2016 Playoffs: Cup Finals Prediction, Sharks in 6

I had this weird dream last night. In it, the Sharks were in the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Joe Thornton and Sydney Crosby. Malkin and Marleau. Letang and Burns. Murray (or Fleury) and Jones. It was going to be awesome.

And then I woke up and came back to reality.

But it’s real. Here in the Sharks 25th season, the Sharks are going to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Wow

TL;DR Summary: Sharks in 6

The Sharks made it to the finals

I don’t think anyone picked the Sharks to make the finals this year. I certainly didn’t; my view was that they were a playoff team again, but probably a 7th/8th seed and a 1st round and out group. Maybe 2nd round. So my expectations weren’t that high, relatively speaking.

This team also started out struggling a bit, with a bunch of new players trying to fit themselves into the team, a new coach with a new system and bringing a new attitude. But as the season moved forward, you could see them figuring it out and putting it together.

The big changes this year: this team uses it’s speed more aggressively; it’s relentless on the forecheck; the depth is much stronger — a classic failure point for previous teams was the third and fourth lines not able to get the job done in the crunch.

And goaltending. Laurie and I both liked what we saw in Martin Jones and he’s proven us right in believing he could be an elite starting goalie. I’ve long felt that the Sharks replacing Nabokov with Niemi was a mistake; Niemi, ultimately wasn’t better than Nabokov for the Sharks, just different, and if they’d hung on to Nabby they could have allocated those assets into other places more effectively. Acquiring Niemi wasn’t a bad trade, but it wasn’t a great one, it was re-arranging deck chairs, while costing the franchise a fan favorite player. I don’t think Niemi ever matched Nabokov in the eyes of fans, and he certainly didn’t backstop the team to the Cup as we’d hoped.

Going into the season there were questions whether Doug Wilson was still the person to lead the Sharks as GM; I was on record as thinking it was time to move in another direction. Fortunately, the Sharks ignored my expert advice and kept him, and he’s successfully answered those questions.

congratulations to the entire Sharks organization; this is long-anticipated and well-earned, and this playoff run has been an amazing amount of fun to watch.

Why the Sharks will win

This series with the Penguins, like the Blues series was, is effectively a coin flip. I think the teams are fairly evenly matched and both have top talent and great depth, and both teams are playing well. The goaltending on both teams is superb, and whether it’s Jones or Reimer or Murray or Fleury, goals are going to be tough to score.

It’s not going to be easy, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Penguins find a way to win it, but this Sharks team seems to be in that mindset where it simply isn’t going to accept not winning. It’s going to be close, but I think the Sharks will find a way to make this happen.

I still don’t miss the arena

A question I still get asked at times is whether I miss our season tickets or going to games in person. In all honesty, the answer is no. Maybe 2-3 times a year there’s a game where I think it’d be fun to be in the building for a game, but we did that for 20 years — including both years in the Cow Palace — and 35 games a year for that many years that was enough for me.

Am I tempted to get a tickets for a game now that we’ve made it to the finals? Again, honestly, no. We’re going to have friends over for game 1 and enjoy it here with them, and the cost of two tickets to the finals is significant: I have a trip scheduled in June, and Laurie’s about to take a few days off in Reno to see the Aces, and one pair of club seats for one game will more than pay for both trips instead.

And that’s ultimately why we gave up our seats. If we kept our season tickets we’d be paying over $10K a year for the pair now, and that kind of money funds some really nice things. More important to me is the time: season tickets, where you’re going to games 30 or more games a year, is a massive time commitment. You’re effectively giving your life over to the team for six months, and lose the ability to do many things on half your weekends for that time. Rooting them on from home means we can settle in for the game just before puck drop instead of having to orchestrate the hour it takes to get to the arena, parked and into our seats, and fed, and then another hour or so getting back to the car and getting home after.

Going to fewer games isn’t in our DNA to some degree, but practically we found selling off our seats, which were in the club area and more expensive, could be a challenge, even when the arena was selling out reliably. Today, we’re seeing the team fight to sell out playoff games, and when I see our old seats on camera during games, often that area has empties in it — so either we’re stuck eating tickets or giving them to friends, raising the per-game attended cost even more.

Our interest in the team hasn’t gotten less, in fact, the reduced hassle for us of watching them from home has made it easier for us to enjoy the team by reducing the logical hassles. That’s not dissing the in-building experience at all, it’s really where my priorities are, not about the team. If I was 25, I’d definitely be in the arena.

People who’ve known me for a long time know I’ve always described myself more of a hockey fan who roots for the local team than a Sharks fan — my roots go back to Marcel Dionne and Jim Fox and Dave Taylor and those godawful forum purple jerseys in the Fabulous Forum, long before the Sharks were a thing or Gretzky caused california to discover and embrace hockey. But in reality, that’s not true; I’m very much a Sharks fan and a hockey fan, and this is the year we’ve been waiting for for 25 years.

So now it’s time to settle down on the couch, open a bottle of wine with friends, and watch how this series unfolds.

And with that, all I can say is go sharks! — let’s do this!