2017-2018 NHL Playoff Predictions (1st round edition)

With the NHL regular season ended, it’s time for my annual tradition of embarrassing myself by picking teams for the playoffs and for winning the Stanley cup.

But first, a quick look back at my regular season predictions.

In the East, I picked five teams as guaranteed playoff teams. Four (Columbus, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington) made it; I missed on Carolina.

In the west, I also picked five teams as playoff teams. I got TWO right (Los Angeles and Nashville), getting Chicago, Edmonton and St. Louis wrong. I think most of the league got the Blackhawks and Edmonton wrong, too, but still, not great.

In the east, two teams (Boston and New Jersey) that I tagged as non-playoff made it. In the west, Las Vegas (wow!), Winnipeg and Colorado rose from my non-playoff category to play in the second season.

Last year, I picked Chicago and Washington for the Cup Final and, well, Chicago went out in four straight in the first round and Washington couldn’t et past Pittsburgh in the second, so, well, never mind. Overall I went 5-3 in the first round, 1-3 in the second, 2-0 in the finals and then picked Nashville to win (0-1), leaving me 8-7 in picking series.

So, kids, if you use these predictions to base your betting on the playoffs, you get what you deserve

[Update April 30: when I submitted my bracket to the NHL content, it turns out I flipped two of the picks, as I’d written there. Since that was my what I did second, and it’s the one that got locked in the system, I’m updating my picks here to match. That this takes my first round wins from 6-2 to 8-0 is just a coincidence. Really.

Not a coincidence: both of the series where I flipped choices along the way were really close in my brain. And were some really great hockey. The two series were Vegas (Los Angeles here, Vegas in the bracket challenge) and Boston/Toronto (Boston in the challenge, and Toronto here).

— chuq]]

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey: This one should be fairly easy for Tampa. New Jersey is improving, but the Lightning are really good. Tampa in 4.

Boston vs. Toronto: likely one of my favorite watches of the first round, should be hard and tough. I’m going to give it to the Leafs, though, because I’m all for seeing Patrick Marleau do well, and go Toronto in 6 [Updated: in my challenge bracket, Boston in 6]

Washington vs. Columbus: on paper, this should be fairly easy for the Capitals. In practice, there’s no telling what the Capitals will do in the playoffs; it seems not a case of whether they’ll implode and fall apart, but when. Will this be the year they put it together? Maybe. But I wouldn’t put money on it. But… Capitals in 6.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia: cross-state rivalry between two teams that don’t like each other, this will be fun to watch. I’ll give it to the Penguins in 5, but I wonder what shape they will be in for round 2.

Western Conferece

Nashville vs. Colorado: good on Colorado for pulling it together and making the playoffs, but the dance ends here. Nashville in 5

Winnipeg vs. Minnesota: Good on the Jets for pulling it together and making the playoffs, but the dance ends here – for Minnesota. The jets are a team to watch out for, so Winnipeg in 5.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings: Having Vegas make the playoffs is amazing, and fully earned. Having them play the Kings in the first round is great because it means the Sharks won’t have to face both of them to go deep into the playoffs. How will the Golden Knights do in the playoffs? Nobody freaking knows, but it sure is going to be fun finding out. I’m going to give this one to the Kings in 6, but I expect the Kings will have a real fight getting there, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Vegas wins out. [Updated: in my bracket, it was Vegas in 6]

Anaheim vs. San Jose: so, San Jose won the season series, but basically, everything between these teams went to overtime and shootouts, so the season record doesn’t say much: very closely matched, teams that don’t like each other, teams with something to prove, and expectations to match. I vote this the series most likely to go 7 games with multiple overtimes, and stock up on ice bags, boys. I am going to pick the Sharks in 7, because that’s what I do, but it could honestly go either way. A big unknown is the injuries on both sides; the time off will help the Sharks, but don’t expect Thornton back in the first round, and who knows what that will mean?

Cup Finals

My fantasy pick for the cup Finals is Toronto/San Jose, because, well: Marleau.

But in reality? I think it’s likely one of Tampa, Pittsburgh and Washington. I still expect Washington to implode, I don’t think Pittsburgh is the team it was a year ago, and so I’ll pick Tampa to come out of the east. If the capitals learn how not to shoot themselves in their collective feet, they SHOULD win the conference, but would I bet on that? nope.

In the west, I think any of five teams could win: Nashville, Winnipeg, Vegas, San Jose or Los Angeles. My sentimental pick is San Jose, but I don’t think so. I’m also just not convinced LA will win out. Of the other three, Vegas is a wild card: will their run continue, or will the reality of playoff pressure catch up? I dunno. I think I like Nashville the best, so I’ll pick them, and admit I’m flipping coins here.

So, Tampa and Nashville in the final? That would be a lot of fun to watch, but if that happens, I’ll say the Predators survive to hold up the cup.

And in between now and then? A lot of really good hockey. Let’s drop the puck on the second season.

2018 NHL Season Predictions

NHL 2018 Season Predictions

I am days late for this, since I try to get this out before the season starts, and for that I’m sorry, but, well, reasons. As I write this the Sharks have played 2 games and are 0-2, which, well, is not a great start. It hasn’t changed my view of things, though. Honest. No, seriously, it hasn’t.

