Todd McLellan is struggling to keep a faltering team in contention as their championship window closes
Fans, players, coaches and management are not convinced, but that does not make it any less true. There is a tremendous amount of talent on this team, but not enough to win a Stanley Cup in 2013.
Sure, teams have won with less talent. But they had more grit than this highly-skilled team has ever shown.
If the Sharks could not win with more talent than they currently have, what in their past makes anyone bet on them for the future? The Western Conference is so strong that the Detroit Red Wings are a good team that is looking at missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
(To put that in perspective, six of the eight top scorers for the Edmonton Oilers were younger than two years old and three of them were not yet born the last time the Wings did not play on. The Sharks had not played their first franchise game yet.)
Last season, the conference's eighth seed won the Stanley Cup. Teams on the way down do not win navigate such treacherous waters four rounds in a row. Here are five compelling reasons to predict their window will close without more than one series victory in 2013...
The San Jose Sharks have aging players and expiring contracts that will force turnover.
More importantly, there are only 13 Sharks under contract next season at all. Three of them are core players over 30 with only one more season on their current deals.
This Sharks team is headed in a new direction sooner or later.
The new NHL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and its players' union (NHLPA) put off the drop in salary cap one year. But the 2013-14 cap will get very tough to make for the San Jose Sharks in the summer of 2013.
Cap Geek lists the Sharks as just millions under the cap with just 13 players under contract in 2013-14. That leaves an average of $1 million per additional player to cover seven forwards, one defenseman and a backup goalie from among prospects and role players currently unable to contribute much at the NHL level.
If the Sharks do not win it this year, the next chance they have will be with a substantially different team.
Note: the article originally contained an error in the second paragraph: "still be millions over" was replaced in the first sentence with "just millions under" and the buyout of Martin Havlat replaced with the current second sentence. I add this retraction with my apologies for any confusion caused as well as for failing to credit Cap Geek as a source.
When Todd McLellan first took over the San Jose Sharks, they were one of the fastest teams in the NHL: Milan Michalek, Patrick Marleau, Scott Nichol, Devin Setoguchi, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Christian Ehrhoff assured San Jose of having a great skater on every forward line and blue line pair.
Three of those players are gone, and Martin Havlat is the only good skater to replace them. This team is not exactly slow, but it is no longer fast and struggles against good skating teams.
This is the wrong direction for a team that is in a league getting increasingly faster. With obstruction penalties being called in the modern game, the best skaters are now playing into their 40s.
San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson talked about his "Jekyll and Hyde" team to CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz: "We've become a pass-first team in a shoot-first league."
Ryane Clowe, Joe Thornton, Martin Havlat, Scott Gomez and Michal Handzus are good passers who want to set up their teammates.
But rather than get shots on net, this results in giveaways. San Jose is among the league leaders in this stat and every player on that list has at least a turnover per two games.
The worst part is the Sharks have been long accused of "getting cute" or trying for the "pretty play instead of the gritty play" but continue to make those mistakes. This is part of the team's identity, and they revert to it when things break down...a leopard does not change its spots.
The most obvious sign that the San Jose Sharks are headed in the wrong direction is in the record.
In 2008-09, they won the President's Trophy for the best record in the NHL with 117 points, but lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In 2009-10, they managed to finish only two games worse than that—still the top seed in the Western Conference. They even won eight of their first 11 playoff games, but were swept from the conference finals.
In 2010-11, they fell four games from the previous season and could only capture the second seed. They went 9-8 (a slightly worse winning percentage than 8-7) in the playoffs.
Last season, they fell to the seventh seed with 96 points and mustered just one playoff win. This season they are up a bit to the fifth-best record in the West, but a game and a half separates fourth from 10th.
Teams heading the right direction do not see their seasons go progressively downhill.