1999-2000 Sharks Year in Review

For your amusement, my year end evaluation of the Sharks…

From: Chuq Von Rospach

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

No, it was simply the strangest of times…

What a year. It was a year that saw major changes to the Sharks, some amazing highs, far too many frustrating lows, and as typical of the Sharks, a strong finish to leave us with a lot less to gripe about than we figured we’d have in January.

The goals for the team going into the season? 90 points (old style points; works to about 94 points new style) and the playoffs. The reach goal? Home ice advantage in the playoffs.

The results? 87 points, 8th seed in the playoffs, an upset victory against the Presidents Cup Blues, and a five game loss to Dallas in the second round with key players injured — a competitive second round, but still a loss. Mike Ricci and Brad Stuart up for major awards, some of the first major league awards with Sharks nominated.

If I’d said we were going to make the 2nd round and lose to Dallas in September, most of this list would have been thrilled.

Somewhere along the way, however, I think most of us came to the belief that this team was capable of more. And I think we’re right.

The only thing the Sharks did consistently this season was be inconsistent. And there lies the frustration. The sharks opened the season with a torrid 27 points in their first 20 games, and finished the season in typical Sharks style with 22 points in their final 20.

it was the middle 42 games that drove people crazy. The Sharks never sucked: only once did they lose four games in a row. But neither did they thrive: in that middle section, they never won three games in a row, either. A hot start, strong finish: and 40 games of almost-but-not-quite-.500 hockey in the middle?

Enough to make a hockey fan grumpy. Which many were — because the start showed what was possible, and the ending showed the start wasn’t really a fluke. If the Sharks had kept up the pace of the first 20 games, they could have grabbed 111 points. If you look at the closing 20 games, 91 points. Pick a number somewhere in the middle, between 95 and 100 points, and I think that’s a realistic number for what the Sharks *could* have done this season, and didn’t.

The Sharks came close to their regular season goals, but fell three or four victories short. The initial goal was also conservative — in reality, the team finished about 10 points short of what they ‘ought’ to have done, thanks to that mid-season, um, whatever it was. 40 games isn’t a slump, and in reality, they didn’t really slump, since they never fell apart or had a horrible streak. But it wasn’t the real Sharks, either. It was simply a team finding itself.

Which leads to: WHY? Who are these Sharks? The team of the first 20 games? the last 20? The playoffs? the middle 40? Who’s to blame? The team? the coach? Everyone? bad sushi?

I think we can rule out the sushi.

But the answer to the first part is: yes. The middle 40 games are the Sharks of christmas present, the sharks of the last 20 games are the Sharks of christmas past, and the sharks of the first 20 games are the Sharks of christmas future. The Sharks of christmas present, those middle 40 games, are the real Sharks this year: lots of potential, lots of youth, lots of inconsistency. Kids growing up have good days and bad days. Veterans are more consistent, but speed and skill start to desert them. And some of the Sharks, notably Vincent Damphousse, simply had a period of time where you needed to put him on suicide watch. That was the Sharks of today: good heart, good chemistry, good effort (mostly), good attitude, but leaning heavily on youth to perform, and there were nights that didn’t work.

The last 20 games were the sharks of christmas past: Sharks teams always rally late in the season, unless they totally sucked, and found a way. We’ve seen that last ditch rush before, and hopefully, we’ll continue to see it in the future, because it’s better than the alternative.

But the first 20 games: that, I think, we saw the Sharks of Christmas future. For 1/4 of the season, they played well, they played together, and the found ways to win. They just couldn’t sustain it this season.

Blame for this? I’ve gne back and forth with myself here, between the youth of the team and the coaching (especially how the coaching staff handled the youth). Ultimately, I think too many kids with too many responsibilities, and the team depending too much on their performance for wins. Good experience for the kids, but learning on the job is never easy. At the same time, I don’t completely absolve the coaching staff of guilt here — instead of not guilty, mark them as not proven, leaning towards not guilty.

