As Sharks fans we have been handed another huge let down by a team that wasn't supposed to disappoint. Doug Wilson put a great team together, and again we came up short. It was obvious to many of us that continued our loyalty and hopes that the Sharks were on their way out of the first round. In the back of our minds we all had a slight image of our team falling, even though we won two of the games because they just never looked confident. They lacked a ton of fight, and I feel like if you put together players from a game of pick-up hockey you could witness more desire than the Sharks displayed and that's a true story. I personally skate mediocre at best, but if you put me in a playoff game, playing to survive, I can tell you at least you would see heart out of me, that I was trying with every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears. The Sharks, if they felt they put their all into it, it really did not appear that way. These playoffs are different that previous playoffs, but at the same time they are kind of the same, I feel that this series vs. the Ducks exposed some glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed, and Doug Wilson should get to work today.
Item 1. - Evgeni Nabokov has provided us with some thrilling saves between the pipes, and I'm not sure anyone would disagree that he is a man that displays great character, and sportsmanship. Unfortunately, I do not believe those characteristics from him are going to be enough to get us a Stanley Cup. He has not been able to face playoff pressure from opposing offenses, and has let in one too many easy goals during this series. He is 34 this year, and I believe his age began to show against rookie Jonas Hiller . It's hard for me to swallow the fact, but as many of you have already brought up, we just might need a new netminder. Ideally, I would like the Sharks to find a new goalie and keep Nabokov as the backup, but whatever happens this off-season, I do not believe the Sharks can count on Nabokov to be a 1st-string any longer.
Item 2. - Christian Ehrhoff is a liability to our team across the board in all aspects. Out of our "core" players that play on primary lines with above average minutes per game, Ehrhoff is the only player to have a negative +/-. It's no fluke that he puts up the numbers that he does, and his poor puck handling, and decision-making cost us dearly in these playoffs. Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be great for us, and if Rob Blake and Dan Boyle can work-out something to return to us for another season, then the voids that we need to fill on our defensive end will be kept to a minimum so long as we get rid of or demote Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff should have been bumped down the line much earlier in the season for his poor performance, and maybe that would have woken him up for the playoffs, but until he is reprimanded appropriately he will continue to lack desire and heart on the ice.
Item 3. - Leadership. It's something you can't teach, and something you can't display unless you actually have it. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are great players in every aspect, but in the losing series it became clear to me that both of these players need a leader to turn to in order to win. It was a heart-warming experience to see Thornton jaw at Ryan Getzlaf in game 5, and then throw fists in game 6, but that burning fire and tenaciousness came way too late in the series. The playoffs are where all teams kick it into fifth gear, and both of our guys lack the ability to do such a thing under their own will. It took a beating and a shut out by the Ducks before they decided to crank it up, and that's just not acceptable. Their inabilities to play with hunger and desire caused a trickle effect that took over the whole team. Milan Michalek was a ghost, Joe Pavelski couldn't win a face-off when the Sharks needed it most, and Devin Setoguchi made some poor decisions in the neutral zone. They need to find a leader that will take the team in their hands and command respect, discipline, focus, and heart from the team. Whichever way we find this leader, it's something that must be done, even if it's at the cost of the two faces of our franchise.
Item 4. - We have a great nucleus of youth that many teams would envy. Ryane Clowe was one of the few players that showed heart and grit in the playoffs, and when he broke our playoff scoring drought in the playoffs you could just tell from his movements on the ice that he wanted it. As mentioned earlier, Vlasic will be great for our defense for many years to come. Pavelski and Setoguchi didn't play well this post-season, but I give some of that credit to their mentors and foresee them further improving their skills come next year. Both of them played well in the regular season and displayed some good offensive production that the Sharks desperately need. Torrey Mitchell spent the year with an injury, but if the rest of the team played the way Mitchell did in his last two playoff games, I believe the Sharks would have won the series. Shoot, Mitchell was just happy to be back on the ice. He looked like he was valuing every bit of ice time he could get, and it translated into a commendable performance. He will be in our line next year as a regular, and I'm looking forward to seeing him have a good year in the 2009-2010 season. Michalek is the 5th piece of our young core and he has a lot of improving to do this off-season, he managed to score the first goal in game 6, and I'm hoping he can carry some confidence in the future as his tentative skating was obvious to everyone around the world.
Doug Wilson is a gifted GM as I do not blame him at all for the work he has done for the Sharks' organization. I believe he has proven to the Bay Area that he wants to win, and is willing to make the moves necessary to build a Stanley Cup team. Every year is a learning experience and I believe Wilson being a smart business man, will make the necessary changes in further improving our team as he has done so in previous seasons. This sun has set on this day, but as a die-hard Sharks fan I am already looking to the light on the horizon as I wait for September to roll around so that I may again chant the words "Let's go Sharks!!!!!"