My Two Cents for June 2, 2013...
The Day After- Another season of San Jose Sharks hockey, the truncated 2012-13 version has come and gone. The bad news is that there was no Stanley Cup at the end of the rainbow for the Sharks. The consolation is the Sharks unlike last post season or a few infamous post seasons of the past this time went down with a fight and took it to the last man standing against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. The good news is as painful as this elimination was, this Sharks team probably showed the most of any club before it and truly does have parts they can build on going forward if done the right way. Consider also that four months from today a new season will be born and the Sharks have the opportunity to build on their success of 2012-13. All of this said, a Sharks fan has the right to have guarded optimism or even pessimism heading into the off-season and looking ahead to the 2013-14 season which begins in October. As a Sharks fan, it simply comes with the territory and there really are no two ways around that fact. There are several questions facing team teal in the off-season and it pretty much a guarantee that things are going to happen, and have to a happen if this franchise is looking to take the next step towards building a championship club. If the series against the Los Angeles Kings proved anything, it proved that when the San Jose Sharks are at their best they can play with anyone anytime and anywhere. The Kings may have ultimately won the series but left that series knowing they were in a street fight. Virtually every player on the Kings freely acknowledged that the Sharks by far were their toughest opponent over the last two seasons. The Sharks left it all on the ice which by and large is all I ask of a team win or lose. The Sharks may not have the best roster ever assembled, but their character and valor was huge and made it possible to take the Kings to seven games in the Western Conference Semi-Final series just completed.
Many Things To Consider- The only thing the Sharks can do now as a franchise is take the lessons they learned in the 2012-13 season and put those lessons to good use. The most important thing the Sharks did this year on and off of the ice was hang together as a team. No player was bigger than the organization and there is accountability from within. The majority of the players owned it this season without excuses or complaining with few exceptions. Those who would do otherwise would likely not be here very much longer and certainly won't be around by the time things are said and done. The Sharks as a franchise despite this shortcoming unlike others in past post-seasons actually grew from the experience unlike any other season. The Sharks did not have a post season melt down as they did in previous seasons. Last season the Sharks had their worst post season ever and were only lucky that the were not swept by the St Louis Blues. The Sharks last year had the look of a team that barely belonged on the same ice as the Blues (it was that bad). This season, the Sharks defeated a high seeded Vancouver Canucks team in four games for their first ever post season sweep. They took the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings to seven games, and the champions were only a goal and maybe a save or two better. This two things alone don't bring a Stanley Cup championship to the Silicon Valley. However you get the sense that the Sharks as a franchise have turned a corner. Consider also that the Sharks will have a decent draft this off-season and have the opportunity to start building a team that though will get younger, but has the chance to get better. However to do that organizationally everyone has to be on the same page and be willing to go for it.
Logan Couture is Now the Leader of the Sharks- The first thing the Sharks must do is recognize that this team is now Logan Couture's team, no if's, and's or buts. Joe Thornton is the Captain of the team and will remain the captain at least through next season. However, that piton and the "C" on the sweater will be Couture's within two years. Couture has replaced Patrick Marleau (with all due respect to Marleau) as the Sharks "Go To Guy" when a goal is needed. Couture has been reliable as a goal scorer, has been a great player on defense always willing to dive in front of an opponents shot on goal or even to block a pass. He is easily the Sharks best all around player and has done everything short of playing goalie (they won't ask him to do that). The next time the Sharks roll out the Brinks truck, it should be for Couture. The Sharks need to have Couture if they want to assure the fanbase that they are serious about winning a Stanley Cup in the not to distant future. Couture should at the very minimum be named one of the "Alternate Captains" next season. He's at least earned that much respect. Couture is only 24 and the upside of his career is very strong. Couture at this point is to the Sharks what Sidney Crosby is to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Teal Contributors- Joe Pavelski also has a huge upside and is only three years older than Couture. Pavelski may not be the fastest player on the ice however overall he is one of the Sharks strongest and truest assets. Behind Couture, Pavelski can score from anywhere on the ice at any time and always is going all out to make something happen. Brent Burns has gone from a struggling defenseman to one of the more powerful forwards in the NHL since being moved to that position by Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan early in the season. Burns was seemingly for the first time having fun in a Sharks uniform where last season he clearly struggled. Tommy Wingles is going to be a major part of the Sharks future as he along with Palvelski and Couture goes all out on every shift and has the potential to become one of the team teal leading scorers. Marc-Edouard Vlasic by all accounts had a strong season. He was tough on defense, the penalty kill and on rare occasions would add a goal or two for good measure. Andrew Desjardins along with TJ Galiardi had break through seasons and did far more to contribute than before.