As is my tradition, it’s time to publish my annual season predictions for the 2018 NHL season. I do this primarily so that at the end of the season people can point at me and laugh. But it’s fun to do and forces me to think about the upcoming (cough started cough) season and get me in the hockey mood.

So, without further ado, here’s how I see this season playing out.

Eastern Conference

Playoff teams

  • Carolina Hurricanes: I like this team.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets: I like this team more.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: do you want to suggest they aren’t a playoff contender? Not me
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: the question for me isn’t whether they make the playoffs, but how high they seed. Could they even be the top team in the east? I wouldn’t bet against it.
  • Washington Capitals: I continue to really like the Caps. I keep thinking they ought to win a cup, but the window is closing and they keep finding ways to not survive in the playoffs.

Bubble teams

  • Detroit Red Wings: It’s unclear to me whether they’re going to be good enough to get back in the playoffs, but I would be surprised if they weren’t competing for a spot late in the season.
  • Florida Panthers: Luongo is getting older. Is he still the goalie that can push this team forward? I think we find out this year.
  • New York Islanders: I want to like this team more than I do. I think they’re competitive but it’s not a given.
  • New York Rangers: what I said about Lungo? I say it louder about Lundqvist.
  • Ottawa Senators: A good, solid team.
  • Philadelphia Flyers: Good team not great team. But they could surprise me.
  • Tampa Bay: I’d call this the hardest decision for me for whether to call them a bubble team or a playoff team.

Non-playoff teams

  • Buffalo Sabres: oh, Buffalo. sigh.
  • Boston Bruins: I just don’t like this team.
  • Montreal Canadiens: I love Carey Price. I’m not convinced by the skaters.
  • New Jersey Devils: they just don’t impress me.

The Winners

  • Metropolitan Division: Washington Capitals
  • Atlantic Division: Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Eastern conference finalist: Washington Capitals

Western Conference:

Playoff teams

  • Chicago Blackhawks: Even without Hossa, this is a great team.
  • Edmonton Oilers: I think they’re for real, and they’re a lot of fun to watch
  • Los Angeles Kings: Would be my pick in the Pacific except I really like the Oilers this year. I may be a year early on Edmonton.
  • Nashville: and I’d hate playing them in the playoffs.
  • St. Louis Blues: They may give Chicago a run for the money.

Bubble teams

  • Anaheim Ducks: I think they’re fading, but they’re still dangerous
  • Calgary Flames: I want to like them more than I do
  • Dallas Stars: Good, not great. They may surprise me.
  • Minnesota Wild: solid team, but I’m not sure they’re good enough
  • San Jose Sharks: They should compete for a playoff spot this year, but I’m not yet convinced they’re a strong playoff team.

Non-playoff teams

  • Arizona Coyotes: Not this year, unfortunately.
  • Colorado Avalanche: See Vancouver Canucks.
  • Las Vegas Golden Knights: they’re going to be a fun and scrappy team, but that’s not the same as a good team, especially in the western conference. But I’ll watch them.
  • Vancouver Canucks: I still don’t think this team is playoff quality.
  • Winnipeg Jets: still don’t trust their goaltending.

The Winners

  • Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks
  • Pacific Division: Edmonton Oilers
  • Western Conference finalist: Edmonton Oilers
  • Stanley Cup Winner: Edmonton Oilers

As always, if I do well I’ll make sure everyone knows, and if I do poorly (as usual) this never happened. Game on!

Patrick Marleau is a Toronto Maple Leaf

July 1 is Canada Day, when our neighbor to the north celebrates its existence. It is also crazy money free agent day in the NHL, when unrestricted free agents have their contracts expire and teams can fight each other for the right to back up a truck of money to a player’s porch to get them to come play for them.

This year the Sharks had two significant free agents: Patrick Marleau, who’s played every game in his 19 year career with the Sharks, and Joe Thornton, who was traded to the Sharks by Boston and has become the team’s legitimate franchise player and future Hall of Famer.

When the dust settled, the Sharks were able to re-sign Joe Thornton for one year, but Patrick Marleau took a three year deal and is now a Toronto Maple Leaf. This is the end of an era with San Jose, and let me say this up front: Thornton is a no-brainer hall of fame player and possibly a first ballot; Patrick Marleau will some day have his jersey retired to the rafters in San Jose, should be a Hall of Fame, but I’m not convinced given the talent in the league that he’ll get that recognition.

Two other significant Sharks deals got done, with Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Martin Jones signed up to long-term deals.

My take on these deals: they’re all great for San Jose, and the Leafs deal is great for Patrick Marleau. Everyone wins.

It would have been nice to have Marleau retire as a Shark, but the word out through the media was that he very much wanted a three year deal, and ultimately, Toronto gave it to him (along with $15+ million and no-movement clauses. wow). He’d be insane not to take that deal; the Sharks would be insane to come close to matching it. Word in the media is that they were offering 2 years at $10, which I would be comfortable with.

The thing is, in San Jose, Marleau’s really our third line center now, and my view is he’s closer to retirement than Thornton is; he’s seemed to fade late in seasons and he’s not scoring at the pace he once did. A move to Toronto allows him to reset expectations; I also expect it’ll allow him to move back to the 2nd line center. I trust coach Mike Babcock to take proper advantage of his skills, and I expect he’ll flourish. But in San Jose, he was shifting into role player mode from elite mode, and fan expectations can be tough when that happens. So a change of scenery removes the pressure for him to try to live up to being five-years-ago Marleau.

