On Saturday night, the Sharks shut out the Dallas Stars and helped to solidify their chances of making the playoffs considerably.
At the end of that game, their chances hovered just above 62 percent, up from a little less than 46 percent the night before, according to Sports Club Stats. Huge turnaround, especially because a loss there would have been disastrous in a Pacific Division in which two points separates first from fourth and, likely, a lack of a postseason berth.
We can, I think, all agree that the Sharks missing the playoffs would be disastrous for the organization. This wouldn't be a case of the going from 101 points to 56 to 95 in three seasons, it would be an old team failing to capitalize on one of its few remaining years to reach a Stanley Cup Final before almost every one of their superstars gets too old to legitimately compete in the ultra-tough West.
Of course, that also ignores the fact that the Sharks not missing the playoffs — sneaking into the eighth or, if they're lucky, seventh spot — is likely to be equally disastrous. The owners will make a few bucks, but they'll get flattened by Vancouver or St. Louis in a relatively short period of time and all that will have been accomplished is the extending of their season by about two weeks at best. History will show that the tragedy for these Sharks wasn't the binary option of making or not making the playoffs, but rather being in this position at all.
It's a fairly curious case, after all. This was a team that smothered the Detroit Red Wings two playoffs in a row. This was a team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals in both those postseasons. This is a team that's eclipsed 100 points six of the last seven seasons, and won the Pacific four years running in relative walks. If anything, the team improved on paper over the summer. And yet here we are on April 2 with the Sharks' playoff lives very much in doubt. It's clear now that Antti Niemi probably wasn't what Doug Wilson thought he was when he got signed, at least, not if Thomas Greiss is able to put up comparable numbers. It's clear that Martin Havlat hasn't been what they wanted even when he was healthy.
It's less clear, but getting clearer, that neither Joe Thornton nor Patrick Marleau are what they used to be, with the two combining for 134 points this season after putting together 143, which was itself disappointing, in 2010-11. Both retain fairly good underlying numbers relative to the quality of their competition, but two straight seasons of sub-average performances have to be worrying on some level, especially because Marleau gets incredibly favorable zone starts.
[NHL Playoff Death Watch: Pacific teams are in a war; Buffalo Sabres are in trouble]
It seems, from the outside at least, that the Sharks organization bought into the idea that it could remain as successful as they had been with the old guard — let's throw Dan Boyle in there with Thornton and Marleau for good measure — even as nearly everyone else in the division got into an arms race of young talent. Yes, Joe Pavelski (who at 27 isn't particularly "young" these days) and Logan Couture are great players, but they're also not on the level of a Loui Eriksson or Anze Kopitar or Keith Yandle. It, apparently, cannot. Teams are improving, the Sharks are coming back to earth in a very real way.
(Coming Up: The end of the line for George Parros in Anaheim?; Blue Jackets playing spoiler; Red Wings are getting healthy; Barry Trotz and the Predators get win No. 500; Ilya Kovalchuk is good; Peter Laviolette timeout works again; Mike Smith is awesome; Ken Hitchcock changes; Ray Whitney gets point No. 1,000; Jay Bouwmeester scores for the wrong team; and the No. 1 overall pick is on the move.)
But at the same time, it's not as if they're playing in the Atlantic, where every team has 100-plus points. LA leads the Pacific with 91 points. That would barely get them into the playoffs in the East right now. San Jose, logically, as the veteran team with top-level talent, should have been able to capitalize when the Kings couldn't get a goal or when the Coyotes were losing a ton of games from late December into January or before the Stars ripped off their season-saving hot streak. They didn't, and that can't be viewed as acceptable no matter what the outcome of the season.
Let's not forget, this was a team a good number of people had coming out of the West this season, and now they're iffy-at-best to even sneak in. There's been talk that Todd McLellan could lose his job if his charges fail to qualify, but guess what: He should regardless. Ask any Shark whether this would be an acceptable position in October and their answer would be a flat "no." Especially because the team hasn't exactly been plagued by injuries this year.
We've seen coaches and GMs fired for a lot less than this in the past few years. A team that was elite by any measure just last season is now anything but, and the ax has to fall for any credibility to remain, and maybe wring one more decent season out of this squad before everyone has to take a long, hard look at what to do with a roster that's giving more than $25.5 million to four players already north of 30 through the end of 2014.
As Thornton and Marleau and Havlat and Boyle know, we're none of us getting any younger.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Might the Ducks decline to bring back George Parros? He hasn't dressed in 10 of Anaheim's last 12 games and seems to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Bruce Boudreau's plans, despite what the coach says on the matter when asked. Maybe this is just more of the fighting-only players getting run out of the game, but we'll miss the mustache.
Boston Bruins: Hey remember when everyone counted out the Bruins as having a legitimate chance of competing in the East? Well they'd won six of their last eight games heading into last night's game at New York, and are once again both scoring at will and playing strong defense.
Calgary Flames: "Looking back, it's not necessarily the last 10 games," Olli Jokinen said of the Flames' missing the playoffs for the third straight season. "It's how many times this year were we one game below .500 and we won a couple of games and we were able to take that next step and then we weren't able to bring it in." Calgary spent exactly zero days as a .500 team this season.
Carolina Hurricanes: Poor Brian Boucher, thrown to the wolves in his second start since early December. He faced 31 shots against the Devils, and had little chance on most of the five he let in. Though to be fair, the team had already been eliminated from the playoffs on Friday, so really who cares?