Joe Thornton was Joe Thornton. Now a veteran of many seasons he once again did a strong job in quarterbacking the Sharks offensive attack. Though he will be 34 next season, the Sharks Captain still has shown he can lead and get results when given the opportunity. Dan Boyle, who will be 38 next season, still plays like he's 28. Boyle scored many key goals for the Sharks and assisted in many others. Boyle refuses to let father time dictate terms to him this point and is probably in a good a shape than anyone else on the team. Patrick Marleau is another player who was hot very early in the season and again early in the post season. Whenever Marleau retires a few seasons down the road he will hold several of the Sharks all time marks. In fact most of the marks Marleau holds now may only be broken by one player (Couture). Both Thornton and Marleau will be entering next season in the final years of their respective contracts. Marleau, 36, may not have all the quickness he had 10 years ago, but opponents are still designing game plans against the Sharks with one of the objectives being not to let Marleau beat them.
Brad Stuart returned to the Sharks this season and looked very happy to be back in teal after a long teal hiatus. Stuart still can play a strong game of defense and has years of experience which were a huge benefit for team teal. Adam Burish was scrappy and went hard every shift. Burish may not be the flashiest player on the ice however that is not his "M.O." either. Burish's job is to go out and wreak havoc for the opponent and be that "fly in the ointment" and "pain in the a$$'. That's Burish's role and he does it well. Raffi Torres played for the Sharks for a short time however made impacts that helped carry the team out of a bad 23 game stretch in the middle of the season. Torres not only can be a "fly in the ointment, pain in the a$$" type player to his opponents also, but also has a scoring touch that is undeniable. The only flaw with Torres is the he obviously is not a favorite player to the likes of Commissioner Gary Bettman or the leagues master of discipline in one time player Brendan Shanahan. They showed this post-season sadly for the Sharks that they will suspend Torres at the drop of a hat for any "violation". Aside from that, Torres has shown he can be an asset when he is playing for your team. Scott Hannan held his own and did what he could to help the team teal cause, as did Scott Gomez.
The Niemi Factor- Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was the glue that kept the Sharks together in the regular season, and in particular during their 6-11-6 mid-season swoon. Niemi was the one player that may have been the primary reason the Sharks made the post season let alone a sixth seeding in the Western Conference. Niemi had a few bad games, however he had far more good games than bad. In Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Final Series Against the LA Kings, Niemi's "Refuse to Lose" mode when the Sharks looked shaky late in a tie game was the reason the Sharks got the series to 1-2 and ultimately to seven games. If not for Niemi's efforts in the third period the Sharks may have fallen to 0-3 and would have been done in five games (and this article would also have a decidedly different tone too). Niemi is the Sharks MVP this season (with all due respect to Couture). Niemi is also a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy and there is no really strong argument to eliminate him from the conversation. Niemi is signed through the 2014-15 season and has been nothing short of a strong asset for the Sharks as well.
Underachievers- This is a tough thing to write about because even the worst player on any team got there because he worked his tail off to get there. This is not to knock them, only to note that maybe more was expected of them. Justin Braun probably was the best player in this category. He has room for improvement and can be a top player but he needs to make better decisions on the particularly when he has the puck on his own end of the ice. Other players have been guilty of this too, Braun is not the only one. James Sheppard only scored one goal this season but did better than I thought he would. Last year at this time he looked more like a project and to an extent still is that, but he chased down pucks and maybe with some luck could have had four or five more goals. Matt Irwin is still a very green player at this point and just needs to work on his overall game. He's got a lethal slap shot and will eventually get some goals out of it. Like Braun, he just needs to make better decisions on the ice. Thomas Greiss' primary job on the team is to spell Niemi when he needs a night off. Greiss did his best to fill that role and even had a shut out against Colorado in early season. After that however he had a few bad games and his confidence clearly began to slide. Greiss is at the end of his contract with the Sharks and team teal will need to decide what direction they want to go with from here.
