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Sharks didn't choke, but is this still the end of an era?

May 23, 2010, 8:20 PM EDT

sharksgetswept.jpgThe 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.

Thumbnail image for thebigpavelski.jpgSo, 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.

  1. Dick Weil - May 23, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    I find the fact that you diminish the accomplishment of the Hawks in their 4 game series SWEEP of the Sharks obnoxious. Yes the Sharks played well, but it would seem that the Hawks did score more goals than the Sharks and I’ve played hockey for years and never won a game because my team outshot the other team unless we were able to put the puck in the net more times and the last time I checked, the goalie played an important role in our wins as Niemi did in the Hawks win. Are you prejudiced, or do you simply not understand the game very well?
    Dick Weil

  2. Jonny W - May 23, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    As a Sharks fan, let me just say, this team has been fun to watch. I don’t know who will stay or who will go (My guess is Nabby goes.) They played well, Chicago was just played a little better. I’m proud to have seen this team (of this year and the last few) play: Marleau, Thornton, Heatley, Roenick, Boyle, Blake, Nabokov and everyone else. Thanks for a good season, boys. Let’s come back even stronger next year.

  3. bwhite - May 23, 2010 at 9:37 PM

    Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda, Mighta, Maybe, ain’t gonna work in the NHL. The Final Score tells the story. Better luck next year. Your boys got whooped, quit crying.

  4. Scott - May 24, 2010 at 1:54 AM

    Dick, chill out, my man. This story was about the San Jose Sharks and was written from their perspective. If you want the story that lauds the Hawks and their accomplishment, I direct you here:

  5. Little Tommy - May 24, 2010 at 6:23 AM

    I don’t follow the Sharks but their performance certainly fell short. Good thing Marleau had a good series or it would have been uglier still! Maybe the Hawks are just that good this year. Let’s give credit where credit is due shall we!

  6. John - May 24, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    While this story may be about the Sharks, it totally comes across as if the Sharks beat themselves. Saying things like “hockey is all luck” and giving it a bend that a few lucky breaks and the Hawks would have been packing is delusional and very disrespectful to the Hawks.
    Yes this was a great series and the Sharks are a great team (this was really the cup series in my eyes because I feel that the Sharks were the second best team in the league) but did the Hawks do ANYTHING to warrant winning?
    This article basically says that if not for the Hawks hot goalie and a bit of “luck” that the Hawks would have gone down.
    Sure anything is possible but give me a break! The games were close because the two best teams in hockey were playing (you have one hell of a team San Jose!) but in the end you have to give Chicago some credit aside from saying they were lucky with a hot goalie!

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