Monday, May 28, 2007

Finals Prediction

Man, this is a tough series to handicap. I really blew the pooch on my predictions for the Eastern Conference Final last round, but I did get the Ducks right. Ottawa just continues to surprise- they are ready and willing to do everything to win. They hit, play defense, have good goaltending, and score, especially that first line, which has been the best line in the playoffs.

Not really that unlike the Ducks, although it's been the Ducks' "second" line of Perry, Penner, and Getzlaf that has been dominating for the Ducks, though in a different way. Chris Kunitz is out, so that leaves a hole on the first line, a hole being filled by Ric Jackman Brad May. Jiggy is playing Smythe-worth goal, and that's the first rule of the playoffs- the team with the hot goalie wins.

For me, the question comes down to whether the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line can score against the shutdown line of Pahlsson-Moen-Niedermayer. We will see if Bryan Murray can get any of the matchups he wants on the road.

As for the pick- it was so impressive the way Ottawa dispatched Buffalo, I have to go with them. The Ducks' "kids" line can't keep it up forever, and Kunitz missing will put more of a spotlight on Selanne, who will be effectively shut down this series. Ottawa in 6.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Doug Wilson interview

Here's the link. Make sure to read Grier's post first. Here's a good quote from Doug: "Sometimes you have to go out and get better players, and sometimes you have to make your players better." Given the emphasis he places on Detroit and Ottawa's ability to break through after a couple of tough years, it seems clear his effort will be on making the most of the current group. There will not be a fire sale.

One thing that struck me is that Wilson said if you grade each of the individuals on the team, the median grade was a C+. I never really thought of it like that before, but he's right. Some players, and he mentioned Grier and Vlasic, played 'A' hockey. Clearly above expectations. Wilson said Joe played B hockey, but I would probably be more charitable than that. I would find it hard to grade a 110+ point year as a B. But there are several players that did not have good years. Bell is the obvious choice there. Bernier is another.

Given how well Nabby played and his salary (and NTC), I have to think that the goaltender deal that Wilson all but guaranteed will be Toskala. The question is, what sort of thing will Wilson be looking for in return? Wilson cannot mention certain players by name before the unrestricted free agency period begins on July 1, but I was suprised that he didn't even hint about looking for a certain type of player. A puck-moving defenseman. A locker room leader. The sorts of players Grier and I have been talking about the last few posts.

Wilson also didn't commit on Ron Wilson returning, but the way he spoke of it, I would bet 4-1 that Ron will be back. One of the radio guys mentioned that Ron Wilson does not really seem to blame himself in press conferences, but Doug said that all the players and coaches have taken responsibility for this year's results. Given those comments, the dearth of good coaches available now, and the length of Ron Wilson's contract, I will be very surprised if he does not return.

It was weird how they asked the GM about Marty McSorely, a broadcaster, and Doug seemed a little miffed by the question. But he clearly knows what's going on, maybe not all of the details. From the few words that were said, it seems McSorely will not be back. I wonder what the hell happened, and if we'll ever get the story.

Doug Wilson has spoken...

Doug Wilson held a press conference yesterday and went on KNBR in the afternoon. He admits to the Sharks were outcoached, outplayed and out-GM'd. He didn't tip his hand much - he said the process of evaluating themselves has not been completed. Will Ron Wilson return? No answer yet. What he did say was the Sharks can look at the model of the Ottawa Senators for an example of overcoming playoff hardship to achieve success. The Sens lost a high profile defensemen in Chara, traded a flashy center in Hossa, let Hasek go and let their own young players step up and take the next step. Will the Sharks follow this model?

Will the Sharks trade Patrick Marleau? Doubtful. Wilson was quick to defend Patty and brought up an important stat - he is tied as the leading goal scorer the last three years in the playoffs. Is this really a player you want to get rid of? The biggest obstacle is that both Marleau and Joe Thornton are both in a contract year. You have to extend Joe - so do you deal Marleau for a high scoring gritty wing? Is there a Dany Heatley out there for the Sharks to acquire in exchange for Marleau? Would Columbus deal a disappointing Rick Nash to the Bay Area?

