Maybe it's because they've frustrated so many for so long in the postseason and ruined countless Stanley Cup predictions, but the San Jose Sharks entered 2013 with what seemed to be few expectations surrounding them.
That's the way it seemed, anyway. Almost as if their window to compete was in the process of closing on them, if it hadn't already been slammed shut.
Let's just start with this: Rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
A disappointing regular season in 2011-12 (by their standards) and a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues (one of the best teams in the league) probably didn't help things. But one look at the makeup of their roster should be a nice reminder that this club is still a major threat in the Western Conference and one of the most talented teams in the league.
Coming off a stirring come-from-behind win on Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes, a comeback that saw them score four goals in the final 10 minutes (it was a rally that would have been easy to overlook given the chaos that was unfolding in Edmonton around the same time), the Sharks are 3-0 and off to an incredible start offensively.
Leading the way is their long-time, two-head monster of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton is leading the league in scoring with nine points, but Marleau's start is something that the NHL hasn't seen in 30 years.
With his two goals on Thursday, Marleau has scored twice in each of the Sharks' first three games.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Kevin Kurz), he is the first player to accomplish that since Peter Stastny did it in 1982-83 -- when run-and-gun NHL hockey was the norm.
And that last part is no joke.
For years, the focus on Gomez has been entirely on his bloated, albatross contract -- and for good reason; it was a cap-killer -- overlooking the fact that he's still a pretty useful player. There is a world of difference between having Gomez on your roster at more than $7 million like the Rangers and Canadiens did the past few years, and having him on your roster for the prorated $700,000 that the Sharks are going to have him at this season.
He goes from having one of the worst contracts in the league to being a bargain.
He's no longer a No. 1 (or perhaps even a No. 2) center, but the Sharks don't need him for that role. They already have a loaded top six with Thornton, Marleau, Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and young star Logan Couture. They do need a little more depth. Gomez is more than capable of providing that, and he gives the Sharks, already one of the best possession teams, yet another center who's capable of keeping play in the offensive zone (he was one of the Canadiens' best possession players in each of the past three seasons).
In a way, I understand why people are skeptical when it comes to the Sharks.
Until they break through their glass ceiling that has been the Western Conference finals (two trips in the past three years) they're going to continue to be viewed as the talented regular-season team that has never been able to get it done in crunch time, whether it's fair or not. Given the point totals that they've accumulated in the regular season over the years and the talent that they've put on the ice, there's an expectation that they should have at least reached a Stanley Cup Final by now.
There is also the fact that guys like Thornton (33), Marleau (33), Havlat (31), and Dan Boyle (36) aren't getting any younger. But they're still top-line players and among the best at their positions, and the Sharks still have some stars in their prime of their careers to complement them in Pavelski, Couture and Burns (once he's healthy).
Their playoff history will continue to dog them until they change it (as if going to the conference finals in two of the past three years is a bad thing), and they might be getting a little older in some areas, but their Stanley Cup window is still wide open.