Fear The Fin sits down with From The Rink for a post-mortem look at the Sharks season
[Editor's Note]: Plank and TCY were asked to answer some questions about the San Jose Sharks season by fellow Shark fan Mike Chen. These questions will appear on From The Rink later today as well, so make sure to head over there and contribute to the discussion.
Chen: Do you think your team could have gone farther or is this what you expected?
Mr. Plank: Going into the postseason I would have told you that a Western Conference Finals loss to the Chicago Blackhawks would have been understandable. Maybe not an expectation, because I think all of the success this organization has had in the regular season bred a culture that said the Stanley Cup will always be the expectation, but it was understandable in that I’ve felt for awhile now Chicago was the best team on paper in the NHL. The level of depth they possess is remarkable.
That being said, it was pretty clear to me as the postseason rolled along that San Jose could have gone farther then they did. The Sharks came into game one playing some of the best hockey of their lives, and coupled with Chicago’s problems with inconsistency against Nashville and Vancouver, those previous parameters I established in assessing the ultimate success of a season through the lens of an impartial observer were flipped. The Sharks could have gone farther, and I think deserved to on some level. It really was a perfect storm of failing to capitalize on chances, Niemi's brilliance, and Chicago being able to open up the pace following the first period of game one.
Whether the fans can call this season an ultimate success is a tricky question. There's too much context here, and the weight you give that context probably determines how you view the results. The fact that all of the previous years the organization experienced post-lockout were some form of failure plays a role, because when you put all of these seasons into a neat little package that are dependent on one another, it doesn't look all too rosy. Taken as its own entity, and judged on its own merits, I think there are a lot of positives to take out of this year for the players. Even if it ended with a sweep.
Did they fold under the pressure, are they struggling between the ears, is the team filled with chokers-- all of those questions have been answered for me with a resounding no. Their mental makeup is fine. Now it is just a matter of getting the results to match the effort.
Chen: Any injuries (previously hidden or known) that made a big impact on the series?
TCY: The Sharks actually had the luxury of coming into the Western Conference Finals with their full compliment of players; no starter was listed out to start the series. However, Dany Heatley never looked right during the entire series, and an injury he sustained in the first round seemed to affect him the entire postseason. The type of injury was disclosed as a groin injury. Heatley only missed one game, but it's odd for him to almost dissapear from the goal column completely, especially because he's been a pretty consistent playoff performer throughout his career.
Another injury which affected the Sharks was to Niclas Wallin, who was hurt game one against Colorado. Wallin missed a significant amount of the two opening series, and therefore never quite got back into rythm. Maybe he rushed back as well, but this was definitely not the player Doug Wilson thought was worth a second round pick just a few months ago.
Chen: Was there a turning point for the series?
TCY: As terrible as it sounds, Sharp's goal from the blueline in game one was the turning point in the series. The Sharks were leading 1-0 up to that point, but had failed to capitalize on any of their chances, and that soft goal let in by Nabokov really seemed to swing momentum in Chicago's direction. The Sharks continued to have chances, but the Blackhawks built off that game one victory, and the Sharks had to adjust. Perhaps if Nabokov stops that puck, the Sharks are able to break through and win the game. Who knows where it could have gone from there.
Chen: What does the loss mean for the franchise (fan expectations, market, etc.)?
TCY: This was a conference finals or bust type year for San Jose. Thankfully, they made it into hockey's final four. However, with fan expectations at an all time high after four consecutive 100 point seasons, the loss still stung the fanbase quite a bit.
Now, there aren't as many clammoring to blow the team up as there were after the first round loss to Anaheim in 2008-2009, but job security is at a premium in San Jose. Two of the franchise's most recognizeable faces are UFA's (Marleau and Nabokov), and there are bound to be quite a few roster moves this offseason.
The Sharks are still an elite team, though, and they have a dedicated (if not obsessive) fan base in San Jose and the surrounding area. Expectations for the team will remain high, especially if the teams brings in some big free agents in the offseason. The city of San Jose depends on the Sharks to generate revenue, which leads us to believe that they'll be upgrading, as opposed to overhaulling, the team this year.