The Sharks are going to deal a goaltender. Wilson made this clear. Can they get a taker for Nabokov's large 5.4 million dollar/year price tag? That would clear some room to sign a big ticket free agent like Smyth or Souray. Nabby's no trade clause is a big obstacle, so most likely Toskala is the one on the move. Tampa Bay re-upped Holmqvist.....WHAT? Why would Tampa do this with so many goalies on the market like Giguere, Backstrom, Fernandez and both Sharks guys. Bizarre. Florida is in the market. Los Angeles and Phoenix need a goalie - but it is unlikely Wilson will help them out. We'll see what happens.

So - we wait and see. The disaapointment is his voice was clear and the goal remains the same. The Sharks management is not content with entertaining its fans - they want to win a Stanley Cup and until that is done - they will not rest inside the Tank.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

First of many off-season musings

So I'm starting to compile lists and thoughts about the Sharks this offseason, but it's still a bit too early to launch into a who-should-we-get discussion. Unrestricted free agency doesn't officially start until July 1, so lots of movement and signings can still happen before we really know who's available. I've already made a list of every UFA defensemen, and I'll be posting about it soon. But first, I need to add my two cents about the two big Sharks issues right now.

1. Ron Wilson
I like Ron Wilson. He's a very experienced coach, and widely regarded as a fantastic in-game tactician. The question is, is he still the right coach for the Sharks? Clearly, in many people's minds, including that of Sharks management, the Sharks could have and should have gone further. The Red Wings played extremely well, and continue to do so, crushing the (not so mighty) Ducks last night 5-0. But as the old saw goes, have the players 'tuned out'? Are they 'not responding'?

Some especially are pointing to Wilson calling out Marleau in the Wings series, and how that was wrong, Mareau was offended, etc, etc. First thing- Marleau is a big boy, and supposedly the leader of the team. He deserved criticism. I don't think Wilson stepped over the line in his criticism, he didn't call him a pussy or a choker or anything like that. Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do at the time (hindsight is 20/20) but hell, Wilson had to do something. These relationships can be repaired. Lecavalier and Torts are talking again, and Vinny is a diva and Torts is a jerk.

So should Wilson go? Only if the Sharks can find the right coach to replace him. As as Grier said in the last post, there ain't a lot out there. I'm personally not that excited about anyone, even Ed Olczyk. I don't believe the Sharks are a team that needs to go out and have fun again. They need direction, but the latitude to create on the ice. I think Ron Wilson is a coach with that style. Ted Nolan is another. Hell, even John Tortorella would work- he's managed to handle three or four big stars.

What you don't do is pull the trigger to fire Wilson because you need a fall guy. And I have a lot of confidence in the GM, Doug Wilson, in this regard. There were many deals he could have made this past season for Toskala or Nabokov, and he waited for the right deal. He knows that this team is young, and built to have a lot of success in the next 3, 4 or more years. We're not the Preds, we don't have to win now.

2. Patrick Marleau
Basically, the criticism of Marleau came down to him playing subpar 10 games in a row. And yes, they were playoff games, so they mean more. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Marleau is not the only one on that list. But you don't ditch the captain, the face of the franchise for years, because he had a bad stretch. Look at Edmonton and Smyth. Look at Dallas and Modano. Stripping a captain of the C or trading him has consequences, in the locker room and in the stands. I'm open to the suggestion that the Sharks need a vocal leader in the locker room. Not every captain is a vocal one. Maybe they need to go out and get Drury, or Smyth, or Gomez. Same thing as above- if the Sharks can make the right deal, then they should. No one is off the table. You can't tell me you wouldn't trade Joe for Sidney Crosby.

But like the Ron Wilson situation, you don't panic. You don't ditch somebody just to show the fans, management, whoever, that you did something. Doug Wilson is calculating. Would I trade Marleau for Dan Boyle? Hell yes. Would I trade him for a second round pick, or even a first round pick? Absolutely not. Until there's a plan, everybody stays. Ditching good coaches and players without an idea of what you're going to do next is not a plan, it's a knee-jerk reaction.

Monday, May 14, 2007


As we mark the one week anniversary of the Sharks playoff demise, life has returned to normal by the Bay. Playoff beards have been shaved. Teal body paint has been painstakingly removed. The jersey has been retired until Fall. But several questions still remain inside the now empty Shark tank and the most popular appears to be - will Ron Wilson return behind the bench next season?

