Yearly Archives: 2012

Predicting the conference finals..

Well if there’s ever need of proof of why I don’t make a living betting on hockey, the second round can be used. I was 4-4 in the first round (and happy to get there, given how unpredictable the playoffs have been). Luck wasn’t so kind to me in the 2nd round. 

In the West, I predicted the Blues and the Predators. Please stop snickering. 

In the east, I thought it would be the Flyers and Rangers. 

So I’m 1-3 in the second, and 5-7 for the playoffs. 

I don’t feel too bad. I expect whoever wins the major hockey fantasy pools this year is doing so with a dartboard. So it goes…

So now, we’re down to four teams, and the conference finals. Let me place the kiss of death on a couple of teams and predict them to win:

In the west: Phoenix and Los Angeles. Goalie Smith and the mission from god squad, vs. Goalie Quick and the Lombardi mob. Much as I’d love to see the Coyotes continue to confound the critics who wish they’d shut up and fail already, I have to give this one to the Kings, primarily because I think Quick is on a mission from god just like Smith is, but I think the Kings are playing better hockey. We’ll find out starting in about 30 minutes…  Call it six games.

And in the east? The more I watch the Rangers, the more I believe in them. More importantly, they believe in themselves. And the more I watch New Jersey, I won’t take them lightly, but I just think Lundquist can and will out duel Brodeur, and the Rangers are playing better hockey. So Rangers in five. 

So my call for stanley cup final: Rangers/Kings. Which should make NBC happy, and generate some really good (and low scoring) hockey. 

 

Refs who didn’t make the 2nd round

Just to carry forward the “who got cut” thread into the second round, here are the refs and linesmen who were in the first round and are now watching from home. You are welcome to speculate why in the comments if you wish…

Referees:

  • Paul Devorski
  • Tom Kowal
  • Mike Leggo
  • Brad Meier
  • Tim Peel
  • Brian Pochmara
  • Francois St. Laurent
  • Ian Walsh
  • Stand-by’s — Greg Kimmerly and Frederick E’Cuyer

Linesmen

  • David Brisebois
  • Lonnie Cameron
  • Scott Cherrey
  • Brad Lazarowich
  • Derek Nansen
  • Tim Nowak
  • Anthony Sericolo
  • Mark Wheler
  • Stand-bys — Darren Gibbs, Mark Shewchyk

 

 

Retooling the Sharks part 2: tweaking the roster

Time to put the roster under a microscope. Before I do, however, a quick summary of major roster changes leading to and during the season, plus some of the post-season paperwork realities:

Key transactions

  • Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi
  • Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley

Free Agent additions:

  • Michal Handzus
  • Brad Winchester
  • Colin White
  • Jim Vandermeer

Free Agent Losses

  • Scott Nichol
  • Kent Huskins
  • Jamal Mayers
  • Ben Eager
  • Kyle Wellwood
  • Niclas Wallin
  • Ian White

Key trades during the season:

  • Jamie McGinn for Daniel winnik and TJ Galiardi

Injuries disclosed at the end of the season: 

  • Couture (shoulder, surgery)
  • Pavelski (foot, injected, thumb and knee ligaments)
  • Burns (ab straing)
  • Ryane Clowe (groin strain)
  • TJ Galliardi (lower back)
  • Michal Handzus (groin strain)
  • Doug Murray (groin strain)
  • Colin White (Shoulder)
  • Tom Wingels (Shoulder)

Looking into the offseason

Restricted Free Agents:

  • Tom Wingels
  • TJ Galliardi
  • Benn Ferriero
  • Andrew DesJardins
  • Justin Braun

Unrestricted Free Agents:

  • Dan Winnik
  • Torrey Mitchell
  • Dominick Moore
  • Brad Winchester
  • Jim Vandermeer
  • Colin White

Key no trade clauses:

  • Patrick Marleau
  • Dan Boyle (with a window where it goes on vacation)

So, now what?

In recent seasons, it seemed that the Sharks top six forwards played well — and the playoff series was lost by substandard play in the third and fourth lines. Fixing the third and fourth lines was a big focus of Doug Wilson and Coach McClellan — just look at the lists above and you can see the tinkering going on. And this playoff, to me, our third and fourth lines consistently outplayed the Blues, and this year, it was our first and second lines that got outplayed. 

