Yearly Archives: 2008

Drop the puck!

It’s hockey season again, so we dusting off the blog and getting back to work…

Hope you all had a great off-season!

With the baseball season ending here in the household a couple of days ago (Cubs lose! Cubs lose!), I’m now officially ready for hockey to start.

We missed the first two pre-season games in San Jose while we were in Yellowstone, but made the third, and to be honest, I like what I see. Aspects are a work in progress, but it’s definitely not Ron Wilson’s team any more. More aggressive, offensively focussed, puck control. Just like (gasp) the Red Wings.

And to be honest, much as I liked Campbell, Boyle was my first choice. Now he’s a shark. So is Rob Blake. Will Jeff Friesen? I have to admit, I’m rooting for him.

I am so very much looking forward to opening night on Thursday, to see how the team handles things when it’s for real.

I have plans to contribute more regularly here now that the season has started, and I have some interesting things (at least, interesting to me, hopefully to you as well!) that I want to do this season, if life cooperates — many of them are things I planned last year, but life simply didn’t allow. This year, we’re thinking, will be less — complicated, so we can move them forward.

The one thing I’ll admit to here at the start of the season — I’ve got a series of postings I’ve been working on under the overall theme of “how to make the NHL better”. Note: not “how to fix the NHL”, because unlike some, I don’t consider it broken — but it can always be better. some of the things I’m going to talk about are pretty straight-forward, some of them are obscure, and some of them are going to be either silly or outright flamebait, but hopefully, it’ll get people thinking and talking.

Stay tuned, and we’ll see if you agree.

Looking at Sharks 2009

So the dust is settling, and the new sharks roster is taking shape, and I’m finally back at a point in my life where blogging seems not only possible, but interesting. Been an interesting three months.

So now we can start to look at the Sharks for 2008-2009 and see if this is a better team. Is it?

First, coaching: I like the hiring of McLellan, but it’s not without risks. Sometimes a really top-notch assistant coach is — a top-notch assistant coach. He could be the next Bruce Boudreau or John Anderson, but he could also be Dave Lewis or Wayne Cashman, two guys who tried to make the leap to NHL coach and found out they made damn good assistant coaches. Or he could be Kevin Constantine, who’s a pretty damn good coach, just not at the NHL level.

So the move is not without risk, but the Sharks aren’t afraid of taking risks, and I think this one makes sense. I’m a lot happier with the idea of bringing in a new voice that has some ability to relate to younger kids than to bring in a “safe” retread who overplays veterans and doesn’t grow his players. I think it’s a good hiring, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he fills out his assistants.

A while back, I wrote about what I thought should be (or would be) changed in the roster offseason. A few highlights and lowlights:

Two for Elbowing: Picking up pieces and an update on Michalek – The San Jose Mercury News Sharks Hockey Blog -:

the Sharks are a damn good team, but it’s clear changes need to be made for the team to get better.

I’d like to see Nabokov backed off to 60-65 games next year (his going to the world championships notwithstanding). Rest him a bit more, keep him a bit fresher.

If that means bringing back Boucher, or someone else, so be it.

And so it is.

Core group (do not touch under penalty of death):


Not coming back:

Curtis Brown (Sorry, Brownie, but I think it’s time).

All of which happened. I honestly felt a top six forward would go — I’m happy that McLellan and Wilson think this group can be kept together and improved without being swapped around.

Players I expect back, but which aren’t “no trade under any cirucmstance” types (as part of the right deal? sure):

Tomas Plihal
Patrick Rissmiller
Jody Shelley
Marcel Goc

I want to see come back:

Jeremy Roenick

Rissmiller was allowed to leave, Shelley is back, as far as I can tell, Plihal and Goc are still unsigned. Plihal will be, Goc, not so sure. If of this crew we lose Rissmiller (like him, replaceable) and Goc (like him, somewhat disappointing), I don’t think the sharks miss a beat. No game changers.

So where does this put the Sharks?

Shelley-Plihal (probably)-Mitchell

and two black aces to be named. Goc maybe one of them.

It’s kinda hard to complain about this roster, especially if they play to potential. So I won’t. you can see why Rissmiller wasn’t kept, when guys like Setoguchi and MItchell and Plihal are having to fight for third line time?

Now the fun begins. The Defense was the thin spot on depth last year. I thought going into the season it was good enough. I was wrong. This year, it’s looking a lot different:

Core group (do not touch under penalty of death):

Douglas Murray (what an improvement this year!)

Matt Carle (struggled at times, but seems to be growing into it; I’d hate to give up too soon)

M-E Vlasic (wow; at his age?)

Craig Rivet

I’d like to see back:

Brian Campbell (but not for Phaneuf money; if someone wants to pay him that, be my guest. he’s missing that “punk brat” aspect to his game, which keeps him a rung below Phaneuf on the ladder. But $25m over 5 years? sure. Just not $30 over 5.

hint: I expect Campbell to stay. He seems happy. He likes playing 30 minutes a game. Why screw it up?