According to the New York Post and Sports Illustrated, Ron Wilson's days may be numbered. While they cite no sources, it is implied that Wilson has lost the ear of his team and of team captain, Patrick Marleau. I agree with their assessment. The Sharks played uninspired hockey in this series. They folded under pressure and did not respond to adversity. They did not defend their home ice, losing two critical games at the Tank with the series on the line. It is hard not to notice teams that seem to play hard for their bench boss, like how the Islanders responded to Ted Nolan with half the talent the Sharks have. Mike Babcock made adjustments and the Wings listened to his passion. Lindy Ruff appears to be a great leader for the Sabres and now he will have to test it to come out of a 2-0 hole to Ottawa. As a former player, Doug Wilson knows the climate of the Sharks locker room. He is determined to build a winner and if there is a better coach for the job, I believe Wilson will pull the trigger on a new coach. The bigger question is - is there another man for the job? It is too bad the Isles snapped up Nolan because I think he would have brought the right inspiration to this team. Who else? Pat Burns? No thanks. Trent Yawney? Mike Kitchen? Claude Julien? There is only one name that come to mind that intrigues me. Ed Olczyk.

The Edmonton Journal says they expect the Sharks to move Marleau for a puck moving defensemen and the Sharks might add a different look up front. They suggest sending Marleau to Chicago for Tuomo Ruutu and Brian Seabrook. First of all, Ruutu is a piece of trash cheap shot artist with bad blood history vs. San Jose - Doug Wilson would never make the deal. They suggest Marleau for Mattias Ohlund. I don't think Wilson is going to react so quickly and deal the most popular player in franchise history. If Marleau fetched a premiere defensemen (Ohlund at 31 points in not in that category) the Journal says they would sign a mid level center to replace him, someone in the 3-4 million range. I don't see any of those players on the UFA list. I see expensive 6-7 million dollar centers like Drury, Gomez and Briere and then a big drop off to Robert Lang and Jeff O'Neill. Sharks will stand pat here and ride it out with Marleau - we are strong up the middle with Big Joe, Patty, Pavelski, Brown and Goc. I still think Wilson is going to make a big push for a defensemen in a deep talent pool and he will take a long hard look at Ryan Smyth.

That's all for now Sharksfans. Let us know any thoughts on coaches and other rumors.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Conference Finals Predictions

So after the tough loss last night, I need to put on my objective hat and try to gauge the conference finals. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm kicking ass in terms of my series predictions- 7-1 in the first round, 3-1 in the second, for 10-2 overall. This time I only picked one series- Ottawa vs. New Jersey, completely correct.

Sabres vs. Sens- I'm surprised at how many people are predicting the Senators to take this series. The Sabres were the best regular season team. Before you quote the stat, let me quote it for you - only one President's Trophy winner in the past 14 years have won the cup (Rangers in 1994). Notice I did not say (yet) I thought the Sabres would win the Cup. Ottawa has advantages in PP and defense, I think the Sabres are better at all other aspects of the game. Although it's interesting to talk about the back-to-back brawls that occurred during this regular season, there's too much on the line to get into nasty stuff and risk suspensions. Sabres in 6.

Ducks vs. Wings- I'm 0-2 at picking against the Wings this post season, and I'm going to ride the wave to 0-3. The Ducks have a better blueline, a second line that can actually score (unlike the Sharks), and statistically better goaltending. Couple that with bigger, nastier players, and a hurting Wing defensive corps, and I think this series won't be as close as people think it will be. If I'm going to be wrong, I'm going to be very wrong. It's better to burn out than to fade away! Ducks in 5.

Unlike Grier, I honestly can't pick who to root for in the next series. I hate the Wings because, they're, well, the Wings. It's kind of like rooting for the IRS. I hate the Ducks because they are in our division and because they owned us in the regular season. But I'd rather see the team that beat us go far because that makes the Sharks look better. But I have good friends down south that are diehard Ducks fans. I'll watch the games because it'll be a good series, and root against Teemu, but for Lidstrom, because that guy is too fucking good. But then I'll root against Draper, because he's a punk, and root for Scott Niedermayer, because he was great with the Devils. I can go on like this for awhile. I give up.

