The Sharks have been the most consistent San Francisco Bay Area team in the past decade. They have improved to be a constant figure in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with nine appearances in the past 10 seasons, including consecutive appearances since 2003.
And they make their fellow Bay Area counterparts look like slackers. While the San Francisco Giants are the exception with an incredible 2010 World Series campaign, it was only the fourth time the Giants had made the postseason since 2000.
And while the 49ers look promising this season, they haven’t given Bay Area fans much to root for as of late. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2002.
While the Sharks consistently prove that they can excel in the playoffs, they have been denied at the Western Conference Finals for the past two seasons—humbled and swept by the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, and ousted by Kevin Bieksa and the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
After heading back to the drawing board yet again, I understand the dissatisfaction that fans and players alike have experienced. But have the Sharks made the right adjustments this season to finally get it done?
Each offseason Doug Wilson has a few tricks up his sleeve, making bold transactions for the purpose of getting Team Teal closer to a Cup. The 2011 offseason included arguably the Sharks’ most significant changes to the franchise yet. On draft day, the Sharks acquired All-Star defenseman Brent Burns from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, a prospect and a draft pick. A month later, the Sharks dealt with Minnesota again, this time trading away elite goal scorer Dany Heatley in exchange for talented winger Martin Havlat.
Both Burns and Havlat have made an instant impact this season, combining for 16 points through 18 games. Burns has especially given the team a lift with his dynamic two-way play.
The Sharks also signed center Michal Handzus and veteran defenseman Colin White over the summer. Handzus has jumped right in, scoring in the first game of the season and connecting well with linemates, including former teammate Havlat. White, however, has struggled alongside Jason Demers and has yet to record a point this season.
In addition, blueliner Jim Vandermeer, centerman Andrew Murray, and towering winger Brad Winchester joined the party by signing one-year contracts with the club.
At this point in the season, it looks like San Jose’s acquisitions are beginning to pay off. The efforts that the Sharks organization has put in to tweak the dynamic of the team begs the question: Will it be enough to compete for the Cup?
In order for the Sharks to technically improve from last season, they need to take the next step by advancing to a Stanley Cup Final. So from a statistical standpoint, anything not resulting in a Stanley Cup Final appearance would be sub-par and unacceptable.
But, when we take into account everything that happens over the course of an NHL season (injuries, fatigue, winning and losing streaks) we gain a new appreciation of what constitutes success and failure for a given season. The Sharks have taken huge steps in the right direction, but will encounter talented teams equally ambitious for the Cup. And only one team can win it all.
If they do make it to the Stanley Cup Final, they have been solid against Eastern Conference teams this season. So far they are 4-1 against Eastern teams, including wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. They finished the 2010-11 season with a 9-8-1 record against Eastern Conference clubs.
I guarantee that the San Jose Sharks will continue to be the most entertaining team in the Bay Area, and it’s only a matter of time until they claim a much-deserved Stanley Cup. But is the team stamped as a complete failure if there is no Cup appearance? Not in my book.