Friday, January 25, 2013

San Jose Sharks: the Quest for the Cup

For the home opener for the San Jose Sharks (January 24, 2013 because I'm going to forget the date months from now), my favorite local sports radio station, 95.7 the Game, sent the fantastic duo of Chris Townsend and Ric Bucher to do their afternoon show from the Tank. During their interviews with some of the Sharks media, they posed a very interesting question: "Is the window for the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup closing?" At first, I felt like yelling, "Absolutely, yes!" However, I was wearing my headphones and within listening distance of other people, so I refrained. As I listened to play-by-play man Randy Hahn and radio broadcaster Dan Rusanowski, I realized that it was a little more complex.

I believe the answer to the query is both yes and no. Hahn and Rusanowski both felt that the window of opportunity to win the Cup was not closing because the Sharks have a new core of young players emerging. This is precisely true. Youngsters like Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Antti Niemi are the players who will keep that window open. All of these players have proven talent and will most likely be the veteran core of the future. As Hahn and Rusanowski pointed out, it would be counter-productive to rebuild the team. The Sharks have not exhausted their options through free agency and do not have collect first-round draft picks the way Belichick hoards cut-off hoodies the way the Oilers did. They have a future already put in place. The best part is that the goaltender is young and has won a Stanley Cup. He knows how to step up his game and live up to the moment. Not to mention both offense and defense has rising stars. Unlike the Detroit Red Wings who lost Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Stuart within the last few years (not to mention Holmstrom on offense), the Sharks have Pickles and Chewbacca on Ice ( who will be able to step up when it comes time for Boyle to retire. The Sharks have positioned themselves well in order to extend the window of opportunity to bring Sir Stanley's Cup to San Jose for the first time.

However, I do believe that the Sharks organization is hoping to close in on that elusive prize in the near future. When San Jose refrained from any big, splashy free agents during the 2012 offseason (besides their pursuit of Rick Nash, which was a no-go since the asking price was Logan Couture), they acquired Adam Burish from the Dallas Stars. While he is more of a third or fourth line skater, he brings a more aggressive game, which seems to be the trend in the NHL and especially in the Pacific Division. When Vancouver was pompous enough to trade Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian of the Buffalo Sabres, this sent a clear message. The Canucks, sitting on top of the league, was trading a young, talented goalscorer for a gritty player with heart. The team with the best record felt that the way to keep winning is to get more pesty. Buffalo later added Steve Ott to the team, another pesty player who can find the back of the net. Looking at the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings, both in the Pacific Division, proved that scoring and a shut-down defense were not enough to win it all. Teams needed to have that nasty edge, that aggressive play to win. There doesn't need to be more fights, but a team has to show a physical dominance, not allowing the opposition to push it around. Dustin Brown, the captain of the Los Angeles Kings, contributes on offense but does not rank in the elite goal scorers, but he often leads the leagues in hits. Ryane Clowe is that type of a player for the Sharks. He can score and is not afraid to get in the other team's face. Adam Burish is a great acquisition for San Jose because outside of Clowe and Douglas Murray, they didn't have a lot of players with an edge. More recently, the signing of Scott Gomez is further proof that the Sharks are serious about making those changes in the third and fourth line to make a run at the Cup. Adding these physical players may give them more of an edge when they meet rivals like the LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, or Vancouver Canucks.

While these acquisitions are more like the icing on the cake to make a serious run at the Cup, what really helps the Sharks is that they are able to keep that core. Consistency within the top lines and key players has been part of the formula of their success. They have been able to keep Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Dan Boyle. These are stellar players who have tremendous talent and know how to play together. Unlike the Flyers or Rangers who seem to continue to make rather large changes to their roster in an effort to improve the team (which does and does not pay off at times or at least to the extent they project it will), the Sharks use that familiarity among the top scorers to their advantage. By keeping these key players together, San Jose creates this great synergy that translates into usually long runs in the playoffs.

