As of this writing, the Sharks have 17 games left in their regular season, and there is a legitimate question as to whether there will even be 4 games beyond that. It's almost inconceivable that such a question could be asked of this team. The faithful here have become used to a certain standard of excellence that is lacking in the current version of Team Teal.
Over the course of this season, Fear The Fin has been blessed to have such a talented and professional group of writers covering the team, and helping us to understand their performance, and the game of hockey in general. We've learned a lot about how the team works, and what they need to do to be successful.
And yet, most nights, it seems, we wind up scratching our heads and wondering how these results came to be. Some among us have maybe even come to mistrust the statistical analysis that's used here and many other places throughout the NHL and the blogosphere (including, it must be stated, in the Sharks' front office AND among the current coaching staff).
Worse than that, it can seem as though the community around these parts has become more and more about complaining about the team. Everyone has theories about what needs to be fixed. Maybe it's dumping Patrick Marleau, or ending the Joe Thornton experiment. Maybe Dan Boyle needs to be put out to pasture, and we need to acquire Rick Nash or Alex Semin. We never should have traded Dany Heatley or Devin Setoguchi or Jamie McGinn. And it all went south when we parted ways with Evgeni Nabokov, Jonathan Cheechoo and Kyle Wellwood.
Maybe one or all of these things is true, and we've spent a good 6 months belaboring every one of those points to death. And somewhere along the line, the Sharks played 65 games. And not a single one of these questions has been answered to anything resembling a certainty.
We're down to the wire here this time. Raise your hands if, when that goal was scored 10 minutes in tonight, you were ready to throw in the towel. Don't be ashamed if you were. I'll fully admit, I was. And I think any good fan can realize what a terrible thing that is.
Yes, we're all mad as hell, and we don't want to take it anymore. It's hard following a team for 82 games, and trying to stay with them through all the ups and downs. But that's what it means to be a fan. These players have spent their whole lives preparing for a chance few ever get. And for them to achieve their dream, they have to go through 29 other teams full of guys who want the exact same thing, to say nothing of the hours of practice, the years in juniors, the challenge of sticking, and the physical toll the game takes.
We're hockey fans, and somewhere deep down, we all subscribe to that Western Canadian ethos: playing hurt, never calling in sick, never admitting pain, never giving in and never giving up. And we expect the same of the men we root for. If we expect it from them, we should expect it from ourselves.
I'll reiterate what I said last season:
...I am also a man of faith. I know not everyone out there shares my particular faith, and they don't have to. But we could all use some right now. And, in my experience, sometimes, you can't wait for someone else to give you faith, you just have to have it for yourself.
I think we have to believe harder than ever in this team, because something is not right, and it needs to be fixed.
So what can we do? Will our clicking our heels twice and wishing we were in Kansas bring a Cup to San Jose? Rationally, no, not even close. Will our wearing teal on gamedays and starting new lucky routines have any bearing on the team being able to enter the zone effectively on a power play? Doubtful.
But not impossible.
Belief is an important thing. Not because it changes the world. In my experience, belief changes you.
I said last season that you couldn't be a passive fan. You had to invest yourself in the team and its success. I still believe that, and I'll count myself guilty on that count.
Somewhere along the line, this season became about who was right. And it became about watching the team to see it fail. And with the comedy of errors that this season has produced, who could blame anyone for being a bit fatalistic. Our coach got a concussion and our plane was grounded on the last night of the season's longest road trip!
All that means is that success is going to be harder to achieve, and that much sweeter when it finally comes.
The season is not over. Any calls that it is are entirely premature. As long as there are games to be played and points to be had, nothing is set in stone.
The past doesn't matter anymore. If we're going to dwell on the past, what's the difference between a bad road trip and back to back conference final losses, or two decades without the ultimate dream?
We don't keep coming back to this team because we're clinging to the past. We keep coming back because we have hope to the future. We didn't lose faith when the team lost 70 games. I refuse to lose it because we've lost 32.
I hope you all feel the same.
If you do, then I throw down the same challenge to you I threw down last season. I'm changing my avatar to the team logo, and, well, I never dropped the GO SHARKS from my sig.
But whatever you do, whether it's wearing your jersey every day, that good luck thong you have, or slaughtering a duck on game days, do it.
There's a choice everyone has. We can keep up with the same old routine. We can criticize the team for a lack of heart or chlamydia or not enough grit or bacon. We can criticize the coaches, the front office, the captains, the beat writers and the popcorn guy. And we can sit around and wait for the end to come, and pat ourselves on the back for calling it.
Or, we can pour ourselves into this fight and get behind the team. If they lose, no big. Next season's another season.
But if they win...
Don't let yourself consider the ramifications of that.