2009-10 San Jose Sharks: Stanley Cup or Bust?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer ISeptember 26, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 15:  Rob Blake #4, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20, Patrick Marleau #12 and Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks skate to the bench after defeating the Anaheim Ducks 1-0 in their NHL game at Honda Center on March 15, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Sharks shutout the Ducks 1-0.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

As sports fans we have all heard the claims of "Super Bowl or Bust," "World Series or Bust" and "Stanley Cup or Bust." But most of the time these claims are misplaced and over-exaggerated statements made by fans and athletes alike.

However, when it comes to the 2009-10 San Jose Sharks, the claim "Stanley Cup or Bust" may actually be true.

Over the years, various Sharks fans have deemed each season as "Cup or bust" but each time a fan made that statement, I shook my head in disagreement. When it comes to winning what is widely considered as the hardest trophy to win all of professional sport, how can a fan claim that his/her team "has to win it, or else"?

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are like no other playoff. NHL teams have to win 16 games compared to just four at most in the NFL playoffs. Each series is a best of seven, unlike baseball whose opening round is only five games (not to mention they only have three total rounds to hockey's four).

And although the NBA has to win 16 games, they do not have to go through the intense physical grind of playing two full 60 minute games in one evening to decide a winner (IE: a three-plus OT thriller). Plus it's not like LeBron James has to worry about a 6' 9" 255 pound Zdeno Chara launching him into the end boards.

Therefore, when you really think about it, can we really say "Cup or Bust" as a fan of an NHL team?

Well, when your team has become known as the "choke artists" of the league, your GM has weakened your defense corps through offseason trades and three of your most important players are in contract years (including your number one goalie), you may finally have the right to claim "Cup or Bust."

Despite the big acquisition of the offseason giving the Sharks a boost on the offensive side of the puck, (and presumably a boost for years to come) this season still looks to be a "Cup or Bust" type of season.

Trading for Dany Heatley is a monumental upgrade offensively and by no means was the wrong move to make. Heatley's presence makes the Sharks scary on their top line and power-play, but what about their defense?

In a salary dump move, Sharks GM Doug Wilson shipped off defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver in exchange for prospects. The trade now leaves the Sharks with only four solid defenseman as according to the Sharks site, Todd McLellan doesn't consider defenseman Kent Huskins as a part of a solid top five because "conditioning might be part of the problem".

With Huskins apparently lacking in his conditioning this offseason and Rob Blake almost certain to retire after this season, the Sharks defensive corps may be getting thin real quick.

If Huskins fails to perform this season and Blake leaves via retirement, the Sharks will be left with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Douglas Murray as the only experienced defenseman. That doesn't bode well for future success in San Jose.

Now if the defense was where the Sharks' worries started and ended, then fans shouldn't have to hit the panic button.

However, along with Blake probable to retire, both long-time captain Patrick Marleau and starting net-minder Evgeni Nabokov are in their contract years.

Considering the fact that both failed to show up in the playoffs last year and the subsequent trade rumors this offseason, it is a huge question whether one or either of them will be back next season.

Especially in Nabokov's case, the 34-year-old isn't getting any younger and his best days seem to clearly be behind him. This wouldn't be that big of a deal but the Sharks don't exactly seem to have an adequate replacement in their minor league system.

If Nabokov does resign after this season, how much can he really provide in net at age 35, 36, or 37? If he doesn't resign, can guys like Thomas Greiss or Tyson Sexsmith really be a difference maker at the NHL level?

In Marleau's case, if the Sharks don't bring back their captain of the past five seasons then what happens to their offense? Like mentioned above, the Heatley trade was a smart move but if Marleau fails to re-sign with San Jose how would that look? Can the Sharks really afford to lose Milan Michalek and Patrick Marleau in the span of just one season?

Not only is the defense clearly deteriorating in San Jose, but the offense without Marleau in the mix just won't be the same.

Now some may say that the Sharks will be okay because they have a quality farm system. But unlike the surprise players like Vlasic and Torrey Mitchell who earned their spots out of nowhere in the past, former first round pick (9th overall) Logan Couture has barely been heard of since being drafted two years ago.

Players who came up from the minors last season like Ryan Vesce, Derek Joslin, Jamie McGinn, and Lukas Kaspar didn't seem to bring much more than third/fourth line potential to the mix.

So just like the San Francisco Giants farm system has gone from one of the league's worst to one of the league's best in recent years, has the Sharks farm system started to do a 180 the other way?

With all the questions surrounding the Sharks after this season, this is the year where fans can honestly say "Stanley Cup or Bust" for team teal.

Considering that there are no guarantee's on whether Blake, Marleau or Nabokov will back, this is the year the Sharks finally have to get over the hump or...else?

Where could the Sharks possibly go from another playoff failure?

As Sharks fans, hopefully we won't have to ask that question when June rolls around.

Hopefully, the Sharks will have stood alone with a big silver thing in the middle of the team picture.


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