And so ends another chapter of the San Jose Sharks franchise. It was quite a journey making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, but in the end, even I would say, the better team won that series. Now, most will look at this 4-0 sweep and say that Chicago was a far superior team, and that anyone who argues that the two teams were even close is stupid. Well, for those of us who actually watched that series, we know that is just not the case.
However, the Sharks season was much more than just a Western Conference Final sweeping, it was a season that could go down as the best in franchise history, despite a tough ending for all.
After what may very well be the most dissapointing first round exit in playoff history, the Sharks knew they had to do better for the fans, and for their job security. Doug Wilson as with most others really didn't know where to begin with a team that had 116 regular season points, followed by a 4-2 exit in the first round of the playoffs... to a division rival at that. But, Doug did his job and in my opinion improved the team.
First, Jeremy Roenick walked away from the game. He was one of the few Sharks that looked good in the playoff loss to the Ducks, so even in his old age, it was a tough loss for the Sharks.
Meanwhile, Phil Kessel and Dany Heatley were being shopped around out in the Eastern Conference. The Sharks were being mentioned as serious suitors for one of the two, with the only issue being salary. Doug Wilson quickly dealt with that trading away Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich for a pair of prospects. At first glance, the trade baffled many as Ehrhoff was one of the Sharks better defensman. He has put doubt in the eyes of many Sharks fans after having a career season in Vancouver this year.
With plenty of cap space available, the Sharks offered a 2nd round draft pick, Milan Michalek, and former fan favorite, Jonathan Cheechoo. In return the Sharks would get a 5th round pick and of course, Dany Heatley. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray accepted the deal, but with a bit of a frown. The offer wasn't nearly as good as the one Edmonton offered just a few weeks before. The Edmonton deal would've sent the likes of Andrew Cogliano to Ottawa, as well as a few other players, and Edmonton would agree to pay off Heatley's bonus. With Heatley using his no trade clause to avoid Edmonton, he rattled the cages of many, but sent a message to Doug Wilson, Wilson caught on.
Some of the other notable departures for the Sharks in the offseason were Claude Lemieux, Brian Boucher, Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Alexei Semenov, and Travis Moen.
Shortly before the start of the season, Wilson addressed the Sharks lack of grit by adding Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra. Malhotra, who would lead the league in faceoff percentage, took a pay cut to come play for the Sharks, knowing he would have an excellent chance at the cup.
The Sharks season went as planned. The only adversity that the team really faced was shortly after Olympic Break as the Sharks key players, Dan Boyle, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton, appeared to be hung over from the Gold Medal win. With the team playing their worst hockey of the season in early to mid March, they turned it around just in time for the post season.
Joe Thornton finished the year with 86 points, Patrick Marleau scored a career high 44 goals. Dany Heatley added 39 goals and 82 points, Dan Boyle set a Sharks franchise record for assists from a defensman with 43. Evgeni Nabokov became the 2nd goalie in NHL history to record 3 straight 40 win seasons. Things had never looked so good for the Sharks entering the postseason.
With an ideal first round matchup vs the Avalanche, Sharks fans were encouraged and felt better than they ever had before entering the postseason. With a rough start to the playoffs, including an own goal by Dan Boyle in Overtime of Game 3, the Sharks won 6 straight games to finish the Avs, and put themselves up on the Red Wings 3-0 in the second round.
After advancing to the Conferene Finals, the matchup everyone wanted, was arranged, the undisputed, two best teams in the Conference met in the Finals. In a great series, the Hawks swept the Sharks. While I can't really point to any one moment in the series that cost the Sharks, I can say that sporatic play along with the Sharks inability as a team to get going at the same time was the reason for the quick finish. Patrick Marleau played arguably the best playoff series of his career, scoring 5 of the Sharks 7 goals as well as assisting on another. But it just wasn't enough.
I was in attendance for both the Sharks home losses in this series, and I can at the very least say I saw (probably) Rob Blake's last home game, as well as probably one of either Patrick Marleau or Evgeni Nabokov's last game at the HP as a Shark. With the salary cap an issue yet again this offseason, and Joe Pavelski as well as Devin Setoguchi being owed huge raises, the unrestriced free agents, Nabby and Patty, are probably going to be gone. But with Doug Wilson, who knows.
Unlike last season, I'm not devastated with this playoff exit. I feel the Sharks overcame adversity on many occasions, and they were simply beat by a team with more talent in my opinion. I'm looking forward to next season, but I'm also very anxious to see what happens to the Sharks this offseason, most notably the two most valuable Sharks in franchise history, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov.
Whether you leave or not Patty, thanks giving San Jose the 12 best years of your life.