Because the Sharks are addressing short-term and long-term needs in their quest for the Cup, fans should be proud their organization is one of the few in the NHL making solid decisions on both fronts. San Jose has been furthering their efforts to attain the Cup within the next few years, but they are not sacrificing their ability to contend for years to come.


  1. Oh wow. I wish I had been aware of this article back in January when you wrote it.
    I was excited for the season to start at the time because I felt like this might be the best opportunity the Sharks had to finally get over the hump and find their way into the Stanley Cup finals.
    It started off well, with the team ripping off 7 straight wins and Marleau being a scoring machine.
    Something went wrong after that and the team stumbled. They couldn't get any momentum or consistency going and ended up trading wins and losses for a good part of two months. For a while it seemed they were in danger of missing the play-offs, and the topic of the day became whether or not the team should shift into sell mode.
    Fortunately Doug Wilson is a very capable GMand had other plans. He moved some guys with expiring contracts for draft picks and also acquired Raffi Torres (which I thought might have been the best move of all --- a guy like Torres would provide the kind of toughness the team has often lacked).
    They rallied to make a run to the pay-offs (though they did stumble the final week and blew their shot at home ice in the first round).
    I actually wasn't disappointed with their holding the 6th seed because I felt Vancouver was an easier draw for them. They proved that by sweeping them.
    Where the loss if home ice but them was in the next round against the Kings. In reality, they should have won the series (they should not have blown game 2) and had they held home ice I think they absolutely would have moved on to the conference finals.
    Anyway, it is interesting to see how accurate your assessment was.
    Keep up the good work.


  2. Thank you so much for checking out the rest of the blog! I very much appreciate that. I am glad that you also posted a comment! I love to get feedback. I did have to go back and read what I had written because it had been a while.

    Sharks fans like you should be hopeful and not feel the pressure of the clock too much. It was unbelievable how the Sharks began this season with those seven wins. I talked to a source who revealed to me that the owner, Hasso Plattner, stopped by to speak with the team right after that lightning start. Apparently, he stressed the importance of the Sharks being a "winning organization," which may have put too much pressure on the team and explains why they seemed to struggle so much after that. I did not hear this from a player, but this was something that was going around the front office. I'm guessing that there is some truth to it, whether players are willing to admit it or not.

    I agree with you on Wilson. He has made some great decisions, but I think the Jamie McGinn trade will come to haunt him. Can you imagine McGinn on this team now? However, I will say this. That move was a catch-22. He couldn't keep Ginner because he was a player who could do more but wouldn't be able to move onto a top line on this team with the players already in place. Wilson had to move him, and at the time, he got the best deal. I liked Winnik and Galiardi because they had that grit, and I was sorry to see it not work out for Winnik. I think Ginner is more talented than Gali, but I believe that he does add depth to a team that needs it. I would imagine trading Clowe was difficult, but I definitely feel that this will help the team. Adding Torres was definitely a coupe, considering the interest. I am still not sold on whether or not he is a long-term solution. You are right on the money when you say, "he adds the toughness the team has often lacked," and he put an extra jump in the team. However, I'm not sure if the a team is better served with a player who has a bit more offensive prowess. I heard through the rumor mill that Danny Briere will be bought out by the Flyers. If the Sharks can bring him down to the right salary, I think they should take him. He's pesky despite his smaller stature and can score, but again, they'd have to find the right number.

    Another problem the Sharks will need to solve is how to beat the Blues. This season they narrowly escaped facing the Blues by losing to the Kings in the final game of the season, but the Blues appear to be a team that will stay in the mix. If the Sharks had played them in the first round, I have a feeling they would have lost and bowed out in the first. I think the Sharks would have won at least game, more likely two, but still have lost. Sharks cannot have a team that has their number the way that the Blues do, but I think as they compete against each other more and more, even during the regular season, the Sharks will find a way to beat them more consistently.

    It is going to be interesting next season with realignment. I think the division just got more competitive if you can believe that! I'm not exactly sure what to expect yet, but I'm sure the Sharks will once again be in the playoff hunt. Again, thank you so much for the feedback. Hope you keep reading!!