The San Jose Sharks have truly seen the summer of discontent. While I believe they have a strong GM in Doug Wilson and equally strong coaching staff lead by Todd McLellan, I find it hard to believe after last season and last season's playoff melt down that they both or at least one of them still have jobs. Last year was supposed to be about getting it done with no excuses and rolling into the playoffs they were looking pretty good. They went up on the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in a classic offensive flurry that seemed to have the Kings reeling. They looked unstoppable! The Kings vaunted defense and money goaltender Jonathon Quick looked gassed and clueless. Then the Kings started fighting for their very lives and by inches were starting to win battles. Going into the seventh game tied in the series 3-3 with home ice advantage the Skarks had to feel good about themselves. But by the middle of the third period you could see the vacant stares and the humiliation starting to bubble up in the eyes of the Sharks. The Kings moved on and the Sharks headed for the golf links again.
Coach Todd McLellan was open and angry and offered no excuses. "We Didn't Get It Done!" " I Don't Know What Happens Now!" Apparently some back room conversations immediately after the series was over, took place and no one knows what was reviewed or said by owners, management and the coaching staff. Some strange occurrences took place with the firing of the TV game analysis personality Drew Remanda and some cryptic TV interviews with Wilson and McLellan talking about changes and players questionable commitment. In the end all of the on ice captains were stripped of their letters and new captains will be determined during camp. I'm not sure what has been determined by the Sharks in the off season. They announced Brett Burns will no longer play wing with Joe Thornton and return to the blue line, they released Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart was shown the door. Martin Havlat was bought out and perhaps that was the easiest decision made. The biggest name to be brought in was John Scott the thug from Buffalo and that raises a few question. Raffi Torrez after surgery on his knee has an infection in the knee and may not be available until after Thanksgiving at the earliest. Many reporters around the league and many fans of the Sharks are wondering what's going on and has anything really changed on this team player wise.
The team has signed on Larry Robinson as an associate coach which seems to have discipline and replacement for McLellan written all over it. However Robinson, a former coach with the New Jersey Devils asked to be relieved of his coaching duties when he felt he had lost the ears of the players on that team. Coach McLellan seems to be on thin ice and could be in danger of losing his job. However his coaching style is also a disciplinarian so what would change if he was replaced? Apparently his idea to make Burns a power forward has been rejected during the off season no less by upper management ( i.e. Wilson). This would seem to indicate that the Wilson has decided that he needs to have a more hands on approach. Here's a question: was Robinson hired to maybe replace Wilson after getting a feel for the team in pre-season if things don't seem right? At any rate, let's skip over to a review of the team.
The Sharks have plenty of fire power to distribute over the top two lines and the assets for two effective power play units. These assets are Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. They seem to have a mixed bag of bottom six forwards and the veteran presence of Adam Burrish, Tyler Kennedy and Tommy Wingles to mix with younger forwards emerging from the AHL where 7-8 forwards could be competing for 2-3 spots makes for a competitive camp. My question on this team and it's culture has come in recent years with the bringing aboard of Raffi Torrez a slightly skilled goon more likely to embarrass your team and get suspended for cheap shots and taking unnecessary penalties and the recent free agent signing of the totally unskilled John Scott also know for his goonish activities and suspensions. The question to be asked here is if having those players on your bench really help your depth and could it be reason enough for other teams to want to take shots at your premier players if utilized as goons by the Sharks. As a Bruins fan, I know with those players on the roster, I'm bringing my heavy game and dressing my toughest players when we play because of damage and cheap shots from both of them in the past.
On the defense we now have Burns as the top all situations defenseman and ably reinforced with some pretty good shutdown players in Justin Braun and Jason Demers and veteran Scott Hannan who has value with lesser minutes played. Matt Irwin and rookie Mirco Mueller should round out the back end and set the stage for transition to a younger more mobile defense. Look for Marc-Edouard Vlasic to emerge as a top minutes performer.
Goaltending will remain anchored with Antti Neimi and backed up by Alex Stalock. Neimi is in a make or break campaign season and getting injured and/or not at least returning to 2012-13 form or 2009-10 form when winning the Cup with Chicago will just not do. Stalock showed good promise last year and could see as many as 25-30 starts if Neimi is on his game or take over as the starter if confidence is lost in Neimi.
There is enough talent and assets on this team to play well and finish in the playoffs. But the window for achieving success with it's aging stars is closing and might already be about to shut. The pressure this year to achieve not only regular season success but playoff success will be incredibly high. That pressure will be on the GM Wilson, Coach McLellan and players like Burns, Thornton, Marleau and Neimi. I expect Pavelski and Burns to earn captains letters during pre-season and the health of Tomas Hertl and his emergence as a sniper will predicate how the season turns out. This team is capable of finishing on top of their division, but with internal pressure and possible strife I expect them to finish third or fourth in the division, make the playoffs and have another early exit at the hands of Los Angeles or Anaheim.
Until Next Time!