[Editor's Note]: Elvis gets us rolling with a very good Fanpost on who should be placed on the San Jose Sharks Mt. Puckmore. Leave your thoughts in the comments.
We all know Puck Daddy has been doing the Mt. Puckmore for each team. I'm sure Plank, TCY or someone will be called upon to do the official one for Team Teal, but I thought it might be fun to at least get the debate going. So, what follows is my personal top four. Feel free to debate, disagree, call me names or just reminisce about your favorite Team Teal memories.
This season, the San Jose Sharks will celebrate 20 years of hockey. For much of their history, the team has been an afterthought in the league; a small market team out in a non-traditional hockey region that plays most of its games at 10pm Eastern. But for those in the Bay Area, for whom hockey was perhaps something new, something to soothe the pain of teams on the decline, dynasties ending, modern business practices that saw fan favorites traded away, arena disputes, threats of moving and a thousand and one other indignities, the San Jose Sharks have been a bright spot in the Bay Area sporting landscape for the past two decades. From humble beginnings, the team has emerged as one of the elite franchises in the NHL today. It's been a long, winding, sometimes bumpy road, and there is still far to go, but these four faces have done more to get the franchise where it is than any others.
1. Doug Wilson
The first captain in team history. A former Norris Trophy winner. One of the finest defenseman of his day. Doug Wilson brought instant credibility to a new franchise in a new place. Unquestionably a future Hall of Famer, Wilson was the team's first All-Star, and did much to help build the profile of the team to a new fanbase.
His biggest contributions to the team, however, have been from the front office. The current General Manager is one of the best in the business. He is the mastermind behind arguably three of the biggest trades of the past decade, and has engineered many smaller ones to keep the Sharks competitive throughout his tenure, which includes three division titles in 5 seasons, three 50 win seasons and four 100 point seasons. The team's post-season performances do leave much to be desired, but it's hard to pin any significant portion of blame on the man who put together the team that got there.
The trick of keeping a smaller-market, smaller-revenue team competitive in the modern NHL is no small feat. Who is to say the Sharks would remain a successful franchise if they had the record of other struggling NHL markets such as Phoenix, Atlanta or Columbus? Bay Area fans are fickle. But the consistent success of the team has kept the fanbase energized and continued to make the Tank one of the toughest buildings to play in, a credit to the architects of this team. Doug Wilson inherited a very good team from former GM Dean Lombardi, who might make this list if not for Wilson, and is now doing great work turning around the Kings. Doug Wilson took this team to the next level, just like he did two decades ago when he put on the C.
2. Owen Nolan
After some early successes, including the famous playoff series victory over the Red Wings in the ‘93-‘94, the Sharks went through some very lean years, including a 50 loss season in 1995-96. The novelty of the team was threatening to wear off. The team had lost a bit of its identity with the departure of many familiar faces.
Enter Owen Nolan.
Fans of other teams Buster has played for might wonder what all the fuss is about. And with some reason. Nolan has been mostly average for the other teams he played for. But for 8 season, Owen Nolan was the heart and soul of this team. When he left, he held every significant scoring record for the young franchise. His departure signaled a bit of a rebuild for the team. But during his tenure in Teal, Owen Nolan was The Man. The prototypical power forward who did it all: score, grind, fight, lead. For a team that in recent seasons has had its heart questioned, fairly or not, it is clear that the team misses a player from his mold. If you want to get a sense of what Nolan meant to this team, consider a few of his greatest plays:
3. Mike Ricci
Was Mike Ricci a great player? Not particularly. He only cracked the 20 goal mark twice in seven seasons with the Sharks. He did crack 50 points four times and 60 points three times. He was a solid contributor, giving the team all important scoring depth.
Was Mike Ricci a great Shark? Absolutely. Night in and night out, no player gave more of himself for his time than Ricci. Need a faceoff won? Put him in the circle. Need a loose puck won? Get him on the ice. Need the puck protected along the boards? He's your man. Need someone to keep his head in pressure situations? Tap him.
