2012 was an indisputably rough year to be a Sharks fan. Not only was half of it engulfed by a needless and protracted lockout, the few months that actually featured hockey were mostly filled with bitter disappointment in San Jose as the team secured its lowest finish in the standings since 2003 and were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs quicker than ever. Still, not all of it was dismal and even the aspects of 2012 we'd rather forget are still etched in our hearts like aorta-severing battle scars (um, non-fatal ones I guess. This was a terrible analogy). Let's count down the ten most memorable Sharks moments and stories of the year, excluding the lockout because I'm sick of talking about it.
10. Todd McLellan sustains the most improbable concussion ever
With concussions a hot-button issue in the NHL and diagnoses as common as ever, you expect players to be at risk for head injuries every time they step on the ice. Not so much coaches. And yet, during a game in Minnesota on February 26th, Jamie McGinn checked Wild defenseman Marco Scandella into the Sharks bench, causing his stick to strike Todd McLellan in the head. McLellan was out for three straight games with concussion-like symptoms that he unfortunately dealt with throughout the remainder of the season.
9. Brad Stuart returns to the scene of the crime
Almost seven years after committing the hockey equivalent of grand larceny by shipping Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm to Boston in exchange for Joe Thornton, Doug Wilson somehow managed to make that trade look incrementally more lopsided by re-acquiring the best of those three trade chips. After obtaining his rights from the Red Wings, Wilson signed Stuart to a 3-year, $10.8 million contract in June to ensure the Sharks' first rounder from 1998 will patrol their blueline again when NHL hockey returns. Stuart's been a good sport about all this as well, opting to wear the #7 he donned during his first tour of duty in San Jose.
8. Sharks miraculously keep their first round pick, draft Tomas Hertl
The last time San Jose drafted a player in the first round of the entry draft who made it an entire calendar year with the organization was 2007, when the Sharks nabbed Logan Couture and Nick Petrecki. I guess it's still possible Tomas Hertl is traded before next summer rolls around but assuming he isn't, the Sharks finally have a forward prospect in their arsenal capable of being a top-six contributor in the NHL at some point in the future.
7. Martin Havlat scores two goals, including the OT winner, in his second game back from injury
Apart from Teemu Selanne's brief and disappointing stint in teal, the Sharks have rarely had players in their history that blend crafty puck skills, sublime vision and blazing speed as well as Martin Havlat does when he's at the top of his game. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of Havlat at any stage of his game during his debut season as a San Jose Shark. After missing the start of the 2011-12 campaign while rehabbing from offseason surgery, Havlat was again injured in darkly comical fashion in December 2011. Following months of recovery, he finally returned to the team's lineup in March just in time to help the floundering Sharks during their playoff push. He came through in just his second game back, potting the game-winner and another goal in a win over Detroit on March 17th.
6. Lone San Jose All-Star representative Logan Couture wins a car for being picked last
It's only two years old (and we probably won't see it again until at least 2015) but few NHL events present as bizarre a spectacle as the All-Star Fantasy Draft. There's something about Pierre McGuire's breathless coverage of Daniel Alfredsson picking Alex Edler in the eleventh round of a team selection process for a glorified game of shinny that's equal parts surreal and nauseating. Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of it all is the extent to which the organizers bend over backwards to ensure the multimillionaire professional athlete picked last doesn't get his feelings hurt on national television. Logan Couture was Mr. Irrelevant at January's All-Star Game in Ottawa and not only took it in stride but reportedly gave the car he won as compensation for being the final selection to the great Judson Couture.
5. Neverending Rick Nash sweepstakes ends with Couture and Pavelski mercifully still Sharks
Scott Howson is not very good at his job. So, naturally, when his star captain signed to an exorbitant long-term contract demanded a trade in the midst of another awful season in Columbus, Howson's demands were completely unreasonable. As a result, Rick Nash trademania lasted for literally half of 2012 with the Sharks, by all accounts, one of the teams in the mix throughout. The reasons were obvious: San Jose needed scoring, Nash and Joe Thornton were lockout buddies and the Sharks were one of the few teams Nash wouldn't veto a trade to. But when Howson came calling for Logan Couture, Doug Wilson wisely hung up the phone and thankfully never proceeded to hammer out a deal centered around Joe Pavelski either. The best move DW made all year was the one he didn't actually make.
4. Jamie McGinn traded to Colorado in controversial deadline deal
To many, the worst move Doug Wilson made all year was shipping fan favorite Jamie McGinn, enjoying the best season of his young NHL career, along with Michael Sgarbossa and Mike Connolly to the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline for Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi. Personally, I'm still lukewarm about the deal and since judging trades in hindsight is cheating, thought it was a terrific trade at the time. McGinn went on to catch fire playing with a competent center in Denver while Galiardi struggled to make an impact in any area of the ice, which soured many on the deal. Winnik slightly improved the Sharks' penalty kill and drove possession extremely well at even-strength although he wasn't able to bury many opportunities but San Jose ended up losing him to Anaheim in free agency so that stung as well.
3. Sharks beat eventual Cup champion Los Angeles twice in a row to clinch 7th seed
During a season (and especially a calendar year) like the Sharks had, it's the small victories that take on added importance. So even though the team's home-and-home against the Kings to close out the regular season was largely meaningless (the Sharks clinched a playoff berth during the first intermission of Game 81), beating their hated Southern California rivals twice in a row in increasingly dramatic fashion was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign. San Jose didn't even play particularly well in either contest, outshot 67-54 as it was already clear the Kings were not your average eighth seed but a 6-5 shootout victory (featuring matching Gordie Howe hat tricks from Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe) coupled with a 3-2 overtime win allowed the Sharks to finish higher in the standings than the club that went on to hoist Lord Stanley.
2. Disappointment I: Sharks lose 12 of 15 games during Road Trip From Hell, aftermath
On Valentine's Day 2012, the Sharks boasted a 31-17-6 record and were atop the Pacific Division despite having played fewer games than every other team in the Western Conference. And then it all fell apart. A horrendous road trip in which they lost 6 of 8 games against teams like Columbus and Minnesota in addition to continued struggles after returning home to the likes of Buffalo and Edmonton plummeted the Sharks in the standings. The great SnarkSD took a detailed look at the causes of San Jose's struggles and confirmed what most of us saw at the time: piss-poor puck luck at turning scoring chances into goals along with the penalty kill continuing to be terrible accelerated the Sharks' decline through February and early March. The streak probably wasn't the harbinger of the current core group's demise many interpreted it as but it sure was disheartening at the time.
1. Disappointment II: Sharks suffer quickest postseason exit in franchise history
Of course, when the Sharks finally did get their act together and eked into the playoffs all that awaited them was more misfortune. The new-look, Ken Hitchcock-led St. Louis Blues had given San Jose fits all season with their control of the neutral zone and effectiveness in transition, winning all four regular season matchups against the Sharks. So drawing them in the first round wasn't ideal and despite some early false hope injected into the fanbase courtesy Martin Havlat, the Sharks faltered soon enough, losing the series in five games and exiting the Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier than they ever had in the franchise's 21-year history.
This certainly isn't all that happened involving the Sharks in 2012. The team added Hall of Famer Larry Robinson as an associate coach, their ECHL affiliate San Francisco Bulls held their inaugural season and Owen Nolan retired. Feel free to reminisce about your own memorable Sharks moments from 2012 and yell at me about all the ones I missed and/or ordered improperly in the comments.