Thursday, July 27, 2006

We have our seats!

Doug and I went to our Select-A-Seat night last night at the Tank. We got dinner beforehand and talked strategy. There were certain sections that we were looking for, and price points we could afford. On the lower level, the seats on the sides of the rink (behind the benches and penalty boxes) were too expensive, so we were only prepared to take seats on the corners on the lower level. We agreed that we would rather sit upstairs than sit on the ends on the lower level. Your perspective of the far goal is just too poor, and lots of times you can't see play behind the closer net or in the corners.

As far as the upper deck goes, we could afford any seat except the very first row seats, which are quite expensive - more so than the corners downstairs. The first row is pretty sweet, unobstructed views (in the middle of the row), and you have a nice shelf to put your food and drinks. If we had to go upstairs, we would try to get as in the middle as possible on the side of the arena facing the benches.

We get there a few minutes early to sign in, then went downstairs with the rest of the group to the club for the "orientation". There were at least 50 or 60 people in our group, which was the first group of new season ticket holders. All the seats that were available had a colored piece of paper taped to it, with the color indicating the price. You couldn't reserve seats and then look for better ones- you sat in the seats you wanted and raised your hand, and a Sharks employee would write down what you wanted, and took the tags off of the seats. No changing your mind once you did that. The only odd rule was that you couldn't take a group of seats that would leave a single. So for us, we couldn't break up a group of 3 seats, or sit in the middle of a group of 4. Once they said go, we all piled out as fast as we could. Doug and I had a lot more urgency than most of the people- we were running around trying to find a good spot without falling down the stairs.

The biggest surprise was the number of lower bowl seats available. Quickly we noticed that the end of the arena that the Sharks attack twice was quite empty, but the other end (the Sharks' head end) had lots of green tags. We hustled over to the corner where the head was, and immediately sat down in a couple of seats in row 12. We were stoked! However, after looking at the sight lines a bit, we realized the protective netting pretty much covered our whole view of both offensive zones. Plus, the seats were so low were were not going to get a good view of one of the corners, or behind the net.

So we spotted a couple of seats on the aisle a few rows back, and sat down. These seats were even better. We had a more overhead view of the close zone, and the netting didn't obstruct the far zone. We spotted some row 2 and 3 seats in the upper bowl, so I ran up there to check them out real quick while Doug sat in our new choices. It turns out that even in rows 2 and 3, the railing that keeps people from going over the side really blocks a lot of action. You'd have to go up at least 7 or 8 rows to get an unobstructed view.

So we were sold! Section 124, row 20 on the aisle closest to the middle of the rink. Only 56 days until the first exhibition game. We can't wait.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Depth Chart

In honor of our Select-A-Seat day this week, and given a recent IM conversation I had with Doug, I think I will write a post talking about the Sharks' current depth chart:

1st line : Bell, Thornton, Cheechoo.
2nd line : Bernier, Marleau, Michalek
3rd line : Grier, Smith, Nieminen
4th line : Goc, Rissmiller, Brown

#1 D : McLaren, Carle
#2 D: Hannan, Gorges/Ehrhoff
#3 D: Ehrhoff/Gorges, Davison/Murray

I like the current state of the forward lines... there's a good combination of grit and skill. The 3rd line could be called the "energy line" or the "checking line" or whatever, but there's really more skill than that. It's not Georges Laraque and Tie Domi- guys with basically no real puck skill. I was repeatedly surprised in particular by Ville Niemenen's hands and skating ability last season. And I've been watching Mike Grier since he starred at Boston University in 1995. He's not quite clever or fast enough to be a scoring star, but he has been lauded for his smarts and leadership ability.

The Sharks' defense is a horse of a different color. I'm convinced Carle will be an All-Star in 2 or 3 years, but I think it's too much to ask for him to be a top-4 defenseman now. He might just jump right in like Dion Phaneuf, but Phaneuf is clearly the exception and not the rule. I have serious reservations about both Josh Gorges and Rob Davison even as regular NHLers. Doug Murray can hit like a truck, but he skates like a truck too. The inexperience, and lets face it, lack of talent will hurt the Sharks this season. If the Sharks manage to trade for or sign a solid top-4 stay-at-home defensemen, the blue line corps will turn from one that has holes to one that has opportunities. No longer will Gorges, Ehrhoff, and Carle be forced to regularly take on the opposing top line and kill penalities, but can be worked into that role slowly, and will have an actual chance to win the job, instead of it being forced upon them.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who will say and who will go??

Nabby. Toskala. One will be here when the season starts and one will be polishing his mask for another NHL team in October. Who would you keep? What deals are out there? Here's my take.

They have gone for a major make-over in order to hope the city and its fans can forget the embarrassment of a team they fielded last year. The Blues have gotten active in the FA market signing Guerin, McKee, Hinote and others gives the impression that they want to be competitive again soon instead of rebuild with kids. Their two current options in net are not going to cut it - and Manny Legace is certainly not going to take them into the playoff hunt.

Are they willing to offer one of their top defensemen (Salvador, Brewer or Jackman) and a high draft pick for Toskala? Would they consider a defensemen and the high salary of Tkchuck for Nabokov and Nils Ekman? I would make both these deals and I'm sure Wilson is exploring this as an option.

I know this notion makes Mike feel sick to his stomach and I know Wilson will not give one our boys to them for free. Hold the Wings hostage - they want to rebuild with youth and shed some veterans? How about Toskala and a young d-man we don't need like Jim Fahy or Davison for Schneider? We get a top two defensemen and a power play master.

They will be looking for a goalie when they get sick of watching Adrian Auld. Not ready to pull the trigger and I'm not sure they have much beyond Bowmeester that we would want.