The word on Thornton is he had 17 teams call to express interest in him, and he also originally wanted a three year deal, but was willing to take less to get Marleau signed. When that didn’t work, he opted for a one year deal (word is around $8 mil with a no-movement). I think that’s smart for Thornton because it’ll let him see how this team develops next season and decide if it’s on a downward slope (if so, he can bail) or still Cup competitive (f so, he can sign another deal with the Sharks). And I expect he and GM Doug Wilson had the conversation that if he does earn future contracts, the Sharks will pay him more than if they gave him the extra years now — and I’m sure Wilson would tell him if he does earn those years, he’ll pay it gladly (but my take: next year, either Thornton moves on, or he gets a two year deal).

It’s really nice to see Vlasic get his recognition with a long contract, and Jones has proven he’s the goalie we thought he was and earned his long term deal. So basically everyone wins, both team and player. This is the sort of setup I see with Wilson, neither taken advantage of (or giving in to emotion too much) and not taking advantage of the players, either. He’s a fair negotiator who rarely makes a major blunder, and my take on his 2017 free agency actions? Passes with flying colors.

There’s still work to do to fill out the team before the season opens, but the core is in place and with the exception of Thornton, in place for a while. How many more years does Joe have? That’s a good question, but I’d be willing to bet on at least three (Marleau I’m not as convinced, and I think two most likely. Remember Dan Boyle as a Ranger?)

I’m sad Marleau isn’t retiring as a shark, but sometimes business and the desire of the player dictate decisions. In this case, I think Marleau made the right decision to go, and the Sharks made the right decision to let him. I don’t think it’s the last we’ll see of Marleau in San Jose, I hope when he does retire the Sharks bring him back into the organization: he’s earned that.

But for now, hockey goes on, and the Sharks have done a nice job of getting ready for the start of next season, even if they lost a major part of their history to the Leafs. At least, for now.

NHL Playoffs 2017: Stanley Cup Final prediction

Two teams left. Seven games maximum. Everything since October has led to this.

Nashville is in the finals for the first time. Pittsburgh is attempting to repeat as winner, which hasn’t happened in 20 years. Both are great teams. Both are full of great stories. This playoffs season has been full of both, with lots of great hockey.

Many years when we hit this point I’m ready for the winner to be crowned and give the sport a break. Not this year. it’s been so much fun getting to this point I’m not quite ready for it to end. I can get behind both teams as the one I want to back, one because they’ve been working to get to this point and finally made it, the other because they fought against the odds to repeat and a lot of injury problems along the way and made it happen anyway.

So I declare both teams winners in their way, because they are. But I need to make a choice, and I’ve been thinking about it and this is a tough one. Pittsburgh has the experience and Nashville has never played games of this intensity, this finality. The new kid at any level in the playoffs is a lot more likely to falter from the pressure, but… I think we’ve all been expecting Nashville to not be up to the task, and each round, they’ve done it anyway.

So in reality, this is a coin flip for me. But I have to choose. So I choose….

Nashville in 6. Because they deserve to not be the underdog this time. Because they’re healthier. Because they have P.K. Subban who has something to prove.

And I won’t be at all surprised if I’m wrong, because for the Penguins, Fleury has something to prove, Murray is ready to play, and they have Crosby and Malkin and others, and they’ve been to the dance, and that matters.

But, good luck Nashville. And it starts tonight.

Conference Finals

I didn’t get my conference finals picks onto the blog before they started because it was still in migration to this new look. But for the record (it was posted elsewhere but that doesn’t count…) I went with Nashville in 6 and the Penguins in 5, so I picked both of them for once. Which, of course, only happened because I didn’t get them posted for the record here.

The bracket team

I did a bracket as part of a group, about ten of us all having a bit of fun and playing for bragging rights. As it turned out, I ended up third in the group. What’s really amazing, and I’ve never seen this before, is that every one of the ten brackets in the league was final after two rounds. Every Single Bracket dead. We can thank the blackhawks for a lot of that, of course. But being able to declare the winner half way through the playoffs? that’s incredibly crazy, but an indication of how unpredictable the series were and how close all of the teams were to each other. I find that awesome. And so here we are in the finals: last year’s champs and a wild card team. Isn’t that awesome? (definitely more awesome than my bracket was…)

2017 Playoffs Predictions: 2nd round

The first round of the playoffs had some amazing hockey. It also had 18 overtime games showing a parity in the league that is crazy in a good way. And the Sharks lost to Edmonton, deserved to, and I was really impressed by the Oilers team and their ability to adapt and stay composed, especially after the 7-0 blowout.

The Sharks, I think, ran into a combination of “too many hockey games with too little rest” after last year’s long run, plus the key injuries to Couture and Thornton, neither of whom was close to 100%. The series was close enough that if one of those players was at full tempo for the series, it’s probably a different ending. Martin Jones was the best Shark on the ice for the series, and got outplayed by just enough by Talbot to carry the series.

