Crash the Crease

•November 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I will be posting future blogs only to CTC. Link is on the right. Make sure to stay up to date there.

Welcome to San Jose Heater

•September 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

First let me apologize for the delay of my posting this blog—I haven’t had a single free moment over the last three days. Anyway, let’s get to it:

“Sweet f***ing trade—” a common sentiment currently shared by most Sharks fans. Sure there are the worries about a cancer in the locker room, the large salary, and the loss of two players who are considered members of the team’s core. But the possibilities for the Sharks at this point in time are endless. DW has once again traded away good players and received a ‘star player’ in return. And seeing as this trade did not involve Marleau, I, for the first time this off season, am not afraid of the upcoming season, and this is why:

Management:

Patience is a virtue, and DW finally showed why he is still in control of this team. Murray had no choice but to trade his disgruntled star, and DW’s endurance and unwillingness to compromise really paid off in the end (this is the same deal Murray Scoffed off of the table in the beginning of the summer, at which point he expressed interest in Setoguchi and refused to even look at a proposition involving Cheechoo).

Another great aspect of this trade is that DW very successfully reduced this year’s actual payroll below the salary cap (with the projected full roster signed). However, an even bigger benefit is that he has officially relieved the organization of three back loaded contracts, leaving only Vlasic’s (meaning that despite Heatley’s massive contract, the organization is in good shape for a future salary cap reduction). The deal also leaves the Sharks with the resources available to re-sign players that will be free agents after this season, assuming Marleau takes a salary reduction with his new contract. Nabby’s future is currently financially irrelevant, but I cannot imagine the Sharks spending any more goal tending; they will in all likelihood go cheaper and make Nabby an offer around 4 or let him walk away.

Lines:

The most obvious set of combinations for the Sharks are as follows:

Heatley – Thornton – Setoguchi
Marleau – Pavelski – Clowe
McGinn – Mitchell – Hinote
Shelley – Nichol – Staubitz

Boyle – Vlasic
Blake – Huskins
Murray – Joslin
Dandenault
Nabokov
Griess

Granted, this leaves the Sharks with an amazing top six (with an absolutely overpowering first line) and an underpowered bottom line, but the offensive benefits would be enormous. The defense is undoubtedly weaker than last year, but that is to be expected. Nabakov, Blake, Boyle and Vlasic are proven and can keep points off of the board. The replacements for Ehrhoff and Luko are not going to destroy the team, and all in all, the defense didn’t make it for us in the post season— the Sharks couldn’t score and didn’t get the saves they needed. In perspective, the current defense is still stronger than many in the league, and it can always be strengthened during the season at a lower cost (through acquisitions, AHL’ers, etc.). But you simply cannot win, much less hold the Cup, if you cannot score (regardless of what the other team does), which is why the lack of production had to be the focus this offseason.

Another great option could leave the Sharks with two first scoring lines (but not as overwhelmingly superior) and would look like this:

Clowe – Thornton – Setoguchi
Marleau – Pavelski – Heatley

This would allow JT to keep his right hand shot and add some muscle to his line. With Clowe and Seto scrapping it out on the boards JT might actually have the space to make things happen (especially in the post season). This would also entirely prevent any team from effectively getting their top D match ups against any one line, while allowing the Sharks a line of speed and one of muscle (making them adaptable to nearly any situation). And it definitely doesn’t hurt that the “second” pairing would make the best goalies in the NHL look like amateurs—to quote a fan on the Sharks message board, “a line where Pavelski has the worst shot… is a line that can shoot.”
The only real negative I can find with the roster is what will happen when there are injuries. The current roster looks like it will leave the Sharks about $650K below the cap, which would actually prevent them from calling up the expensive prospects Petrecki and Couture.
Locker Cancer:

Fans really should not be worried? The last ‘ingrate’/‘troubled player’ DW signed was Jeremy Roenick. In this organization he reinvented himself and his reputation. He was treated and treated people with respect, earned the players trust, and even built strong friendships with Seto and the likes. He blossomed once again into a role model and used his years of wisdom to help the younger guys mature and polish their game.

The real point here is that the same can happen with Heatley. If given the opportunity, he unquestionably possesses the skill and ability to better himself and those around him. He too can become an ambassador of the sport, and I honestly believe that by the end of this season, his past will be forgotten.

Production:

Assuming no real drop in his production, Heatley will score 40 or more goals and tally 100 points. That is almost certainly as much, if not more than Cheech and Michalek would be able to combined had they stayed in SJ. Additionally, you must consider the extra production that his line mates will be able to achieve resulting from the attention any defense in the league will pay to Heatley. Finally, you must figure in the open roster spot—no matter who fills it, if they are an NHL caliber player, they will be somewhat productive. If you total all of these up, you have to figure the Sharks finish at least 20 goals and forty points ahead than if they had not made the move. And that’s not including the improvement generated by ridding the lower lines of Grier and Goc!