Update:The stat I quoted above about President's Trophy winners not winning the Cup often is complete and total crap. Dunno where that came from in my brain, or why I didn't check it beforehand. Thanks frank.

Another early exit

Thanks for a great series. The Wings showed a lot of heart and, gulp, experience by winning this series. We will be rooting for the Wings to take out the Ducks, that's for sure.

I agree with Mike - no excuses. Wings were the better team. It will be interesting to see what Dougie Wilson does in the offseason to improve the roster. I don't see a major roster blow up, there is no reason to panic. Here are four hot offseason topics for us to ponder....

1) Scott Hannan
Will Wilson resign him? Will Hannan take the blame for lack of leadership and be allowed to leave. Do we really need Hannan as a shut down defensemen when we have a younger version on hand with Vlasic? We know Wilson has tried to land a big ticket defensemen the last two off seasons. He has tried to make it a priority. He swung and missed with Neidermeyer and Chara......will he hit the jackpot with Souray or Rafalski? I say let Hannan go, keep Rivet and make a run and Rafalski or Souray.

2) The man in the middle
Has Patrick Marleau lost his "C"? Will Wilson take a long, hard look at Ryan Smyth? I think he has to. The Sharks lack a vocal leader and his track record speaks for itself. Smyth was the heartbeat behind the Oilers Stanley Cup run and then he willed the Islanders into the playoffs this year too. It will cost a bundle, and Wilson would not be able to get Souray and Smyth. Which will he set his sights on first.....

3) Ron Wilson
Is he still the man for the job? Has he lost the players ear? I'm not sure there is a better candidate out there, but Wilson has been on the bench for all three early exits, failing to live up to expectations. Will he take the fall?

4) Toskala vs. Nabby
One needs to go. Can the Sharks get value for one of their netminders? The open market really only has Giguere and Backstrom on it - and you have to figure Tampa Bay and Los Angeles are going to be major bidders. Can the Sharks addresss the need for a second line scorer or puck moving defensemen with dealing a goalie?

Doug Wilson will not stand pat. We know this. How can we take the next step? I hope he has the right formula in mind.

Go Wings. Boo Ducks.

Monday, May 07, 2007

No excuses

Too early to post a retrospective on the season, but I'll say this about Game 6- the Sharks did not piss it away. They played very well, but the Wings played better. They lost their second-best defensemen, yet still played good D, and Hasek made some all-World saves. They took advantage of the Sharks mistakes, and didn't make too many of their own. The Sharks got beat. More tomorrow.

Congrats, Wingnuts.

Which history will repeat itself?

With two hours to go before the puck drops at the Tank, the Sharks destiny is in their own hands. Reaching back into recent hockey history, there are two possible paths the Sharks can follow here. They can repeat the history of the 2005-06 Sharks, play uninspired hockey, blow another early lead and bow out in the second round to a team that is playing undermanned and injured. Or...they can take a page from the 2002 Stanley Cup winning Red Wings book and come back from a 3-2 series hole, like they did against Colorado. They won a pivotal game six and that was she wrote for the Avs.

So which destiny will it be......will this Sharks team continue on a playoff march or face an offseason of uncertainty?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Final Thoughts

After the opening goal, the Sharks looked like they were looking for an excuse to lose this game, and they found it in Nabby's gaffe in the second period. The lost composure, they lost organization and they lost the game. Now they just need to leave it all on the ice at home in front of the home crowd on Monday. And we will be there, trying with 17,000 others to will a Game 7.

No Schneider, No Excuses

Outside of the first period, the Sharks got outworked and outclassed this afternoon. The power play was ineffective. Holmstrom has been dominant. And the captain, Patrick Marleau, continues to be missing in action. After scoring the first goal, the Sharks stopped the offensive pressure and allowed Detroit to assault Nabby over and over again.

How did the Sharks not capitalize on Schneider's absence? Losing their second best defensemen should have been a huge boost for the Sharkies, but instead they shut it down and didn't test the Wings blueline.

