What If Darryl Sutter Coached This Year's San Jose Sharks?
No matter if it was Ron Wilson behind the bench or Todd McLellan, the Sharks have demonstrated time and time again to be a team that folds under pressure and fails to elevate its game when it matters most.
Now, as a fan of McLellan, I wouldn't argue for his being replaced any time soon, but one has to wonder just how much leash the coach will have if his team doesn't match its skill with some will.
In color TV analyst Drew Remenda's "20 Questions" snippets on the Sharks website, the players interviewed will all say "will over skill," but they have hardly been showing that out on the ice the last five games.
Over that stretch, San Jose has gone 0-2-3 and has fallen out of first place in the conference and division. The Los Angeles Kings are now the current holders of those top spots, and for good reason—they have superstars that work hard.
Players like Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, Alexander Frolov, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, and Wayne Simmonds all have over 20 points.
San Jose, on the other hand, only has five players over 20 points. Granted, a player like Joe Pavelski would probably have 20 points by now if it weren't for injury, but the Sharks would still be two players short of the Kings when it comes to players with 20 or more points.
One may argue that the Sharks' top scorers produce at much higher clip than those of the Kings, but making that argument also underscores the depth of this year's Los Angeles squad.
Even with the career year Kopitar is currently having, the Kings aren't just about one line. You can't shut down one line and keep LA off the scoreboard. They come in wave after wave because they work hard.
During games against the Sharks this season, LA winger Teddy Purcell has scored two goals. He only has three goals and six points on the season.
Just who is Teddy Purcell? That is exactly what I say whenever he scores against the Sharks.
But the impressive play from top to bottom on LA's roster reminds me of the Sharks of the late 1990s. More specifically, they remind me of one specific Sharks team with Darryl Sutter behind the bench.
The 1999-2000 Sharks team, which upset the No. 1 seed St. Louis Blues in the first round that season, had playmakers and grinders, but on any given night the hero could come from anywhere.
Of course they had their star players, including Owen Nolan, Vinny Damphousse, and Jeff Friesen, who all finished the regular season with 60-plus points, but they had an infinite number of "role" players.
There was Mike Ricci, a young Patrick Marleau, Niklas Sundstrom, Marco Sturm, Gary Suter, Alexander Korolyuk, Brad Stuart, Tony Granato, Mike Rathje, Todd Harvey, etc.
Like this year's Kings, the '99-00 Sharks all had the fresh taste of losing in their minds, as the Sharks teams of the '90s were always a playoff bubble team that had to work to make the postseason.
More often than not, the Sharks teams of the late '90s/early '00s were able to get into the postseason and gave 100 percent effort each and every season under head coach Darryl Sutter.
During his five full seasons as coach, the Sutter-led Sharks made the postseason every year and finally won a division title in 2001-02 (Sutter's last full year with the team).
The Sharks would fall one game short of reaching the Western Conference Finals that year, losing in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche.
A year later, the Sharks stumbled out of the gate and Sutter was fired midseason, but you could hardly blame the coach for a team that just had almost every player have down years.
Regardless of how his tenure ended, there was always one thing you could bank on from a Sutter-coached Sharks team: having 20 players playing their hearts out whenever their number was called to perform.
The current crop of Sharks leaves much to be desired in that area. Something goes wrong, and they seem to stop playing. Remember that 7-2 thumping by the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season?
When Chicago extended the lead to 3-0, the next 30 minutes of hockey were what happens when one NHL team completely stops trying and the other one puts the pedal to the metal. The Blackhawks extended the lead to 7-0 before San Jose was fed up enough that they re-engaged in the contest.
Granted, some of the games the expansion Sharks had to play in 1991-92 were as bad as the 7-0 Blackhawks score showed, but you at least knew the scrubs were skating their a**es off.
For our purposes, when it comes to the hard-nosed Sutter, can you imagine a Sutter-coached Sharks team giving up in the manner they did against Chicago this year?
It is extremely difficult to imagine that a Ricci/Nolan/Granato-led team would give up in such a manner. I, for one, can't remember seeing a game played in such a poor fashion.
With Sutter's passion, the hockey version of 49ers coach Mike Singletary, one can only wonder if he could get this year's Sharks team to match their skill with their will.
But even if Sutter could motivate this team to play at the highest level, there is still something fundamentally wrong.
Hockey players should be self-motivated, and if they can't realize this year is the best chance they will ever have at winning a Stanley Cup, then the Sharks need some new players.
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