The good news is that this team looks to be ready to make a big jump forward. This year turned into a year of transition: a year where the veteran players moved on (Bob Rouse, Mike Vernon), and the younger players tried to take up the mantle of responsibility. Some days they did it better than others, but by the last 20 games, it was clear this team was finally figuring it out and pulling together — and the playoffs showed what they were capable of.

And yes, we’ve heard the “we’re almost here” refrain before, and maybe that’s all this is again. That’s why games are played on ice, not paper. But — our key top players are just moving into their prime in Nolan and Friesen, our younger players came out of this season stronger and better for the struggles in Marco Sturm, Patty Marleau and Alex Korolyuk (especially the latter), and the supporting cast (guys like Mike Ricci) are solid.

What encourages me more is that this is a group that we can keep together for a number of years. This year is the year the Sharks transitioned from a team building for the future to a team competing. We’re no longer a team of veterans bringing up the kids, we’re now a young team developing towards maturity. It may seem like a semantics, but philosophically, thse changes are key: no longer is this team managed by Bob Rouse, Tony Granato and Mike Vernon: now, it’s Owen Nolan and Steve Shields and Jeff Friesen. The veterans are no longer babysitters, but role players and contributors. And the transition was not without fumbles, but now that it’s complete, it sets us up for better things: if the kids produce.

Will they? We’ll see. That’s why they play this on ice, not on paper.

But I can’t wait for September.

The 1999-2000 San Jose Sharks report card

Team performance: 87 points: C+

coaching staff: C+

Dean Lombardi: B

Strengths: Owen Nolan, Brad Stuart, Mike Ricci, a young, solid, talented core that can grow up together and build into a strong team.

Weaknesses: Steve Shields is unproven; we know he can win when he’s sharp, can he win with his B game? Special teams need improvement. Faceoffs need improvement.

Goal for next year? 95 points or bust.

Player report card:

R 11 Nolan, Owen 78 44 40 84 -1 110 18 4 6 2 261 16.9

what can I say? He is the man. A. A+. I’m as impressed with his +- number as I am his scoring. maybe more impressed. And he IS the Captain; we finally have a model for what Sharks hockey is — it’s Owen Nolan.

C 25 Damphousse, Vincent 82 21 49 70 4 58 3 1 1 1 204 10.3

One of the Sharks that slumped badly in the middle — and redeemed himself enough late that I give him a C+. Even if he doesn’t improve his overall numbers next year (I’d like to see him at 30 goals and 85 points, and I’d lvoe to see Nolan hit 50 goals and 100 points…), he should improve his overall contribution next year simply by avoiding that rough stretch.

L 39 Friesen, Jeff 82 26 35 61 -2 47 11 3 7 0 191 13.6

C: Friesen needs to work on his game still — he has a couple of notches left to engage. His speed is awesome, but he needs to react to the play better, make faster pass/shoot decisions, and be more aggressive offensively. Friesen could be (should be?) a 35-50-85 guy. 60 points isn’t chopped liver, and if Friesen matures at this level, he’ll still be a great player, but he still has the potential to take that next step into being an elite player. He’s not there yet, but he has another year to find it. Maybe two.

C 18 Ricci, Mike 82 20 24 44 14 60 10 0 5 0 134 14.9

A: on most teams, the third and fourth lines perform in relative obscurity. It says something that Mike Ricci has elevated the checking line into somewhat of a celebrity line. How? through hard work, grit, determination and bad hair days. But it’s nice to see the lunchpail guys get some deserved recognition. Scoring goals is fun. What Ricci does may be satisfying, and it’s definitely necessary to successful hockey, but I wouldn’t call it fun. My respect for him is immense, and even as a self-admitted lunchpail-player fan (going back to the days of Jeff Odgers and Robin Bawa), ricci shows what happens when you take a job like this and really sink your teeth into it. well, tooth.

C 14 Marleau, Patrick 81 17 23 40 -9 36 3 0 3 0 161 10.6

C-: Okay, let’s get this straight. We have a kid who can’t legally drink in the states, playing in the NHL, who scores 40 points and just misses 20 goals, and we’re unhappy with him.

