Drew Doughty admitted that he could see fear in the eyes of the San Jose Sharks after the first loss in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals in a piece from Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday, June 11. That might fan the flames of the rivalry almost as much as the Los Angeles Kings likely winning a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
San Jose might not like to hear it, but should thank Doughty for being blunt. That is just the kind of criticism that can lead to the problem getting cleaned out of the dressing room and the remaining players raising their games to the next level.
Can the latter be done with essentially the same roster Doughty saw fear in? Right now, the only changes the Los Angeles defenseman would have to worry about are the departures of fellow pictured players Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat, but it is two other pictured rivals that get his criticism.
As bad as Havlat was with the Sharks and how much better they can do for that ridiculous $5 million cap hit, he was not the problem in the Pacific Division semifinals. He only played in one playoff game and was one of the least ineffective forwards that night.
Meanwhile, Boyle was certainly was not the player he was when San Jose won the Pacific Division in each of his first three years. His void can be filled, but that does not mean he hurt San Jose. He still has instincts, intelligence and Stanley Cup championship experience.
He also has fire and demands a lot of himself. It is his natural leadership as much as anything that made the New York Islanders trade what is likely to be a fifth-round pick to the Sharks to try signing the pending unrestricted free agent.
Since Pro Hockey Talk also reported Wednesday that there was "slim to no chance" Boyle signs with his new team, it has come up that other playoff contenders are interested in him so they can flip the pick. The soon-to-be 38-year old wants a chance to win another Stanley Cup on a two-year deal, and CBS Sports had his name linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs as recently as Thursday.
Boyle will help someone somewhere, even if he does so at too high a cost. (Fortunately, there is little chance he lands elsewhere in the Pacific Division.) The Sharks are not a better team with anyone on their current payroll taking over his playing time. He was actually able to effectively take on extra ice time when Marc-Edouard Vlasic went down.
Even if Brent Burns is able to give the team more from the point, that comes at the cost of an effective forward. It is not as though San Jose cannot find his replacement up front or Boyle's on the blue line, but there are only so many changes that can be made without changing some of the core.
Thus, Doughty knows the Pacific Division rival he faces in the coming season is likely to be largely the same one he faced in April. If the Sharks had not had that fear, he would fear calling them out so bluntly:
Once we won that first game...you could see it in their eyes and their team and their captains and leaders that they were worried about us coming back.
The "captains and leaders" reference seems a direct indictment of Joe Thornton if not also Patrick Marleau. Since both have no-movement clauses, it might not entirely be up to the Sharks to move those two that have been the captains of this team for more than 85 percent of general manager Doug Wilson's tenure.
Thornton has recently bent a little on his statements that he wants to stay. Tuesday, his agent and brother John told David Pollack of the San Jose Mercury News that he might re-think staying if the fans want him to move on. Then again, he knows it is unlikely fans that have grown fond of him and see his potential will place enough of the team's playoff failures on him to ask for him to leave.
In the end, Thornton and Marleau may not be to blame for the lack of a Stanley Cup. However, they are fixtures of an era of failure that San Jose will not move on from as long as both are on the roster. The sooner Wilson and fans wearing teal and silver glasses accept Doughty's criticism, the sooner all may enjoy at least a franchise-first Western Conference championship.