Penalty Killing:

This is definitely a much bigger concern than is the defense or any other aspect of the deal. It is very uncertain what the PK units will be and who they will consist of. McGinn does show some potential to step into that roll, and Heatley did some in Ottawa (and scored a few short handers while he was at it). Ortmeyer has stated that he wants to play physically and desires a spot on a PK unit. And if DW decides to bring him up, Frazier McLaren did some in Worcester.

Closing Thoughts:
The way to make a team better is to acquire exceptional players in exchange for good players. This is what DW did when he traded for Thornton, and in case you forgot, that is when the team skyrocketed in production. The defense was considered in the realm of superior when Boyle was acquired (I guess Campbell too), and it appears that DW has done it again. This makes the Sharks stronger, and in many ways, a more threatening team than last year. They are no longer the Spurs of hockey, in which every player is more or less fundamentally sound and maintains constant production. They are a team with tenacity; a team on which nearly every player and every line has the potential to hurt the opposition. They are the embodiment of the statement: “anything can happen in hockey.”

Finally, I want to say that I called it (sort of). I posted in early July that this was the trade to expect if Heatley was acquired (granted, I missed the draft picks). The only thing Wilson could do to improve upon the end result of this off season is to sign Owen Nolan (and of course, give him the ‘C’).

Rookie Tournament and Recent Developments

•September 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A quick wrap up of the three game sweep of the Anaheim rookies. Click the links to read more about game 1, game 2, or game 3.

In summary, however, it boils down to this. Game one, no one really stood out, and the nine-round shootout is a testament to that. Game two was the Petrecki and Stalock show with notable performances by Dean Strong and Kevin Henderson which lead to a 5-0 win. The third game was the most ordinary of the three, which is quite the statement as it ended with a final score of 5-2. Once again, there were no clear standouts. Some things to note include:

  • As previously stated, Stalock and Petrecki both played solid hockey throughout
  • Frazer McLaren had a great retaliatory fight after taking a big hit, but he did not post any points.
  • Ehrlich (who had a goal and three assists in game 3) stood out among the rest.
  • Couture did little to set himself apart from his competition
  • Taylor Doherty looks poised to take an enforcer role, which makes him a great asset considering his above-average skating ability.
  • Great analysis, pictures and stats from the tournament can be found here (at the time of writing, only two recaps were posted).

Now for a little trade and miscellaneous news:

  • Heatley: All signs point to his staying in Ottawa. There have been articles posted (here) that claim he could still be San Jose bound, but those ideas seem farfetched at best.
  • Kessel: He has officially ended talks with the Bruins, but the ‘experts’ continue to claim that Toronto is the most active.
  • Marleau: Supposedly (according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun) a deal is in the works about Marleau to LA, Heatley to SJ, and Frolov to Ottawa. Take it for what it’s worth, but I do not see Marleau being involved in this trade, or Frolov for that matter.
  • Matthew Dandenault was granted a tryout by the Sharks. Could be a great low-cost player for the bottom six.
  • Boyle was interviewed on Chronicle Live. Granted, it’s not the most entertaining of features, but if you’re like me then any official news is worth the time.

Finally, a little entertainment; below is a video of Petrecki’s huge hit from the rookie tournament:

A Short Sharks Update

•September 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

UPDATE: Dan Hinote will be joining the Sharks this coming training camp. Read full story here.

Marleau, as he has done in the past, continues to run captain’s ice (and if history is any indicator, also pay for it). Some highlights:

  • Joe and Boyle did suit up, but were the last to the ice (probably not the best decisions considering they are likely the frontrunners to inheriting the ‘C’).
  • No rookies made it to the practice (probably working together for the Rookie Scrimmages against Anaheim).
  • Other absences were Blake, Michalek (who was practicing with the Czech National team), Vlasic and Mitchell.
  • Ehrhoff suited up with the team and participated, as did McLaren (although he left before the scrimmage).
  • Shark’s favorite Owen Nolan also made a short appearance

Mark Christopher has posted a new blog in which he cites Chicago as a potential Heatley destination, which could mean good news for the Sharks. They also have cap problems, meaning that if this trade goes through, the Sharks could really capitalize on a salary dump deal.

In other Hockeybuzz news, Eklund believes a large Friday trade could be in the works (namedropping both the Heatley and Kessel). The Heatley deal (with the departure of Ehrhoff) would cost the organization all of the remaining depth still on their roster, whereas Kessel would require draft picks (which the Sharks do have) and another salary dump.