Giving up two power plays goals and going 0/6 on your own is not a formula for victory. The odds are not in our favor - but that is why we play the games. The Sharks are going to have to dig deep and answer the bell in one of the biggest games in franchise history. To stall again in Round Two would be unacceptable. Maybe we should try not scoring first....that seems to work since the team that goes up is 1-4 in this match up.

A Tale of Two Periods

Well....there was the meltdown. Wings outplayed the Sharks in every facet on the game and Nabby pulled a classic Arturs Irbe impression and gave the puck away outside the net. This having been said, the roughhousing at the end of the period might have been a huge mistake by the Wings. The Sharks had fallen asleep and now they may have just woken them up. The Sharks played their best hockey in response to the Nashville antics. What will happen now?

NBC says Sharks are starting on the power play. Based on the coverage so far (which has been horrid, especially the camera work) I'm not holding my breath.

Here we go.....

This pretty much sums it up

Bill Clement: I wonder how Evgeni Nabokov feels after that period...

Brett Hull: Stupid.

My turn

So it's a good start- weak goal by Hasek is the only difference right now. Hasek looked like he expected Goc to come down the left boards, and when Goc shot instead, was hugging the near post. The power play still looks miserable, but the first possession of the PP looked different. More movement at the points, more pinching by the D, less standing around for Joe at the half boards. The Wings never seem to have anyone at the half boards on the PP- they always have one or two in the crease, and let the D bomb away. I say the Sharks go to that strategy. Two Wings collapse on Joe when he has it, so there needs to be more skating, and more movement.

Schneider took a hit from Marleau that looks like it separated his shoulder. He won't return. We'll see if that will make a difference in the next two.

Early signs point to Game One

I know it is early. There is lots of hockey left to go....but the Sharks have come out like with a repeat of their Game One first period performance in Game Five. Controlling play in the corners, blocking shots and solid goaltending. They had their early opportunity for a meltdown, ala Game Four, and did not allow the late power play goal.

Good start - but we've seen this before. Sharks have to continue on their Game One tribute. Hold on for Period Two.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Guerin out for Game 5

So the cut to Guerin's face might be more than just a bad cut, because the AP is reporting Guerin will be out for Game 5. If you get hit in the head with a object traveling that fast, it figures that a concussion might go along with it.

So I guess this means either Pavelski or Bell will be back in the lineup, along with Mark Smith. Smith wasn't an impact player in Game 4, but he certainly didn't play badly. His energy is something the Sharks need, and is a fan favorite, although it could be because he has blue hair and plays in a band. Personally, I think he's a role player that plays hard, has an above average wrist shot, and below average puckhandling skills. He's a fourth liner, an 'energy' player that doesn't really fight.

At this point, that's an improvement over Guerin, face intact or no. The question becomes, how do we get that line going? In this playoffs, it seems like the second line has been Marleau and some combination of the state of California. Ron Wilson has tried everything. I would personally try Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe next, but that's probably been tried already. Mike Chen over at Battle of California is speculating Marleau is hurt, but I thought he was effective in the Nashville series. It's hard to tell the difference between nagging/recurring injury and listlessness.

Will the Sharks have urgency for 60 minutes, or will they continue to try and skate by (pun intended, I guess) with flashes of brilliance followed by stretches of watching the Wings cycle and shoot? Once that question is answered, we will know how the series will turn out.

Oh yeah, thanks Vancouver, for putting up a fight. Bastards. This is why I wanted to play the Ducks next. Though if we did, and played the same way we played the last four games, we might have already met the Canucks' fate.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Meltdown or Robert Lang's love child

I still can't believe it happened. Robert Lang, who has been invisible for the entire series, slips in alone and puts one past the rock steady Nabby to tie the game with 34 seconds left in regulation. Nabby, who made 46 saves in another heroic performance, fell to the ice and looked to the rafters in disbelief. Did this really just happen?? And Robert Lang of all Wings? Unreal.

Detroit stole Game Four and all it would have taken was 39 seconds. That's it. Five more seconds of penalty kill in the 2nd period. 34 more precious ticks of the clock to go up 3-1 in the series and it's lights out Motown. Instead, it is gut check time. The Sharks need to dig deep to pull this off. Detroit has all the momentum. They won two games they had no business winning. By all accounts, this series could very well be over. Instead, we will see what the team is made of....and I'll tell you what. I don't think it is a bad thing. Let me tell you why.

