The San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings last season. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Image)
Ever since the San Jose Sharks blew their 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings, management has been in panic mode. But the team, as it stands, is still a serious contender, if they can just get over that loss.
The San Jose Sharks and their GM Doug Wilson panicked this summer. They were going to rebuild, they weren't going to rebuild. They were going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they weren't going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They signed John Scott. Management didn't act as San Jose Sharks management usually acts - calm and measured. They acted like a team that just blew a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Believe it or not, the window for the San Jose Sharks to win a Stanley Cup is still open. The team didn't get melted down the way Wilson made it seem like it would when he talked about being a "tomorrow team" at the start of the summer. They still have their best player (Thornton) and their leading playoff scorer (Marleau). Had the team got a little better than the terrible goaltending they got at the end of that Kings series, or if Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn't have to sit out due to injury, the Sharks may have won that series against Los Angeles. The way they were playing in Games 1-3, they may have won the Cup.
Unlike the potential movement of Thornton and Marleau this summer, the departures of Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat always seemed inevitable and obvious in the wake of that loss. Boyle was still an important player on the blueline who pulled in huge minutes, but he had lost a step and Vlasic had emerged as the No. 1 on the blueline. Havlat had lost two or three steps and though he still sees himself as a fleet-footed scorer, those days are gone. There was no room for him in this lineup anymore.
But Thornton and Marleau are still important impact players who contribute in so many ways. Thornton is not just an assist-machine, but a puck possession and offensive driver. Marleau regularly hits the 30-goal mark and was second on the team in goals last season, but he's also a leader on the team's penalty kill unit. He led all Sharks forwards in average shorthanded minutes last season and the team's kill rate was sixth-best in the league.
With these guys at the center and an emerging core of forwards including Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski coming up fast behind them, the Sharks can still be a force. But the team isn't yet prepared to move on without Thornton and Marleau and still expect to be a Cup contender of the highest level. Pavelski, for one, scored a career high 41 goals last season on an unsustainable 18.2 shooting percentage. And if you drop Thornton, who steps in to replace his presence as the top line center? Who do you use as the No. 2 center?
In Thornton and Marleau, you know exactly what numbers and what contribution you'll get.
So why does it seem the team wants to make them uncomfortable?
Wilson didn't, or couldn't, trade either player this off-season, but you get the sense the team isn't through panicking yet. They took the captaincy away from Thornton and assistant captaincy away from Marleau, opening up a competition for the mostly symbolic leadership stamps. But as long as those two are still in the room, their influence looms large.
As long as the two are still in the room, the team is still a serious contender for the Cup.
At some point, the management team who runs the organization needs to move on and get over the loss. It needs to stop laying blame by making Thornton and Marleau the focus when mentioning how the team wants to change. It needs to quit obsessing with them and help the roster in other areas. Remember, the response to blowing that series to the Kings has been to sign John Scott, re-sign Mike Brown and put pressure on its two most important players.
You're not going to come back on the Kings with that mentality.
The best thing for the Sharks and their Cup chances is to keep both on the team and lay off the pressure. The commitment was already made to both players last year when Wilson signed them to three-year extensions. He should be in it with them for that long now.
With Thornton and Marleau the Sharks still have legitimate Cup hopes, even if no one is going to pick them in a pool.
Without them, the Sharks take two steps back.
If the team keeps panicking, symbolically pinning blame or reducing ice time of its key players, that window to win is going to close quicker than you think.
And you can't predict when it will open again as wide as it still is right now.