Teal Sunglasses for February 3, 2015
Diving back into the Mosh Pit
It’s been a while since I’ve written much about hockey. As I got older I found myself more interested in the game itself, but less and less interested in the tribalist aspects of being a fan of sports, and of some of the behavior changes we’ve seen among some of the fans — for instance, the attack on Bryan Stowe as an extreme case.
Tribalism exists online, too. I know that shocks you to hear that. Trying to talk sports online is one way to throw yourself into a mosh pit rather quickly and from 1992 until the end of 2005 Laurie and I managed the sharks online mosh pit. Hard to believe it’s been ten years since we handed that off.
Part of the reason I stopped was because I wanted to focus on my photography — also part of the reason we gave up our season tickets after 20 years — that trip I took to Yellowstone last year? That was money that at one point went to the Sharks every year for tickets. Also at some point — since we were full season holders who went to 35 games a year — for six months a year you’re spending half your weekends in the arena at games. Not a regret for that, but at some point, I realized I had other things I wanted to use my time on (like this).
My photography is at a point I feel ready to widen my focus again, which is part of why I went off and created that other site — it takes taht content and puts it in a nice, neat package, and opens up my personal site again for me to talk about other things. I’ve been thinking about doing more nattering about hockey again, and now seems a good time to dip a toe in and see what happens.
Teal Sunglasses was the name I did my writing under as I moved some of it out of the mailing list and onto my own early web site — once the web was invented, since the mailing lists predated that. It is a play on the concept of Rose Colored Glasses, and it’s a comment on my tendency to try to take a balanced view rather than a negative one some fans prefer.
And that’s what I hope to do here; call it as I see it, and I try to see both the good and the bad in hockey and the NHL. I’ll note (and it’ll soon be forgotten, it always is) that I’m not a Sharks fan as much as I’m a hockey fan who lives in the San Jose area — my roots are actually with the Kings back in the day that you could buy 7th row seats in the corner. While the Sharks are my local team, it’s the game I love.
We’ll see how it goes. And I’ve love to hear your take on things, too.
A couple of weeks ago, James Mirtle wrote about what he called a bit of dysfunction within the Sharks locker room. It was quickly explained away by all sides and the situation went away, but to be honest, I think he’s onto something. Not a big thing, but — the Sharks locker room and organization don’t leak, but this thing did. Someone tied to the team had to be unhappy enough to throw this bone to the media.
I don’t believe it was Burish, I think it was someone else in the locker room. I don’t think it’s a major thing, but if you look at this time this year, it’s playing like everyone isn’t quite on the same page consistently, although they seem to want to be.
So what’s up with the Sharks this year, anyway?
I have to admit that this is the Sharks I expected to see. Good but not great. Playoff bound but not playoff built; this is at best a lose-in-the-2nd round team, probably a first and out.
That’s okay. This is a team in transition. We’ve missed the window of opportunity with the older players — Niemi is past his prime (but Staylock hasn’t challenged for his job yet. I still think he will), and Thorton and Marleau are still great players, but time is marching on. The younger core is a great one but is still maturing, and the leadership core is still figuring itself out. I want to give lots of credit to Marleau and Thornton here — neither can be happy with how the offseason played out and how the team has forcibly rebooted the leadership of the team — but they’ve dug in and done what they can to make it work and not create problems.
Can this team make the playoffs? Yes, and it should. Can it get on a run and go deep and chase the Cup? I don’t see any way that’ll happen. This team is missing a vital component and I don’t know how or when the Sharks will be able to address that.
Think about the teams that have been winning the Cup in the last number of years: Red Wings, now the Kings and Blackhawks. Bruins. Penguins. It goes beyond raw talent and goaltending, the teams that win that final game have something more.
Drew Doughty. Sydney Crosby. Mark Messier with the Rangers (but not the Canucks. oops). Jonathan Toews. Teemu Selanne. Steve Yzerman.
it’s not something that’s going to show up on a scoresheet or in any advanced analytics form, but teams that make that deep run have something that gives them an advantage — they almost always have that one special person who simply refuses to let their team lose. You can watch the Kings and see how Doughty simply won’t let his team not succeed. Toews will haul the team onto his shoulders and carry it if he needs to. Yzerman and Messier had this essence in spades (although in Messier’s case it was evidently confiscated at the border at Peace Arch).
Do the Sharks? Think about it. Did Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau ever get named in the same sentence as some of those other guys? that’s not a criticism of either: I believe Thorton is a no-brainer hall of famer, and I’d argue that Marleau should get serious consideration as well once he retires (but probably won’t). Their numbers and their performance are always strong. I just don’t think either one is someone who can haul a team onto their shoulders and drag them over that finish line It’s just not their nature. Joe Thornton is, to me, more the Paul Kariya to Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne.