It’s always something.

Lets start with goaltending. The Sharks brought Greiss back into the organization; to the surprise of almost everyone, he took Nitimaki’s job away, sending him away to purgatory, or Limbo, or wherever he ended up. When Greiss played, he played pretty well; his numbers in the regular season were comparable with Niemi’s. I liked what I saw, and I wish the Sharks had played him more when Niemi was struggling in the regular season. They didn’t, and Niemi played every minute of the playoffs, as expected. 

Niemi’s save percentage in the playoff matched his regular season. He was solid. His GAA was 2.45 — and he lost the series. On a “by the numbers” basis, there’s no complaint here. I felt there were a couple of key situations where Niemi could have made a difference and perhaps turned a game around — and didn’t. But goaltending wasn’t why the Sharks lost the series, and it’s a stretch to say it’s Niemi’s fault for not stealing a series the Sharks didn’t deserve to win. 

I suppose we could get involved in the Luongo sweepstakes; we could potentially upgrade our goaltending. Goaltenders don’t score and a different goalie wouldn’t fix the penalty kill. I would want to see the Sharks focus resources and energy elsewhere in the offseason, but I want Niemi both better and more reliable next season. He had some rough spots, and he has to be more consistently good. 

Defense. I like our defense. I think Brent Burns struggled early and looked good when it really mattered; criticism of him by some is overblown. And bluntly, getting him for Setoguchi (who I’d trade for a back of pucks and consider it addition by subtraction — look at his season in Minnesota) even a weak Brent Burns improved our team. 

Boyle, Murray, Vlasic are untouchables. Burns is almost untouchable. That foursome is a group of D most teams would kill for, with Vlasic hitting his prime and Murray hitting anything stupid enough to be caught. I like Justin Braun and Jason Demers as young and up and coming; Braun matured wonderfully this year and still has more improvement coming; Demers as less reliable but shows a lot. 

this is a damn good D corps. I’d leave it alone. 

Colin White was brought in, more or less replacing Ian white, who went to Detroit. All in all, that wasn’t an improvement. Colin White never really impressed me. he’s unrestricted, he won’t be back. I wouldn’t bring him back. The Sharks do need 2 Dmen to fill out this group and give us some depth. Jim Vandermeer (also unrestricted) isn’t the right solution for that, so the Sharks need to address this elsewhere. 

Third and Fourth lines. Okay, let me get this out of the way first. I miss Jamie McGinn. I understand why the Sharks traded him. He auditioned for a 2nd line role, and honestly, he wasn’t up to it. When  the Sharks needed to add depth to the roster, he was a player Colorado wanted, and he was expendable in San Jose. Anyone who puts him on a fantasy team based on his post trade “hey! I’m a scoring god now” time will live to regret it. What McGinn is is a pretty good third or fourth line banger who’s found a way to get a few goals in the net. He reminds me a lot of Jeff Odgers but with better hands, and that’s a real compliment coming from me, but he’s not a game breaker, and Im’ not convinced he’s going to have a long and fruitful career — but he will have a good and solid one. 

Having said all of that, the Sharks could have used him in these playoffs. But I don’t think trading him was a mistake. We’ll see. I’d like to see the Sharks bring back both Winnik and Galiardi, because I like what they bring to the team, too. 

For the 3-4 lines, I like Andrew Desjardins. he’s going to improve, but I don’t think he’s more than a 3-4 liner. I like Tommy Wingels. I’d like to see Galiardi and Winnik back. Michal Handzus should be in the mix, also. 

Martin Havlat. If he can stay healthy, that will really help this team. Will he? That’s the risk. You solve that risk by having depth to cover the times when he’s out.  One thing the Sharks struggled with was that the depth wasn’t there when they needed it. 

Torrey Mitchell? Disappointing year. I think his star had faded. He’s unrestricted. Bring him back? no. 

Brad Winchester? also unrestricted. Good soldier, aging vet. I think he’s near, or at, the end of the line. Sharks need to look elsewhere. 

Dominic Moore? Thanks, but no. 

Benn Ferriero? Good, not good enough to consistently crack the roster. I think he’ll play in the NHL, just not a top tier team like the Sharks. 

