In the Stanley Cup playoffs, the saying "your best players have to play their best" is frequently quoted. The difference between the top San Jose Sharks and those of the Los Angeles Kings was indeed the difference in the Pacific Division semifinals ending in the final hours of Wednesday, April 30.
The Kings had a 26-22 scoring edge for the series, with one more empty-net goal. Their top-four paid skaters get paid almost $2.5 million less than the top-four Sharks (less than Jonathan Quick's margin over Antti Niemi) and scored one more goal with seven more assists.
Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli and Drew Doughty are competent to extraordinary defenders who were the top scorers for Pacific Division rival Los Angeles, combining for 17 goals and 22 assists. Patrick Marleau, James Sheppard, Joe Pavelski, Matt Nieto, Tomas Hertl and Dan Boyle led San Jose in scoring but combined for just 11 goals and 18 assists and are not as strong collectively in their own end.
Moreover, the Sharks got only three points each from Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. Their supporting cast out-scored the rest of Los Angeles but could not make up for the inferior play on both ends of the ice by the stars, including in net. Todd McLellan referenced the gap in core play twice in the exit interview after the team cleaned out its lockers Friday, May 2.
The problem is that San Jose is tied to this core for the long haul. Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture and Brent Burns will all make more than $5.75 million per year over at least three more seasons. The only two that do not have no-trade clauses are the only two that are almost irreplaceable.
Meanwhile, the three players that performed best for Los Angeles in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs are the highest-paid players at their positions, and the team has them locked up for at least two more seasons...