Coaching and Management- Coach Todd McLellan and his staff did about a good of a coaching job as they possibly could. McLellan has wrapped up his fifth season as the Sharks head man and has become the franchise's all time winningest coach. However McLellan would also be the first one to tell you that this is not what his objective is either. He wants to win a Cup too and has had the "Patience of Jobe" up until now. McLellan in my mind did nothing that would warrant him losing his job and shouldn't. The only person right now that could replace him if you even want to entertain that idea would be Special Assistant Larry Robinson, who has said many times he's not interested in the Head Coaching position. The Sharks need to extent McLellan as he has done an overall decent job all things considered. Doug Wilson has made some risky moves to be certain and some have cost the team in future prospects (Charlie Coyle). However, this year DW has also through daring trades that brought stability to the team during the season has come away setting up the Sharks well in the upcoming draft later in June. Team teal will have four picks over the first two rounds of this summer's NHL draft. Also Thomas Hertl who was the Sharks 2012 top draft pick will have a shot possibly at making the team or at least getting himself ready though the Sharks AHL team in Worcester.
Cutting Loses- It's probably safe to say at this point the Martin Havlat has played his final game as a San Jose Shark. The Sharks may have to do an "Amnesty Buy-Out" of Havlat's contract which still requires the team to pay off 2/3's of it's value. Havlat's contract is $5 Million per season in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Getting Havlat from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for ex-Shark Dany Heatly was simply the trade off of two bad contracts. The Sharks cannot afford to pay a player who has spent the majority of time on the disabled list. Since Havlat gets paid whether or not he plays, and AFLAC isn't an option here, the Sharks have to make a money wise decision. Another aspect is that new Sharks Owner Hasso Plattner may not be too crazy about keeping a player on the payroll who hardly is able to play. Havlat in the post season only played sparingly in both game one's of the Vancouver Canucks and LA Kings' series. The Sharks could have made better use of the $5 Million per year (Pavelski and Couture come to mind).
Meet The New Boss- Sharks Primary Owner Hasso Plattner took over as the majority owner of team teal back in January. Plattner since taking ownership of the team has refused to publicly comment about the team at least during the season. Now that the season has ended Plattner now becomes more of a focal point (whether he wants to be or not, but he bought out others for the top seat of power and now he has it). Simply put absolutely nobody knows what Plattner's take is on the season and post season efforts. He has not made any statements what-so-ever. I have a pretty good idea that by the time the next season rolls around in October we will all have a pretty good idea of what kind of owner Plattner will be. Plattner did not become the founder of SAP Corporation for no reason and did not get to where he is today by settling for less. I'm hoping that he understands the Sharks fanbase and the team as well with respect for what the ultimate objective in the NHL is, winning the Stanley Cup. This is Plattner's chance to shine however he must be willing and able to take the reins and have a strong vision of what he wants the San Jose Sharks to be. Plattner should first assure the season ticket holders (who I view as shareholders of a franchise) that their disposable income here is well spent and he has the objective of rewarding the fans for their patience and will work tirelessly to see this franchise to a championship. This is not to guarantee a Stanley Cup (you can never do that), but just to assure the fans that this is the objective going forward. Plattner is on the clock, so the time for him to come forward to the fanbase and team is now. They need him to do this too.
Conference Finals- The Conference finals are underway. The Kingshark Line has the Blackhawks and Penguins advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the WFC the Blackhawks will throw a lot more pucks at Jonathan Quick that the Sharks (again with all due respect) and have more ways to score and very strong skill players. The Kings will certainly fight for everything they can get. Chicago just seems to have more of an edge offensively and can play defense as well as the Kings. In the ECF, the Penguins also have more offensive fire power however know they will have their hands full with the Bruins, and who wouldn't? Whoever comes out of this Conference Finals and moves on to the Stanley Cup Finals, it appears that the Stanley Cup Finals will not disappoint.
Special Note- With this column "My Two Cents" now will appear once a week each weekend up until the Sharks 2013-14 season begins. At that time this column will appear either once a week or whenever the Sharks have a three day break in their schedule.
...Just My Two Cents...
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