So the Sharks have three bodies under contract and two more i want to see come back in the bottom six. That leaves a couple of roster spots to fill, plus depth. Some work to do here, but I like the core. 

And that leaves — our top six forwards. 

The first two lines.

Joe Thornton. Logan Couture. Joe Pavelski. Ryane Clowe. These four are untouchable. 

And then there’s Patrick Marleau. He has a no-trade clause, but the war drums are out in the local media and among the fans and pundits around the league that it’s time to move him elsewhere. 

For the first time, I’m not saying “no, don’t do it”. but I’m not calling for it, either. I’m conflicted. 

Marleau has, since his first year as a Shark, had periods of the season where his play was — enigmatic. And every time that happened, someone grabbed the war drums and started beating them to do something about him. And every season, Marleau ended up with really good numbers and was a playoff performer, at which point the war drums got pointed at Joe Thornton instead. 

This year,  Joe Thornton carried this team through the playoffs, and even his detractors admit that — and Marleau had an enigmatic playoff. 64 points, 30 goals and +10 in the regular season, he was a non factor against the Blues. Is he the problem? Or the scapegoat? 

I’m conflicted. I think reality is “some of both”. What I’m unsure of is whether what we saw was the “new, real Marleau”, or whether it was an aberration. Is this the start of Marleau’s decline? Or will “mr enigmatic” be there for the playoffs next year? 

The biggest challenge Marleau has with the fans is he seems too — mellow. Fans would like him to be Owen Nolan. That’s not going to happen. I honestly don’t see his level-headedness as a weakness. It’s what he is, but the segment of fans who aren’t happy unless players are putting opponents through the glass at every opportunity take any weakness in play as a chance to  beat the war drum of “everyone must be maniacs”. 

That said, I’m just unsure what Patrick Marleau we’ll see next season, and whether we’ll be happy with the results. He has a lot to prove, and I don’t know if, at this point in his career, whether he can. 

Those doubts are going to affect his trade value. That, and the fact that he has a no trade clause, makes me think the Sharks will decide to ride it with him. I don’t think the Sharks want the same kind of criticism aimed at them that Tampa got when they forced Boyle out (for which we Sharks fans still thank the Lightning). If the no-trade didn’t exist, I bet the Sharks would at least explore options. With the no-trade in place, I think the Sharks will stand pat unless Marleau privately asks them to look at options and volunteers to waive the no-trade. I don’t expect the Sharks to force the issue, which will upset some fans and annoy some media pundits. But treating their players well is part of the Sharks management philosophy, and that’s one reason why free agents want to come play here. Screwing around with Marleau’s no-trade clause can hurt that reputation — and leaving it alone might upset some in the short term, but in the long run will be seen as a positive by players considering coming to the Sharks. 

So I think Marleau will be in teal come opening night. Is that the right call? I think so.

I also believe the Sharks need to commit to putting Marleau in as the 2nd line center, and leave him there. I don’t think he’s’ as comfortable or as effective at wing, and that’s part of the problem with Marleau. His speed and his vision make him a really good center, and his speed is somewhat negated playing at wing, so going into next season, put thornton at center on the first line, Marleau at forward on the 2nd, and don’t mess around with it very much. 

The top six forwards were the big weakness in the playoffs, our scoring simple disappeared. three goals in five games from our top six? Not acceptable. But five of the spots are defined out, and the players we can can be, and need to be, better. 

So, my priorities going into next season?

  • Priority one, as I mentioned yesterday, replace Trent Yawney’s experience behind the bench.
  • We have to figure out who is the sixth (and seventh) players covering the top six forward spots.
  • We have to make sure we have more defensive depth, but we don’t need impact-type (top 2, top 4) defensemen. A couple of good, solid veterans, stay at home times, would be nice.
  • And we need to fill out the rest of the roster, 2-3 bottom-six forwards and black ace depth guys. 

What we don’t need to do is panic, over-react, and start tearing up this roster and rebuilding it. 

Yet. 

I think this roster can pull it together and be better next year. If that doesn’t happen for some reason? Then we’ll have a different discussion…. 

