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What Happened To San Jose?

from Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail,

The Sharks were a 105-point team a year ago, won two rounds, qualified for the conference championship for a second consecutive year and then ultimately lost to Vancouver, in part because Thornton, their top centre, was injured and could hardly play in the third round because of a separated shoulder.

The Sharks were so convinced of their championship potential that they worked even harder to tweak the lineup in the hopes of leapfrogging the Canucks this season. GM Doug Wilson made two separate trades with the Minnesota Wild. In one, he brought in defenceman Brent Burns to add scoring from the blueline. In the other, he added Martin Havlat to replace Dany Heatley, thinking the chemistry change would revitalize Havlat and the team.

But Havlat got off to a slow start, missed more than two months with a torn hamstring, and since his return he has been one of the better Sharks’ players. Burns has been okay too. After scoring 17 goals and 46 points for the Wild last year, he had 10 goals and 35 points through 72 games for the Sharks – playing about 22 and a half minutes as opposed to the 25 he played a year ago. Surprisingly, Thornton is actually having a better statistical year this year than last, with 69 points in 74 games after scoring only 70 in 80 a year ago. Logan Couture is up too, but Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and especially Ryan Clowe have seen their numbers drop; and no secondary scoring has emerged to take the pressure off the big boys. Suddenly, it looks as if every step the Sharks have taken to get closer to playoff success has actually moved them half-a-step back.

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Comments

Wings_in_NYC's avatar

I really don’t understand the Sharks either. I mean, a lot of us are frustrated at the way the Wings have been playing as of late, but they are still in the thick of things given how difficult their division is.

I wouldn’t say the Sharks have it easier, but they kind of do and right now they are on the outside looking in. It really doesn’t make sense. On paper they are great team, but this year it’s not translating.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see them miss the playoffs, but it just doesn’t really compute that they might actually do just that.

Posted by Wings_in_NYC on 03/23/12 at 05:02 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Not enough class, not enough heart.  Simple as that.

Posted by Primis on 03/23/12 at 05:41 PM ET

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Not enough class, not enough heart.  Simple as that.

Thanks for that.  I guess the Wings have so much more class and so much more heart they lost to the Sharks in the playoffs each of the last 2 years and have been below .500 against them in the regular season.  To borrow a line from Billy Madison, “we are all now dumber for having heard it.”

I really don’t understand the Sharks either.

I don’t think it’s one big thing as much as a bunch of little things that have added up.  In no particular order:

1. Schedule- The Sharks played their first game and then were off for a week before their second and had multiple 4-5 day breaks in the first half of the year.  Since January I don’t think they’ve had more than 2 days off besides the All-Star break and even those have been rare.  The Sharks always have a long road trip in February because of the tennis tournament at HP but a 9 game trip that includes 3 sets of back-to-backs is brutal.  They also had a trip that went NJ->BOS->NASH->DET->NYI->NYR.  You let me know when a team from the east goes DAL->SJ->PHX->COL->ANA->LA, or something similar.

2. Injuries- Havlat’s is the one that makes headlines, and it has hurt, but there have been others.  Boyle played 6 weeks with a broken foot.  Murray missed a couple weeks with a fractured Adam’s apple.  There have been injuries throughout the 3rd and 4th lines which have lead to a total lack of continuity.  I’m convinced Clowe is playing hurt right now too (and there could easily be more).  The Sharks haven’t had it as bad as a lot of teams in terms of games lost but they’ve had an impact.  Seems like every time the team gets going someone gets hurt and the roster gets shuffled around.

3. Secondary Scoring- In short: it’s been non-existant.  Unless Couture, Pavelski, or Marleau score the Sharks usually don’t.  That’s bad.  Part of it could be the injuries mentioned above and the resulting lack of continuity, some of it is some questionable personnel decisions (more on that in a minute), but whatever the case it’s been a problem.  When the Sharks are tied or behind they have to load up the minutes on the big boys which I think has had a carryover effect into their heavily compressed 2nd half schedule.

