Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Post-Mortem (again)

There is no joy in SJ today. The Anaheim Ducks did what they had to do last night and they did it well, with no help from the referees. (In my opinion anyway … it was an evenly poorly-called game for both sides, with both refs putting their whistles away for certain events, and becoming ice Nazis for others.)

Last night I cruised through the Sharks’ official message board. I used to post there but not anymore—any dissenting opinions aren’t allowed. The fur was flying, and the blame was everywhere!

I have been a firm believer that there is, and has been, a chemistry problem in that dressing room, and even after wholesale personnel changes, when the going gets tough, the Sharks get going—in the other direction. Teemu Selanne remarked that perhaps the Sharks weren’t mentally tough enough because as a team they had not faced any real adversity all year. His observation and explanation is as good as any.

I enjoy watching the clips of Jamie Baker’s and Ray Whitney’s playoff goals back in the franchises' infancy. Back then the Sharks had no star power whatsoever, but they were fun to watch. Even if they were going to get their asses handed to them on a platter, there was always a guy or two on the ice fighting for every inch of ice. No one ever accused Dody Wood or Andrei Nazarov of being stars, but what heart Dody Wood had!

One of the loudest games I’d ever been to was a regular-season game against Buffalo, and the Sharks were getting murdered out there. All of a sudden something just clicked, and you could see and feel the SJ players just suck up and take charge. They were unstoppable, and went on to win that game. Incredible. The same happened at a game against Boston.

I remember exactly where I was when Whitney scored his goal against Calgary. I was at Sears Point preparing to do four days of volunteer medical work for the NASCAR race. We were watching on a small 14 or so inch television, using the rabbit ears antenna, so the picture was snowy. The game was on local channel 36. I had a headache from watching the snowy screen but it was oh-so-worth-it!!!

My daughter and I were in attendance for Andrei Zyuzin’s OT goal against Dallas 10 years ago (wow, time flies!). We were there when Owen Nolan shot the puck at St. Louis’s net as the period ended—and the puck went in. We have been to so many games—playoff and regular season—where you could just see the passion and heart no matter what was happening on the ice. Not meaning to sound cliche, but it was electric.

I’ve not had those feelings about this team for some time. I don’t think it’s a matter of the coach setting the tone, the desire to win. No one in their right mind can accuse Darryl Sutter of being without passion. He was tough on his players but to a man knew which buttons to push to get the best out of them. Until he took his case to the media, Ron Wilson knew how to motivate the players. I’m guessing TMac is the same. But TMac inherited this team, a team built for the playoffs, and he’s not had the time to make his true mark by providing input on the type of player he’d like to have. Did he really want Patrick Marleau as the team captain, or was it easier to keep the status quo and keep the captains the same as under R Wilson?

In his blog, the Merc’s Sharks’ beat reporter Dave Pollack revealed that Thornton wasn’t available for any post-game comments on April 23 (after the game 4 loss). Dave also wrote, “It probably would have been good to hear from Patrick Marleau, too. But I have to confess I didn’t ask for him—in part because he’s another player who doesn’t open up much and I just didn’t have the time to invest. One of my colleagues thinks that Marleau, as captain, should be waiting for the media after every game, win or lose, but that is not Marleau’s way.” 

Very telling. Two of the highest-paid players on the team went AWOL when the questions got tough. Yes, being questioned after a horrible game and unacceptable results (yet again) are not easy, and to be honest, it’s not easy for a reporter to have to ask those questions. But Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau earn the big bucks and as such are responsible for certain things.

Evgeni Nabakov was available, and answered questions, as did Dan Boyle. They know their responsibilities no matter how unpleasant and did what they needed to do. Those are difficult questions to answer and I don’t envy the players being put in that position to come up with something insightful that isn’t expletive-laden.

I’m not calling for Nabakov’s head in the offseason. He may not have been perfect, and Anaheim’s goalie Jonas Hiller might have been better, BUT Nabakov does not score goals. The team in front of him does and they failed to do that.

One of the two has to go—either Marleau or Thornton. I believe Marleau has been playing hurt (back, shoulder and knee)  for the past couple of years which explains his invisibility during certain games or for prolonged periods. The team simply cannot afford to have two non-leaders as the supposed franchise cornerstone players and public faces of the team (their faces are out there as the faces of the franchise—Thornton and Marleau are the primary guys, along with Nabby to a point). Ask Marleau to prepare a list of acceptable teams and go from there…all a NTC means is you can’t trade a guy without his approval. Plenty have chosen to waive their NTCs for the good of their careers. Might as well ask Thornton to do the same because Marleau's wife will put her foot down and refuse to leave the area for a few years ... one's gotta go, and it's easier to have Marleau go and reassign the captaincy instead of taking it from him.

Give Nabakov another year (and this year is a contract year, nothing like a contract year to make a guy stand on his head). Dan Boyle is untouchable; give him the C. I doubt a draft-day package with Marleau as the centerpiece can be created, so sniff around and see which teams would prefer some nice mid-career guys and go from there. The offseason will be very telling regarding certain SJ signings—is Ryane Clowe in it for the money or does he want to stay with a contending team? (I believe SJ will be a playoff team again next spring, but I won’t even say it will be a contending team. I’ve learned …)

As for ticket prices … I think my stance toward the Sharks would have softened if management had followed the lead of several teams and announce that STH prices would be frozen. It’s widely believed the cap will go down this summer, and with the shaky employment picture so many good Americans (and Canadians) find themselves in, to raise prices is just not right. Teams including Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York (Islanders), Ottawa and Phoenix have already gone on record that they are freezing process. Dallas and Tampa Bay are reducing prices. Thus far only Buffalo, Washington and (surprise—NOT!!) Toronto have announced they will be raising prices.

As far as the remaining teams are concerned, I do not want Detroit to repeat. I’ve wanted the Cup to go back to Canada and the little PR turkey in me can’t help but think what a clever little marketing ploy it could be if the Vancouver Canucks manage to win it all and have bragging rights of being the home of the 2009 Stanley Cup Champs and the “natural” place for Olympic hockey in 2010. Yeah I know, real lame! But I’m really not pulling for any one team EXCEPT for whoever is playing Detroit to give ‘em hell and beat ‘em up! I’ll reassess in the third round … and yes I’ll still be watching.


Des said...

Agree with all of these well reasoned comments, however:
1. Ryan Clowe needs to stay. He was a cream puff in Games 1, 2, 5 and 6, but he has the capacity to be Very hard-nosed with a little back-up.
2. See ya Patty. No Captain, no inspiration, too timid, too quiet.
3. Go Detroit! I have no problem with the Red Wings winning it all again. The Canucks are nascent pretenders; it won't last.

And one more thing, and please stop me Cathy if I'm wrong: can Doug Wilson please exchange some cream puffers for some battlers/checkers/mean 'uns in the off season. The superiorly skilled Sharks were beaten up in the playoffs YET AGAIN by a less-talented, but more physical team. I see it year-to-year, you see it year-to-year, the SJ Mercury news writers see it year-to-year... just WHAT exactly do we have to do to make the goddam freakin' Sharks see it?!?!?

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