With the advent of the salary cap, and the promise of high paydays for players via free agency, establishing a period of sustained success in the modern NHL is no minor feat. Organizations who once were able to spend their way to Stanley, ignoring their developmental system due to the siren song of salaries and sexy names, found themselves struggling under the weight of top heavy rosters lacking the necessary depth to compete.
When it comes to the second round series set to be played between theand however, there's no shortage of success to go around. Success that has been enjoyed by both organizations for nearly an entire decade.
The rosters speak for themselves in terms of talent level--meet , meet , meet Dan Boyle-- but perhaps the most intriguing part of the upcoming series is just how good both organizations have been lately. With a second straight date in the second round, and their third postseason meeting in five years, the fact that both teams have managed to get here once again should come as little surprise.
Since the 2003-2004 season the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings have been the class of the Western Conference during the regular season, winning at a rate that far surpasses that of their contemporaries. During that time frame Detroit has accumulated 779 standings points, good for first in the NHL with an average of 111 per year. The second place Sharks have brought in an equally impressive 753 standings points, averaging 107 per year.
Furthermore, both organizations have eclipsed the 40 win mark for seven straight years and, with the exception of 05-06 for San Jose (which saw them earn 99 points), have put together consecutive 100 point years. They remain the only two organizations across the entire NHL to have made the postseason for seven straight seasons.
All together San Jose and Detroit have combined for eleven division titles (DET 6, SJS 5) and four Presidents' Trophies (DET 3, SJS 1) since 2003-2004, a testament to their regular season success. And on some level that success has translated to the postseason as well-- heading into this weekend San Jose has advanced to two Western Conference Finals and the Red Wings three, and with the winner of this series headed to the third round it will mean that the two organizations will have played in six of the last seven Conference Finals.
Sustained success. Organizations who have delivered over the long haul. Teams who have been good for so long that it's hard to remember the days when preseason concerns over a playoff berth were even somewhat justifiable.
And yet, for one team, disappointment when it has mattered most.
As history will show, the difference between these two organizations rears its manic disfigured head in the postseason. Despite the regular season accolades that have piled up with regularity over the last seven years, indulgent ruminations about San Jose's disappointing playoff runs are as fatigued as they are relevant. It is the lone achievement separating the two organizations when speaking of hockey immortality and the primary reason why the aura of excellence surrounding the Sharks is dwarfed in comparison to the one the Red Wings are currently bathed in.
Without a single Stanley Cup Finals appearance to their name, this franchise has lived in the shadow of Big Brother Bowman and Big Brother Babcock throughout the entirety of their twenty year existence. 1994, while an immensely important victory in Sharks history, came at a time when the organization wasn't expected to be anything but an underdog with a loud bark and some timely bites. 2007 was a brutal reminder of the transgressions that populated the recent past, a moment when the franchise was perpetually budding but could never fully bloom.
2010 was the moment where the Sharks showed up to that postseason party with their heads filled with visions of grandeur, bearing witness to a team that was able to conquer their conquerors on the biggest stage the NHL has to offer. There's a compelling case to be made that it was the biggest playoff victory in franchise history-- it took them to a round they hadn't been to since the lockout in a time when getting to that round was the expectation every single year. The Sharks had finally delivered on their eternal promise. And for a week in May, hope reigned supreme.
This season San Jose struggles with a far different dilemma. One of perseverance, one of longevity. Detroit isn't the psychological serpent it was a year ago. Rather, they're just a great goddamn hockey team. San Jose's "Second Round Suicide" hotline was revoked of funding following Patrick Marleau's goal in game three last season, long-time callers suddenly cured. They began to populate far more constructive support groups such as Treating Turnovers and Dealing With The Defense. Forums that helped alleviate mental issues with the body, not mental issues with the mind.
For the first time in franchise history the Sharks and Wings compete on equal footing in the postseason. There are no demons to be exorcised, no gorillas on their backs. The Winged Wheel is no longer a representation of what your uncle swears is the Hindu symbol for death and destruction-- it is merely the symbol for an excellent hockey team from the city of Detroit, Michigan. A team who will throw everything they have at San Jose throughout the course of this seven game series.
On April 29th, 2010 the Sharks embarked on a journey of validation, a journey that produced the franchise's greatest achievement.
On April 29th, 2011 the Sharks embark on something far different.
A journey where its only notable function is the ability to put San Jose one step closer to where they want to be.