As the 2009 National Hockey League season begins, the San Jose Sharks are out to prove that they can not only be successful in the regular season, but carry that success into the playoffs as well.
Last season the Sharks finished with the best record in the entire league, only to get eliminated in the first round of the postseason. This continued a stunning trend, marking the fourth straight season that the Sharks have reached the playoffs quite easily, and been abruptly bounced in the first two rounds.
The problem that General Manager Doug Wilson points to is their trouble producing goals in big playoff games. Last season, after averaging a very respectable 3.06 goals per game during the regular season, they could only produce 1.67 goals per game in their opening round loss against Anaheim.
To correct this problem, Wilson traded for veteran left wing Dany Heatley from Ottawa. Heatley is known for being one of the most prolific goal scorers in the game, especially when it comes to the postseason.
Heatley will not only provide much needed scoring but inject a sense of confidence and leadership into a team that is lacking both. The league is well aware that San Jose has a talented team, but some experts have labeled them as soft and that has been tough to argue.
Key losses to the Sharks include Jeremy Roenick, Christian Ehrhoff, and Jonathon Cheechoo. Trading away Cheechoo caused some rumblings from the fan base, but Doug Wilson must be applauded for taking chances to turn this team's luck around.
Heading the offensive attack will be center Joe Thornton, one of the elite players the league has to offer. Thornton had a decent year last year, but it was not up to his high standards. He not only needs to produce statistically, but must show some fire and lead a team that he has been appointed captain of.
Anchoring the defense will be 22 year-old Marc Edouard Vlasic, who seems to be emerging into a perennial All-Star. The defense is dealing with an array of changes in the personnel, but must find a way to come together and play better as a unit than they did a year ago.
Behind that defense will be Evgeni Nabokov, a name familiar to Sharks fans. The 34 year-old Russian is entering his tenth year in the league, all with the Sharks. He has some extra incentive this year, as he is playing for a contract in the off-season.
Head coach Todd McLellan enters his second year with the Sharks and has received a vote of confidence from the organization, but it seems that he is on the hot seat. If McLellan can not lead his team on a deep playoff run, next season there will most likely be a new coach behind the bench.
The Sharks are among the elite teams of the Western Conference but to defend their number one spot in the Western Conference of a year ago, they will be challenged by teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
The Washington Capitals and defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins look to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh is led by 22 year-old phenom Sidney Crosby, who many consider to be the most complete player in the league. Washington counters with Alexander Ovechkin, who has captured the Most Valuable Player award each of the last two seasons.
The Sharks seem to have all the ingredients to have a great regular season, but that is not where this team will earn its money. To please the fans in San Jose, they must make a deep playoff run that would preferably end with them raising the Stanley Cup.