I did okay in the first round: 4-4, going 2-2 in both East and West. The bad news is I (like pretty much everyone) picked Chicago and so the western bracket is carnage. Washington squeaked through Toronto (another amazingly fine series to watch) by the thinnest margin, so I still have a team that might actually win the thing for me, but now they’re up against the Penguins (again).

I picked correct with St. Louis, Anaheim, Washington and Pittsburgh. I guessed wrong with Nashville, Edmonton, Rangers and Ottawa taking their series. Nice to see two Canadian teams in the second round, but did anyone believe it’d be the Senators and Oilers?

So, as is my tradition… Here are my predictions for the second round, now that we know who’s playing:

West

St. Louis vs Nashville: I’m not entirely sure how to predict this one. I think it’s evenly matched, and I’m not sure which team is going to grab momentum. It’s almost a coin flip to me. I guess I’m going to continue not giving Nashville the credit it deserves and pick St. Louis in six, and apologize to my Predator friends. Should be fun to watch.

Anaheim vs Edmonton: the big question here for me is how well Edmonton handles it as the pressure and physicality ramp up, and against the Ducks, you know physical play is going to be intense. my heart is now rooting for Edmonton, but I’m going to continue with my original pick in this part of the bracket and say Anaheim in 5.

East

Ottawa vs New York Rangers: Sorry, Canada, but here is where I think your run ends. I like the Senators team, but Lundqvist has found his game, and I don’t think they’re going to get past the Rangers. Rangers in five.

Washington vs Pittsburgh: haven’t we seen this before? Will Washington be able to get past the Penguins this year? I’m going to continue to back the Capitals to go all the way to the finals, but I’ll admit I have doubts about whether it’ll happen. It does seem strange to suggest that this might be an easier series for the Caps than the Toronto one was, but the Maple Leafs got into missing from God mode and just missed making it happen. The Penguins are simply about skating it down your throat until you stop them. But… Capitals in six. And this will be the series to watch this round.

Games start Wednesday, and with half the teams now gone, the schedule won’t be quite as insane. Onward!

2016 NHL Playoff Predictions (1st round edition)

NHL 2017 Playoff Predictions

It’s that time of year again, where the NHL regular season has ended and the playoffs are about to begin. As is my tradition, it’s also time for me to publish my predictions for the playoffs, so we can all look at them and laugh as I show just how wrong I got it. Again. As I have been going back to the 1990s.

My prediction this year: there’s going to be a lot of great hockey, and potentially epic hockey. Some of the matchups might be historic — for the first time in almost forever, there’s a legitimate chance for a Montreal-Toronto series, for instance. And both brackets look to be incredibly tough paths to get to the Cup Final.

By the way, I should mention how absolutely thrilled I am to see five Canadian teams in the playoffs this year. That’s a great thing for the game. And congratulations Edmonton and Toronto for joining the post-season again.

This is gonna be fun. So without further ado….

First Round

Western Conference

Chicago/Nashville: Chicago in 6

If you stop and think about it, Nashville being the second wildcard team says a lot about how hard the West is. It’s hard to see them beating the Blackhawks; fast and physical vs. not so fast and physical, but I do think the Predators are good enough that with a couple of lucky bounces they could put a big scare into the Blackhawks. And lets not forget, the harder the earlier rounds are, the more difficult later rounds get because of the bruises and bangs and exhaustion. So despite this being a 1st seed vs 2nd wildcard, seeing the Preds in the first round is doing Chicago no favors.

Minnesota/St. Louis: St. Louis in 6

Midway through the season I would have called this for Minnesota as an easy series. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s lost its game and has been struggling, and it’s unclear if they’re back on track going into the playoffs. My guess is not, and I really like this Blues team. This is one that could turn into a 4 game blowout, but honestly, there’s a chance that blowout could go either way depending on how these two teams deal with the playoff pressure. I think ultimately this will be a Blues victory and a fairly drawn out and fairly close series.

Anaheim/Calgary: Anaheim in 5

Sorry, Flames fans, while I’m thrilled to see them in the playoffs, I think this is the easiest first round series in the West, and the Ducks should win it. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to be physical and I can see a Flames upset as possible, but I don’t think there’s much question about how this series will end up.

San Jose/Edmonton: San Jose in 6

And the series I’ll be watching most closely. Connor McDavid and Todd McLellan pull the Oilers back in the playoffs, and they get to face: San Jose, McLellan’s former team. San Jose has struggled in the last month, lost its two top centers to injury (but both seem to think they’ll be back, if not 100%, for this round), and simply haven’t been playing great hockey.

That said, a bit of time off to rest up and get some practice in should do San Jose wonders. Assuming we get one of the Couture/Thornton back and maybe both, that’ll help as well. I expect San Jose to spend the couple of days before the playoffs start working on their play structure and refocussing their heads.

I expect this to be a fun and interesting series. I can make a case for both teams winning it. I believe San Jose will be the underdog in the eyes of most hockey writers and I can’t argue that, but I think San Jose will find its game and the experience in that team ought to win out over the youth and enthusiasm of the Oilers — depending on the contributions of Thornton and Couture. But if Edmonton wins? More power to them. But even if it’s a heart pick and not a head pick, I’m going with San Jose in 6.

