May 16, 2009
Do the math... 117 is less
playoff exit is no surprise, explains Dennis Bernstein.
[LOS ANGELES, CA] -- If you're a hockey
fan in Northern California, you should have seen it coming. If you're
sitting in Gilroy with a Patrick Marleau jersey hanging in your
closet, you should have known better. If you've made road trips from
Cupertino to Anaheim to witness your beloved Team Teal play a road
playoff game, you can't be shocked. If you've held season tickets in
the Shark Tank for the past decade, this can't be a surprise.
The San Jose Sharks set statistical records and won the President’s
Trophy as the NHL’s best team, but it was them and not their
opponents, the Anaheim Ducks who played like an eight seed in their
Western Conference quarter final series.
With Stanley Cup winners Rob Blake and
Dan Boyle augmenting the back line and Marleau and Joe Thornton
leading a crew of deep and talented forwards, Sharks’ fans finally
believed they had the team to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup
Detroit Red Wings. They had a major upgrade behind the bench as well
with hard working former Wings’ assistant Todd McLellan replacing the
smug and inefficient Ron Wilson.
With McLellan coming directly from the
winning culture in Hockeytown, he would be the chosen one to eliminate
those years of underachieving.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Sharks improved their regular
season record, arcing from 99 points in the 2005-’06 season to an eye
While that’s good news by the South Bay
and most fans around the league would trade franchises straight up,
the far worse news is that those four years saw the Sharks fail to
advance past the second round of the playoffs with this elimination
being the worst. On the morning of April 28, they stand no better than
the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues or Columbus Blue Jackets.
Truth be told, the Ducks were a .500
team for most of the season and had major chemistry challenges by
virtue of GM Bob Murray’s wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline.
While the Sharks were settled as Game 1 approached, Anaheim backers
had major concerns about a team that only started to gel the last 15
games of the regular season. Both sides came to find that while talent
and chemistry is important, it’s more important to have winning
One can make the caser the Ducks were arguably the best number eight
seed since the post season tournament went to a field of sixteen. With
that said, the Ducks became only the fifth team to upset the NHL’s
best regular season team in the first round since the Expansion Era
began defined as the 1967-68 season. In the Ducks’ muted post game
celebration, we talked to Teemu Selanne and Ryan Whitney and neither
of them considered the triumph an upset of major proportions.
"We’re not your typical number eight,"
the Finnish Flash said at the time, while the recent acquisition from
Pittsburgh chimed in: "No one in this room thought this was an upset."
But the guys in the other room, well, upset wouldn’t start to describe
their emotions as they prepared for their short trek back to Silicon
Valley for the last time this season. Boyle, one of the few in the
room that is a proud owner of a Cup ring, ran the gamut of emotions.
His look was one of bewilderment, anger and sadness rolled into one as
he expressed his thoughts on where it went wrong.
"They were the better team to a man.
Their goalie was better than ours, their defense was better than ours
and their forwards were better than ours. We had a lot of chances in
six games but we missed a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the
net. They executed better than we did. We had a great regular season
but a very disappointing playoff," Boyle conveyed while only failing
to assess the performance of San Jose’s equipment managers.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, decisively outplayed in the Anaheim net by
relative unknown Jonas Hiller, refused to take responsibility for the
loss and preferred to turn to stating the obvious.
"The bottom line is they were a better
team than us. We battled, we fought but losing the first two games at
home, that was the key. I hate to go back to last year but it’s the
same thing, against Dallas we went down 2-0. You lose two games and
you go down and it's hard," the Russian netminder reasoned.
How about taking a responsibility for
not stealing a game or two for your team like the great ones do?
Rob Blake sat on his stool and didn’t offer up much, but that’s not to
be expected in the role of mercenary. As Sharks’ fans painfully
learned, that’s what mercenaries do; do the job, don’t get emotionally
involved and cash the check. After an awful 2007-08 season in Los
Angeles, Blake had the great benefit of extracting a $5 million,
one-year deal from GM Doug Wilson in the hope of bringing leadership
and championship experience in the room. With his season ended and at
38 years of age, the only remaining motivation for Blake is the
possibility of finding another NHL general manager who doesn’t
recognize that his days as a game changer are long gone.
Most noticeable by his absence was Thornton, again a failure in the
post-season and facing the reality that there may be nothing he can do
at this point to eliminate the tag of playoff non-performer. He even
tried to get in Ryan Getzlaf’s face at the start of Game 5 and all it
got for him was a punch in the face at the opening faceoff of the
elimination game. He was vastly outplayed by Getzlaf in crunch time
and that advantage was a deciding factor in the series.
The emotion of the moment and the burden
of his non-performance in the playoffs proved too much for the
normally affable Thornton as he chose to dress in a restricted section
of the locker room and avoided the media who were ready with the
obvious questions. But for all the flaming that both Sharks and
non-Sharks fans will rain down on Thornton, you can’t say he doesn’t
care. If anything, he cares too much about his flawed legacy in the
game and that might be the prime cause of his strife and apprehension
in the second season.
