Vacations are usually a welcomed break from work, filled with enjoyment. But not for the San Jose Sharks, losers in their first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings. Perennial playoff underachievers, the San Jose Sharks have questions to answer this off-season. Many questions.
They started Wednesday night when the Sharks fell at home 5-1 to the Kings in Game Seven, a series where the Sharks had a 3-0 lead and squandered it. Only three teams in NHL history had blown a 3-0 lead in a series. The Sharks are now part of that group.
There were players lost to injury, questionable coaching decisions, and as a Yahoo! Sports writer puts it “extenuating circumstances.” And truthfully there always are, for every team that goes up 3-0 and loses the series at the end. The Yahoo! article documents that well.
But still, the phrase “playoff underachievers” lingers.
“We obviously don't want to hear that kind of stuff, but what are we going to say? We were on the wrong side of history tonight,” defenseman Brad Stuart said to Fox Sports. “It's tough for us to argue with anything that's said. We let ourselves down, we let the fans down, we let everybody in our organization down. It's not a good feeling. There's not really much else you can say about it.”
The easy and all-too familiar move would be to blow things up, start fresh with a new coach and a new core, and either reload or rebuild. Many teams across sports have gone that route, firing coaches, trading core players, even cutting GMs and front office officials. But there are reasons not to go that route.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have signed extensions through 2016-2017 with no-movement clauses. In other words, they’re not going anywhere unless they want to. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have all signed long-term deals. Thomas Hertl has two years left on his entry-level deal. They are all players you can build a team around.
But there are questions at goalie, where Coach Todd McLellan went back and forth between Niemi and Stalock in the final games of the series. And the easiest move of all might be to fire McLellan. After all, he took completely responsibility for the playoff loss.
“I'm in charge, I'm responsible for the group that performs on the ice,” McLellan said. “I have to accept that responsibility. When we break down the series, I'm not going to throw any individuals or group of individuals under the bus, because we lost it collectively. But I'm responsible for that group.”
Ultimately, there’s a paucity of candidates to replace him that would be more effective than him, and the team will be facing a long off-season where a refresh might be better than a rebuild. But as a team, they are second in the NHL in wins over the past ten years and although they haven’t made it past a conference final series in that time, they will be back.
Image via Wikimedia Commons