The sharks — what happened? (and the ratto vs drew deathmatch)

In the post game, Ray Ratto and Drew got into it. I admit: I missed this live, because Laurie and I were so thrilled at the game, we turned off for a DVRed episode of Good Eats. No, really. Good Eats reruns.

Here’s my take on all of this. If you caught me on twitter during and after the game, you’ll know I pretty much wrote off the Sharks after this game. For once, Ray Ratto is right: this is not a playoff team. It hasn’t played like one since the start of the year. Last night, I saw a team working hard, but not working desperate.

I love Drew, he’s smart, fun to listen to and usually right, but last night, his attachment to the Sharks and to coaching got the best of him. He loves this team (and so do I), but his rant last night was more denial than explanation. Ratto nails it. Here in the Western Conference, which is a nasty ass conference, and the Pacific Division, which is a nasty division, the Sharks are not a playoff team. Even if they squeeze into the playoffs, I can’t see them getting past the first round.

After the game, Joe thornton said this team needed to win out and go 4-0 to close the season. Best case is 3-1 might get them in. Is the team that lost the last two games going to do that? I don’t’ see it. They’ll be lucky to go 1-3. Right now, I expect the Kings should sweep them.

How did we get to this point? That’s a tough, complicated question, one I’ve grappled with for a while. My current thinking is something like this:

First, and most important, the conference and division has gotten better around the Sharks. This is, first and foremost, not about the Sharks getting bad, but about the team being as good as it is and the rest of the league catching up. Did you see St. Louis getting as good as it has this year? No, me, neither. There are no soft teams in the west, and even “bad” teams like Edmonton can and will make you crazy. So the primary “failure” here is — parity.

Having said that, I think this team has had a “of course we’re a playoff team” mentality, perhaps leaning a bit too hard on “we just need to be ready for April” and planning to flip the switch. You can’t ever let the regular season be a tuneup for the real season, or, well, you hit the last ten games of the season in a dogfight for 8th, and lose that slot to a team that’s learned how to be desperate. This team maybe has coasted a bit on its belief that it will just be there when it really matters, and now that it’s really mattering, finding it’s not quite as easy as it thought.

I think injuries have taken a toll on this team; there have been enough to keep the roster in flux all season, and that’s kept this team from ever generating the kind of “on a roll” chemistry it’s shown in the past.

I’m am curious whether or not Marleau is playing with an injury. If he’s not — what the hell happened? Marleau has always had times when he’s gone into funks; it’s never been at crunch time and he’s always ended the season putting up the kind of numbers we expect from him. But honestly, right now I want to put his picture on a  milk carton. I don’t see any reason why he’s been so — invisible — on the ice.  He is the only top six forward I can call out as being a significant disappointment to me. It’s now the Joe and Joe and Logan and Ryan show out there, and all four get nothing but positives from me.

Drew’s support of the coaching staff is not misplaced. I share it. I don’t see this as something that puts either Doug Wilson or Coach McClellan’s job at risk. I do wonder — and I am completely unqualified to judge — how significant the loss of Trent Yawney from the staff for this season is affecting things, especially given the plummet in performance in special teams. Jay Woodcroft seems like a great person, but it seems to me this team might need a more seasoned and experienced voice helping McClellan (and let me emphasize that I’m not saying anything against Woodcroft other than maybe this team needs someone further down the career path; or maybe not — that’s something Doug Wilson will have to evaluate).

Wilson made some roster changes during the offseason. I like and continue to like the Brent Burns deal. It took him some time to acclimate, once he did, I’ve liked his play. Given setoguchi’s play in minnesota, a no-brainer. the Heatley deal for havlat got sidetracked by injuries, that was a known risk of the deal, and it’s a risk that we got hit by.

I look at Huskins in St. Louis, and I look at Ian White in Detroit, and then I look at Colin White here in San jose, and I think to myself — really? Sorry, Colin White was not an upgrade, not in any way, shape or form. This team would have been a lot better off keeping Ian White; I’m not a huge fan of Huskins, but he’s been put in a  system where he’s been solid. Even so, Huskins would be a step up from Colin White.

That said — that’s a minor blip in the Doug Wilson track record.

The end result here? The better a team is, the harder it is to keep making it better. I think the Sharks ran into that this year. They plateaued. At a high level, but it’s still a plateau. I think the biggest off-season loss was Yawney on the coaching staff, and I think that needs to be looked at in the offseason. Injuries were never catastrophic (no Sydney Crosby injuries) but enough injuries happened to keep the roster from gelling and this team from ever building momentum or chemistry. It challenged the organization depth, and the depth is okay but only okay. And I think this team mentally got a bit complacent, and got into a mindset that what really mattered was being ready for the playoffs. And they did that in a conference full of teams hungry for the playoffs, and now — it’s on the outside wondering what happened.

And then there’s the mystical missing Marleau.

And perhaps missing the playoffs will make this team pissed again, and playing with that edge again. Which is something this team needs, and which I think was missing this year. And that will be good for this team — next season. It’s too late this year.

I don’t think this team needs major surgery. I do think changes need to be made, but that’s true every year.

For now, though, I’m just counting down the days to the playoffs, and I’m looking forward to seeing just how far the Blues can go, and how many team they’re going to scare along the way…


(hat tip: Kukla)