The Sharks are the most talented team in the playoffs. I still believe that. Doug Wilson put all the pieces in place to win a Cup this year. He added my invaluable namesake, Can't Stop the Grier, and penalty killer Curtiss Brown. At the deadline, he pulled the trigger on Rivet and Guerin. These upgrades were made to improve a team that had already flexed its playoffs muscles and won 22 playoff games since 2004, more than any other team in the NHL. Yet, this stat means nothing without the big prize and we all know you can't get to Lord Stanley without some major obstacles in your path. This is the Sharks test. Stand up tall, look each other in the eye and get it done. Here are three ways how.

1) Don't take your foot off the gas. When you get the lead, keep applying pressure. Sitting back and letting the Wings pepper Nabby with 50 shots will not win a series.

2) Ron Wilson - Please stop changing the lines. Stick with what got us here. Separating Clowe-Bernier-Goc broke up our second best line. Stop moving them around and roll the four lines that were successful in the 2nd half of the year.

3) Marleau and Guerin. Time to show up boys. Moving them around isn't going to help. Let them be and figure it out. If they don't, there is no one to blame other than two big guns that have been shooting blanks all series. Put them back together (if Guerin still has a face) and I believe they will have a big Game 5. They have been called out and these All Star performers will not disappoint again.

I still believe and so should you. Is this a real series? Yes. Have the Wings proven to be a more worthy opponent than I expected? Yes. I stand by my statement of rather having the Wings first. I'm sure Mike would agree, with the Sharks playing at 60% we are 2-2 with the Wings. The Ducks would have swept us by now. We will come out bigger, stronger and better. There is no free ride to the Cup. This is a not a bad thing - it will make us stronger if we get throught this. If the Sharks get past Detroit, Anahiem should be shaking in the pond.

Arthur King of the Britains had the Killer Rabbit. We have some Nasty Octapus. But we will reach the Grail, I have no fear. Just a flesh wound friends, just a flesh wound.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Worst Possible Loss

Words fail me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Game 3

Cue the references to the 'flip side of the coin' and all that. Almost a mirror image of Game 2. Wings came out hot, early lead, and let it slip away, mostly due to dominant work in the corners by the Sharks. And a really bad slew-foot penalty by Bertuzzi. Although that was after the go-ahead goal, it really took the wind out of the Wings' sails. A 6-on-5 Wings advantage would not have been fun for two minutes, or at least a minute-thirty. Instead, the Wings had to kill the penalty, on which the Sharks had good puck possession, then try to turn it around in 30 or 40 seconds, with the crowd on their feet, hopefully providing that final boost of adrenaline to the Grier line.

Joe was dominant. On a 6-game point streak now, he was double-shifting most of the third period, trying to tire out Draper and Lidstrom, and then create scoring chances once they were off the ice. Nobody other than Bertuzzi is really big enough to muscle Joe off the puck along the boards. And it didn't seem like Bertuzzi was really playing much of a game. So bad, in fact, that E.J. Hradek is saying that the Wings should scratch him for Game 4. I can't imagine them doing that, but Holmstrom is reported to be on his way to SJ in order to suit up.

Playing Homstrom is a risk, but down 2-1, it's one the Wings have to take. It's great to have a player with heart that will play through injuries, but do you want a player that's not fully healthy? Just like Cheech wasn't the rest of the Nashville series, and probably even now. I guess Holmstrom's real asset is to stand in the front of the net and create havoc, and his injury is (supposedly) an eye injury, so he may be close to 100% right away. But not being able to see a booming Lidstrom shot from the point could be hazardous to your health.

One last note- I sure hope Guerin is giving 'locker room leadership' or 'playoff know-how' or some of that shit, because he sure ain't doing squat on the ice. Shooting from every possible angle is great and all, but after a while it starts looking like the lazy way out.

I sure wish my Treo took better pictures, but oh well. Here's one of the crowd after Cheech's goal, about as loud as I've ever heard it in there, with a sea of white towels.