The 2014-15 season is SOOOO different than 2002-03

My $0.02

The 2014-15 season is so very different from 02-03 (the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs).

First, we’re in the cap era now. (Back then you could “buy” your way out of trouble.) All kinds of contract management now that wasn’t even considered then.

Second, Shark defenseman Gary Suter announced his retirement in the summer of 2002. Arguably a much bigger loss than Boyle not re-signed this past summer.

Third, the team was “out” of the playoffs by Thanksgiving. (Head coach Darryl Sutter was fired the last week of November)

Similarly to this season, the Sharks did not do a lot of signing from the UFA market (unless you consider re-signing Selanne).

Looking at the 2002-03 roster:

  • No player with “double digit” +/- positive rating.
  • Sharks had not one “full time” D man with a + rating in 2002-2003 (Davison was the lone plus rating  — +4 in 15 games). Rathje was blueline-worse at -19. (That season, the team started with “Rat and Rags”, as arguably the top defensive pair, but Ragnarson was traded for McGillis — who didn’t even last the season.)
  • Selanne (28+36=64, -6), Damphousse (23+38=61, -13), Marleau (28+29=57, -10) were the only players with 50+ points on the season.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

So, are the Sharks the team we though they’d be before the start of the season? Why didn’t/don’t the Sharks have a captain? Are these the  “real” Sharks?  Will they make the post season? If so, how far can they go? And what of the future

Who are the Sharks?

Well, many pundits had the Sharks as third in the division in the preseason.  (And as of 141213 they are.)

But inconsistent has been the major adjective to describe the team, thus far, and they’ve been at the top to the lower third of periodic power rankings. While they’ve beat some of the big boys (Anaheim, St Louis), they’ve also lost to some of the teams near the bottom of the standings (Buffalo, Florida, Edmonton). (And all three goalies who have played this season for the Sharks have had a shutout in their NHL/season debut. Not too shabby.)

It didn’t help the Sharks were on the road for “most” of their early season (setting new NHL record with 16 of their first 21 games on the road). Nor that a few planned-on-key players spent a significant time on the IR (Brown, Kennedy, Torres, etc.).

141215 IR status:

  • Brown (lower body) — from description of crutches and boot might be broken bone (which would be 4-6 weeks, or mid- to late-January for return to play); update 141220 – confirmed broken fibula 6-8 weeks out
  • Kennedy (upper body) — all depends on players’ rate of healing, but I’d guess it’ll be January before he returns to play;
  • Torres (knee) — was scheduled to start skating after Thanksgiving; I’m guessing earliest return might be mid-January.
  • Nieto (ankle) — close to return, perhaps after Christmas break

The Sharks finally seem to have their identity “back” as a physical, up-tempo team, and one going younger.  Recent games have included ten players (nearly half the roster) at age 25 or under.  Some of those have been “injury call ups”, and they have made their mark in team play.  And some of that is related to the trade of Demers for Dillon and waiving Burish to the AHL.

 Captaincy

There are four players (Marleau, Pavelski, Thornton, Vlasic) who are wearing As (3 per game, rotated about every 5 games).

The leadership executive committee has worked pretty well, with at least one of the quartet taking key role in media interaction pre/post game, win or loss. Pavelski has been one of mainstays of almost every media session.

Some pundits have called for Thornton to be reinstated as captain. But others are heralding Pavelski as the next captain.

Me, I had Pavelski at the top of my list, months ago. 😀

When might a captain be named? Some are pointing to the Stadium Series game in February as a key time that a captain lead his team on to the ice.

Are these the real Sharks?

Now, I think we are seeing the true capabilities of the team, injuries not withstanding.

With almost half the team roster at or under 25, the team is succeeding.  (And more promise to come, when those players continue to develop in the upcoming seasons.)

And the strain and stress of those initial long road trips has been persevered, and the team is making it hard to get a point, much less two on their home ice (exhibit: recent 5-0 home stand).

Unless there is catastrophic injury or illness, this team should be playing at this level for the rest of the season.

But that may mean that players like Burish (already in the AHL after clearing waivers), Irwin, Kennedy could be finding a home rink other than San Jose in the near future.

While Niemi, Thornton and Marleau were high priority trade rumors before the team turned the corner (and Coach McLellan was on the proverbial media hot seat), those have died down significantly.  While the potential is there to trade some of these players, especially the ten pending UFAs, most are performing at a level it would be hard to find a replacement able to contribute at the same level or higher (without significant cost, which may not be “worth” paying). But some cannot be “given” away (witness Burish clearing waivers).

A bit more than two months before the trade deadline, and GM Wilson could continue his “veterans for picks/prospects” trades.  But prospects and “high” picks are probably not going to be available to pick up any significant players, unless there is a great upside and some youth. The 2015 draft should allow the Sharks to add more depth to the organization, rather than utilize the picks for players “now”.

Especially with the estimated cap for 2015-16, the Sharks probably will not acquire much payroll, if any, via trade, and could be pretty quiet in the UFA market again this coming summer.

Can they make the post season? If so, how far can they go

Yes.  While the team was not in a playoff position as of US Thanksgiving, they have won eight of their last ten (points in 9 games).

The play has stabilized, and the team should be able to maintain a playoff position.

While the organization had a good team “on paper” last season, injury to a key player, and lack of “lucky bounces” meant they did not get beyond first round.

This year, the added depth of youth has shown this team can weather the loss (hopefully short term) of a key player or two.

So, all that remains to see how far the Sharks can go, are the playoff opponents and monitor their puck luck.