111 Points, ONE HUNDRED & ELEVEN
It is difficult to recall many (read: any) professional sports franchises among the four major North American sports that chose to “rebuild” their team after an extremely successful regular season. But that is what GM Doug Wilson decided to do with his 111 point 2013-14 San Jose Sharks. Despite finishing second in the division and losing a hard fought seven game series with the eventual Stanley Cup Champion winning team, Wilson freaked out. Losing four straight to the Los Angeles Kings after going up 3-0 in the first round best-of-seven series sucked. There is no doubt about that. But just a few years ago the Boston Bruins suffered the same embarrassing loss only to come back the following year to win the Stanley Cup. San Jose didn’t need to rebuild and they shouldn’t have started to rebuild. Going into 2014-15 the Sharks still featured one of the best core groups of players in the entire NHL. And had the Sharks continued to be a win now team, 2014-15 very well might have been their best chance ever to win the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles Abandoned Its Crown
The biggest threat to the Sharks, their biggest rival the last four-five seasons, those aforementioned Los Angeles Kings, missed the playoffs this past season. The team that knocked San Jose out of the playoffs two straight years in seven game series, failed to qualify for the postseason. Therefore, had the Sharks made the playoffs, they would have had the easiest route to the Stanley Cup final they could have asked for. Sure, this doesn’t mean they would have won the Stanley Cup, I mean heck, the Sharks have had a knack in recent years for playing down to their competition (at least in the regular season). But who are we kidding here? A chance to win the Stanley Cup without having to go through the Kings? That would have been a huge opportunity to get that first ever Stanley Cup. Except Sharks management blew it with talk of rebuild, stripping Joe Thornton of the captaincy (a move yours truly knew before the season wasn’t going to fix anything), and not improving any of their weaknesses.
Ducks Breezed Through to Final Four
Just look at how the Anaheim Ducks breezed through the first two rounds of these playoffs and then took a beat up Chicago Blackhawks team to seven games in the Westeren Conference final. The Sharks have had the Ducks’ number in recent years, and San Jose could have easily returned to the final four for the first time since 2011 had they simply stayed the course. Yes the Sharks struggled against Calgary this season, but had management not soured the team’s confidence and made better personnel moves, the Sharks would have been clear favorites to get by Winnipeg and Calgary just like Anaheim did. The Ducks should be kicking themselves for losing to the Blackhawks, this Stanley Cup was ripe for the taking with both Los Angeles and San Jose not even making the dance. Likewise, the Sharks should be kicking themselves for deciding to rebuild with the best chance at a Stanley Cup right in front of them this past season.
It Could Have Been the Sharks’ Year
Maybe a revamped win-now Sharks team in 2014-15 doesn’t get past the Blackhawks in the Western final. That is a possibility but Anaheim took them to seven games as the Hawks had to heavily rely on their top-4 defensemen. San Jose could have very easily retooled last summer to have the roster capable of beating the Hawks and going onto the Stanley Cup final. These Blackhawks are very, very good. But they aren’t as good as the 2010 Blackhawks who swept San Jose in the conference final. The Sharks also had the potential to be much better than their 2010 selves with a couple of offseason win-now additions to their roster.
Instead, the Sharks had one of the most laughable offseasons of any team in recent memory. Wilson made the comment that his 111 point Sharks weren’t close enough to the other top contenders. He then started using the word rebuild. That was followed up by re-signing a terrible possession player in tough guy Mike Brown and signing another, arguably even worse tough guy, in John Scott. Not a single defenseman was brought in to replace the losses of Brad Stuart and Dan Boyle. Except Wilson thought taking his best right winger, one of the most dominant fore-checking power forwards and even strength goal scorers and putting him on the blue-line would be wise. However, Brent Burns predictably struggled defensively after not playing the defense position in nearly two years. Plus in this porous attempt to replace Boyle on the blue-line, Wilson failed to fill the new hole he created up front by removing Burns from the Joe Thornton line.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Sharks weren’t broke. Just like the 2010-11 Bruins weren’t broke. Wilson took aSharks team that was really, really good and turned them into a dysfunctional mess. With the Kings having missed the playoffs, this was the year the Sharks could have taken over the Pacific division and done some serious damage in the playoffs. Maybe they come up short again, but it is highly likely they would have gotten back to the final four and perhaps break through and win the Stanley Cup. It was a golden opportunity that front office and ownership pissed down the drain for no good reason. They could have put together final touches on a win now type roster without mortgaging much or any of their future. They could have been a Cup contender while maintaining the reset/refresh they began two years ago. If you’re a Sharks fan, the 2014-15 season certainly was a tough pill to swallow.