Eastern Conference

Montreal/New York Rangers: Montreal in 6

Okay off to the east, and we start with an Epic matchup: Montreal and the Rangers. Price and Lundqvist. One of the classic, potentially epic matchups and definitely on my short list to watch. I think Price will be the difference here, as Lundqvist hasn’t shown he’s on his game yet, but it ought to be fun and hard fought.

Ottawa/Boston: Ottawa in 6

Oh, I know I’m going to get yelled at by Bruins fans, but I really want to see some Canadian teams go deeper into the playoffs. I also really like the Ottawa team, and I think this series will be close (and could go both ways) but I think Ottawa is somewhat better. So, Ottawa in six. And this sets up in my bracket a second round match-up between Montreal and Ottawa, which would be awesome, second only to a Montreal and Toronto matchup, which I’d love to see, except…

Washington/Toronto: Washington in 5

I would really love to see Toronto face Montreal in the playoffs (Beyond Epic) but it’s not going to happen, because they’re up against Washington and I don’t see any way the Capitals lose to the Maple Leafs this year. I’m really loving how Washington plays, and I’m thinking this is the year they finally don’t fall apart under playoff pressure and make a run. Hey, the Sharks did it, right? So can Ovechkin.

Pittsburgh/Columbus: Pittsburgh in 5

And this might be the easiest (relatively speaking) series in the playoffs. I think the Penguins are playing well and I like Columbus, but I don’t see how the Blue Jackets beat the Penguins this year.

Playoff Prediction Summary

First round:

Chicago/Nashville

Minnesota/St. Louis

Anaheim/Calgary

Edmonton/San Jose

Montreal/New York Rangers

Ottawa/Boston

Washington/Toronto

Pittsburgh/Columbus

Second Round:

Chicago/St. Louis

Anaheim/San Jose

Montreal/Ottawa

Washington/Pittsburgh

Conference Finals:

Chicago/Anaheim

Washington/Montreal

Cup final:

Chicago/Washington

Yes, folks, this year I think the Capitals are going to take it. And yes, I fully expect to be proven wrong because there are lots of other teams that can take them out if things fall their way, including Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Anaheim. So I expect bracket carnage and a lot of fun, and isn’t that really what the playoffs are about?

Now, drop the puck!

My San Jose Sharks Hall of Fame picks

I had coffee with an old friend this last week, and we spent half of the time chatting about an upcoming (redacted) but much of the time was talking about the Sharks, now and into the past. Not surprising when you realize that Laurie and I did 20 years of season tickets starting in the Cow Palace, and he started in as a season ticket holder their first year in San Jose. We’ve both seen a lot of hockey (not all of it… um, good. the name Al Sims was actually mentioned)

Of course, this discussion stuck with me, so I decided I might as well write it up…

One idea that came up was our choices for the top all-time line: three forwards, two D, and a goalie. My choices were:

  • Forwards: Thornton, Marleau and Nolan.
  • Defense: Burns and Boyle
  • Goalie: Jones (although my heart said Irbe, and it’s hard to not choose Nabokov)

We also got into the Hall of Fame discussion. Through the years, I’ve been in god knows how many discussions about Hall of Fame Sharks, who’s jersey to retire, and that sort of stuff. I’ve always taken the view that as much as we loved players like Irbe or Nolan, none of them ever hit the requirements I have to qualify for a retired jersey. Instead, I believe teams should have something like a “team hall of fame”, and in fact, you’re seeing more and more teams adopt this idea, often calling them a circle or ring of honor. I like that term, so I’m going to use it as well.

I look at player recognition as breaking into three tiers:

  • Hall of Fame: league side recognition, very exclusive.
  • Jersey Retirement (aka “in the rafters”): Team specific, very exclusive.
  • Ring of Honor: team specific, and don’t honor so many it loses any prestige.

The Sharks actually have four players in the Hall of Fame who’ve worn the teal, but none of them earned the honor primarily as a Shark: Rob Blake (as a King), Ed Belfour (as a Blackhawk), Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov (as CSKA Moscow players, plus Igor’s time in Detroit). Which is not to say these players didn’t have impacts in San Jose (positive ones, except Belfour) but of those, only Makarov and perhaps Larionov might be thought of as Sharks.

Here are my choices for the three categories with some thoughts on why I’d selected them. There are 14 names total, three with asterisks I’ll explain at the end. For a team with 25 years of history, I don’t consider that as “too many”, buy your mileage may vary. I wanted to make sure the early years were properly covered, even if the early years weren’t necessarily good years. They are listed roughly in order of games played as a Shark.

Hall of Fame

Joe Thornton: The Sharks first true Hall of Famer. First ballot inductee. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been watching the same team I’ve been watching.

Jersey Retirement

Patrick Marleau: I personally think that once he retires Patrick Marleau should be considered for the Hall of Fame. I’d vote for him. I’m not sure he’ll get in, in fact, I think given the strong candidate lists we see in the next ten years or so that he may well turn into the guy we look back on and wonder why he’s not in, but I’m not sure it’ll happen. He has a couple of years left to convince people, and if he can win to Stanley Cup it’ll be a huge help. Ultimately, I think he’s a bubble player.

Owen Nolan: came in, changed the face of the franchise, made a huge impact with the fans while he was here. If there’s a player that defines the Sharks during it’s middle “adolescent” period as if figured out how to be good, it’s Owen Nolan. Still fondly remembered by the fan base.