Yes, that pretty much defines it. Marleau is the poster child for that 40 game not-slump. He was one of the kids we depended on to step up, and his numbers notwithstanding, he struggled. I’m still very high on Marleau — but his defense is suspect (look at that +-), and his game is still maturing. you’ll take him off my team over my dead body — but Marleau has to use this season as a stepping stone to his potential. His numbers fell back this year, because the responsibility on his shoulders was increased and he wasn’t ready.

My target numbers for Marleau next year are 25 goals, 60 points, and most especially, do it while being an even or plus player. Long term (three years out? four?) this kid can be a 40-50-90 player and a plus player. All it’ll take is time and hard work. I hope he commits to the work…. But he’s got a good couple of years before i start worrying about him turning into Pat Falloon. But the Sharks need to be careful heaping expectations on him; Marleau needs some time to mature.

L 24 Sundstrom, Niklas 79 12 25 37 9 22 2 1 2 3 90 13.3

C-: For a good part of the season, Niklas simply looked lost, as if a beer leaguer had gotten in the wrong dressing room. It wasn’t lack of effort — it was conditioning, comfort level in the system, and confidence. when he finally put it together as the team made the last run, he rescued himself enough to avoid a failing grade, but it was close. The +9 is nice, but Sundstrom should be a 20-35-55 guy and in double-digit plus numbers.

D 7 *Stuart, Brad 82 10 26 36 3 32 5 1 3 0 133 7.5

A: the phrase “this kid is a rookie?” explains it all. He earned his Calder nomination, and he’s only going to get better. What’s likely next year? How about 15-40-55 as a plus player? Probably a stretch, but….

L 15 Korolyuk, Alex 57 14 21 35 4 35 3 0 1 1 124 11.3

B-: had his moments, and had his moments. Still needs to improve his defense, but of the three key youngsters, I think he had the best season overall (Sturm was most consistent and best in the latter third and playoffs….). Alex is a guy I don’t want overly burdened by the defensive side, but as long as he’s near or at even, let him run around and make the other team crazy. Goal for next year: 20-25-45. And I think he has HUGE upside as he matures — 35 goals? I’d think so. 50 goals? don’t bet on it, but I’ve said it before, and I still believe it: he’s the first player I’ve seen on ANY NHL team that reminds me of Sergei Makarov. And if he comes even remotely close, the NHL better watch out.

D 20 Suter, Gary 76 6 28 34 7 52 2 1 0 0 175 3.4

C-: Suter faded down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he’s here, he’s healthy, and he’s a strong, key contributor and should be for another two or three years. The key, I think, is cutting his minutes to keep him fresher through the season. His goal for next year? 10-20-30 and averaging 5 minutes a game less. Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan will make cutting his minutes much less painful.

L 19 Sturm, Marco 74 12 15 27 4 22 2 4 3 0 120 10.0

B: struggled early, finished strong. A great partner for Mike Ricci, Marco is turning into a great third liner. Very happy with his progress — and his biggest contributions come away from the scoreboard. 10-15-25 is fine by me for Marco, but I want to see his +- number ramp up next year. Aim for +10 or more.

R 32 Matteau, Stephane 69 12 12 24 -3 61 0 0 3 0 73 16.4

C-/D+: Matteau is a greybeard, an aging vet. You can’t question his committment, but his contribution is fading. My numbers for next year? He’s not on my roster next year (but taht’s a different article)

D 5 Norton, Jeff 62 0 20 20 -2 49 0 0 0 0 45 0.0

C: could be very good, very bad, and very little in between. The Sharks would have been in trouble this year without Norton — but sometimes were in trouble because of him. The epitomy of the double-edged sword. My numbers for next year? He’s not on my roster next year.

R 9 Harvey, Todd 71 11 7 18 -11 140 2 0 0 0 90 12.2

D: I’m a big Harvey fan. A huge fan of him. And when he came over from the Rangers, he sucked. Sucked badly. A big disappointment. But, as the season wore on, he worked his butt off, contributed where he could, minimized his weaknesses and limited the risks he caused the team — and he has pretty good chemistry with Jeff Friesen. So by the end of the season, he went from “please, god, not Harvey” to “well, Harvey didn’t hose us today” to “Harvey didn’t play badly!” — unfortunately, Harvey not playing badly isn’t nearly good enough. He needs to work his butt off on conditioning, and come in next season ready to play, and play wth an edge. He has a chance to make a real contribution as a third liner. My numbers: 10-10-20, but as a +5 or better player. Upgrading his +- that far will be a reach, but he’s more than capable of it.