 

 

Retooling the sharks part 1: management

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Changing of the guard in Western Conference – ESPN:

The Sharks? It’s a little more complicated than Detroit. For starters, they don’t have anything coming off their cap that’s really that noteworthy. The likes of Torrey Mitchell, Dominic Moore and Daniel Winnik are UFAs July 1, but all of the high-paid, core players remain signed.

Longtime Shark Patrick Marleau was a huge disappointment in the five-game loss to St. Louis, going pointless. He’s got two more years at $6.9 million a year and a no-trade clause to boot. Martin Havlat had a disappointing, injury-filled year. After scoring twice in Game 1, he was barely noticeable in the rest of the series. He’s got three more years at $5 million per season. Defenseman Brent Burns didn’t have the impact this season the Sharks had hoped they were getting after dealing for him last summer. He’s got five more years at $5.76 million per season.

The decisions won’t be easy for GM Doug Wilson. But this team needs a core shakeup. Aside from Joe Thornton (who was easily San Jose’s best player against the Blues), Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle, I’d be ready to trade almost anyone else on this roster.

Easier said than done, of course. But Wilson has a track record of making bold moves. He’s not scared of change. He spoke with Columbus about Rick Nash before the trade deadline. Maybe he revisits that.

Either way, Wilson is on the clock this summer. His Sharks need retooling if they want to hang with the new class in the West.

Pierre LeBrun gets to the core. Standing pat’s not an option. Getting better isn’t easy. How do we deconstruct these Sharks and make changes to move them forward? Or is it time to tear it apart and move on?

One quick dose of reality: the better a team is, the harder it is to keep getting better. It’s relatively easy for a team struggling to make the playoffs to improve enough to challenge for a division. It’s very difficult for a team that’s a President’s Cup contender to find a next step to take in improvement. The closer you are to that point in the curve where it flattens out, the more expensive it gets to keep pushing the performance curve upward — or the more risky the move you have to make to do so. And risky moves are, well, risky, which means sometimes they don’t work, or backfire. 

That’s part of the Sharks problem this year; Doug Wilson made a couple of moves of the “if this works, it’ll help us — but it’s risky”, and I think in this case, the Sharks didn’t roll craps but the moves didn’t work as hoped. that’s especially true with Marty Havlat and his weird hamstring injury that had him out of the lineup for an extended time. And his injury meant key players were out of position much of the season, and the “hoped for’ lineups and lines never really happened. 

Id on’t think, however, that this means the trades were failures or that the Sharks would have been better off without the moves. The reality is the Sharks last year needed to be pushed further up the performance curve, but doing so isn’t easy. And in this case, the things they tried were risky, and the risks came back to hamper the Sharks. Sometimes, that happens. But safe moves, lower-risk moves, weren’t going to move the needle.

So now what?

Let’s start from the top and work down, see which parts of the organization need work. The fact is, standing pat is not an option (it never is), because there set of the conference has worked hard to get better, and this year’s performance, I think, is tied as much to who the teams around the sharks got better as much, or more, than the Sharks under-performing. 

First, the ownership group. Greg Jamison is gone (and still seems to be sniffing around the Coyotes, although that continues to be a heap of complicated and taking forever to resolve). He’s been replaced by people who really want to stay out of view and run the business, but not make headlines. They’ve left hockey to the hockey people (i.e. Doug Wilson), which I like, and I don’t see much change in philosophy between what the Jamison group did and what they’re doing: there’s been some significant focus on the business side of the organization, but that seems to be a good thing overall. 

Overall, the Sharks ownership group has been supportive of the team, willing to try to bring in good hockey people and let them run things without interference, and willing to invest money to create a winning team. They have a good building and they’ve invested in keeping the building working well and looking good. They’ve been cautious about pricing and haven’t over-inflated ticket prices, and they’ve been involved in the community and invested in charitable endeavors. In other words, the Sharks ownership group has always been a pretty good one, and I think that continues. 

What they haven’t been, and this of course upsets some fans, is a “win at any price” group, ala the Yankees. That’s because the Sharks ownership group isn’t so rich that they can afford to subsidize that kind of spending and not care. The Sharks are not a rich man’s hobby, but a business that has to at least be close to supporting itself, and the pocket books have never been (and likely never will be) infinite. I don’t have a problem with this. To the fans that expect it, sorry. the days of a Steinbrenner spending huge amounts of money are waning — fewer owners exist that are willing to treat teams as an expensive hobby, and the Sharks have never been that kind of team.