Dan Boyle: Here’s a question — Is Dan Boyle a Hall of Fame player? Almost 1100 games, almost half as a Shark. 600 points. Stanley Cup. If I had a vote, I believe I’d vote for him, but I’m not sure he’ll get enough support, especially given the strong candidate classes. He’s right on the bubble, IMHO. (and he ought to at some point get a jersey retirement from the Sharks, I think, HoF or not)

Ring of Honor

Evgeni Nabokov: Sharks goaltender for almost a decade, most games played by a Sharks Goalie, brought the team consistent quality but didn’t quite win a Cup with the Sharks, and well loved by the fan base. Definitely deserves this recognition. One of the first big Sharks drafted and developed successes.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Third on the team in games played as a Shark. Team leader, very effective defenseman who backstops the team and is a huge part of its success. And another drafted and developed player.

Joe Pavelski: Current captain. Another drafted and developed. He has a long part of his career still ahead of him, but to me, once he decides to retire, this should be a no-brainer. If Owen Nolan was “Mr. Shark” of the middle years of Sharks history, he’s “Mr. Shark” today.

Mike Ricci: Came to the Sharks from the Avalanche, grabbed his lunchpail and skated his way into the fans hearts. Still well loved around San Jose and was one of the more visible players and stabilizing influences on the team when he was in teal.

Jeff Odgers: Odgers was the second captain of the Sharks after Doug Wilson, but with Wilson’s injuries limiting his time before his retirement, Odgers took on a lot of that role rom the start. The epitome of the lunchpail player, Odgers was the original “Mr. Shark”, the guy who even when the team sucked badly was playing hard and setting the example of what we expected all players to do when putting on the Sharks jersey.

Jamie Baker: Only scored the most important goal in Sharks history (so far). Another one of those “middle years” lunchpail grinder players that worked to set the right work habits and attitudes among all of the players that helps a team grow and improve.

Arturs Irbe: “like wall”. We tend to forget Irbe was only with the Sharks for 183 games, because for the time he was in Teal, he was the player that made the Sharks competitive night in and night out and did so with a smile and some weird big of gymnastics. Archy played on a number of really sucky Sharks teams back in the early day, but he made them noticably less sucky and his performances were well recognized and remembered by the crowds in the building.

Igor Larionov: The center of the “Larionov/Makarov/Garpenlov” line, the first line that really made a name for themselves as Sharks. Larionov made big impacts to the Sharks both on and off the ice, and is one of the names even casual Sharks fans would recognize from the early Sharks teams.

Sergei Makarov: First Sharks player to score 30 goals as part of that line with Larionov. One of those rare players that caused the league to change a rule — adding age limits to the rookie of the year award after he won it.

Asterisks

Here are three names that I’m adding to the list with asterisks, two because they’re current players and still need to carry forward what they’re doing to solidify this recognition, and one because the recognition is as both a player and builder for the team.

Doug Wilson (builder and player): Wilson was the first Captain of the Sharks (and probably should be in the Hall of Fame as a Blackhawk), but injuries limited his time, but he worked hard to set the tone and work ethic of what it would come to define what a Sharks team should be. It’s hard to justify honoring him just as a player, but with his time and success as the team’s General Manager I put him in here for both his work as a player and a builder.

Martin Jones: His tenure as a Shark is too short to really be talking awards or recognitions of this type, since he has a long career in teal ahead of him, but his impact and the trajectory of his success is such I felt I had to mention him here. If his play continues as I expect it to, this may be the least of his recognitions; I think he may be San Jose’s first true Hall of Fame potential goalie.

Brent Burns: Every game Sharks fans get to sit down and watch Brent Burns redefine the position of defenseman. This is a very rare event in hockey, and it’s happening in teal. I don’t think it’s a reach to speculate that when he finally retires he’ll be a player given serious Hall of Fame consideration. But we still have years to go before we get there.

Names I had to leave out: Mike Rathje, Scott Cannon, Marco Sturm, Marcus Ragnarsson, Kelly Kisio, Brad Stuart, Sandis Ozolinsh, Jeff Friesen, Jonathan Cheechoo, Vincent Damphousse, Sandis Ozolinsh, Dean Lombardi (builder).

So that’s my list. I expect every Sharks fan disagrees in some way with it, because that’s what fans do. Where am I wrong, and why? Let me know…

2016 Playoffs: Cup Finals Prediction, Sharks in 6

I had this weird dream last night. In it, the Sharks were in the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Joe Thornton and Sydney Crosby. Malkin and Marleau. Letang and Burns. Murray (or Fleury) and Jones. It was going to be awesome.

And then I woke up and came back to reality.

But it’s real. Here in the Sharks 25th season, the Sharks are going to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Wow

TL;DR Summary: Sharks in 6

The Sharks made it to the finals

I don’t think anyone picked the Sharks to make the finals this year. I certainly didn’t; my view was that they were a playoff team again, but probably a 7th/8th seed and a 1st round and out group. Maybe 2nd round. So my expectations weren’t that high, relatively speaking.

This team also started out struggling a bit, with a bunch of new players trying to fit themselves into the team, a new coach with a new system and bringing a new attitude. But as the season moved forward, you could see them figuring it out and putting it together.