D 10 Ragnarsson, Marcus 63 3 13 16 13 38 0 0 0 0 60 5.0

A: the first twin tower. If you’re looking at stay-at-home defensemen, there are very few teams with a pairing as good as Ragnarrson and Rathje. Their contributions are rarely in the scorebooks — because you only see them by the blank spots in the opposition’s scorebooks. 15 points and +15 for Rags are awesome. Just keep at it, Marcus.

D 40 Rathje, Mike 66 2 14 16 -2 31 0 0 0 0 46 4.3

B: What I said about Marcus is true also about Rat, but Rat *still* has the opportunity to go from key contributor to impact player. the difference is his physical game. While some of us have been satisfied with his game to date, many of us also felt there was another notch in his game. That last notch showed up in the St. Louis series. Rathje’s goal for next season is simple: play all season with the game he brought to the last ten games of this season and into the playoffs — 15 points is fine, but Rathje should be at least +5, preferably +10, and I don’t want him to become Bryan Marchment, but he needs opposing players worrying about him more than they currently do. In my mind, he’s in the same situation as Friesen: if this is the real Mike Rathje, great — he’s a heck of a player. But I think there’s a little more Rathje in there somewhere that can make him more of a force.

R 21 Granato, Tony 48 6 7 13 2 39 1 0 0 0 67 9.0

C: Greybeard, the ultimate team guy, the classic aging vet. He’ll run through walls for you, but his contribution to the team is fading. His future with the team next year is iffy. His contribution is primarily off the scoreboard.

C 12 Sutter, Ron 78 5 6 11 -3 34 0 1 1 0 68 7.4

B: What I said for Granato goes here, too, only I rate Sutter higher on the depth chart.

R 22 Stern, Ronnie 67 4 5 9 -9 151 0 0 0 0 63 6.3

C-: What I just said, I say again — only Stern is rated below Granato.

L 26 Lowry, Dave 32 1 4 5 1 18 0 0 0 0 25 4.0

A-: And ditto again, except Dave Lowry defines this role, and does it wonderfully. And that beard…. Of these four greybeards, he’s the one who made the biggest, most key contributions, and my first choice for coming back next year.

D 27 Marchment, Bryan 49 0 4 4 3 72 0 0 0 0 51 0.0

B-: Marchment’s an interesting case. With his league around the league (not ndeserved…), the refs clearly decided he was never going to catch a break again, and he was given penalties for trivial stuff. This really hosed up Marchment’s game at times, expecially last season.

But what it also did, I think, was force Marchment to play hockey — if all you’re going to do is hit people, the refs are going to call it. But when you’re playing hockey, and choosing your shots, you can be even more effective. And that is today’s Bryan Marchment — but you better keep your head up.

As our #5 or #6 defenseman, you could do lots worse. And other teams need to keep their heads up. Marchment’s numbers are irrelevant, as long as he stays plus.

D 43 *Hannan, Scott 30 1 2 3 7 10 0 0 0 0 28 3.6

I: A great start — he’s earned a full-time spot next year on my team. Poise is impressive, he shows some offensive potential, and is fairly mature defensively. But it’s too early to give him a grade; he’s merely earned a seat for the test.

D 42 Sutton, Andy 40 1 1 2 -5 80 0 0 0 0 29 3.4

I: Sutton seemed to regress this year; his hockey wasn’t as good, when he got to play. I still think Sutton has potential, but I don’t see Sutton playing for the Sharks next year. Too many players have passed him on the depth chart, and we stil have a bunch of other prospects coming. His inability to be sent back to Kentucky pretty much guarantees he’ll play for a team less stuffed with good defensemen next year, whether by expansion or trade.