May 26, 2011
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is Los Angeles Kings blogger Bobby Scribe of Surly and Scribe, fondly recalling the 2010-11 San Jose Sharks. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)
By Bobby Scribe, Surly and Scribe
Friends, Fanatics and Hockey Scribes, lend me your ears.
I come to bury the Sharks, not to praise them.
Some may call this a pedantic exposition, but I propose, in matters of pleasure, we should not let a swift prose steal the fun that comes from trampling on the enemy's grave. So, let us indulge and first remember, before we condemn, San Jose's fall from expectation's lofty heights and watch their fans' new tears of green and blue gush over streaks of old.
Let us delve far and deep. Let's make it hurt and bleed.
The Sharks were the Los Angeles Kings' misbegotten child, the prodigal son born of the Gretzky era's incomplete success. In those innocent days, discussions ensued about a name, place and hue until, at last, 9 out of 10 grandmothers agreed on teal and the San Jose Sharks were born.
Matt Levine declared in the beginning that the name fit the team. "Sharks are relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright and fearless," he boasted. "We plan to build an organization that has all those qualities," Levine foretold.
What he didn't say and they didn't know is these Sharks would have a natural and indomitable enemy -- pressure -- because with all beasts of land or sea with legs, paws or fins, it's not the size of the Shark in the fight, but the size of the fight in the Shark; and if history is any indication of mettle and game, the teal Shark is a Seal of different color.
The early successes were far and few though the team showed promise and drew praise. Young Sharks replaced old. Rookies suckled on the veterans' tit. Some drank defeat or discontent while others moved to bluer waters.
Then it happened.
Sent from Boston to San Jose because, despite his skill set, Boston wasn't winning and someone had to take the blame. In Big Joe, the Sharks landed a three-time All-Star and one of the league's top forwards. Out of the pool and into the ocean. Upstream they swam. It was the start of great expectations and the beginning of their end.
Years passed. Warm but never hot. Near but never close. The Seal succumbed. Failure shadowed them in 2007 and, despite amassing 117 regular-season points in the 2008-2009 season, San Jose could not solve its problems from within.
Thus, only retail therapy would do and retail did they ever pay with Dany Heatley(notes) and his $7.5 million cap hit. Rob Blake(notes), for a change, didn't strip off his own C but received the one ripped from Patrick Marleau's(notes) chest. This and more bought promises of resurrection from ruin and brought their fans vows of better days in May.
Sharks' fans cheered to 113 points and second overall in the league but fate wounded them deep by a Chicago Blackhawks' sweep in the Western Conference finals. Regular-season kings and patriarchs of possibility remained the wizards of disenchantment, delusion and, for an increasingly bipolar fan base, depression.
Hurt but not dead. Lessons learned. If disappointment built character, then Sharks' fans stood only behind our own in that proverbial line. Character be damned. What is this? The Dean Lombardi years? A great wrong was committed, that which must be was not.
How can a team so worthy of the highest honor during the season so fail to achieve the prize?
"Why is our wine dying on the vine?" they asked.
It left their fans in a state of rage and disbelief and, in such a state, there is but one solution. A scapegoat.
Evgeni Nabokov(notes), a stand up guy and a key part of their pre-playoff success, received blame's pointed finger and found himself tossed aside in favor of the awkward butterfly, Antti Niemi(notes), the latter fresh off his own Blackhawks' cast aside.
This would surely be it.
"No more!" their fans cried.
"Never again!" they swore.
Let the false steps of failures past and the fiascos that so frustrated fall away, for the Sharks shall never flop or flounder but fly with the fervent fever that will flash and flame in desire's fire until it festers from April to June and they lift the faithful Cup!
First among all? "We shall be!"
Fat from feeding on the flesh of success! "We shall feast!"
Round 1: My L.A. Kings showed their charitable side with a meltdown of their own in Game 3 forever changing that series' momentum. As much as San Jose was ready to choke on their checkered past, L.A. refused to win. I attended each game in Los Angeles and No. 2 in San Jose. While my friend and I were collectively the most psychotic and loudest individuals within the Tank, and we made sure to always have wit and venom for every aesthetically challenged mutant in that arena, I must admit I chuckled seeing live a Sharks' head drop from above followed by San Jose players skating from its belly and through its jaw. What comes from a shark's belly after all except for fish, license plates and chum? Baby seals of course. And so there was before my eyes the ironic symbolism, admission by presentation of what the Sharks were and will always be, all to their crowd's white waving pom-poms.
Regardless, and though some may say San Jose fans should place both Terry Murray and Jamie Kompon at the very center of their thankful prayers, what they had was enough to beat L.A. The Sharks didn't suffer from another first-round exit but reserved their collapse for later.
Round 2: A 3-0 start against the Detroit Red Wings and ready to waddle ahead. Alas, the Seal returned to form as three consecutive losses found their fan base on suicide watch and, though they nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, San Jose swallowed a harrowing Game 7 win to move them for a second consecutive season to the Western Conference finals.