The big changes this year: this team uses it’s speed more aggressively; it’s relentless on the forecheck; the depth is much stronger — a classic failure point for previous teams was the third and fourth lines not able to get the job done in the crunch.

And goaltending. Laurie and I both liked what we saw in Martin Jones and he’s proven us right in believing he could be an elite starting goalie. I’ve long felt that the Sharks replacing Nabokov with Niemi was a mistake; Niemi, ultimately wasn’t better than Nabokov for the Sharks, just different, and if they’d hung on to Nabby they could have allocated those assets into other places more effectively. Acquiring Niemi wasn’t a bad trade, but it wasn’t a great one, it was re-arranging deck chairs, while costing the franchise a fan favorite player. I don’t think Niemi ever matched Nabokov in the eyes of fans, and he certainly didn’t backstop the team to the Cup as we’d hoped.

Going into the season there were questions whether Doug Wilson was still the person to lead the Sharks as GM; I was on record as thinking it was time to move in another direction. Fortunately, the Sharks ignored my expert advice and kept him, and he’s successfully answered those questions.

congratulations to the entire Sharks organization; this is long-anticipated and well-earned, and this playoff run has been an amazing amount of fun to watch.

Why the Sharks will win

This series with the Penguins, like the Blues series was, is effectively a coin flip. I think the teams are fairly evenly matched and both have top talent and great depth, and both teams are playing well. The goaltending on both teams is superb, and whether it’s Jones or Reimer or Murray or Fleury, goals are going to be tough to score.

It’s not going to be easy, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Penguins find a way to win it, but this Sharks team seems to be in that mindset where it simply isn’t going to accept not winning. It’s going to be close, but I think the Sharks will find a way to make this happen.

I still don’t miss the arena

A question I still get asked at times is whether I miss our season tickets or going to games in person. In all honesty, the answer is no. Maybe 2-3 times a year there’s a game where I think it’d be fun to be in the building for a game, but we did that for 20 years — including both years in the Cow Palace — and 35 games a year for that many years that was enough for me.

Am I tempted to get a tickets for a game now that we’ve made it to the finals? Again, honestly, no. We’re going to have friends over for game 1 and enjoy it here with them, and the cost of two tickets to the finals is significant: I have a trip scheduled in June, and Laurie’s about to take a few days off in Reno to see the Aces, and one pair of club seats for one game will more than pay for both trips instead.

And that’s ultimately why we gave up our seats. If we kept our season tickets we’d be paying over $10K a year for the pair now, and that kind of money funds some really nice things. More important to me is the time: season tickets, where you’re going to games 30 or more games a year, is a massive time commitment. You’re effectively giving your life over to the team for six months, and lose the ability to do many things on half your weekends for that time. Rooting them on from home means we can settle in for the game just before puck drop instead of having to orchestrate the hour it takes to get to the arena, parked and into our seats, and fed, and then another hour or so getting back to the car and getting home after.

Going to fewer games isn’t in our DNA to some degree, but practically we found selling off our seats, which were in the club area and more expensive, could be a challenge, even when the arena was selling out reliably. Today, we’re seeing the team fight to sell out playoff games, and when I see our old seats on camera during games, often that area has empties in it — so either we’re stuck eating tickets or giving them to friends, raising the per-game attended cost even more.

Our interest in the team hasn’t gotten less, in fact, the reduced hassle for us of watching them from home has made it easier for us to enjoy the team by reducing the logical hassles. That’s not dissing the in-building experience at all, it’s really where my priorities are, not about the team. If I was 25, I’d definitely be in the arena.

People who’ve known me for a long time know I’ve always described myself more of a hockey fan who roots for the local team than a Sharks fan — my roots go back to Marcel Dionne and Jim Fox and Dave Taylor and those godawful forum purple jerseys in the Fabulous Forum, long before the Sharks were a thing or Gretzky caused california to discover and embrace hockey. But in reality, that’s not true; I’m very much a Sharks fan and a hockey fan, and this is the year we’ve been waiting for for 25 years.

So now it’s time to settle down on the couch, open a bottle of wine with friends, and watch how this series unfolds.

And with that, all I can say is go sharks! — let’s do this!

NHL Conference Finals: My bracket is dead, and I’m really happy.

Last night the Sharks finished out the series with a blowout victory of the predators to win their way into the Western Conference finals. It was an impressive victory. This is great for the franchise and for Sharks fans, and the team looks to be on a roll and playing quite well.

It also means that my playoff bracket is decimated and I’m completely dead moving into the conference finals. Oops.

I started out well, going 5-3 in the first round, and now, I’ve gone 0-4, and I’m 5-7 and done since every team I picked is now golfing.

I couldn’t be happier. With the possible exception of Washington/Pittsburgh, I think every team that won out clearly deserved to, and while I still think that the Capitals are a better team than the Penguins, Pittsburgh shows that experience under pressure matters and rallied around Matt Murray — great story there — to send the Capitals to the Shelf.

I felt all of the series so far have been fun, well-played and very closely balanced. Parity is a thing, and honestly, I like the results.