4. Personnel- If not for a fluke hamstring tear the Havlat-Heatley deal would have probably ended up looking pretty good but some of the other decisions haven’t worked out.  Handzus has been a disaster, mostly because the Sharks got bigger and slower at a time they needed to focus on getting a little faster.  Handzus is solid in his own zone but it doesn’t matter how good you are defensively if you spend all your time in your own end.  They haven’t been able to put together a 3rd line that could grind in the corners and consistently get some offensive push, although Winnik and Moore have helped in that regard.  It’s not like Setoguchi has been tearing it up for the Wild but Burns hasn’t been the difference maker the Sharks thought he’d be.  He hasn’t been bad, just inconsistent for a team that needs more from him.  Then there’s the Colin White signing.  It made sense at the time as a low risk move, because at $1 million for 1 year he’s basically playing for the minimum and if there’s nothing left you haven’t cost yourself anything.  Unfortunately it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have much left and yet the coaching staff, up until the last 2 weeks or so, has dressed him every time he’s been healthy ahead of better skating/puck moving defensemen like Braun and Demers.  There’s no question White has hurt the team, and when you look at the beef the Sharks added (White and Vandermeer) I think most would agree they’d have been much better off if they had put that money towards keeping Ian White rather than trying to get bigger at a time when the best defensemen are those that can skate and move the puck.  I didn’t understand the reluctance to keep Ian White at the time and having seen the way the season has played out I understand it even less now.  While Winnik and Moore have brought nice elements to the Sharks, the Sharks had to give up a lot to get both players.  Definitely not Doug Wilson’s strongest year.

5. Goaltending- Statistically Niemi hasn’t been bad at all, but like Burns he simply has to be better.  He has let in some extremely soft goals and even worse, has done it at the worst possible times.  There have been a steady stream of deflating goals on the shift following a Sharks score.  It’s not Niemi’s fault the team isn’t scoring as much as last year or the 1st half of this year but that doesn’t change the reality: they need more from him.

6. Penalty Killing- It’s been awful all year.  Part of it is coaching, part of it is personnel, and part of it is simply taking too many penalties.  One of the big problems has been that despite signing Handzus and intending to use guys like Desjardins and Mitchell as penalty killers, the coaching staff has once again reverted to using the top 6 as killers, which leaves them tired late in the game when the Sharks need to mount a comeback or score the game winner.  I’m not a huge fan of the passive kill tactic and I’m even less so when it’s played the way the Sharks have been doing it this year and letting so many passes go right through the box.  Sharks still have a combined % close to 100 on special teams but the PP is 4th and the PK 28th.  Not good.

7. Coaching- The Sharks simply do not make tactical adjustments.  When a team is playing them well and anticipating their moves it’s never “let’s try something else,”  it’s always “let’s try to do it better.”  This has been a consistent problem even going back to Ron Wilson’s days as Sharks coach and I can’t for the life of me understand why.  I also question whether the puck control/puck possession style McLellan wants to play is the best way to utilize players with gamebreaking speed like Marleau and Havlat but that’s a minor quibble.  The Sharks players, coaches, and announcers talk about the need for more ugly goals and getting back to basics but the truth is they get their fair share of ugly goals and the real problem is that they don’t get any easy or pretty goals.  There’s little offensive creativity and while they lead the league in shots per game the overwhelming majority of those shots are no real threat to the goalie.  They don’t make goalies move side to side EVER (again, something that goes back to Ron Wilson) and they haven’t been generating any odd man rushes lately.

8. Turnovers- For whatever reason this team has a real propensity for throwing the puck towards the middle of the ice at no one in particular.  As a fan in the arena you can actually see it happening and know that it’s going to lead directly to a goal or an odd man rush against.  They also have a real knack for turning it over high in the offensive zone and in the neutral zone which, again, is a pretty sound strategy for giving up odd man rushes against.  Niemi needs to stop some of these (the Penner goal the other night against LA being a perfect example) but the team also needs to stop giving them up.  What’s so frustrating is that most of the time you can’t even tell what they were trying to do because it’s not like there’s an open player and the pass just didn’t get through.  These “passes” all too often appear aimed at no one.

None of these things is enough to sink the ship the way it’s been going down since early February, but they add up to the hockey version of death by 1000 paper cuts.  The team is just maddening, getting up for games against good teams like Nashville and Detroit and Boston and then immediately crapping their pants against Anaheim and LA and Columbus.  It’s been really tough to watch for the last 2 months or so.

