First Thoughts on 2002-2003

Now that the season is over for the sharks (arrgghhh!!!!!!!!), I find myself
increasingly drained of energy. Much of me wants to just sit down, relax,
and not care who wins the cup. Don’t worry, I’ll get over it. But as Laurie
will attest, I normally don’t yell at the TV much watching hockey games. I
did in game 7.

But it’s over, and it’s time to start thinking about where to go from here.

And the first thing I think of is the points streak. Only one other team has
increased points every season like the Sharks. That tells you something
about the way this team was built — but it also implies that sooner or
later, that streak will break.

I think next year is that year. There’s going to be a stumble along the
path, and we have to expect it. I don’t think it’ll be a major stumble, but
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sharks slip to about 90 points next year.
But I expect 90 points will make the playoffs.

But that really only means something if you see what happens elsewhere in
the league, so that’s what I’ve been thinking about first. In the west,
here’s how I see the teams moving into next year:

Detroit: descending, although they’ve fooled me before. This has the look of
a “one more kick at the can” crew, and I expect retirements and significant
changes here, whether or not they win the cup. More if they do. If they
don’t, some guys will try one more time, but it’ll get harder for them. Not
a bad team by any means — but their cycle is finally ending. Still a top 8
team, probably.

St. Louis: Top 8 team. If they figure out goaltending, a top 4 team.

Chicago: ascending. The big risks here are goaltending (I don’t trust it)
and that next year, they’ll lose the urgency to prove themselves they had
this year. But the talent is improving, they have a good coach and
commitment to him, and I expect they won’t go away quietly. They’ll probably
slip a bit from 96 points, but be in the playoffs.

Nashville: improving. Playoffs next year? Maybe — if they get help from
teams that fade or collapse.

Columbus: improving, but not competing for the playoffs yet.

Colorado: my bet for best team in the west next year. Going to stay together
for the most part again. Scary good. Again.

Vancouver: top 8 if they can solve goaltending. Top 12 if they can’t.
Ascending.

Edmonton: I guess Salo has to prove himself again. Best thing Emdonton can
do is finally figure out they can’t play him as much as he wants to play.
But I see this team as descending.

Calgary: messed up. Will likely take a couple of years to figure it out and
pull it back together again. Sigh.

Minnesota: Better than Columbus. I like Nashville’s chances at the playoffs
better than the Wild.

Los Angeles: ascending. They worry me. A lot.

Phoenix: ditto.

Dallas: rebuilding. They won’t suck, but I don’t think playoffs are
guaranteed.

Anaheim: I think they’ll be better. Playoffs? Probably not. But not “worse
than the expansion teams” sucky.

If you take this year’s sharks and stuff them into next year’s standings,
where would they sit? IMHO, second, after the Avs — but it’d be a tight
race to the finish.

Where do I see next year’s sharks in next year’s standings? Probably 5th,
based on the stumble — a key injury here, a bit of a letdown there…

Going into next year, the most important thing the Sharks can do is:
nothing. They don’t need many changes, so don’t change. So my first priority
is signing Dean Lombardi, and his first priority is signing Darryl Sutter. I
think anyone who says a management group that takes a team to 99 points and
game 7 of the conference final should be replaced is pushing some other
agenda, because there’s no way you can tell me this isn’t successful. Ask
yourself what message it sends to potential coaches, GMs and free agents
that a team would do that, too.

So I see bringing back the existing hockey group as crucial. We’ll see if
the Sharks agree. IMHO, they’ve earned it.

Players? Again, like teams, I try to decide who’s ascending, descending, and
who’s stable. Even with the same personnel it won’t be the same team. But
will it be better?

Defense:

Suter: descending. It’s time for him to go. Sorry, Gary.

Stuart: ascending. Still has another notch or two he can add to his game.
Will he? I think so.

Rags: stable. But he’s aging, so we have to start looking past him.

Rathje: ascending. I think he broke through a bit this year. I think he’ll
move up a little more next year. Not a huge stride, but even 80 games of
this year makes him more valuable to us.

Marchment: descending. But not enough it’s an issue yet.

Hannan: ascending. Rags in training, I think.

Jillson: will he be ready for a full-time gig next year? I think so. I hope
so.

I’ll do forwards in a later message.