Conference Finals Predictions

Since all my original picks are gone, now it’s time to make new picks. Here’s how I see the conference finals playing out:

In the East, it’s Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is the veteran team that’s been there and done that, and don’t minimize how important that can be as the pressure mounts, and Matt Murray is a story that has given them motivation to support and play for the kid — and yet if he falters, Fleury is sitting there evidently ready to step in, and he’s a proven winner. Lots to like about the Penguins. But Tampa is on a roll, playing well, and I really like how that team’s been put together and how it plays. It’s a deep, scary and strong team, and I find myself thinking they’re going to win this round. So I’m taking the Lightning. Tampa in 6.

And in the West, is it time to start believing in the Sharks? They have far exceeded my expectations and this team seems to be in missing from God mode. If we could depend on the Sharks that arrived for game 7 against Nashville it’s no question: that team wins the Stanley Cup and nobody can stop them, but then, there’s the team that showed up for game 6 and let Nashville push them into game 7. So the Sharks still have things to prove. And the Blues: very much like the Sharks, lots to prove, fast, deep, goaltending and Hitchcock coaching them. This is a team that scares me a bit. But I’m going to hop on the San Jose bandwagon here, and pick the Sharks to make the finals — San Jose in 6. And I’ve probably doomed them by doing this.

A quick note about the Predators

Last night’s game was clearly devastating for the Predators, and it wasn’t their fault. The Sharks got on a roll and Nashville simply had no answer. It really had very little to do with the Preds and that game was all about the Sharks imposing their will on them — if you hear coaches talk about “imposing our will”, watch a tape of last night’s game and you’ll see what they’re talking about.

That said, what happened to the Preds last night can be emotionally crushing; it’s effectively the kind of loss the Sharks suffered two seasons ago against the Kings, and look what happened there. There’s going to be a lot of second guessing and soul searching with the franchise, and we can expect they’ll make some changes, but as we’re seeing with the Sharks, if the franchise deals with it rationally, it can come back stronger, and I don’t see much about the Predators that needs to be fixed. Sometimes, you need this kind of setback to understand how to move forward.

I feel bad for them today, because they’re a good team that got hit by a team that just rolled over them. It happens, and it just happened on a key night where everyone was watching.

And about the Sharks

After the playoff collapse a couple of years ago, there was a lot of questioning of the franchise and about Doug Wilson as GM. I include myself in that group, but with what we’ve seen this year he’s cleared up those questions for me. The franchise has made some mistakes over the last few years but he’s been willing to find fixes for them. Even last year, when the team made the playoffs, we have to remember they weren’t that far off the mark: my take on that season was they went too young on defense too quickly and all they needed was a little more depth to at least make the playoffs; at the same time, that reset was something the team needed to let some of the kids grow into their roles and understand how to move forward stronger, not just return to the same old good-not-great Sharks we’d been getting.

How far can this team go? I’m not sure. The game 7 Sharks look unbeatable. The game 7 Sharks haven’t shown up consistently, but the trend is that they’re showing up more often as the playoffs continue. My thought is that this team is figuring out how to be that way consistently and it’s coming together; it’s the sort of attitude that has made the Red Wings what they are as consistently as they’ve been.

At the same time, we’ve seen flashes of that before, and then it hasn’t stuck. So it’s a bit hard to fully believe yet. But I’m very encouraged.

It’s been a fun playoffs so far, and I expect this next round will be more of the same.

NHL Playoff Predictions, 2016 2nd round

The first round of the NHL playoffs are done for 2016, and overall I did pretty well in predictions, going 5-3. My misses were picking the Rangers (who looked lost), the Ducks (who looked really good until game 7, opened flat and never quite recovered) and Chicago, who could well have won but didn’t. Over the last 20 years or so my picking has gone about 60%, better than chance but not so good to make me cocky, which is fine.

So here’s my second round picks… First, in the east:

Tampa/New York Islanders: with one game already played because of the compressed schedule, and the Islanders basically schooling Tampa, I really think this is a tossup. I expect Tampa to be a lot better in game 2 and the series can go either way, but I really like the determination and poise I’m seeing with that Islanders team. I’ll take New York in 6.

Capitals/Penguins: Since I picked Washington to make it to the Cup final, I don’t see any reason not to continue picking them to win. The Penguins are playing better than I thought they would (obviously, since the Rangers are golfing) but I don’t think they’ll get through. Washington in 5. This will likely be a physical and bruising series that’s fun to watch.

Dallas/St. Louis: I picked Dallas, and and the Blues were a coin toss with Chicago and won the coin toss. I’m currently leaning towards the Blues, but it’s another close series I expect to be very entertaining. So let’s say St. Louis in 6.

San Jose/Nashville: the good news: San Jose is playing great hockey right now. Bad news: San Jose was 1-2 against the predators this season. Good news: the one win was late in the year once the Sharks had everything firing on all cylinders. Bad news: unfortunate travel (but no back to back games, which would have happened with Anaheim) and the Predators are playing well and seem to stand up to San Jose well. In other words, this ought to be some fun and rip-roaring hockey. I’m comfortable picking San Jose in six, but if I’m wrong, I’m okay with that, too.

If my guesses happen, that makes the conference finals Washington and New York (the TV networks cheer), and San Jose and St. Louis, and that’s going to make more interesting hockey, I think…

Sharks play Friday, and I’ll be at the TV watching…