Everybody knows that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have already won the 2014 offseason. But that doesn't mean that the rest of the Western Conference spent the summer sitting on their hands. Except Winnipeg, who did exactly that. Over the past month and a half we've looked at the true enemies of the Dallas Stars... the members of Conference III. However, in a spirit of paranoia, one must admit that the Stars' enemies are not just confined to the Central Division. No, they're everywhere. And so we shift our gaze westwards, to the revamped, downgraded, but now more appropriately named former home of the Stars: the Pacific Division. We began with Rebuild 3.0 over in Edmonton, then moved on to Alberta's other heroes, the Calgary Flames, and rounded out the Canadian contingent with a look at the Vancouver Canucks. Following that we moved across international borders, to where the Arizona Coyotes hover on the brink of relevance, and then we entered the great state of California, where all of the teams that matter in the Pacific Division reside. We started with regular season underachievers, postseason overachievers, the Los Angeles Kings, and now we move on to perennial postseason whipping boys, the San Jose Sharks...
I'm confused. Sharks GM Doug Wilson promised me a rebuild. He promised me Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on the trade block. He promised me a change in culture and a new era in San Jose.
And then one by one he proceeded to break all of those promises. A rebuild where the key addition is John Scott? Attempting to trade Thornton and Marleau mere months after giving them extensions with full no trade clauses? Stripping Jumbo Joe of the captaincy, but allowing him to 'win it back' in the preseason?
Way to renege on all those promises, Wilson.
You know, I think Megalodon has it right in today's Q&A, when he says that the "Los Angeles Kings may have broken Doug Wilson's brain". Wait, Megalodon you say? That's right. I was so confused by the Sharks offseason that I had to go searching for the one person who I felt could properly shed light (and a little foul-mouthed commentary) on it.
Which is why we're bringing Mega out of hockey-blogging retirement in an effort to introduce greater understanding and enlightenment to the world. My questions, his answers:
1. Permission to curse for a solid paragraph about the Sharks exit from the playoffs last season.
It, uh...it wasn't good, that's for sure. But, weirdly, as monumental of a bummer as it was, I actually wasn't surprised by how it turned out.
I live in Southern California, and I was talking to a lot of Kings fans before and during the playoffs. When the Sharks ended up matched against the Kings in the first round, I was grim. I'm a smart hockey fan, I read stats and [other valuable information] (you said I could curse, right? [Maybe David did, but I did not -JR]). I knew the Kings were the best team in the league, again, and while the Sharks might have been in the top five, they probably weren't going to beat the Kings.
Then the Sharks were up 3-0, and I was happy...but I never really believed it. I never really felt good or confident, even for a minute. Being up 3-0 on the league's best team was a combination of the Sharks playing fantastic hockey, the Kings playing like garbage, and a decent amount of luck. I was far too smart to believe that trend was likely to continue.
And guess what? I was right to doubt!
Hooray for me.
2. Following that series loss, Sharks management decided they needed to address the issue of leadership. Which they then did by promptly stripping all players of any leadership roles. Reverse psychology? A lack of faith in Jumbo Joe? A desire for a return to a more egalitarian society?
Basically everything team management has done since the playoff loss has been baffling and dumb as [all get out, by jingo]. I sincerely believe that the Los Angeles Kings may have broken Doug Wilson's brain. No GM in the league has had more up close and personal experience with just what a formidable opponent the Kings are than Wilson, and yet instead of learning from them he's basically just ignoring all of the lessons they've pounded into his team's face.
Captaincy is mostly pointless, and that whole stripping the C thing was a dumb sideshow. As long as Joe Thornton plays for San Jose the team will be his, as it should be. He's the best player on the team by a significant margin, he can make people who play with him seem far better than they really are (see Cheechoo, Jonathan), and you know what? He's actually a great leader too. Remember that whole "4 goal [dingaling] trick" thing last season? You know, that crazy thing he said that immediately removed all of the swirling media attention from the fragile rookie Tomas Hertl?