Posted by RoneFace on 03/23/12 at 06:42 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

I definitely felt that Doug “sign and trade” Wilson shit it this year big time, and I agree, it was mostly with the minor signings.  The only reason they lost to the Nucks was because of the pylon D.  Speed over size would have been smarter, I totally agree.  I would be surprised if Burns doesn’t look more like a #1 next year.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 03/23/12 at 07:09 PM ET

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The only reason they lost to the Nucks was because of the pylon D.

Totally agree.  Doug Wilson does some great things with the top 6 and with the draft but he has 2 flaws: a. he doesn’t seem to understand what makes a good 3rd line, and b. defensemen, especially the bottom pair.  He puts a premium value on pairing an offensive dman with a defensive dman, places an emphasis on size that maybe isn’t needed in the post-lockout NHL, and feels strongly about pairing L and R shots together.  Personally, I’d rather get the best players possible and let them figure it out and as I said above I think skating is by far the most important physical attribute in the current NHL.  For 2 years it was Wallin as pylon, now it’s Colin White.  Had Ian White signed for $5 million per I’d have completely understood letting him get away, but when I saw what he signed for in Detroit I knew the Sharks had made a huge mistake. 

Vancouver beat the Sharks by retrieving the puck before the Sharks could get in on the forecheck and moving the puck up the ice to the forwards.  Instead of adjusting the Sharks just kept dumping it in and losing the race, and rather than try to create a similar dynamic by acquiring good skaters and puck movers on the back end they went back and got a player almost identical (Colin White) to the one they lost (Wallin).  Clearly the lesson was not learned.

Posted by RoneFace on 03/23/12 at 07:19 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by RoneFace on 03/23/12 at 04:42 PM ET

This comment belongs in the member’s blog.

I’m serious.  It deserves an entry of its own.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 03/23/12 at 08:08 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

It was well-put.  You should do a column.  Call it Teal-Time.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 03/23/12 at 08:31 PM ET

Avatar

This comment belongs in the member’s blog.

I’m serious.  It deserves an entry of its own.

Thanks.  I’m actually way behind writing a similar post for the site I contribute to, http://www.BayAreaBall.com in pa,rt because every time I’m about to write either a “sky is falling” post or a “finally on the right track” post things change.  It’s pretty frustrating both as a fan and writer.

I don’t want to totally dismiss the “heart and effort” complaint because I think it’s valid but that same complaint could be lodged at just about every team in the league at one point or another in the season.  In general I don’t think effort is the biggest issue but there are games, such as against St Louis a few weeks ago, which I saw live and when the Sharks lost every single foot race and puck battle, where it’s a problem.  It’s easy to point to intangible problems, particularly when Thornton and Marleau involved (despite the fact Thornton was a monster last year before his injury and Marleau is just as streaky in the playoffs as the regular season), I just think there are far more tangible reasons why things haven’t worked this year. 

Given the number of players with NMC in their contracts I’m not even sure how things can be changed in the offseason and I’m really worried Doug Wilson will go for the splashy move and decide to trade Pavelski and Braun and some picks for Nash who, while scoring better than Pavelski throughout his career, does almost everything else at a lower level.  Spending money on Parise or Suter would make a lot more sense to me than giving up assets and taking on Nash’s bad contract.  Plus, there’s just not enough depth in the system right now to make any 2 or 3-for-1 type trades and feel like the team will be better off for it.  Basically the Sharks don’t have the pieces to trade, they don’t have players in the system ready to assume larger roles, and they’ve historically been unable/unwilling to dive head first into free agency.  But hey, renew your season tickets now!

Posted by RoneFace on 03/23/12 at 08:31 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Thanks for that.  I guess the Wings have so much more class and so much more heart they lost to the Sharks in the playoffs each of the last 2 years and have been below .500 against them in the regular season.  To borrow a line from Billy Madison, “we are all now dumber for having heard it.”

Yeah, I mean look at all SJ has won!  There’s… uhh… well there was that one time when… well, I mean, there’s th—...  No rings.  No Conference banners.  Nothing.  That’s exactly what SJ has ever won.  Ever.

