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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sharks Fighting to Make Playoffs

Last year Sharks coach Todd McLellan said that his team seems to perform a lot better when they force themselves into positions where they need to win—and he was not boasting but angry because the Sharks had blown some games and he wanted to make sure that they came out on top in the Pacific Division. Well, the Sharks are not in near as comfortable of a position this year due to dropping 14 of 18 games before recently rebounding in the last three games and coming out with five hard-fought points (beating the Oilers 3-2, losing in overtime to the Flames, and overcoming the Predators tonight in a shootout). In the terrible 18 game skid, not only did the Sharks lose the lead in the Pacific Division but they dropped out of a playoff spot. Currently, they have 80 points in 70 games and that puts them in ninth spot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche and Coyotes both have 81 points but the Sharks have two games in hand on the Coyotes and three in hand on the Avalanche. The Stars are currently the Pacific Division leaders with 83 points but they have played one more game than the Sharks. In the remaining 12 games for the Sharks, they will meet the Stars twice, the Coyotes twice, the Avalanche once, the Kings three times, the Ducks twice, the Red Wings and the Bruins. By the way, in those 18 games the Sharks lost to teams that they should have beaten including the Wild, Oilers and Blue Jackets.

The Red Wings must be pretty happy to see San Jose in a tight spot right now because the Sharks ousted the Wings from the playoffs two years in a row.

I believe that the Sharks will continue to battle back and earn a playoff spot, and they might regain the lead in the Pacific Division; however, I do not believe that they are as strong of a team this year. Let’s discuss the reasons why they are weaker.

Why the Sharks are Weaker this Year

First, let’s examine the Sharks record over the last four years.

In the 2008-2009 season they achieved a record of 53-18-11.

In 2009-2010 they almost matched that by posting a record of 51-20-11.

Last year they finished the season with a record of 48-25-9.

Thus far this year they are 35-25-10.

Well, I doubt that the Sharks are going to win the next 12 games and come close to matching last year’s record.

Heatley Trade

The primary reason why the Sharks are weaker is their huge mistake in trading Dany Heatley in the off-season for Martin Havlat. Why Sharks GM Doug Wilson and company would trade an offensive machine like Heatley is beyond me! The guy is 180th in career NHL points, and since the 2001-2002 season he is tied with Ilya Kovalchuk for the most power-play goals in the league with 134—both players entering the NHL that year. The Wild got a steal in getting Heatley, and you know that Heatley can’t be happy about being traded to a losing team. Heatley easily leads the Wild in points this year but his production is limited by lack of support from his teammates. Additionally, Heatley is +4 this year, one of the few Wild players who are in the plus category.  

In thinking of the trade, Havlat’s numbers were not near as solid and his durability has been terrible. In fact, he had only played close to a full season twice in nine NHL years, while in Heatley’s nine years he had played the full 82 games five seasons, 80 games one year, two other years more than 70 games, and had only one year where he missed a significant number of games. Furthermore, when you consider that Havlat had hamstring surgery this year and the fact that he has only played 26 games you can call the trade an utter disaster for the Sharks! It is hard to imagine the mindset of Doug Wilson when you compare the two players for durability and point totals, and when you consider the fact that the Sharks did not have anything against Heatley as a person it makes the trade “insane.” Apparently, Wilson felt that Havlat would play better with the newly acquired Brent Burns who was part of the first of the two deals that the Wild and Sharks had ratified last summer. Burns and a 2nd Round pick were sent to the Sharks in exchange for Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and the 28th pick in this year’s draft. Then came the Havlat for Heatley trade. Burns has not given the Sharks the return that they expected, not yet anyway, and for Wilson to reason that Havlat would be better with him and the team makes no sense at all.

All said, poor decisions on the part of the Sharks management has damaged the team significantly, and therefore, most of the current players are not to blame for this year and neither is McLellan for that matter.  

Havlat has now returned to the Sharks line-up so it can only help them offensively.

Players Not Performing

Two players have performed so poorly this year that you really have to put a lot of blame on them for the team problems.

Last year Ryane Clowe had 62 points in 75 games played, while this year he only has 36 points in 64 games. He also has the second worst plus-minus on the team at -7. It has been a brutal year for him.   

Defenseman Jason Demers has played 47 games and only has 11 points. However, the main problem is that he has the worst plus-minus on the team at -8. What makes that shocking is the fact that last year he had the best plus-minus on the team at +19! From best to worst! I can’t attribute the decline solely to injury because if he is not healthy and ready to play he needs to make that known.

Marleau is a off of his pace of last year, while Thornton has improved this year in the point department and he also leads the team in plus-minus at +16.

Niemi has not played quite as well this year but has still done a pretty good job in holding the fort when you consider the drop in play of many on the team, especially Demers. Niemi’s numbers are almost identical to last year but his Save Percentage has dropped from .920 last year to .914. We can expect him to improve during the last 12 games and in the playoffs if the Sharks indeed come through and get a playoff spot.

Sharks a “Canadian Team”

The Sharks have 16 Canadian players on the team, and six of the top seven point-getters are from Canada. Thornton, from Ontario, leads the team scoring with 67 points; Marleau, from Saskatchewan, is second with 56; Couture, from Ontario, is third and also has 56; Pavelski, from Wisconsin, is in fourth with 50 points; Boyle, from Ontario, is fifth with 40; Clowe, from Newfoundland, is sixth with 36 points; and, Burns, from Ontario, has 32 points. The Sharks have five American players on the team. Shark fans in the States would probably like it if they had more Americans because who doesn’t like to cheer for players from their own country.

TJ Stanley