At the end of the 2008-2009 NHL regular season, the San Jose Sharks find themselves atop not just the Pacific Division, not just the Western Conference, but the entire NHL. With franchise records in wins (53), points (117), and Wins at home (32). One would think this would be enough to at least get a team out of the first round of the playoffs, right? Wrong.
The furthest the Sharks have ever been in the NHL playoffs is the Conference Finals in 2004. They lost to the Calgary Flames in 7 games. Since then, they have made the playoffs 4 times, yet never past the 2nd round. For an 18 year old franchise, this is not a very impressive track record. No season however was anywhere near as dissapointing as this most recent.
Entering the playoffs, it was a pretty safe bet for most fans that the Western Conference Finals would consist of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, and the Presidents Trophy Winner San Jose Sharks. It wouldn't be til the Conference Finals that we saw a truly competitive series. Wrong again.
When the Sharks received the No.1 overall seed in the West, they were to play one of 4 teams, the Blue Jackets, the Wild, the Blues, or the Ducks. None of those teams were suspected to be much of a challenge for the Sharks, rather a good warm up series. When it was determined that the Sharks would play the Ducks, nobody thought too much of it as the Sharks had a 4-1-1 record vs. Anaheim on the season. Once again, we were wrong.
With all the matchups set in place, the playoffs commenced. Detroit and Vancouver handled the Jackets and Blues respectively. The Blackhawks won their series against the Flames in 6. The Sharks however, were a different story.
Who would've thought, that of all the favorites to struggle in the playoffs, the Presidents Trophy Winner would be the team that found themselves on the brink of elimination. After a terrible homestand, the Sharks found themselves down 2-0 heading back to Anaheim. This would prove to be too much for the Sharks to comeback from. After bringing the series to 3-2, the Sharks were crushed in Anaheim 5-2. I watched in disbelief.
As I sat on my sofa, Sharks jersey on, Sharks towel in hand, with my dad at my side on his usual chair the two of us watched as our beloved Sharks were dismantled in front of us. The team that had been put together over the past 4 seasons, the team that had been built to win NOW was thwarted, by a division rival to make things worse. We just couldn't understand what happened. I sat in front of my TV for over an hour after the game had ended, wondering what the hell I just saw. Had it really just ended? Had the joyride that I had witnessed over the past 4 months just ended? It had, and I didn't understand how. And the scary part is, I don't think anyone understands how.
Doug Wilson, the Sharks GM did similar to myself, sat and watched not understanding what had happened. He had assembled a team that had all the pieces to win, a playmaker (Joe Thornton), a quarterback/puckhandler (Dan Boyle), goal scorers (Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi), veteran leadership, (Rob Blake, Jeremy Roenick), a great goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov), young talent (Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek), and even fighters (Jody Shelley, Brad Staubitz). Yet, it wasn't enough, what were they missing?
This leads me to my point, are the Sharks a cursed franchise? What will it take for them to win? They bring together great mixes of talent year in, year out yet no combination ever seems to work. When you lose to a division rival who you dominated all season long, are you simply unlucky, or cursed? The Sharks will need to produce if they ever want to rid their name as the NHL's, and possibly all of sports as the biggest choker.