Yeah, that was some [USDA Certified] grade-A captaining right there. Give him back the C, Wilson. Or better yet, a D [is this a joke about the penis? -JR].
3. Another thing talked about in San Jose this summer was a rebuild. I notice though that GM Doug Wilson failed to trade Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, primarily because he just gave them new contracts with no-trade-clauses, and neither did the Sharks sign anyone of note. Wait, tell a lie. They did sign John Scott, noted NHL fourth line boat anchor. So is it a rebuild? Is it possible to say the Sharks did anything positive this summer?
Trading Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau would have been stupid, and I'm thankful that Wilson was thwarted in his new stupidness by his previous, no-trade-clause-giving smartness. Both of those players are signed for a few million less than they are worth, and neither of them are anywhere CLOSE to the actual problem with the Sharks.
John Scott is a worthless idiot, and he's a major detriment to the team just in terms of wear-and-tear on the bench. The Kings don't have any big goofy fighters like John Scott on their team, [now do they?]. Why would Doug Wilson think the Sharks need one? If you're the kind of person who thinks John Scott makes a team better, you also probably believe a very loud horn makes your truck faster.
The biggest positive about the off-season is that the Sharks didn't [befoul] things up in any serious, irreversible way. They may still have doomed themselves through the half-dozen bad signings and deals they've made recently, but as long as they have Thornton, Marleau, and a few other decent forwards the team probably remains one of the five best in the Western Conference. Just like they've been for years. It still won't be enough to win it all, but we should all be used to that by now.
4. Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart departed from the blueline. How are those holes going to be filled?
They'll be filled stupidly, but both Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart were pretty bad (although Stuart is better than Hannan, so this was another [curiosity] of a decision by Wilson). The official public plan is to move Brent Burns back to defense, which is probably dumb because he's been amazing as a forward. [Ed. note: So no more Tom, Dick, and Hairy line? :(] I'd personally like to see Burns stay up front and the blue line get filled by random rookies because why the [Hertl] not?
5. Tomas Hertl made quite the splash in his rookie season last year, at least until injury forced him out. Which dominant Sharks' rookie will Dustin Brown be lining up this year?
The only reason I don't want Dustin Brown to suffocate in a pile of garbage in his dumpster home is because he's the only bad contract the Kings have, and I'm pretty sure under the new CBA the Kings get to void his contract if he dies.
I'm personally hoping Mirco Mueller emerges as a breakout star this year because he has a great name and he's probably another charming foreign teenager we'll all love until Dustin Brown kicks him in the face and cuts off the poor [fellow's] nose.
6. Standings prediction time! Go!
Fortunately for the Sharks, the Pacific Division is not nearly as competitive as it once was. Shocking as it may seem based on all my pessimism, the Sharks are actually quite clearly the second-best team in the Pacific, behind only the [El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles] Kings. The Pacific Division will probably shake out thusly:
I think the Sharks will end up fifth in the West, provided they get their heads out of their [tailfins] and move Burns back to forward and stop allowing John Scott in the building before too much of the season has gone by. They'll win their first-round matchup as long as it isn't against another underachieving regular season Kings team, then they'll probably do just well enough in the second round to get us all excited before Doug Wilson somehow trades Joe Thornton in the middle of game three and he goes on to score four goals for the opposing team.
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For those of you living under rocks these past few years, or who somehow missed this little gem, Megalodon has provided a brief bio of himself: "Megalodon is the actual real name of Nick Scibetta. He used to write for Battle of California until he was forced to leave under a cloud of disgrace and legal threats (that cloud is always hanging over Battle of California though, so it was probably unrelated). These days he writes about video games all day for GameCrate.com."
Redaction was provided by friend of the blog, JR. JR is the actual real name of JR Lind, Conference III's most ardent supporter.
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There's not really a whole lot more to be said on my end. The Sharks will be good again. Of course they'll be good again. But can they make the transition from 'good regular season team' to 'good playoff team'? I don't know. Ask Antti Niemi.