In order to win the Stanley Cup, a hockey team needs a lot of things: a formidable offense, a stifling defense and penalty kill, a dangerous power play, a stingy goalie, scoring depth, mental and physical toughness, and a variety of intangibles.
Chief among these intangibles is that brash and at times even arrogant confidence commonly referred to as swagger.
Look at nearly every Stanley Cup Champion team. Whether it be manifested in a few key players, or up and down the entire roster, all of them possess this quality in one way or another.
The Red Wings fancy themselves as the NHL's version of the New York Yankees (ironic in that they own 13 fewer titles than the Montreal Canadiens), and play as though the Cup is theirs for the taking every season.
In recent years, brash young players such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews have exuded a similar attitude, carrying themselves as though hoisting the Cup at a young age is part of their birthright.
It worked for Crosby, and may just work out for Toews this season.
But where is that confidence and swagger on the San Jose Sharks' roster?
The Sharks have their fair share of bona fide NHL stars, one could argue even a few superstars, but to a man they are of a different variety than the Crosbys, Toewses, Sakics, and Datsyuks of the world.
Players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are unassuming superstars. They show heart and intensity at times, but lack the type of stubborn certainty that they will not be denied their right to win each and every night out on the ice.
Even Thornton and Marleau often seem to exude a "wait and see" posture early in games. They may start the first shift with fire and purpose, but if the opposing team can weather this onslaught, they seem to get discouraged and accept the fact that it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to impose their will.
As a result, they tend to back off somewhat and look for the "perfect" opportunity, rather than continuing to throw everything they can on the opposing net in spite of the statistics.
You do not see the Crosbys, Toewses, or even Ovechkins falling prey to such a defeatist mentality.
Seeing such examples from their best players, the rest of the team adopts a similar tentative approach, allowing the other team to dictate the flow, and too often the outcome, of the game.
Conversely, the team's confidence is easy to disturb even when things go well early on. Game Four of the Western Conference Finals this year clearly shows that.
Having scored a short-handed goal to extend their lead to 2-0, a disputed ugly goal by the Blackhawks shook the Sharks up and got them focused more on a questionable call than the game at hand.
They still had the lead but immediately slipped into a scrambling, frustrated, reactionary posture. Before long, Chicago took the lead and the series in a sweep.
Too many people assume that confidence and swagger must necessarily grow out of success.
However, the best teams and players possess this conviction before they succeed. They carry themselves like champions and challenge their opposition to prove them wrong.
Call it swagger or call it arrogance, but if you want to win hockey's (or any sport's) ultimate prize, you better have some of it.
The Sharks have by all accounts had the talent to hoist the Cup for some time, perhaps swagger has been the missing piece to the puzzle.
I do not expect the 2011 Sharks to go out and record their own version of the Super Bowl Shuffle, but they may need to embrace the underlying mindset to some extent if they expect to finally vanquish their postseason demons and bring Lord Stanley to San Jose.
Whether that comes by way of a roster shake up or a shift in the attitude of the current players remains to be seen, but something needs to change if they expect the ultimate results to.
If the Sharks' players do not believe they will win the Stanley Cup, why should the fans?
Keep the Faith!
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