Chen: Who do you anticipate losing in the off-season?
Mr. Plank: I think Nabokov walks due to the fact he's due for a big payday and will want a 3+ year deal worth some serious coin. He deserves that final contract at this stage of his career (i.e. some dumb GM will give it to him and I will have no ill will towards Nabokov for pursuing that), but he hasn't proved why he deserves that with San Jose. Nabokov hasn't significantly outplayed his backups during his entire time in San Jose, and I hope that is something Doug Wilson seriously considers when assessing his goaltending situation.
There are some good young kids knocking at the door, and as has been covered ad nauseum in the blogosphere for the better part of the last three months, the era of the big money goaltender is likely coming to a close. Salary cap constrictions make it so difficult to risk putting money into those types of guys unless you're positive that is where you can win a championship. And as we've seen over the last five seasons, Nabokov just isn't that type of goaltender.
Other than that, it's hard to say. Marleau is the perennial question for Sharks fans, and I'm a huge supporter of his. Whether or not he is a huge supporter of the organization after last offseason's debacle is up for debate, as well as his desire to take a hometown discount to keep his family in a community that he reportedly loves. There is so much bandied about in the media that it's hard to make sense of it all.
If you're looking for a bold prediction I say he signs a frontloaded seven year contract somewhere in $5.0 M cap hit range. While a long-term contract always raises a red flag for people, I don't really understand why. There’s no telling what the salary cap will do over the life of these deals— although it’s likely to remain stagnant or increase slightly next season, the general trend since the lockout has been an increase of the ceiling. These deals could look very good five years down the road, even with the decline of the player’s value as their age increases. Furthermore, there will always be small market teams looking to get above the salary cap floor-- with the deal heavily frontloaded, the team taking on that player (in this theoretical case, Marleau) are paying very little in actual salary. The risks seem a little overblown in my opinion, especially for a San Jose team that has a rapidly declining window to win a Stanley Cup.
Outside of those two, there aren't too many questions for me. Malhotra deserves to be re-signed for roughly $2.0 M (the same contract Atlanta offered him last offseason), Nichol comes in near the league-minimum again, Rob Blake either takes a huge paycut or is let go, Wallin hits free agency and replaced in the system (both TCY and I have discussed Mike Moore off-site), and Pavelski/Setoguchi are taken care of (Pavelski around $4.5, Setoguchi around $3.0). You bring in some entry level players from Worcester to fill the gaps in your bottom six, and now you have four million dollars to work with to get a goaltender and a defenseman.
Which leads to the question of trading Clowe to free up enough space to make a significant impact on your blueline considering $4.0 M won't be enough to land a marquee name with a free agent goaltender still needing to be signed. I'm still sorting all of that out in my head as of right now, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Clowe sent off The Island.
That's basically a long-winded way of saying I anticipate Clowe, Blake, Wallin, and Nabokov being the big pieces who won't return, with Ortmeyer also a possibility if they want to promote a younger player from Worcester. Sorry for riffing on this for so long. I'm still not at the point where discussing individual players is in the best interest of my mental health, but got caught up in the moment. I would also like to take the time to publicly apologize to TCY-- we agreed that these answers would be around ten sentences long, and he stuck to the gameplan.
I'm such a dick.
Chen: What are the next steps for the franchise?
Mr. Plank: Formulate a plan to cryogenically freeze Mike Ricci under center ice for his eventual rise as Ruler of The Universe. The world isn't ready for his flowing locks to lead us into a brave new age just yet. Get rid of the whole chomp routine the fans do before a power play because we all look like idiots. Chip in to purchase Drew Remenda and Dany Heatley some Rogaine. Put Fear The Fin on the payroll because we're the suavest gentlemen in the internet business. Make sure Sharkie gets stuck rappelling from the rafters at least once a season. Fire Ron Wilson and make sure he ends up in some godforsaken hell hole like Toronto or something.
Oh, and win a Stanley Cup. That would be nice too.