Chicago Blackhawks: Reminder that Sean O'Donnell is still in the NHL at 40 years old. However, even he admits that it's more as a kind of player-coach role for the team's younger defensemen like Nik Hjalmarsson and Dylan Olsen.
Colorado Avalanche: Adrian Dater says, "Too many early home losses to too many average teams," is what will have prevented the Avs from making the playoffs this year, but earlier in the column he says they're the youngest team in the league with one of the lowest payrolls. And I'd bet the latter has a lot more to do with missing the playoffs than the former. Actually, I'd bet it also has a lot to do with the former.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Next year, someone should tell the Blue Jackets they've been eliminated from the playoffs way earlier. They've won their last three games, against Detroit, Florida and now St. Louis, led by this nice breakaway for R.J. Umberger.
Dallas Stars: No worries yet for the Stars, who are currently not in a playoff position and have just three games left on their schedule. But losing their next game — at home against San Jose tomorrow night — would likely be a deathblow. They've already lost three of their last four.
Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: The Red Wings are more or less back to being fully healthy, meaning that this final four games will be important to get everything back to normal before the playoffs. Might a number of their better players missing time actually be good for them in the long run?
Edmonton Oilers: How bad are the Oilers? They're finishing deep in the league table again this year, and that's after the pucks bounced their way all season.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers entered last night's tilt with Detroit looking at four games left, a game in hand, and a two-point cushion over the Capitals for the top spot in the Southeast, so Kevin Dineen wasn't panicking. Of course, his team had lost five of the last six games, against the Hurricanes, Oilers, Islanders, Wild and Blue Jackets (the lone win came against the Canadiens), so maybe he should have been.
Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter is getting an MRI on his ankle today, and the Kings are prepping for their remaining games as though he won't be available. Bad news for LA's chances if he's out even for a game.
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Minnesota Wild: This was a decent save in overtime by Niklas Backstrom. It was only okay. No big deal.
Montreal Canadiens: This seems like an awfully optimistic headline, but okay sure: Geoff Molson is going to save the Habs from… something. Themselves, maybe?
Nashville Predators: Friday was the 500th career win for Barry Trotz, and the Predators organization as a whole. One imagines both will get the second 500 a hell of a lot faster than the first.
New Jersey Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists as the Devs clobbered Carolina and locked up a playoff spot. He has 40 points in 31 games since the All-Star Break. Jeez is he ever good.
New York Islanders: As if there was any doubt: Charles Wang confirmed yesterday that both Garth Snow and Jack Capuano will be back next season. Hey, same with Rick DiPietro!
New York Rangers: Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are finally working together as-advertised. In the 10 games since March 17, when Tortorella put the two back together, Richards is 4-10-14, and Gaborik is 6-6-12. Even hop-along Carl Hagelin is 2-6-8. The Rangers, as a consequence, are 7-3-0.
Ottawa Senators: Saturday was the Senators' first game since Monday, which seems odd given the time of year, and it looks like the time off helped: they edged Philly 4-3 in a shootout, then routed the Islanders 5-1 without either Spezza or Alfredsson in the lineup. Both games were on the road and locked up a playoff spot.
Philadelphia Flyers: About 11 hours after this article about the magic of Peter Laviolette's timeout-calling ability was published, the Flyers coach called a timeout with his team down 2-0 in Pittsburgh. They scored the next five goals in the game. Whoa.
Phoenix Coyotes: How is no one talking more about the job Mike Smith has done in the desert this season? He got his second consecutive shutout on Saturday, making 44 saves, and has a .927 save percentage this season. Bananas stuff from a guy who was hot garbage in Tampa last year.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Gotta love this big-time hit by Joe Vitale on Danny Briere if for no other reason than it was clean and more or less guaranteed that someone is going to die when these teams play each other eight times in a row at the end of the season.
St. Louis Blues: Great feature in the New York Times about how Ken Hitchcock realized being a jerk all the time wasn't necessarily conducive to having a good hockey team. David Backes on his feelings prior to Hitchcock arriving in town: "He wasn't the most liked person on my list. You're playing against him, that's the way a lot of the guys are in the league."
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Malone scored rather a creative goal on Saturday night, flipping the puck over a defenseman in the neutral zone to spring himself for a breakaway. The guy who inspired that move? Steve Yzerman.
Toronto Maple Leafs: I will never get sick of this type of thing ever.
Vancouver Canucks: With a one-point lead and their three remaining games coming against Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton, who wants to bet the Canucks finish tops in the West again? Everyone?
Washington Capitals: Hey remember when the Capitals brought aboard Tomas Vokoun to take the pressure off their young goalies, but then he wasn't very good and now he's probably done for the year? Yeah, about that…
Winnipeg Jets: "Jets playoff dream officially over." The devil you say. Only like five or six more seasons of this until the team moves to Seattle or whatever.
Gold Star Awardgetting the 1,000th point of his career on Saturday. An alarmingly underrated player. I don't understand it, quite frankly.
Minus of the Weekend
Here's Jay Bouwmeester shooting the puck into his own net to symbolize everything wrong with the Flames.
Play of the Weekend
I wonder if Alex Radulov is having trouble adapting his moves to the smaller NHL ice surface. This is just mean and gross. He's 3-3-6 in six games since coming back.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Mika Zibanejad" has a bright idea.
1st overall pick
F Nazem Kadri
D Cody Franson
5th overall pick
Give me the blood and let me get away.
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- Patrick Marleau