That tip-tapping din heard throughout Silicon Valley Tuesday night was the not the sound of celebratory texting, rather disgruntlement being spread throughout the blogosphere about the annual San Jose Sharks debacle.
With their 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks upheld their Memorial Day tradition of being barbecued, losing the Western Conference Finals in five games. And in the wake of San Jose’s demise, it’s only natural for fans pull out those smart phones to post commentary about what the Sharks need to do in the offseason.
After all, a fourth consecutive Pacific Division crown—including the 2008-09 Presidents’ Trophy season—had given Sharks fans expectations of an iota of playoff success. Instead, they have seen their beloved Sharks flounder yet again, evoking comparisons to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills or NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
Unlike those often heavily favored teams, San Jose has never even tasted the championship round, advancing to but falling in the conference finals three times in seven seasons.
So What’s next? fans ask, for a franchise that clearly has some thinking to do about how to reach that next level and get to the next round. But the more precise question is What changes will be made during the organizational shake-up? There will be a shake-up, so it’s better to find out what’s going to happen to the team during this edition’s sorrowful offseason.
Fingers will immediately point to veteran Patrick Marleau’s helter-skelter performance this post season and in past playoffs as reason for his release. But after being blasted as gutless during the second round against Detroit, Marleau showed up against Vancouver in a rather gut-ful effort that resulted in four goals and three assists.
Marleau’s disappearing act versus the Red Wings was easy to see when the Sharks couldn’t close the series, but his overall performance was not the major reason they continue to fail.
Yet, while Marleau’s name can be often played in blame game, there are other teammates who should shoulder more culpability. Forward Dany Heatley, a four-time All-Star, seemed to cool down this season, tallying only 64 points—a career low for a non-strike shortened campaign—and a mere 10 points during these playoffs.
He made minimal impact in each series, especially on special teams, which led to San Jose’s downfall. At only 31, Heatley obviously has more legs left in him; but he just hasn’t proved his worth in Sharks teal—especially as their highest paid player.
If the Sharks trade anyone this offseason, it should be Heatley rather than Marleau. Heatley has not produced top-line play, and with youngsters Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture easily performing at higher levels, trading him would make sense in the long run. Overall, Heatley has lacked the fire and tenacity that had made him a superstar in Atlanta and Ottawa. His time in San Jose has been short, but his underwhelming performance cannot go on any longer.
Should they do so, the Sharks need to upgrade their defense. The playoffs demonstrated their weakness in preserving leads in the third period, and they let themselves down time and time again in several late-game situations. The departures of defensemen Rob Blake and Christian Ehrhoff, and defense-minded Mike Grier, the past two seasons proved to be significant during these playoffs, as Detroit and Vancouver dominated the Sharks in special teams.
Meanwhile, recent acquisitions Ian White and Niclas Wallin were penetrable, seemingly unable to keep up with opponents deep in their own zone. There is no doubt that the Sharks exit from the playoffs was more about their defensive miscues than it was their inability to score goals. The Sharks’ dominance in the Pacific has been equal parts star goal scorers along with defense and great goaltending.
But this postseason showed that they need to shore up their D-line. If the Sharks want to swim deeper into the playoffs, they need to clamp down when they smell blood, and that starts on the defensive end.
The one guarantee that Sharks fans can anticipate this offseason, however, is lower expectations. They have put their heart and soul into a team that represents South Bay Area suburbia, but over time, the devastation will build, and they’ll tire of post season collapses. With a lower set of standards, fans won’t be so heartbroken if and when the Sharks get de-finned in The Tank.
In a city that breeds progressive Internet technology, fans’ attention spans will move quickly. And they’ll eventually find different ways to vent their frustrations about their Sharks. In fact, there’s probably an app for it on their iPad.
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