Ricci was never the most talented player. But whatever shortcomings he had, he more than made up for with pure hard work. He was the epitome of Sharks teams in the ‘90s. Overachievers. Fighters. Scrappers. World beaters. Guys who went to battle for each other and never gave up, even when the odds were long. What indelible image is there of Ricci? Other than that ridiculous gap tooth smile? It's him on his knees, still fighting for the puck. It's him in the corner, being absolutely hammered by someone, and still holding on to the puck. It's him digging in deeper and pushing that much harder. And winning.
4. Joe Thornton
Everyone knows Joe Thornton. That says something on a team that has largely been anonymous for its history. Joe is the first true superstar in franchise history. He's a somewhat polarizing figure. He was run out of Boston for not being a big game player. People think there is still some untapped potential in the big centerman, another gear he has yet to find if he wants to get over the hump.
Regardless, Joe Thornton is one of the most dominant players in the league today. It's no secret, if you shut down Joe, you shut down the Sharks. And that's what teams do if they want to beat the Sharks. He is the most important player on the ice in any given game he plays in.
His numbers? Well, they're a bit ridiculous. Suffice to say, he's a point per game man. First winner of the Ross and Hart trophies in franchise history in that memorable '05-'06 season in which he and Jonathan Cheechoo were unstoppable, and he led a team that was languishing in 12th place prior to the trade on a tear that propelled them to 5th and into the playoffs. Olympic Gold Medalist. Lover of Wolly Mammoths. Lousy Ventriloquist.
More than anything, Joe has embraced San Jose as his home. Coming from a franchise as storied as the Bruins and making a commitment to the team has endeared Joe to Teal Town. For a franchise that has been passed over by other big name free agents, Joe's love of the team, the city and the fans has been a balm that has soothed many earlier heartaches. He is so important to this team on and off the ice. Say what you want about his play, his attitude, his leadership, his heart, whatever. Joe Thorton is the most important man ever to wear Teal.
He's probably better remembered as a Detroit Red Wing, but Larionov was the first elite level player to wear Teal, and was the calming veteran presence that led the team to that famous victory over the Red Wings. All due respect to Joe Thornton, but Larionov may be the most talented player ever in team history.
The secret behind the team's early success. A Cinderella team is only as good as its goaltender. And Arty and his wacky puck handling adventures were darned good. Somewhere in the rafters of the Tank, echoes of "Irbe" still ring out every time a great save is made.
The greatest goaltender in franchise history. Period. On another team, Nabby could have been one of the all-time greats. With his recent departure to the KHL, much has been written about how he wasn't a big game netminder. Those missives are clearly written by people who never watched Sharks hockey before 2005. Evgeni Nabokov was the reason the team was able to compete. In the days before the Cap, when this small market team dared to run with the Red Wings, the Stars, the Avalanche and the elite of the NHL, they went as far as the man between the pipes could carry them, because Lord knows the Sharks were outmatched at every position. Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, Brad Stuart, Mike Rathje are all fine players, but Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Niklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger they are not. Behind decidedly average defenses, Nabokov was great.
The man holds every meaningful record for forwards in team history. But he does not make the top four. Why not? He is one of the league's elite two way players. He's consistently the best skater on the team. He's changed his game to adapt to the team's needs. He's consistently had good numbers in the playoffs, some of the best in the league in fact. And yet, it's hard to say Patrick Marleau is an impact player. The quiet former captain has not yet put together a season, or a playoff run, in which the success of the team seemed to hinge on him. Throughout his 12 seasons in teal, he's yet to be the most important forward on the team. That title has been held by Owen Nolan, Vincent Damphousse and Joe Thornton respectively. Someday, the Sharks will win a Stanley Cup. It's very likely that on that day, Patrick Marleau will be the reason why. Until then, he remains an honorable mention.
He's only been with the team two years. Otherwise he'd be up there. Why?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHTkckDUL94 (watch 2:32 to 2:45)
He was only here a short while, but in that time, he had an incredible impact. From goal #500, to shaving cream pies in Alexei Semenov's face, from Game 7 against Calgary to his quotability, JR earned a place in the heart of every Sharks fan.