With the NHL trade deadline past us, it's the time of year that all teams make their annual "final push" as you might have it towards the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks fan have gotten very used to being safely secured atop the Pacific Division, welcoming lower seeded teams into the Shark Tank.
Sharks fans also felt at the beginning of the season, and most still believe, that on paper the current Sharks roster is amongst the strongest they have ever put out on the ice.
Well the stats on the other end of that piece of paper don't back that up.
The Sharks currently sit in eighth place in the Pacific Division, which means if the season ended tomorrow, they'd have none other than the Vancouver Canucks to look forward to in the first round.
Let's take a look at all the teams that currently make up the Western Conference's top eight and who would be the best opponents for the Sharks, if the season ended tomorrow.
Let's start with the team I feel the Sharks should avoid under any circumstance—the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks didn't go through as dramatic a rebuilding as the Sharks did in the offseason, but they underwent one nonetheless.
And they're still the second-place team in the West. While the Canucks are public enemy No. 1 to me—and most of the other fans in the NHL—they get the utmost respect from me.
The Canucks have everything working against them right out the gate because they travel more miles than any team in the NHL.
Even with that, they've consistently fielded a point producing playoff team for the last three years.
The Canucks, like the Sharks, have their kryptonite.
The only problem for the Sharks is, that like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks are a speedy team that can leave a team in the dust with their transition out of the neutral zone.
If the Sharks want to win a Stanley Cup, they need to pull themselves out of the eighth seed, and pray they don't have to meet the Canucks in the postseason.
On Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues completed something that they haven't done since 2003. They swept the Sharks in their annual season series.
The Blues have had just as much bad luck in the playoffs as the Sharks, having never won a Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The different this year is one person, and he's not a skater for the Blues. Regardless, it's the person the Sharks should be most concerned about, Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock has had a reputation for being a Sharks killer ever since his days of coaching the Dallas Stars.
With the result of the season series, and the work Hitchcock has done with the Blues players in just one season, I'd rather not see St. Louis skating on San Jose ice this postseason.
The Nashville Predators are a team that the Sharks are no strangers to in the postseason. In the early 2000s, the Predators and Sharks met in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. The Sharks emerged victorious in both of those series.
This year, I feel, would be a different story.
Not only are the Predators a much more mature team than they were the last time they met the Sharks in the postseason, their makeup is completely different. The Predators are, in my opinion, an etching block that all NHL teams with young talent or in their developmental phases, should look at as how to raise a franchise.
Almost entirely built from within with draft picks and prospects, the Predators have never really conducted a single "blockbuster trade" or giant free-agent signing.
The Predators have come into their own. Along with their defense and more than stupendous goaltending from Pekka Rinne, I wouldn't be in a hurry to face them if I were a part of the Sharks' slumping play.
The Phoenix Coyotes are another example of a team that has flown under the radar of the NHL for almost the last decade.
The Coyotes have had a few playoff appearances, have accomplished some small feats, but have never really done anything to draw much attention.
Though their appearance in the playoffs last season against the Detroit Red Wings didn't yield the results they wanted, the Coyotes showed on the ice that they had merged as a real unit. And an effective one at that.
When the season started, I tweeted something along the lines about how everyone needs to pay attention to the Coyotes this year.
With the controversy regarding the status of the Coyotes for almost two years, my reasoning was that the players would want people to talk about what they're doing on the ice, not in the boardroom.
And they have done a good job of making me look like some kind of hockey genius.
I know most hockey fans, including the majority of Sharks fans, would call me crazy for saying that the Coyotes could be a disastrous opponent for the Sharks, but it would be.
The Sharks can still beat the Red Wings in the postseason. Yes, for the third time in a row. And maybe even sweep them.
And no, none of us have forgotten the impressive home winning streak the Red Wings put on this season.
But it's a completely different game of hockey in June. There's one thing the Red Wings have that has and will always be the death of them as long as they skate against the Sharks with their current roster: old legs.
It doesn't matter how many smart veterans you have on a team, Patrick Marleau's legs can move faster than your thoughts.
The Red Wings would be a formidable first-round opponent for the Sharks to prepare them for a physical and even more difficult second round.
There are two teams that every Sharks fan is traumatized when the Sharks face them in the postseason—the Anaheim Ducks and the Dallas Stars.
But don't worry. There's no more Brad Richards, Sergei Zubov, Mike Modano or Eddie Belfour.
That's not to say the Stars don't have a talent-packed roster, because they do.
The Stars would be a perfect second-round opponent for the Sharks. They are a young, fast and well-versed squad that has a certain physicality to their game that would keep the Sharks alive and ticking. And the Sharks can beat the Sharks in the postseason.
While the Blackhawks may not be serious Stanley Cup contenders for several years, their spot in the postseason is pretty much guaranteed.
A rematch in the Western Conference Finals against the Blackhawks would be just what the Sharks need to push them over the hill to make their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
This series would be mostly psychological for the Sharks, as they probably still have a bitter taste in their mouths from being swept in the Western Conference Finals by the Blackhawks just two years ago.
But it would be the perfect team for the Sharks to meet in the Western Conference Finals, and it would make for a very entertaining series for the fans.
More important than anything is the fact that the Sharks must win the Pacific Division.
Winning the Pacific Division ensures the Sharks essentially have what a player would call a "trainable schedule" in the playoffs. This basically means that when you're playing a lower seeded team, the time and ability to fix mistakes you make is greater.
As previously mentioned in other articles, the most important thing the Sharks need to work is teamwork, which hasn't been seen from this team.
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