San Jose Sharks: Biggest Playoff Goats in Team History
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Sports fans often oversimplify their team's failure to advance in the playoffs. The one person they blame is really just a scapegoat.
For instance, the most famous "goat" (not to be confused with GOAT: Greatest Of All-Time) may be Billy Buckner, under whose legs the winning run was allowed in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. But players know you win and lose as a team.
For instance, the run he allowed was the last of three runs scored to win the game. He would never have been in position to make the game-deciding error had there not been three singles and a wild pitch before it. The hobbled utility infielder also should not have even been left in the game to protect a two-run lead in extra innings.
And, of course, there was another game the team could have won.
Such is the nature of the San Francisco 49ers loss in the NFC Championship Game. Yet, Kyle Williams has received death threats by the same fans that blamed Alex Smith for the team's failures of the past seven seasons rather than the inept coaching.
Often described around hockey these days as "playoff chokers," San Jose never had expectations upon them to make it deeper than the second round prior to the lockout. Thus, the following list of individual players who most make sense for singling out in each playoff collapse are listed, along with the reason they should not be blamed.
2006: Nisse Ekman
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Nisse ("Nils") Ekman was a top-line forward for the Sharks for two seasons surrounding the lockout. He had 112 points in 159 games and came into the 2006 playoffs on the left wing of Joe Thornton's line after a 57-point, plus-20 77-game regular season.
He was minus-two and scored just four points in the 11 playoff games and none in eight of them. Had Ekman produced even in Game 3 vs. Edmonton, coach Ron Wilson might not have felt he was better off replacing him on that line with unskilled energy forward Mark Smith (now a musician with the Vinyl Trees in San Jose).
Ekman was traded to Pittsburgh the next season for a second-round pick. He scored 15 points in 34 games that season and was pointless in one playoff appearance. He never played another game in the NHL.
Blaming a guy who clearly did not belong in the league seems a little ridiculous. Blaming his linemates who carried him (or Smitty, for that matter) for a drop-off in production seems wrong, too.
2007: Patrick Marleau
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Then-captain Patrick Marleau scored 78 points in 77 games in the 2006-07 season for the San Jose Sharks. He scored just six in 11 playoff games and was minus-five.
One of those minuses was because he was pinching up to create an empty-net scoring chance with under 40 seconds to go until the Sharks took a 3-1 series lead. Robert Lang tied the game, the Detroit Red Wings won in overtime and the Sharks never recovered, losing the next two games.
It also took Marleau a year to recover. Certain knee-jerk fans (who you calling a jerk?!) pointed out that he scored just 56 points with a minus-26 rating in 101 games starting with the Detroit series and ending with the next season's second round. With two points and a minus-seven rating in his last dozen second round games, they wanted him traded.
But as bad as that lapse in defensive responsibility was and as poorly as he played the rest of that round, he has returned to his status as an elite player. He also was hardly alone in under-performing that series.
Bill Guerin was supposed to be the power forward the Sharks needed for the playoffs, but scored just two points in nine games. A large part of this was likely from taking a puck to the face in the first round, but he was inconsistent down the stretch of the regular season, too.
Mark Bell was supposed to be that player acquired in the summer, but after a hit-and-run DUI he was never the same player. He played in just four playoff games, had no points and was traded in the offseason.
In fact, no player but Joe Thornton (11 points) scored more than Marleau. When you score just 25 goals in 11 games, almost anyone but your goalie (Evgeni Nabokov had a 2.23 GAA and .920 save pct.) is a goat.
2008: Brian Campbell
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Brian Campbell was the next missing piece that Doug Wilson acquired. Giving up a late first-round draft choice looked like a stroke of genius as the San Jose Sharks rode his puck-moving skills to a record-setting March that gave them the second-best record in the NHL.
In the playoffs, Campbell struggled. He had a horrible turnover that led to a Jarome Iginla short-handed breakaway.
The Sharks may have lost to the Calgary Flames in the first round had it not been for a four-point performance by Jeremy Roenick in Game Seven. They were worn out when the second round started.
Campbell also had the penalty that led to the power play goal in the four-overtime thriller that round in Dallas. Two big special teams goals directly attributable to him in two tight series.
But Campbell also led the blue line in scoring (seven points in 13 games) and was plus-three. Only five players scored more and no one scored over 10, again placing blame on the Sharks offense (30 goals in 13 games despite 75 minutes of overtime).
2009: Joe Thornton
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In the 2009 playoffs, Joe Thornton barely had time to grow a playoff beard.
After winning the President's Trophy for the best record in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks won just two games in the first round against a team that almost did not make it into the tournament. Once again, lack of scoring was the culprit—they had just 10 goals in six games.
Thornton had five points, making his inclusion on this list seem more misplaced than most scapegoats. But he was the team's scoring leader and his line was supposed to be the best in hockey, yet was vastly out-played by Ryan Getzlaf's line.
That is why he finished minus-three on the series. He also had three of his five points in one game, which is why I questioned his lack of emotion when given a chance to address the panel at the State of the Sharks event that May.
2010: Joe Thornton
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I bet many of you wanted to see Evgeni Nabokov in this spot. You may remember his soft goal against Andrew Ladd in the conference finals, or his two sub-.900 save percentage games vs. the Chicago Blackhawks.
No doubt he was out-played by Antti Niemi in all four games,a reason the Sharks let Nabby go and signed Nemo later in the summer. But even though he played in 100 games including the Olympics that year, his performance was more than enough to earn a victory—much like previous post-seasons—as he did in every game in which the Sharks gave him three goals to work with (and one they did not).
In the series they lost against Chicago, Nabby had a 2.86 GAA and .905 save percentage. The rest of the league allowed 3.67 goals per game and allowed more than one shot in nine past them.
The team's failures again lie in its inability to get dirty and score the tough goals in the playoffs. Perhaps no player exemplifies that team problem better than its newly appointed captain in 2009-10, Joe Thornton (one point and was minus-five in the Chicago series).
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Dany Heatley struggled in 2010-11, with 64 points in 80 games. He was even worse in the playoffs, scoring nine and going minus-two in 18 while committing key penalties in the two games that turned the series.
In Game One, the Sharks entered the third period with a lead and looked like they were about to steal a game on the road against the best regular season team in the league. But 32 seconds after the Vancouver Canucks tied the game, Heatley took an egregious elbowing penalty that led to the game-winning goal 47 seconds later.
In Game Four, Heatley committed the first of four penalties in under four minutes that led to three Vancouver goals. The Sharks never recovered and lost, 4-2, allowing a fluke goal in Game Five to end the series.
Heater became the third goat of the six on this list to be let go in the summer that followed the playoff exit. It was the right move because he was the highest-paid player (but not its best) on a team with cap issues.
That does not mean he deserves to be the goat. He was playing with a sprained ankle in the playoffs and a broken hand much of the season. Six players were worse in plus-minus and only seven finished with more points.
But if you have to pick on one person, he is the guy considering his results vs. his expectations and compensation.