That’s it for the last few days. Very uneventful since the Ehrhoff/Luko trade. As always, will update with any more news/rumors.

Sharks Progress – What it Means

•August 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

My apologies for the extended period between posts; it’s been hard to keep up on everything with the long drive and settling in here. But today marks another big trade in which the Sharks parted with Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich in return for Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White. Now I must confess that I assumed Cheechoo was departing after reading Pollak’s morning blog, and was very surprised to see Ehrhoff going.

This is definitely an interesting move, in that it not only leaves holes on defense, but also sends away one of the more promising offensive defensemen on the roster. The only way to interpret this deal (in which it is beneficial) is that another move must be pending. With this trade the Sharks have just cleared roughly $4.6 Million in cap space (depending on whether Rahimi is actually on the roster and this isn’t just an error). The only way to interpret this is that something big should be coming, which was affirmed by DW himself: the trade “creates some flexibility in our team payroll for potential future transactions as the season progresses and adds two more talented players to our reserve list that can help this organization in the future.”

But the worrisome thing is that there has been no real progress. The Sharks are still linked to Heatley and Kessel (although both have recently been rumored as in discussions with the Rangers). Someone out there still wants Cheechoo (Islanders). There are still abundant rumors about Marleau’s NTC, and whether he has agreed or refused to waive it. Despite that detail, he has been ‘linked’ to at least five teams by various outlets, including Los Angeles (Frolov), Boston, New Jersey and pretty much every team in Canada.

The question still remains: What are the Sharks planning on doing? There are only two scenarios that make sense. The first is a free agent signing in the near future, seeing as DW just gave up very tradable talent for cap space. The second possibility is that this move allows the Sharks to take back more cap than they give in a trade. Simply said, the cap space is the reason the Sharks and so many other organizations are struggling to assemble a complete roster; very few teams are willing to make a trade (similar to the most recent by San Jose) that results in any loss of talent (for none in return) and cap space. GMs around the league are looking to alleviate their cap strains without sacrificing performance, meaning that they are looking to trade with teams with strong rosters, most of which are in similar cap situations. With the new $4.6 million, the Sharks have enough room to take on more cap than they release, allowing for other trades and possibilities to open up (and finally an end to all of the ridiculous three-way trade rumors).

However, whether you believe this is a good move or not, it is apparent that something must happen. Despite being a positive fan, I cannot overlook the facts. So far, the Sharks have given up talent in Grier, Goc, Moen, Plihal, Boucher, and Semenov. Now add to this list the Retirees Lemieux and Roenick, and now Lukowich and Ehrhoff. That is a long list of departures all for Nichol, Ortmeyer, and some prospects. I am not saying that this is the end of a successful program. But that is a lot of talent departing with very little coming in, little to none of which can be refilled by the dry prospect pool.

For more reading:

Dispelling the Rumor from My Teal Pedestal

•August 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Let me say this first: Marleau was not stripped of his ‘C.’ He was not put to shame. He was not ridiculed, tarred and feathered, or any other negative scenario you have read here, especially here, or anywhere else for that matter. This was not a move of disgrace, anger, or anything else that involves the dozens of outlandish rumors surrounding Marleau (a way of convincing him to waive his NTC, a sign of aggression from the front office, an attempt at lowering his value to other teams, etc.).

So what has happened? In my opinion, it is exactly what should happen at the beginning of each season in twenty-nine organizations in the NHL. Each season starts anew for all but one team in the league. Other than the champions, every team failed to reach the end goal. Sure there are consolation prizes (ranging from a better-than-expected regular season for a team in a rebuilding year to a President’s Trophy), but there is only one first place. And quite simply, every other team lost. You can phrase it however you want, but it is the simple truth. And for all twenty-nine of these teams, the question of the offseason is always “why didn’t our team elevate their play in the post season to compete?”

There are arguably no teams in the NHL whose overall skill level handicaps them enough to not make the playoffs1. Similarly, most, if not all teams do possess the physical ability and skill to believe they have a somewhat legitimate chance. If history has taught us only one thing, it is that anything can happen once the playoffs begin. An eighth seed can upset a one (Anaheim over SJ, in case you forgot), a seventh seed can win the cup (1991 Penguins) and in 1948 the then ‘worst’ seeded Leafs won it all (and before that the Blackhawks). Since the expansion to eight playoff teams in each conference, the eighth seed 2005 Edmonton team topped the one seed Detroit, then San Jose, and finally Anaheim before falling short in a game seven against Carolina. Even more prevalent are the early round upsets have become a fixture of the NHL, as much so as the regular season powerhouses ever-present in all other sports. The reason for all of these, similarly, is leadership.