The one criticism I’ve had of Sharks ownership and business team is that they are followers, not innovators. This has been true pretty much since day one. I’ve always wanted this team to drive innovation in the league; it is silicon valley’s team, after all, where a lot of this innovation happens in the world. But the  organization has never taken a league leadership role and always seems to wait for other teams to drive innovations — not surprisingly, given its owner, one of the more innovative teams is the Capitals. Maybe someday this will change, but I’m not holding my breath, and I don’t see the new ownership making this change.

The Sharks were one of the first league teams to have an internet presence, for instance (I know this, because Laurie and I were demoing this funky thing called a browser to them back around 1994 and telling them that this was going to be important to get in front of) — yet after being one of the early (maybe the first) teams to have a web site, they have pretty much followed what the league does rather than led the league forward. There are so many things happening here in the valley where the organization could potentially bring the partnership into the league and foster it through to the other teams, but that’s just not their mindset. They’re followers. Which is okay, but I always hoped for more. 

So Sharks ownership passes my test pretty well. If the greatest complaint I can find is that they aren’t taking a leadership position among the league owners or driving the league forward through innovation, well, those are ancillary issues. They don’t have to do that to succeed. Their support and investment in the team and hockey is fine. 

What about hockey management? And by that, I mean GM Doug Wilson?

I was a big fan of Dean Lombardi in San Jose. I am a big fan of Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. I also felt at the time the Sharks fired Lombardi that ti was necessary, because he’d gotten too emotionally tied into the situation and he needed a change of scenery, and the Sharks needed a difference voice leading the charge. At the time, my first choice for GM was Doug Wilson (my second choice was Dave Nonis). 

I’ve been a strong supporter of Wilson with the Sharks — and I continue to be. As I said above, as you get better, it gets harder to keep getting better, and to keep pushing the curve you either need to throw more money at the problem (and do it wisely), or you have to take calculated risks and have those risks pan out. More money is not an easy option in San Jose, and Wilson has never been afraid to take those calculated risks. 

this year, those risks didn’t pan out. Does that mean he’s suddenly an idiot and needs to be fired? Not to me. It means some years, you roll the dice and they don’t come up 7. I don’t think that means he or his strategy is a failure. 

So Wilson gets a passing grade from me. One should not assume that a second year where the changes he makes don’t pan out will get the same result; one down year in his years of organizational growth and success isn’t a failure. Two years becomes a trend, and if that happens, you have to take a harder look at things. But this year? I like what Wilson tried, it just didn’t work as well as hoped.  I expect he’ll make more changes this off-season and next year will work out better. 

What about the coaching staff?

Todd McClellan impresses the hell out of me. End of discussion. Well, not quite. He gets a strong passing grade from me. I think he’s got the potential to be one of those coaches who can avoid the “short shelf life” problem where after 3-4 years, the team stops responding to his message. He wasn’t the problem. He’s part of the solution. So he stays, and I am looking forward to seeing how he adapts to this year’s challenges.

What about the coaching staff?

Well, here’s where it gets interesting. One of the big changes that happened before this season was that assistant coach Trent Yawney, who went off to be a head coach in the minors in his search to become an NHL head coach. To replace him, the sharks promoted Jay Woodcroft into a bench role. 

One of the big struggles the Sharks had this year was penalty kill and special teams. One of the things Yawney worked on with the Sharks was penalty kill and special teams. So the question I keep coming back to looking at least season is this: is one of the key problems the Sharks had because Trent Yawney left the organization?

Evaluating assistant coaches from a keyboard is somewhere between “almost impossible” and “are you kidding?” — so I admit up front that not being in on meetings and not being at practices and etc on a regular basis means I’m not qualified to answer this question. I also won’t let that stop me from doing so anyway, but the reality is, I expect this is something Doug Wilson and Coach McClellan will spend some time discussing, and however they decide to address it — I expect their decision to be the right one, while what I suggest here is one blogger babbling… Unless, of course, they end up agreeing with me. Then I’m a genius. 

