Nearly a year ago, the San Jose Sharks were just another NHL team on the Chicago Blackhawks schedule. Flash forward to this season: Sharks fans are in for a rude awakening, should they cross Blackhawks fans.
Generally, no one is really concerned about teams from the West Coast. Most of the newer NHL franchises have barely made any enemies from outside of their division. After this past post-season and off-season though, the Sharks organization has created a rivalry with Chicago.
Let’s have a small re-cap of what caused this impending chaos.
1. Dave Bolland vs. Joe Thornton
These two probably did not have anything nice to say about each other after the Western Conference Finals.
In Game 2 of the WCF, Joe Thornton had drawn a penalty after he whacked Dave Bolland in the wrists before the official could drop the puck on an in-zone face-off for the Sharks. Bolland, also known as "The Rat" after this match-up, was able to play inside Thornton’s head, which made the Sharks suffer.
I am sure Joel Quenneville will be making sure these two centres are matched up once again come the 2011 season.
2. The men that have been lost
The Chicago Blackhawks have lost several of the players that frustrated their new rivals.
The Sharks struggled with both Antti Niemi and Dustin Byfuglien during the WCF. Niemi became the Finnish Fortress and had two games with 44 saves. Byfuglien absorbed seven points during the four-game series against the Sharks.
With the Blackhawks losing both players for next season, the Sharks now believe the Blackhawks are stoppable and beatable, while Chicago will be proving that they no longer need them, and that their replacements are better. This new match-up will be interesting to see.
The Sharks have not lost much, but they did lose their goalie. Evgeni Nabakov was known to be a proven goalie, if a bit of a "choker." Nabakov guided the Sharks all the way to the WCF in 2010, but completely failed them when facing the Blackhawks.
He is now replaced by Antero Niittymaki. This will be the true test whether it was Evgeni Nabakov preventing the Sharks from winning the Stanley Cup or their defence.
3. Doug Wilson’s Offer Sheet
This one is for the fans. The San Jose Sharks had signed Blackhawks restricted free agent defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a free agent offer sheet, signing the defenceman to a four-year, $14 million dollar contract.
Chicago had seven days to match the offer. Amazingly, under the cap crunch, they did.
This particular situation will cause animosity among fans. A lot of Chicago Blackhawks fans were exceptionally upset with the way Doug Wilson went about getting Hjalmarsson. Nearly everyone knows this is all business, but after losing numerous players from the Stanley Cup winning team, Blackhawks fans had had enough.
These are the circumstances that will start the rivalry between the fans right off the bat, and whatever happens from there… well, that is an article for the future.