San Jose Sharks: Cup threat or really good regular season team?

Marc Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks.

Marc Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the majority of the last decade the San Jose Sharks have been a consistent regular season machine. In fact, they’ve qualified for the post-season every year possible since 2002-03 – the result of always fielding an excellent roster. However, for all the success the Sharks have enjoyed over the years, playoff heartache has always become the theme in the final chapter of each campaign.

Over the last ten years, only two teams have made the Stanley Cup playoffs every single year – the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. The Wings have won the Stanley Cup once, made the Finals twice. The Sharks, on the other hand, have never played a game in the final round.

This year’s version of the Teal Clad Warriors is worthy of praise and power ranking supremacy, yet, hanging over the head of the franchise is a recent track record that screams the sentiment: none of this matters if another playoff failure looms on the horizon.

The 2013-14 San Jose Sharks are deep up front, and youthful. Good signs. They also have some nice elements on the blueline, most notably one of the game’s best puck movers in Dan Boyle, and solid defensive specialist Marc Edouard Vlasic, who may be in consideration for a spot on Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Between the pipes, say what you will about the often awkward display of goaltending Antti Niemi employs, but you can’t take away the fact that he’s back-stopped a Cup champion team in 2010, and was a 2013 finalist for the Vezina trophy. Niemi, who suffers from a propensity to give up softies, also has an uncanny ability to make key timely saves.

Ultimately, some very good NHL teams are going to be disappointed in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs tournament because the Western Conference is extremely stacked. As of right now, the 28 points earned by the first place Tampa Bay Lightning in the East is enough to sit tied for the final playoff spot in the superior West. Actually, aside from the Lightning, no other Eastern Conference club has enough points to rank top eight in the West. Thus, the Sharks will need to endure a marathon of rigorous series’ in order to reach the Stanley Cup finals this year.

Tonight, San Jose lost 5-1 to the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, marking only the third loss the Sharks have suffered through twenty-one games played this season. They are clearly good, but whether they are great is very much up in the air, and won’t be determined until next spring when they attempt to outdo the Hawks, Los Angeles Kings and other Western Conference powerhouses when it really matters, when the Stanley Cup is on the line.

If there are differences between former great regular season Sharks teams and this current rendition, perhaps the most noteworthy is the influx of new scorers playing a lead role offensively. Captain Joe Thornton, along with regulars Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski have run into roadblocks in playoffs’ past. They now have more supporting firepower than in previous years.

The emergence of Logan Couture as one of the game’s top forwards certainly helps add depth to the league’s third highest scoring club.

Rookie Tomas Hertl, 20-years-old, is an electrifying scorer who blew up in fame earlier this season when he scored four goals in one game, capping the night off with an incredible fourth goal.

 

And, the relocation of Brent Burns from defence to wing has paid off nicely. The former rearguard has 4 goals and 4 assists in 8 games played this year. He’s currently out with injury, but the Sharks have not stopped winning – a real testament to the team’s depth.