Not coming back:

Sandis Ozolinsh: thanks, Sandis. for everything.

Alexei Semenov: ditto. Neither of these are NHL caliber in today’s NHL.

Kyle McLaren: love his guts and drive, but his knees are problematic. I think it’s time to consider an upgrade.

So one of my “untouchables” goes away in Matt Carle, but we’re getting (if rumors are true) Dan Boyle in return. We lose Brian Campbell, but for the money he’s getting, I hope Chicago enjoys his play. Carle was a lot more expendable to me than Vlasic, so I’m happy.

So our D now looks like:

Rob Blake-Dan Boyle
Murray-lukowich (rumored coming from tampa)


Again, not much to complain about here. Blake/Boyle/Lukowich instead of Campbell/Carle and either Semenov or Ozolinsh? It’s a more veteran crew, but I like what Blake brings to the team in intrinsics, even if we’re giving up some youth to get it (indirectly, because losing Campbell makes bringing Blake in and getting Boyle possible — although I get the impression Wilson was going to bring Blake in anyway).

This is a team that’s now completely oriented towards the next two season. Yeah, after that we’ll have to see about bringing youth in and reloading, but that’s wilson’s problem later. This team needed to be about “NOW OR ELSE”, and now it truly is.

In retrospect, two problems last year:

no backup goalie to take the load off of Nabby and limit his playing time a bit. I don’t think this really hurt the sharks, but I don’t want my goalie playing that many games.

The defense was too young and too thin; trying to patch in with Semenov and Ozolinsh was the red flag, and that proved to be true.

One thing I can guarantee: Doug Wilson will do something completely different than this, and when he does, I’ll go “wow, I never would have thought of that” and like it. Whcih is why he’s GM, and I’m a blogger…

Well actually, Wilson’s done pretty much what I expected; couldn’t re-sign Campbell, went and got Boyle. I have to admit that Rob Blake was one of the guys I thought would be great on the Sharks — only I never thought he’d leave the Kings, so I didn’t really consider it an option. Fortunately, Wilson did, and Lombardi (if you ask me) mis-stepped here. but more on that later. But thanks, Dean. I expect Detroit will send you flowers for helping us (not).

I can’t see how Wilson could have handled this better, given things not under his control (campbell couldn’t be forced back without seriously overpaying him, which the Sharks don’t do). I’m really happy they didn’t move Marleau, I’m really happy they didn’t make any “make a splash” moves at the draft and overpaying to do so. It’s all a very solid, methodical, well-thought out strategy.

So far, a great offseason. And what it ends up doing is sending a big message to the players: no excuses. Now, it’s up to the players.

Can’t wait for camp.

Is there a thing called normal?

We buried dad friday at the Riverside National Cemetery, the busiest cemetery in the U.S. they had 73 burials planned that day, so things might seem hectic there, but they did an awesome job of not making people feel rushed or going through the motions. Color guard, taps.

We’ve hired the caterer and the mariachis and ordered a cake for the wake, which will be the 14th, his birthday. I’ll be headed back down again next weekend for that, then hopefully life will return to some semblance of normal. The last couple of months, honestly, have turned into a bit of a blur.

To those of you who’ve written, called, emailed, twitted, and whatevered — thanks. It’s helped. I hope to thank everyone personally, but in case I miss something or misplaced something along the way (quite possible in the chaos of the moment), here’s a thank you for all the kind thoughts.

– 30 –

My dad died today, quietly and not in pain. His body was just too frail to recover from the complications that set in with the triple-bypass. He had a feeling the end was near, I can’t tell you how many of his friends have told me in the last month that he felt he’d had a good life with no regrets, with his classic laugh and a smile. Fortunately for him, once the decline set in, it didn’t take long — as much as he loved life, he really hated doctors and hospitals, and being kept alive by machines was his real horror story, and we worked with the medical staff to accommodate him on that where we reasonably could. Everyone involved with Kaiser on this impressed the hell out of me, and have my thanks and respect.

I went down to help out the family when he went in for the tests and stayed around through the surgery, went down again in a hurry last week when things started to go the wrong way — and after coming up yesterday to get home for a bit, am headed down again tomorrow to help with the arrangements and to be there for the burial.

He went to Stanford (and hated when they changed their mascot to Cardinal, and never forgave them), drove a tank while helping to liberate Manilla, then spent significant time in Europe.

Dad was always a newspaperman, in the classic style, working for Stars and Stripes in Berlin during the airlift, and later as part of the first non-military-controlled paper for troops (which did not endear him to the establishment, something he loved doing…). Later on, he took over the family newspaper, until the industry changed enough that the town weekly basically went extinct — as I’ve said before, those of you who think the struggles of the newspapers is a new thing simply haven’t been paying attention; it’s been going on for 50 or more years, and this is just the latest phase.

Former board member and past president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, active in historical preservation in orange county, later on in life a teacher — and proud to be seemingly the only liberal in the county, or so it seemed at times. Even more proud of his 50+ years together with my mom, and the times and travels they took together.

