the Sharks stay the course and try to see what they can do over the next 17 games, and hope to sneak into the post season then catch lightning in the bottle as the LA Kings did last season, or do they start to realize that a rebuild may be eminent at this point and start to address something that will eventually have to happen, like it or not. If the Sharks do decide to make trade deadline moves, are they buyers or sellers? Who is staying? Who is going? What about the salary cap? The Sharks do not have to make all of these decisions by April 3rd. However, they better by that time have a pretty good idea of where they want to go as a franchise going forward.
My own thought is because this is a shortened season, the Sharks are not going to break themselves to try and get a low seed playoff spot just to get run in four or five games as they did last season. If a "house cleaning" is to take shape, that will likely take place after seasons' end. One argument for a house cleaning may be this, take a look at the Calgary Flames. That's the direction the Sharks are heading if they decide to do nothing as an organization. The Sharks as an organization have every right to that choice, it just would not be a smart one and would piss off a good number of the season ticket holders and the fan base as a whole.
If the Sharks decide to go with the house cleaning option, this would signify a huge shake-up in the Sharks organization. New majority owner Hasso Plattner has been mum about his thoughts on the organization. Nobody except for Mr. Plattner himself knows what he's thinking and likely wont speak until he feels its time to do so. If that happens, that would be in the offseason. One of the decisions Plattner may have to make is how much power he will allow Doug Wilson to keep, and if there needs to be a change in the coaching ranks, or if things should just be left alone there or at least left up to Wilson. As for Wilson, he needs to at minimum take a long and hard look at the entire organization, and not just in San Jose. Worchester has held it's own however the fact that the Sharks don't have a player drafted in 2009 or later with the big club at least for a "cup of coffee" indicates there is not much confidence in these players or the way they are being developed or conditioned.
Even keeping Doug Wilson on a General Manager could be one decision Plattner would have to contemplate. The pro in keeping Wilson is that he has been a long time fixture with the Sharks organization right down to being their first ever team Captain. Wilson has made the Sharks contenders year in and year out despite the team never winning a Cup. The con is that Wilson has traded away valuable commodities who were helping the team at the times they were traded, and has in the process given away parts of the farm that may have been invaluable. These are things the Sharks can never recoup or get back. In the last six years, two of the Sharks Southern California rivals in Los Angeles (Kings) and Anaheim have booth won cups, with the arch rival Ducks looking like a strong candidate to add a second cup soon. Wilson's teams as they are now are just streaky goal scores who once they go cold either stay that way or never can find their consistency as an ensemble again. They cannot compete when it matters most against the Kings, Ducks, Blackhawks, and even at times the Blues or Red Wings. As much as Wilson as done for the Sharks organization, one can also say that "he (Wilson) has had his chance" and it may be time to bring in some new blood at the top. It's entirely possible given the state of the minor league operations that those organizations may also need to be rebuilt. If so, that means they would have to be rebuilt first. In the end, it could very well be a case of the Sharks being unable to live up to the standards of excellence they had set for themselves as a franchise almost ten years ago.
Western Conference Races- The shortened season looks like it will at least give most fans what they want to see, a very tight playoff race which for many teams could come down to the final days of the season if not the final day. The only two team right now that are a mortal lock for the post season in the west are the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks did not suffer a regulation loss until their 25th game of this season, and the Ducks after 30 games have only four regulation losses. The Ducks up until a Friday night home loss to Detroit had a 13 game winning streak at the Honda Center. The Blackhawks and Ducks have dominated most opponents this season and have also done what is key to being a cup contender, winning the close games and delivering as a team in the clutch when it matters most. If the Blackhawks and the Ducks are not both in this seasons' Western Conference Finals this year, even the absence of one of them would take a huge upset in the post season at this point.
