You know the feeling. It’s like getting punched in the gut or seeing your high school sweetheart sneak behind the gym to make out with that stoner guy who literally looks like he hasn’t taken a shower in two weeks. It’s the pain you feel when “your team” is eliminated from the playoffs before getting the chance to raise their finger and exclaim, accurately, ‘we’re number 1.’ It happened yet again to me this past weekend.
I know this is a baseball website, but I make no bones about my nearly lifelong connection with the San Jose Sharks. Year after year I buy into the hype, and season after season I end up having flashbacks to that time I caught Suzy making out with that dude on the blacktop.
Last season the Sharks won the President’s Trophy – awarded to the best team in the league (most points) – only to then fall in the first round to the Ducks. I was so distraught I almost turned in my pen after writing When is Enough, Enough? Eleven months later, I’m in the same spot once again.
The Sharks didn’t lose in the first round this time, or the second for that matter, as they lost in the third round – the Conference Finals – which they reached for only the second time in their history. There is some small satisfaction in that, but it rings pretty hollow at this point (you can read more about the battle with the Blackhawks in Frozen Pucks, Conference Finals). Still, much, much more was expected of this club.
* The Sharks led the Western Conference in points for the second straight season.
* They ranked first in the NHL in face-off winning percentage (55.6 percent), fourth in power-play efficiency (21.0) and fifth in the penalty kill (85.0).
* Joe Thornton was second in the NHL with 69 assists and eighth with 89 points.
* Patrick Marleau was fourth in goals scored with 44.
* Dany Heatley was 8th in the league in goals (39) and second in power-play tallies (18).
* Dan Boyle was fourth amongst blue liners with 58 points.
* Evgeni Nabokov was second in the league with 44 victories.
* They vanquished long-time nemesis Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.
But in the end, the results were no different then what we have seen from this club year after year.
In each of the past four years the Sharks have finished with at least 100 points, and in each of the past six years they have totaled at least 99 points as they have taken home four division titles. Still, they have never advanced to the Finals, never had a chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, and never fulfilled their destiny as one of the NHL’s great teams. I’ve tried to fight the prevalent perception in the national media that the Sharks are the NHL’s version of football’s Buffalo Bills (they lost in the Super Bowl 4-straight years from 1990-93) or baseball’s Atlanta Braves (to be fair the Braves did one title though they made the playoffs 14-straight years), but the fact is they are a great regular season team that can’t find a way to win a championship. They are a consistently good team that can never seem to raise their game to the level of greatness.
I don’t know what the Sharks need to do. They’ll probably lose Marleau and/or Nabokov, you can read move about that in the piece I linked to above, but much of the core will return (Thornton, Heatley, Boyle etc.). I’m certain we’ll hear a lot of tough words from the front office and a certain amount of player movement before next season begins, but in the end, will it matter? Are the Sharks destined to be the NHL version of the Cubs – a team that everyone desperately wants to love despite that little voice in the back of your head that says don’t buy into what your eyes are seeing because no matter how good things look sooner or later they club will break your heart? I desperately hope that isn’t the case, but with each passing year of regular season success followed by failure in the playoffs, I feel a growing kinship with those fans that have cheered their Cubbies on without ever once being able to say – we’re number one.
By Ray Flowers