May 23, 2010, 8:20 PM EDT
The San Jose Sharks didn’t lose in the first round this year. This wasn’t a situation in which they lost to a Cinderella team, either. Instead it was the No. 2 seed Chicago Blackhawks, a squad that barely fell short of taking the top seed from them in the regular season.
The higher level of “respectability” in this year’s series defeat doesn’t change the fact that the Sharks likely feel the same way they did last year: empty.
After losing to the Anaheim Ducks, some people thought that it was time for the regular season juggernaut to clean house. Aside from rotating the captaincy and acquiring sniper Dany Heatley, the team still revolved around Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Evgeni Nabokov this season. My guess is that things will be very, very different next year. How different remains to be seen, though.
Let’s take a look at the rubble heap that is the San Jose Sharks 2009-10 campaign.
The Sharks did not choke
You’ll certainly get a whiff of how odorous I often find the “choking” talk in my wrap-up of Montreal’s Game 4 goose egg, but I’d like to make it clear that the Sharks lacked bounces, timely goals and luck. (Not heart. Not the ability to administer the Heimlich Maneuver.)
If you take out the Game 4 empty-net goal, Chicago beat San Jose by 3-2 twice, 2-1 once and 4-2 once. In other words, the Sharks lost maybe one game “convincingly.” They out-shot the Blackhawks in three out of four games and even put 40+ pucks on net twice. In the first round, the Sharks ran into a great goalie in Craig Anderson but their depth and talent allowed them to grind out four wins. San Jose beat Detroit with considerable haste, although the Red Wings made that 4-1 series interesting at times. Unfortunately, Antti Niemi’s Finnish brand of goaltending proved to make the difference in the much-more-evenly-matched Western Conference finals.
Both the Sharks and Blackhawks pushed a lot of their metaphorical Stanley Cup poker chips to the middle of the table this season and someone had to lose. Let me say this, though: this series sure didn’t feel like a sweep. Hockey’s one of professional sports’ most luck-ridden sports; it even makes the Miracle on Ice a little easier to understand.
After looking back at the year that was, let’s take a quick glance at the Sharks’ very murky future after the jump.
So, what now?
There’s no doubt in my mind that this Sharks team will be significantly different next season. We’ll discuss the gritty salary cap details tomorrow, but just look at their most significant free agents: Nabokov, Marleau and Rob Blake are the biggest unrestricted names while Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi could be offer sheet bait as restricted ones.
Let’s not forget the possibility of trades, either. The much-maligned Thornton could be a casualty. Boyle might have Tampa Bay Lightning housecleaning flashbacks and want out. Oh, and Heatley … we all know how particular he is.
Heck, there’s no guarantee that GM Doug Wilson or head coach Todd McLellan will be back, either.
As I mentioned, expect some interesting salary cap/free agency related bits tomorrow and what could be a wildly different Sharks team during the 10-11 season. To at least some extent, we witnessed a disappointing end to what could have been a golden era in the Bay Area. Even if no one choked.
- Big money: Tarasenko signs eight-year, $60 million extension with Blues 75
- Blackhawks extend TVR through 2017-18 3
- Good start: McDavid scores five in Oilers scrimmage 33
- Caps ink Kuznetsov to two-year, $6 million extension 9
- Bruins sign three — Hayes, Connolly, and DeFazio 12
- Babcock expects Kadri to be ‘an elite player’ 15
- No expansion bid expected from Kansas City 37
- Leafs sign Matthias — one year, $2.3 million 17
- Report: Kopitar, Kings in ‘early stages of negotiations’ for extension 12
- Arbitration filed: Holtby, Nyquist & Stepan highlight list released by NHLPA 15
- Blockbuster: Kessel traded to the Penguins (131)
- Expansion process underway as NHL sends out applications (94)
- Big money: Tarasenko signs eight-year, $60 million extension with Blues (76)
- Sabres lock up O’Reilly through 2022-23 (74)
- Trade: Caps acquire Oshie from Blues for Brouwer, Copley and draft pick (73)