I trust Doug Wilson. He has made some brilliant deals - stealing Ekman from the Rangers for nothing and raping the Bruins for Big Joe. He has made some duds (Brad Boyes for Curtis Brown and the big stinker Kipper to the Flames). But....I trust him still. He will make the right move. So read this blog Dougie boy, take off your helmet and pull the trigger. Get us the Top 4 Defensemen we need to put us over the hump and lets bring the Cup to Silicon Valley.


Monday, July 10, 2006

The new era of Mark Bell

The Sharks were involved in a three-team deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks sent Tom Preissing and prospect Josh Hennessy to the Chicago for Mark Bell. The Hawks then sent Preissing, Hennessy, Michel Harinka, and a 2nd round pick to the Senators for Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski.

At first, it seems like the Sharks gave up a lot. Preissing had a breakout season with the Sharks, and solidified his position on the power play, and as a top-4 defenseman. I can't comment intelligently on Hennessy at all, but he did average over 1 point per game in the AHL last year.

Mark Bell is a big strong forward who has good hands around the net and can score. He also has averaged over 100 PIMs per year throughout his career, so you know he uses his size. He only scored 5 more points last year than Preissing, but keep in mind two things- he played for the 2nd worst offensive team in hockey (only St. Louis scored fewer) and Preissing got a lot of power play time with Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, who were point scoring machines on the PP.

Chicago has agreed to terms with Havlat for 3 years and $18M. Smolinski is 34, and can give veteran leadership. It bums me out a bit that we didn't get Havlat, but given how much more Chicago gave up, we probably would have had to ship another one of our good young players as well as Preissing, which Doug Wilson probably didn't want to do.

I haven't seen enough of Mark Bell to really get a bead on how good he can be with the Sharks, but I'm going to try and keep an open mind. The Sharks have now given up two top-4 defensemen in the past year, and not signed any. It seems all the teams that went deep in the playoffs have at least one premier blueliner, and the Sharks are decidedly thin in that department.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Open the floodgate

The free agency period has started, and there have been almost too many moves to count. It seems every team has made a major trade, or signed a major free agent. I might post some more general thoughts later, but for now, I'm going to discuss the changes in the Pacific division in detail. There are just too many moves to really do a league-wide analysis justice while keeping it under 5000 words.

I did my best to get the gained/lost lists right, but I gleaned them by hand from the ESPN NHL transaction list. I can't use the team transaction pages because it doesn't have the players lost.

Anaheim Ducks - Upgrade
Lost: Joffrey Lupol, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Friesen, Ruslan Salei, draft picks
Gained: Chris Pronger
Seems like the Ducks lost a lot, but they gained more. Lupol and Salei were good players, but nowhere on the same level as Pronger. No doubt they got better. Their power play, with Niedermayer and Pronger on the point, will be fearsome to behold.

Dallas Stars - Downgrade
Lost: Jason Arnott, Bill Guerin, Willie Mitchell, Johan Hedberg, Niko Kapanen, 7th rounder
Gained: Darryl Sydor, Patrick Stefan, Jaroslav Modry, Jeff Halpern, Matthew Barnaby
Losing Arnott and Guerin hurts the Stars. They gained two good but not great defensemen in Sydor (who played in Dallas from 1996 through 2003) and Modry. Patrick Stefan may in fact be the worst #1 pick in the last 20 years. Maybe Alexander Daigle was worse, depends if you ask an Ottawa fan. I personally thought Willie Mitchell was one of the best trade deadline pickups of last season, and they let him go for nothing. Dallas will certainly not win the division next season.

Los Angeles Kings - Downgrade
Lost: Pavol Demitra, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Corvo, Mark Parrish
Gained: Brian Willsie, Alyn McAuley, Scott Thornton, Rob Blake, Patrick O'Sullivan
I only rate the Kings as a slight downgrade. They traded Demitra on draft day for O'Sullivan and draft picks (they got Jonathan Bernier with their first round pick, no relation to Steve). Blake will help on the power play, but he's 36- there's no way to predict how many games he'll play. Demitra was rickety too, so it's hard to say how many games were lost by trading him. Corvo and Parrish were pretty big hits, especially since Parrish went to a Western team. Roenick is barely a role player at this point.

Phoenix Coyotes - Upgrade
Lost: Paul Mara, picks
Gained: Ed Jovonovski, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Morrison, Nick Boynton, picks
The Boynton-for-Mara deal was another dumb trade for the Bruins. Mara has slightly more offensive upside, but Boynton is bigger, stronger, and a solid defensive plus player. Jovanovski was one of the biggest free agent signings so far. Roenick was probably a PR move more than anything else, but could end up being a nice surprise in the scoring department. The Coyotes will be much tougher on D this year, and could be a playoff threat.

San Jose Sharks - Push
Alyn McAuley, Scott Thornton
Gained: Mike Grier, Curtis Brown
The Havlat-Toskala deal died when the Senators managed to sign Martin Gerber from the Hurricanes, so the Sharks end up essentially standing pat for another offseason. We were in the Pronger sweepstakes apparently, but the Oilers didn't need a goalie since they re-signed Roloson. They wanted "three young players" which probably meant Bernier, Ehrhoff, Michalek, or Carle. I think the Sharks were wise in not giving them up. Right now our trade bait is Nabokov or Toskala- we shouldn't ditch the young core of the team. Signing Mike Grier was a good move, for essentially the same salary amount we gained by releasing Thornton. But the Sharks still need a decent left wing.

I'm not excited about facing Phoenix or Anaheim 8 times next season with the moves they made. But it ain't over yet. There are some free agents still out there that I think can add value for us.