I'm not so sure about their captain.
Marleau emerged from the dressing area in the visitor’s locker room
looking as if his team just lost a meaningless home game to Phoenix in
January. His face was devoid of emotion; he wasn’t angry or sad, never
raised his tone of voice above a hush and had few answers but many
clichés regarding the demise of the team he leads.
"We needed to a better job in putting
the pucks in the back of the net. We let opportunities slip away and
you have to rise when they happen. It’s disappointing and that’s all I
can say," using words that will never mistake him for Mark Messier or
While he scored both game winners for
San Jose, he was nowhere to be found in Game 6, mustering up only one
shot while taking a hooking penalty that led to the Ducks’ opening
goal. Marleau is certainly dignified and respectful but shouldn’t your
leader either be enraged or depressed at such a grand failure?
So as an excruciatingly long post season for the San Jose organization
and its fan base starts, what remedies can there be for an
organization that drafts and develops players as good as any but fails
more spectacularly than any?
The players offered up nothing; when we
posed the question to Marleau about change, without blinking he
offered, "It’s not up to me."
No, Patrick but it was up to you at the
start of the series, wasn’t it?
We’ll suggest some solutions but one of them won’t be a shake up of
management. From GM Wilson on down to the stick boy, the San Jose
organization has class and although this loss is the most devastating
in franchise history, it was handled with their heads up. This
includes the coach; as McLellan was out-coached and outfoxed at every
turn by the Ducks’ Randy Carlyle, especially with his line
combinations. It’s best served for McLellan if he juxtaposes this
failure with his success with Detroit to find a thread (other than
bringing in winning players) to winning with this team. But the fans
and the organization know there’s no time left for classy losers.
Say no to imports
Wilson’s continuing experiment with aged
veterans should be shut down. The past-his-prime 38 year old Blake was
in it for the money, a game but finished Jeremy Roenick will ride into
the sunset without a Cup and a 42 year old Lemieux can only tell
stories about how he won games for the Devils, Canadiens and Avs.
These days you’ve got to be able to lead and play, not recant ghosts
of greatness past.
Competition is always healthy
If you’d tried to name the last time
Nabokov stole a game for the Sharks in the playoffs in net, you
probably still thinking. With his inability to outplay Hiller, he now
stands with Mikka Kiprusoff as a nominee for most overrated goaltender
in the NHL. It now appears that this goaltender is simply a function
of the team and system for which he plays and not a superior talent.
GM Wilson needs to bring in a strong number two goalie (or even
another number one in a Marleau deal) to reduce his regular season
load to 50. Perhaps less regular season stress would bring better post
season success because something has to change.
Neither one of us wants to say goodbye
This is the biggest move; it’s got to be
either Marleau or Thornton who goes in the summer time. Both players
are 28 years old and while in their hockey primes, team chemistry AND
performance has to be better in the playoffs. These two players
combined body of work proves they can’t carry the load in this
For those who have seen enough of Jumbo
Joe’s failures and want to vote him off the island, the dollar and
cent reality is that he has two years left on a deal that pays him
$7.2 million a year. The remaining length and number of his him harder
to deal than Marleau. Patrick has only one year left on his deal at
$6.3 million and a bigger issue than contract status is the fact that
he’s ill-suited for the “C”. His lack of fire and personality is not
what this team needs in the room before they stride down the corridor
to face an elimination game.
This team doesn’t take his lead by his
play on the ice, so there’s time for a stronger voice (Shane Doan via
trade?) in the room. To keep him and ask him to step down from the
captaincy would cause further embarrassment and force him deeper into
a shell, so a fresh start in a new city is best for all parties. If
Thornton is the one to stay, he’s shouldn’t be given the burden of
carrying the C either, give it to someone that’s come up through the
ranks or proven themselves in the second season.
The Sharks still have a lot going for them; they’re presently the best
run and most successful franchise in the Bay Area. They possess a
fiercely loyal fan base that packs their arena despite getting no post
season payoff since the lockout. The question remains how does this
organization keep the passion level at its highest.
What can the organization pitch the
ticket buying public next season, a 120 point season? Why not an
undefeated regular season? While the Sharks are a testament to the
benefits of wise drafting and great player development, the NHL’s end
game is about championship banners and not President Trophies.
Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL
Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Los Angeles
Correspondent for The 4th Period Magazine and a Columnist
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Can't Stop the Brawling
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Phoenix to Ashes
Dec. 19, 2008
Don't Get Me Started!
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An American in the Prairies
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Maybe the Q is part of the A
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The Plot Thickens
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West Coast Bias
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Life is a Spectrum
Sept. 26, 2008
My kind of town
Sept. 10, 2008
ain't so, Joe