You made my own point:  beating DET in the 2nd round is, at the moment, the single greatest thing SJ has ever accomplished.  They don’t have the heart or the testicles to accomplish more and SJ fans are just apparently also just satisfied with advancing a round or two and that’s it.

You have classless players like Thornton who dives despite being one of the biggest guys on the ice every game, and who is scared to make the hard, physical play when it comes down to it in crunch time (and has never won anything).  You bring in a guy like Heatley to change the culture (a known malcontent who has never won anything).  Then you trade Heatley for a guy who goes on IR because he literally can’t step onto the ice without getting hurt.

SJ doesn’t build playoff teams.  They get players who are divas, who are soft, who dive, and who largely have no heart.  And then act surprised year after year when guys with that makeup disappear in the 2nd or 3rd round.

That some SJ fans still have no woken up to this by now does not speak kindly of them…

Posted by Primis on 03/23/12 at 08:40 PM ET

Avatar

Posted by Primis on 03/23/12 at 06:40 PM ET

Beating Detroit in the 2nd round isn’t the single greatest thing that’s happened; beating them in the 1st round in game 7 in Detroit against a much better team is.  Your analysis is just lazy and uneducated and totally based on your hatred of the Sharks.  That’s fine if that’s how you really feel but the facts are still the facts: over the last 2 years the Sharks have been the better team.  There is no argument that can be made that would prove or even suggest otherwise, something that I guess it really drives you crazy.

Let me ask you this though: if the Wings have so much more heart and class than everyone else, and that’s all it takes to win, why don’t they win every single year? 

Guess it’s just a conspiracy that prevents such things from happening.

Posted by RoneFace on 03/23/12 at 08:48 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

_______doesn’t build playoff teams.  They get players who are divas, who are soft, who dive, and who largely have no heart.  And then act surprised year after year when guys with that makeup disappear in the 2nd or 3rd round.

Insert any team not named Red Wngs and Primis will agree.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 03/23/12 at 08:53 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

I’d love to see Weber or Suter in a Sharks uniform.  But I can’t see that happening.

Primis, you need to get off your high horse.  Every team has rough spots (some even lasting years) and then they can come out swinging when least expected.  What about the Wings lean years a long time ago?  There’s no need to insult the intelligence of fans from a team that isn’t yours. 

The Sharks have many good players, like Detroit does, but for some reason, they just aren’t clicking.  That’s just the way it is.  No team develops and gets through adversity the same way.  If their adversity means missing the playoffs, then maybe it’ll finally be the huge wake up call for the players that are still around next year.  No need to be bitter at a team you obviously hate anyways

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 03/23/12 at 09:40 PM ET

Avatar

Your analysis is just lazy and uneducated and totally based on your hatred of the Sharks.

Actually, pointing out that SJ has not won anything of real significance can be interpreted as being lazy, but it’s the exact opposite of uneducated. It’s a fact.

I suppose we could go back and forth as to whether or not Joe Thornton is a classless bag of limp dicks…but why bother? He’s made that a moot point on his own.

Something I doubt most Sharks fans would dispute if they were honest with themselves is that the three single most significant “accomplishments” that franchise has ever earned is beating the Detroit Red Wings on three separate occasions in the post season. I don’t know if that says more about the Sharks or the Wings, but I suspect it’s equal parts both.

Posted by godblender on 03/23/12 at 09:42 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

They get players who are divas, who are soft, who dive, and who largely have no heart.

This is the height of laziness - there is no response other than “DO NOT!” - That’s not analysis.  And the irony is pretty blatant.  You lost to them two years in a row, so what does that say about your class and heart?  I seem to remember a fair bit of frustration at the lack of a clutch performance.

But Primis did say that the guy who beat someone up at JLA for wearing a Khawks jersey probably wasn’t a Red Wing fan.  So ridiculousness is not a stranger here.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 03/23/12 at 10:43 PM ET

shazam88's avatar

But Primis did say that the guy who beat someone up at JLA for wearing a Khawks jersey probably wasn’t a Red Wing fan.  So ridiculousness is not a stranger here.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from home of the 1925 Stanley Cup Champs on 03/23/12 at 08:43 PM ET

Yes, that was definitely one of his most asinine, unnecessary comments of the still young year.

Posted by shazam88 from SoCal on 03/24/12 at 02:38 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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