The pain continues to grow for the San Jose Sharks. The rivals they lost to in the Pacific Division semifinals are one win away from a Stanley Cup for the second time in two complete seasons after beating the New York Rangers 3-0 Monday, June 9.
The Los Angeles Kings now hold the same lead in this series that they ended their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff win at Madison Square Garden with. It is also the same lead that the Sharks had against their Pacific Division rivals in that first-round matchup, leading the top pictured star of the game Jonathan Quick to remind everyone that nothing is finished.
Before that 3-0 series lead was even established Monday, CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported that NBC hockey analyst Keith Jones said general manager Doug Wilson did not need to make wholesale changes. Looking at the Boston Bruins that in 2010 lost a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers and won the Stanley Cup the next season, he compared their injury to David Krejci to San Jose's loss of Marc-Edouard Vlasic as turning points in the respective series:
(I)f Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t get hurt, the Sharks are playing right now. ...I can’t emphasize that enough, that’s how important of a player he is to that team.
He also went on to say that they only needed a few tweaks, not a lot of changes. "If I was picking my Cup team for next year, it would be San Jose."
Has the success of the Kings made keeping the Sharks together plausible? That does not seem to be the case for Wilson and coach Todd McLellan, who have been understandably caustic in their assessments of the team. Jones noted that the team has found different ways to fail in each year's Stanley Cup quest, but cautioned against change for change's sake:
"If it costs you Joe Thornton to replace Dan Boyle, then maybe that’s OK. But, you better get a pretty darn good defenseman back, if that’s what you’re doing.”
Even Jones had to acknowledge that San Jose needed to do some soul searching and that there may have been specific players not getting McLellan's message. However, he cited only replacing Boyle as a need in saying "they're close."
If Los Angeles finishes off the sweep Wednesday, the 2013-14 Sharks look like the fourth-best team in the NHL. It is a tempting thought for a team that is committed to multiple players that have failed too many times already.
Remember they spun the biggest scoring advantage over the first three games among the five teams to blow a 3-0 series lead into the biggest deficit in the last four games of any of the teams. They lost every game by multiple goals and collapsed when they faced adversity.
If losing Vlasic was all it took for that, why did no one retaliate against the Kings when he was elbowed in the back of the head by Jarret Stoll? For the same reason no one retaliated against Raffi Torres when he elbowed Milan Michalek in the head while with the Edmonton Oilers. Only Ryane Clowe fought when Patrick Marleau was run by Dion Phaneuf and Cory Sarich in the same game a couple years later, and the resulting power play sparked a comeback from a 3-0 deficit by the Calgary Flames.
The fact is San Jose is a team of fun-loving guys. They are not cutthroat, and that is at least in part why they find a new way to lose every year.
The Sharks have been a Stanley Cup contender for all of Wilson's 11-year tenure. Marleau has been part of every one of those seasons. No one else has been here for the entire run. Does that pin it on either of them?
Marleau is not fiery but that at most made him ill-qualified to be captain of a team lacking at times in intensity, not to blame for no trip to the Stanley Cup finals. He usually plays well in April and May, finishing at least third on the team in scoring for all but three of those playoffs during Wilson's tenure.
Thornton is the only other player to have been part of eight failures. Vlasic and Joe Pavelski have been part of seven while the recently-departed Boyle was part of all of McLellan's six teams to not win the Stanley Cup. The other 15 players dressed every night constitute quite a lot of roster turnover under one successful coach over that short a time.
Either some of the five players to remain, the coach or all of the supporting cast must be to blame. Unless of course it is a front-office expectation that is setting the wrong tone.
Wilson does have to take some blame for committing to players that continue to have these problems. If the Sharks do not accept that they need a different makeup to get a different attitude, they better have a backup plan in place.
San Jose must not get sucked in again with the thought of being close. A trade to alter the makeup of this team sends an overdue reminder of March 2013 trades sending away mainstays Clowe and Douglas Murray. If Wilson can get reasonable return, that message is worth more than a role-player added to any trade package.