Let me phrase this this way: I keep coming back to the loss of Trent Yawney as being a key problem this season. It just looks like the Sharks special teams struggled without his advice on special teams coaching. the talent was there, the focus and details weren’t there consistently. 

And I think it’s important to look at it as “we lost Trent Yawney” and not “Jay Woodcroft didn’t get the job done” because everything I’ve seen indicates Woodcroft is a good, young, up and coming coach and a positive to the organization. But he’s not Trent Yawney. When the Sharks lost Yawney, they felt it was time to promote Woodcroft — and I think the organization missed Yawney’s talent and experience. 

So here’s my first recommendation for the Sharks this off-season: they need to find someone to join the coaching staff who can bring back the experience and coaching that they lost when Yawney left the organization, especially on special teams. That means they should be looking for an experienced assistant coach, preferably an ex-player, and someone who can both bring these skills to the players AND work to mentor Woodcroft. Because I don’t believe Woodcroft deserves to be let go or demoted — but I do think the Sharks coaching staff needs to find a way to better fill the void they have from losing Yawney out of the organization. 

And if Wilson made a mistake last off-season, it wasn’t the trades he tried, it was in not bringing in a more experienced replacement for Yawney. If you look at where the Sharks faltered this season, that may have been the biggest mistake Wilson has made as a GM to date. 

I will be watching to see how Wilson resolves this one closely, because I believe strongly this is the one key thing he needs to do to put the Sharks back on track next season. 

Next up — the roster. And no, the players won’t be left blameless…

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Sharks go golfing….

 Trying to put this loss in context. It didn’t hit me as hard as some years, because I fully expected it, but still, this Sharks team shouldn’t be going out in the first round.

Dave Pollak at the Merc has an interesting perspective:

Aftermath of a record-early elimination: Sharks waiting till Tuesday to pack things up for the season | Working the Corners:

Five games. Every other first-round exit lasted six. Until Saturday night’s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, who won their first playoff series since 2002.

Think about that for a second. Since St. Louis last won a series, the Sharks — a franchise 25 years younger — have won nine.

That isn’t a defense of the team’s management in the wake of a very disappointing 2011-12 season. Just a statement of fact to put things in context.

The reality is, every year one team wins the Stanley Cup and twenty-nine do not. the Sharks are in their twenties, but if you stop and think about it, if the Cup were rotated to each team one per year (like the All-Star game is), the Sharks wouldn’t have had their time with it. Objectively, there’s still a few years to go before they are “late” to the Cup. 

Sports and sports fandom, however, are not objective things. That’s not how fans think. Nor should they. So when a team falls short, it hurts. When you look at a team and you wonder if it’s peaked and the window is closing, it hurts. But in sports, sometimes you do your best, and it’s not enough. 

Was this season this team’s best? Honestly, no. It struggled to get on a roll all year. But this first round against the Blues? I don’t have many complaints. I don’t think the Sharks lost this series, they were beaten. 

I also don’t think the Sharks “fell back” much, either. I think what we’re seeing is a league where many teams are making strong positive moves in their talent and execution. This is parity, and I like it. there are 25 teams capable of making the playoffs and not being embarrassed being there. 

Take a step back and think about it. Which team would you rather be a fan of: the Sharks, who haven’t won a Cup yet, but have been in the playoffs consistently and played deep into the playoffs a number of times — or the Florida Panthers, who ran to the Stanley Cup in 1996, and didn’t make the playoffs again for a decade? or the Blues, another team that’s been out of the playoffs for years that’s now back in the mix?

Would you really put up with a decade of cheering on the Islanders for one Cup? 

Not me. 

Of course, I want both. But honestly, if I can’t have both, the Sharks have done a good job of keeping me entertained. 

So for me, I’m disappointed, but life moves on. I know some fans and media types like to whine about parity) and those whines get louder and more insistent the closer you get to cities like New York or Detroit where there’s this sense of entitlement that of course they should win every year) — but it’s good for hockey, good for the league, and fun to watch. 

That doesn’t mean the Sharks can or should stand pat. I’m thinking through what changes I think are necessary, and a post mortem is coming. But I own’t be burning my jersey in protest. Instead, I think I’ll sit down and watch the Bruins game…