As for the rest of the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild have come on strong over their last 20 games and have a 14-5-1 mark over that stretch. This has carried them to the number three seeding in the Western Conference and the lead in the Northwest Division. Meanwhile Vancouver, Los Angeles, Detroit and St Louis are also jockeying for position in the post season. These four teams I feel will all land in the post season. If the Wild falters, there is still time for Vancouver to over take them in the Northwest division and capture the three seeding. That would leave the Kings, Red Wings and Blues to fight for seedings five, six and seven. Where they will end up is anyone's guess, however I feel none of those three will finish any lower than seventh. This leaves the eight seed as the final playoff seeding and this is completely up for grabs. The eighth seed doesn't mean certain death in the post seasons as the LA Kings proved last season. Sometimes, it's just getting in and hopefully things start to go your way and you come together as a team. However, the Kings were not a bad team to begin with and got the best draw possible as things worked out for them, especially the part of getting hot at the right time by going 16-2 in the post season.
The eighth seed will most likely come down to be one of the three following teams...the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, or the Nashville Predators. It is clearly a toss up between the three. If the teams end up on a three way tie based on total points after 48 games, the Stars would win the tie breaker based on games won in regulation. In 30 games played, the Sharks have won only 13 games. Only eight of their 13 wins have come in regulation. Nashville has 11 wins in regulation, Dallas has 14 to date. If the Sharks wish to make the playoffs at this point, it will have to be on the bases of total points since they will lose out on all key tie breakers. The Sharks had better start finding wins quickly or they're clearing out their lockers on April 28th, with a good number of them doing so for the last time as a member of the Sharks.
As for Phoenix, Columbus, Edmonton, Calgary, and Colorado... Phoenix: Just too inconsistent despite strong goal tending; Columbus: Has a shot and can still be a surprise; Edmonton: One Year Away, will take experience of this season as a spring board for 2013-14; Calgary: Just like the Sharks, just two years further out on delayed rebuild; Colorado: Too inconsistent, better than they've showed.
Eastern Conference Race- The race on the East looks like it will have its own excitement and intensity as the things start to heat up before the final stretch of this truncated season in the month of April. The Pittsburgh Penguins right now lead the Eastern Conference with 48 points, while the surprising Montreal Canadians are holding the second seed in the conference with 45 points. The Southeast Division of the NHL seems to be the one division in all of the NHL this year where several teams have under performed or just flat under achieved. The Winnipeg Jets lead the Southeast Division, despite having only 34 points. The second place team in the Southeast is the Carolina Hurricanes who have 33 points and are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference standings. Other Southeast Division teams, the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers have just grossly under performed with both Florida teams virtually out of serious contention at this point.
Sitting in the fourth position in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Bruins 43 points. The Northeast Division of the NHL is by far the most competitive neck and neck division in the league. Behind the Bruins are the Ottawa Senators (40 points), and Toronto Maple Leafs (37 points) who are currently fifth and sixth respectively. The Atlantic Division's second place team, the New Jersey Devils are sitting at the seventh spot currently with 36 points. With Pittsburgh at 48 points, the Penguins already appear to have their division well in hand. Don't forget that the Devils last year went to the Stanley Cup final out of the Eastern Conference as a sixth seed. As for the rest of the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers who were picked by most as the team to come out of the east this year and compete for the Stanley Cup title are situated in 9th place behind eight seed Carolina. Both teams have 32 points, the Hurricanes have 3 more wins in regulation (15 to 12). Buffalo sits at 10th place with 30 points, however is way too inconsistent in the eyes of most to make a serious playoff run. The Washington Capitals are 11th and are the one team that maybe living less up to their expectations than say the Sharks in the Western Conference. Just 29 points and five out of first in the Southeast Division, the Capitals are just too streaky and inconsistent. However, the Caps also just had two statement wins in Winnipeg this week, so don't count them out just yet. The 12th thru 15th teams, the NY Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay and Florida may as well start making plans for 2013-14 and look at this shortened season as an extended preseason for next year. The only thing going on for these four teams now is players playing for jobs next season.
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Next My Two Cents: April 8th 2013 ...