And that’s the problem. I don’t see the Sharks as having that person. That person was missing during the last run when the team kept coming close and falling short.
It’s the kind of person who you rarely develop; either they are or they aren’t. and if a team gets one, they’re rarely traded until late in their career when the will might be there, but the effectiveness is fading.
Thornton has shown signs of it at times, but his personality isn’t what that type of player needs. Pavelski has as well — but I’m not sure he’ll ever develop fully, either, and the Sharks may believe that as well, which might be the reasoning behind his not being named captain already. Perhaps the team is waiting to see who grabs that spot, if anyone, or leaving it open in case they can find and bring in the right person. I wonder a bit if Malker Karlsson mght be the wild card in this sweepstakes, given how he’s performed and the style of game he’s playing.
One of the problems is that it’s hard to look back into the past and find that person wearing teal. Yes, we had Selanne for a year and it never clicked, but that was a year of various locker room issues that blew up in everyone’s face — and Nolan as captain, and Owen Nolan was many things, but captain material wasn’t one of them. He tried, but that was perhaps the biggest mistake of Lombardi’s tenure and a decision that ultimately cost both Sutter and Lombardi their jobs here.
If you start talking about who would be that leader on the sharks over time, it’s a very short list. I can, in fact, only think of two: Kelly Kisio, from the early years we all wish we could forget, and Rob Blake, another aging vet who came to the sharks for a while. And I think ultimately not having that player is why the Sharks have faltered in the playoffs. And will likely continue to until the Sharks find and develop that person.
Which begs a question.
I used to argue that Ron Wilson was a coach I’d hire to pull a team together and get it ready for a deep run for a Cup — but he’s not the guy I’d want in charge to actually make that run. His teams seem well suited to be competitive but never seemed able to go beyond that. Darryl Sutter is a guy who can take a Ron Wilson team and kick it’s butt until it gets over that last hill. In the early days when player abuse was still okay, Mike Keenan could do that as well, but once he did, you’d have to blow up the team and rebuild because there wasn’t much left worth working with.
Earlier this year the rumors were rampant that the Sharks might be firing coach McClellan, which I think would have been an idiotic move, given this team clearly has committed to playing for him and bought into his system. The weakness in the team this year isn’t a coaching problem or a team that’s tuned out the coach. It’s that we have a team that is still defining it’s chemistry and probably will be doing so for another year, as it rebuilds around the new younger core players.
But that the team hasn’t put things together for that last final run up that last hill does bring up a question that has to be asked — is Doug Wilson the GM that can build the team for McClellan to drive over that final hill? That’s why I mentioned Ron Wilson leading up to this: as good as Wilson is, and as strong a supporter of his as I’ve been over the years, I do think it has to be asked: is Doug Wilson the guy to build a team that can finish, or like Ron Wilson was as coach, is Doug Wilson a GM that can a team close but not a GM that can build a team that can finish the job?
I don’t know, but I am convinced that a coaching change wouldn’t fix this team. I believe at this point in time if management feels they do need to change coaches, they ought to seriously consider changing GMs first — not that I’d fire Wilson, but perhaps move him up to a senior position and bring in a GM to report to him. Kisio, by the way, did some great work for the Hitmen, and I’d be fascinated to see a team of Wilson and Kisio put their heads together on this problem.
It’s a tough problem. Every season, 29 teams fail at it.
When I sit back and look at what the Kings have accomplished and what the Sharks haven’t, to me the key, essential detail the Kings have Drew Doughty, and the Sharks don’t have that guy on their roster, and in the history of the team, have almost never had that guy.
It’s not a coaching problem. Not a development problem. It’s if anything a scouting and a “willing to roll the dice and got for it” problem, and that’s the one criticism I’ve had of Doug Wilson’s tenure. He’s pulled off some great and amazing deals along the way, but they’ve always been carefully crafted and balanced deals. He doesn’t roll the dice and he carefully manages his assets and the depth of the organization.
And I’m beginning to think that if your team doesn’t figure out how to identify and bring into their system that Drew Doughty type of player, and if they aren’t willing sometimes roll the dice and play for now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow, you’ll end up with a team that’s consistently good and consistently in the playoffs, and a team that consistently gets into the second or sometimes third round of playoffs and then goes off and starts planning for next year.
Which, in a microcosm, is the Sharks.
So, is Doug Wilson the guy who can roll those dice and know when it makes sense to do so?
I’m not convinced. And to date, the answer has to be no. But I’ll be damned if I can offer a name of someone I think who could do the job better than he has….