Could the pleasant weather and laid-back culture of Northern California be contributing to a lack of Stanley Cup for the San Jose Sharks? General manager Doug Wilson seemed to suggest it was to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News Sunday, June 1.
The story was picked up by Pro Hockey Talk Monday and became big news. A dozen words he spoke drowned out the news that the Sharks were likely going to host an outdoor game in the 2014-15 NHL season, as reported by CSN Bay Area Monday.
We have all heard of fair-weather fans. This would be fair-weather players, and that does rather describe the way this roster seems to wilt under the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Before proceeding, it is important to acknowledge that plenty of fair-weather cities have won a Stanley Cup championship since Dallas broke the Mason-Dixon barrier with the help of some tired referees longing for home in 1999. They are but one of the five warm-weather cities on the photo list to have had title parades, and the other four have taken place over the last nine postseasons.
North Texas is not really fair weather—I don't care that it's a dry heat, it's 108 degrees! (And by the way, 99 and humid on Memorial Day is awful, too.) The rest of the cities on that list certainly have more good weather throughout the year than bad. Two of them are in the same state, and there are other advantages those cities offer players.
How then would it be particular to San Jose? Wilson's statement does not absolve management of guilt in the matter:
I want players that want to play here, not just live here.
Ultimately, the relaxed and fun-loving atmosphere of that dressing room does not fit with a team that has never played as late as Memorial Day. It seems the Sharks are content with staying in Northern California.
It is a great place to live. Wonderful natural beauty from beaches to mountains, top-notch arts, pleasant weather and a tolerant culture off-set property costs and taxes. As a person from Wisconsin, I do believe that atmosphere lowers the bar.
Green Bay Packers fans deal with adversity from the bitter cold of January to the muddy April showers over melting ice and snowbanks to the sweltering heat of July. Autumn is the only reward, not just because of football but because of the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows dotted with some that remain green all over the landscape.
Living there toughens the players and provides a lesson about the reward for enduring. The 2010 Packers had 15 players on injured reserve at the end of the season and lost three players during Super Bowl XLV, but still beat a two-time champion. San Jose loses Marc-Edouard Vlasic and it is all over.
After the Sharks won the President's Trophy in 2009, they lost in the first round. The fans that showed up for the State of the Sharks address included many saying they were proud of the team. Maybe being in the greatest place on earth once lowered the demands, but not anymore.
San Jose fans are irate about this loss. The second in a row to the Los Angeles Kings is worse than the 2009 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Both are Nor-Cal/So-Cal and Pacific Division rivals, but only one came with arguably the biggest choke in a series in North American major professional sports history (already detailed in May on Examiner.com).
Regular season success is no longer enough for this franchise, either. Wilson started taking a different tone in March of 2013, calling his roster "a 57-minute team in a 60-minute league" and trading away some mainstays. After re-signing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to three-year deals that Cap Geek lists as having no-movement clauses, the general manager has sounded like a man betrayed.
Both Thornton and Marleau have said they like it in San Jose. Wilson is a man I have mostly observed and never spoken directly with, but he repeated the exact same 12 words to Kawakami when asked for clarification. He seemed to be talking about another kind of complacency than he did over a year earlier, and this time it is easier to read between the lines as to whom he is referring.
Both are great players and are not alone in responsibility for the Stanley Cup failures. However, both are part of the culture of only regular season success and neither was very demanding as a captain. Both disappeared in the last four games and have had their bad series in prior playoffs.
Ultimately the responsibility for this is on Wilson. His surliness may be because he knows this.
He gave them each two extensions when they had not done anything and he either failed to support them or did not demand more out of them. They both wore the "C" on their sweater and ultimately the general manager is responsible for the decisions that keep the team from succeeding.
People could just as easily go to Dallas or Tampa or Miami to avoid paying state income taxes rather than to win. Perhaps that is part of the problem for the Florida Panthers, though they have more to compete with as potential wrong reasons players might come to South Beach. However, the other two found players that wanted to play there, not just live there.
Wilson is a smart man, but he is playing with fire. If he is attempting to make Thornton and Marleau feel unwelcome so they will be prepared to move, he might make them damaged goods. If he is acting out of emotion, he could damage the relationship in the event they are not willing to leave.