One thing that is certain when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way for the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night in Vancouver: Jumbo Joe, Brent Burns and company will have fresh faces. They will, however, be eager to grow back the facial hair that’s been a staple for the Sharks this season. Thronton represents the old, the leader of a team that has been at the top of the Western conference since he arrived in 2005. Burns represents the new, arriving in So. Cal last season, and after a season of ups and downs, found a home upfront for Todd McLellan’s rugged squad.
Interestingly, it was McLellan who coached Burns for the Minnesota Wild’s affiliate Houston Aeros and taught the 6’5 219 pound player what it would take to play defense in the NHL (Burns was a forward in Junior for the Brampton Battalion). The move to forward mirrors a lineup change from the cup winning 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who moved 250-pound defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to forward for added size. The move paid off, in 37 playoff games from 2009 to 2011 Byfuglien had 25 points.
Adding Burns upfront not only gives the Sharks a balanced attack, it also gives Thronton a forward who isn’t afraid to grind opponents down in the corners. The balanced attack now features a dangerous second line of Logan Couture, Martin Havlat and Patrick Marleau. That leaves 30-goal scorer Joe Pavelski to center playoff main stay and super pest Raffi Torres along with second year Tommy Wingels.
GM Doug Wilson all but called the season a bust when he gave away Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe for draft picks. A week later he reneged and beefed back up, adding Torres and Scott Hannan. The sharks managed to lock down a playoff spot in the final weeks of the season, but they couldn’t secure the coveted home ice advantage, something that would have helped a team that has dominated at HP Pavilion this season.
This season has been a microcosm of the last 8 seasons in San Jose. They dominate, they struggle, they look good, they look awful, and then boom it’s all over in one poor playoff performance. The rumors have swirled that the core needs to be broken up and the book needs to be shut on Marleau, Thronton and Boyle. The reigns should be handed off to the incumbent leaders like Couture, Pavelski and Matt Irwin. Combine the rumors with Wilson calling out his team toughness after their latest playoff failure where St. Louis laid a Broad street bully kind of beat down on the aging Sharks and you come to a simple conclusion: the time is now.
Maybe the right timing comes with the addition of Assistant coach Larry Robinson. Robinson stepped in as the interim coach of the New Jersey Devils and guided them to their second cup in five years (He was also an assistant coach in the first run in 1995). Robinson has turned around a penalty kill that finished 29th in 2011-2012, finishing sixth and operating at 85%. His defensive genius also helped the Sharks allow only 116 goals, good for third best in the west.
Robinson also has significant Stanley Cup experience as a player, he played defense for the Montreal Canadiens for 14 seasons and won six Stanley Cups. Defense was the name of the game for the Devils teams that he coached, Robinson has put his staple on the stumbling PK of the Sharks.
If Wilson’s team can’t put together a lengthy playoff run or even their first cup final appearance, it may be time to let the fresh faced beard deprived rookies lead the way next season.