Round 3: Down 2-0 and discipline discarded in Game 2, they refused to surrender. They talked tough.
The fight was more than one of words. Patrick Marleau turned pugilist and proceeded to fight Bieksa instead of his personal demons.
The Sharks searched for life in the third frame only to give it back by the fourth. Their fans bemused, it became apparent San Jose had already played its Stanley Cup Final in the previous round. Mistakes compounded. They surrendered three consecutive 5-on-3 goals in Game 4 and four goals on 13 shots.
The ghost of Jamie Baker was nowhere to be found.
Though needed most, the Guadalupe River did not again flood its banks.
You can only strip Patrick Marleau of his captaincy once.
In Game 5, up by a score of 2 to 1, Rubber Toe Luongo pulled, the demons took over Dan Boyle's(notes) will as he dumped the puck rather than fire it at the empty net. With 13 seconds left, the one-legged Ryan Kesler(notes) scored to tie the game. In double overtime, the shot nobody saw, in slow motion, Sharks' players dazed and confused, fate dealt the final blow.
So, who are the players that we come to eulogize, condemn and forget?
Ben Eager. He displayed the ability to single-handedly change the game's momentum through a monumental meltdown in Game 2 that was the stuff of legends. We salute his ignorance for it proved entertaining for all but his own teammates who bled to get to where they were. Last season, he mattered. This one, he was a passenger.
To Joe Thornton, I give respect. He worked hard in each round and showed himself a fine captain and the supreme maker of plays but what Big Joe brought in skill, he lacked in willing his team to win. Intangible, palpable, whatever you believe it to be, it's been missing his entire career. O' Captain, their Captain, his legacy it appears will not be hung in Halls to commemorate his fame but may take a different path to the NHL graveyard where his jersey shall rest peacefully on its headstone.
As for Little Joe Pavelski(notes), I remain bitter. I do not forget. In this series and last, but for the final game, little was a midget. "It was out of play!" I can hear him plead. "Out of play!" through gnashing teeth.
And where shall we bury Devin now? Why Twitter Land of course in his own private hell, where nobody speaks with him or shakes his hand, and he has no stories to tweet but the adolescent tears he, Logan and Jamal share.
No one should be surprised at Dany Heatley's desertion. What did San Jose think it was getting from a player that sucker punched his last team after he signed a six-year, $45 million front-loaded contract? Commitment? Character? A player that possesses the latter or exemplifies the former? Eugene Melnyk knows all too well that pungent sour taste in Doug Wilson's mouth right about now. San Jose Sharks' fans were just entertained to an $8 million magical disappearing act. Good news is, they get the encores through 2014. Fun!
Patrick Marleau, accused for so many postseasons as having a perpetual concussion of the heart, in these playoffs, he showed us something new...that he can take a punch as well as criticism. Many have questioned his will, though never skill. He fought to denounce the Marshmarleau label and brought a bit of Hugo Stiglitz to his game but, like Big Joe, at the end, he could not win, would not win and showed the best way to stop him was to defend him.
To Antti Niemi, he won a Cup so shut the hell up. There is no cause to whine. Take last season's prize and relish it. His teammates would sacrifice him to the Hockey Gods if they could have their own.
There are more players, I know, including one Ryane Clowe. The others I have forgotten just as time will forget them for the history they never made.
So, with what have Sharks' fans been left before their team's death? Another Pacific Division first-place finish, four consecutive from 2007 to this season, all for naught and naught for all. Just don't call this a choke. Detroit would have been a choke. Against Vancouver, the Sharks' best simply was not good enough and that their fan base must accept because choking presumes better days ahead. Alas, every hurrah must have a last.
There is brightness through the gloom.
Had they lost Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings, they would have surely faced the NHL community's scorn that would have held them personally responsible if Todd Bertuzzi(notes) lifted the Stanley Cup.
Soon, these unreasonable expectations will pass. The veterans who failed again will take their place, led by Jumbo and Marleau, to NHL graveyards full of talented hockey players of years and decades past who never acquired the will to win. Then, they will have nothing and therefore nothing to lose. No more shall they be the league's disappointment. Death is a delightful hiding place from failed expectations.
The final silver lining is the most valuable lesson of all. The Sharks have learned through a difficult road that the Stanley Cup is a fickle beauty and does not give herself to just anyone. There is neither rhyme nor reason to her affections. She will curse you one season and bless you another. She rejects Kings and gives herself to Ducks. This season, she may even lay with the whiny ingrates for whom not even fellow Canadians have love.
I can hear you cry from San Jose, "But what have you won in L.A.? Nothing!"
No Cup, no trip since '93, "nothing" as you correctly say but remember Puck Daddy asked me to write your death so, if we suck, you and your writer Mark Purdy and blogger at Blades of Teal swallow; and while you stew, curse and hate, try not to attach yourself to delusions such as, "That which does not kill us will make us stronger," for your team is already dead.
All Sharks Eulogy art by the great John S, a.k.a. ChicagoNativeSon.