Every year, there should be twenty-nine teams in Canada and the United States who should be reevaluating their roster and the reason for their defeat. At the end of each season, the only thing that should linger in these players’ minds is defeat. That they were not good enough, and that it is their responsibility to do all that is in their power to not let it happen again. Each year, the players should return to training camp with blank jerseys. The prior captain, assistants, first through fourth liners, and bench players of each team should hold this responsibility upon their shoulders, and should return to the ice come September with only one goal: to prove that they their failure has hit home.

Sadly, this is not the case. It is why a ‘C’ is necessary at all—because there are many who come to camp each year out of shape, having spent their offseason golfing and relaxing, without the chip on their shoulder from their previous shortcomings. It is in camp that those players attempt to restore their prior abilities rather than improve.

However, there are those take it upon themselves to work every day as if it were the post season. Those players like Boyle, Pavelski, Seto, Ehrhoff, Mitchell, and even Marleau who still have the taste bitter defeat in their mouths. Those in which the defeat has for months spread like an untreated disease. The only cure, in their minds, is the fulfillment of their childhood dreams of standing on the ice as fans scream, streamers pour from the ceiling and they pose for pictures with the cup. And it is those players who realize that this takes the entire year to obtain. It is them who have worked out every day since their exit, have skated whenever possible to stay sharp, and show up to the captains practices once they begin.

And now to come full circle. Once official training camp begins, those disease-ridden players are the ones who will soar above the others. It is apparent who has spent their ‘time off’ tormented by defeat. And it is those players who deserve to lead their teams each year. Twenty-nine teams exit each year with little to nothing to show for their efforts. And when they return to official camp, there should be just that to remind them of their past. There should be no ranks, no captains or assistants, not even names on their jerseys. They are all fighting for their spot on the roster, much less a position of leadership.

Those who are truly deserving will rise to the occasion, and they will be rewarded. Many of the captains, if they are truly the leaders on their teams, should have no worries about retaining that title. Similarly, the majority of the skaters will return to the roles in which they served the last season. But by allowing for ‘anything to happen,’ players will be faced with the need to earn their position. And for some, although they might not be the most skilled players on the team, their drive, effort and leadership will result in a chance to elevate their time on the ice or leap into a role of leadership.

And this is just what DW, TM and the rest of the organization have done. The slate has been wiped clean. No one has been shamed, exiled, or ridiculed. The needs of the team have just been cast into the forefront. There is currently no indication that Marleau will not return next year as the captain; he simply must, like the other names associated with the position, prove himself in regards to effort, heart, and the commanding of respect from his teammates.

The other names to watch in these roles have been fairly consistent, but there is one who might be in the running. Thornton returned to camp this year weeks before he has done in the past (last year he took an extended vacation in the Far East), and he has actually appeared distraught about the loss. Regardless of whether this merits a higher position, as fans let’s hope this means he will spend the next season as the angry Joe who will do everything in his power to win. There was also an interview on Sporting News today with Joe Pavelski, in which he addresses the issue of captaincy. Interesting read to say the least.

1 Yes it’s a double negative. I don’t care. It sounds better that way.

“As of Now, Nobody’s Our Captain”

•August 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A great article by David Pollak went up today:

“As of now, nobody’s our captain,” says Coach Todd McLellan — plus training camp dates

Patrick Marleau’s jersey no longer has a C on it.

“As of now,” Coach Todd McLellan said Monday, “nobody’s our captain.”

I had a little work to do on a Hockey News assignment so I headed out to Sharks Ice today for a quick interview or two. I knew some players would be around for the informal practices traditionally known as captain’s skates and figured it was a good time to get caught up on a few things. The captaincy was on my checklist.

I asked McLellan about it and he prefaced his answer by saying that questions about leadership and team mental toughness are being asked and addressed.

“Does that fall onto one guy’s shoulder, the guy wearing the C? No. It’s a collective thing and it starts with me at a coach.”

Full Story Here

I also wanted to add this. I feel it perfectly displays alot of trends throughout the season as well as clearly demonstrates the four I believe should be in leadership roles (in no particular order): Pavelski, Seto, Marleau and Boyle. Found it on the Sharks message board with the following comment by marbanasin:

“I loved it because of both pavs and Boyle’s goal. Pav’s was just like wtf he scored? It shows Marleau leading the team to a comeback after being down 3-0. And it also shows Jumbo messing up, bad reffing, and a Grier breakaway. In a way it sums up the season.”