If courage is indeed grace under pressure, as Hemingway said, the San Jose Sharks are probably the greatest bunch of cowards in the National Hockey League (NHL) history. They led the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 and then blew the following 4 games to exit the 2014 conference quarterfinals. The Sharks share this ignominy (blowing a 3-0 lead) with just 3 other teams in NHL’s 97-year playoff history: Toronto defeated Detroit in the Cup finals in 1942, N.Y. Islanders defeated Pittsburgh in the 1975 Quarterfinals, Philadelphia defeated Boston in the Conference semifinals in 2010.
Ever since the Sharks began playing in 1991, the team has brought nothing but heartbreak for its loyal fans. In regular season, the team comes across as a legitimate contender for the ice hockey crown but when the playoffs are underway, something goes awry and the team folds. Any bite they may have exhibited before the playoffs degenerates into the kind of submission that can put a weasel to shame.
The question now is: How to rescue the City of San Jose from the pitiful clutch of the current team?
Here are some suggestions from a long-suffering fan:
First, Coach Todd McLellan has to go. The mediocrity of this man is breathtaking. Bereft of any insight and creativity, Mr. Todd has been coasting from day one of his term that began in 2008. He cannot inspire and he cannot lead and his understanding of the game and of other teams is subpar at best. Doug Wilson, the General Manager, must also be shown the door. As long as this Todd-Doug un-dynamic duo hangs around, the Sharks will falter and fall.
Next, Sharks must say adieu to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The best days of these veterans are far, far behind. Sure, there are occasional flashes of the brilliance of their yesteryears but now, at 34, both players have become a monumental burden for the franchise. In January this year, both Thornton ($6.75 million per season) and Marleau ($6.66 million per season) signed three-year contract extensions. The Sharks must find a way to dissolve these contracts. Otherwise, the franchise may forget about any Stanley Cup hope in the next three years.
There is a reason why these aging players want to continue with the Sharks: The franchise has made it too easy for them! They are coddled and treated like superstars when they are no longer even stars. As long as they continue with the Sharks, no younger player can bloom and take charge. It has become almost a cliché to say that the Sharks lack the killer instinct that is the hallmark of a championship club.
Players like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are not the players, good as they are, who can lead the Sharks to a Stanley Cup winner. That player isn’t playing for the Sharks yet but he is out there, a young and fierce contender who can energize his team to dominance. Sharks need a Mario Lemieux, a player who can single-handedly turn a game around and carry the burden of the entire team on his broad shoulders, shoulders that never sag under pressure.
Until that happens, San Jose will have to live with the pretensions of the current team. But San Jose doesn’t deserve this! It is the 10th-largest city in the United States. Its population has just exceeded the 1-million mark, a milestone by any measure. It doesn’t live in the shadow of San Francisco. It is considered the heart of Silicon Valley. Why must this proud city put up with a second-rate hockey team when it has the resources to bring together the finest talents in the game?
The Sharks can with the Stanley Cup but only if the current team is dismantled and a younger and hungrier team is assembled with an eye toward the future. It may take 10 years but that’s the price people of San Jose must pay if they want the nucleus of a winning team to begin forming now. The alternative is too bleak and pitiful to imagine.