And so he’s written his final byline, and I speak for my entire family when I say we miss him but that we’re glad the suffering is done. It was a bit of a rough few days for all of us, but it’s starting to head back towards normal. Thanks to everyone who’ve popped in with kind words via email or twitter or IM or carrier pigeon; it’s nice to know people care, and it helps.

Burial is probably this weekend, and per his request will be private and family only; also per his request we’re planning a more public get together — including mariachis — for his extended (very extended) set of friends and compadres. If you know my dad and you’re hearing about this here, my apologies, it’s been a bit chaotic and we’re still digging through things to find contact info for everyone (and drop me a note if you need info to the wake).

Wherever he is, you can bet he’s making the local city council crazy, pounding away on a manual Royal typewriter, and playing catch with Pierre, his standard poodle that preceded him by a few years, and getting ready to watch the Lakers in the finals.

And over the next few weeks, life will start to return to normal, only quieter and a little less interesting for all of us that were influenced by him and proud to call him friend.

Rest in Peace, dad, you did good, and have earned the rest.

So what did the Dallas series prove to us about the Sharks?

A couple of quick musings on the Detroit/Dallas series. Dallas came out of the 4 overtime game with little rest, and proceeded to hand Detroit three games before getting their game back and making it a series.

Sound familiar? And both Mike Modano and Brendan Morrow were quoted in the press about how that overtime game took it out of them.

A lot of this is biology; it takes a certain amount of time to flush out the lactic acid and replace the glucogen. It doesn’t matter HOW GOOD your conditioning it, if you don’t have time to rest up, you simply can’t perform at a top level. Detroit only had 1 extra day of rest over Dallas, but that one extra day was enough for the legs to recover.

And it wasn’t until about game four that both teams got back to equivalent levels of physical exhaustion.

So it’s really safe to claim that even though San Jose beat Calgary in 7, Calgary making the series that tough was the key factor in losing to the Stars. And the Sharks series was a key factor in the Stars losing to the Wings.

That’s why killer instinct is so important. That’s why you need to put a team away and finish off a series when you can. It’s because a four game series gives you the ability to play full out in the next series, where a seven game series leaves you worn out and easy (easier) pickings in the next round.

And the Sharks lack of a killer instinct against Calgary cost them a chance at Detroit. And that lack of killer instinct (which fluttered in and out of view all season like a butterfly, kicked in hard for that 20 game run, and then wandered off again in search of nectar…) is what ultimately cost Wilson his job.

Crash Davis points out that the difference between a AAA catcher and a major league catcher is a hit a week. Figure out how to go 2-4 one game a week instead of 1-4, and you’re in the bigs. the problem is: it’s just not easy to DO. But the ones that make the majors are the ones that do find a way. Not the most talented guys — the ones that find a way to make it happen. Talent helps, but it’s not the prime determiner of success.

The same is true in hockey in its way.

An example I like to use is goaltending. Take a goalie that lets in four goals in a game. For each goal in isolation, you may look at it and go “man, I don’t know how he could have stopped it”.

But taken in the larger view, the top goalies will find a way to stop ONE of those pucks. or two. That’s what makes them the top goalies. It’s easy to look at any one goal and think “tough save” — but look at a series of them, and you start realizing that the goalie needs to make SOME of them, or they shouldn’t be your goalie.

Same for teams. You can look at the Sharks playoff run (and I have), and find reasons why, if a bounce went this way instead of that, if Pavelski didn’t blow a tire, if this penalty wasn’t called, if that penalty WAS called, the results could be very different.

All very true. And I did exactly that. but sitting back and thinking on it a bit more, and talking about it with others, I started to realize the same thing about the Sharks that I did about those goals: yeah, the breaks went against the team, but the team needed to find ways to win anyway in some of those games. And it only would have taken a game or two to fight beyond those bad breaks to change the calgary series or the dallas series, because they really were that close.

Good teams have three attributes taht are relevant here:

they make their own luck through hard work and execution. Many times “luck” is nothing more than battling to be in the place you know you need to be at the time you need to be there.

they don’t let a bad break beat them. They find a way to overcome it.

And where possible, the top teams — and just look at Detroit here — make sure that they’re not in a position where a bad break CAN beat them. If you’re up 2-3 goals and in the offensive zone, a bad break simply isn’t as damaging as if you’re protecting your own goal and thegame is tied late, or you’re only up one goal.

And that, in a nutshell, is what’s missing from the Sharks. they played too many games too close to the edge, and when you do that and the breaks go against you, you lose. That’s a lack of the killer instinct, it’s letting your victim get back up and take a swipe at your kidneys. If you do, sometimes they’ll connect, adn then you have problems.

That’s why Wilson got fired, he didn’t find the way to inject that killer instinct into the team. And that’s the primary job of the new coach (I wish him luck). And if you want to see it in action, watch the Red Wings.

So it’s no surprise that this is the team Doug Wilson is looking to for inspiration on taking the Sharks to the next level.