Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Good Year

The offseason being what it is (boring), I have spent some time reflecting on the past season. It was a good year. In fact, I don't think I'm left feeling bitter about a thing! To begin, the major off-season changes prior to this past season had been all about finding a replacement for Evgeni Nabokov at the goaltending position and Rob Blake as a defensman.

The Sharks signed Antero Niittymaki five minutes into free-agency. The Sharks signed Antti Niemi when the Blackhawks walked away from his $2,600,000/yr arbitration award. At the time there was a lot of "Why did we just sign another starting goaltender" going around. I was right there, not because I had so much faith in the man who was our back-up at the time, Thomas Greiss, but because I thought the whole point of getting rid of Nabokov was to spend considerably less money on goaltending. The two Finnish goalies did cost less than Nabokov, only I expected to see a much more dramatic difference. Everybody's happy we signed Niemi now!

It started with a trip to Stockholm, where Joe Thornton was named team captain. Many of us thought the captaincy would go to Dan Boyle, but I don't think anyone has been disappointed with Joe Thornton this year. I see no need to bore anyone (read: myself) with statistics, but, in a nutshell: he focused on defense and played with consistency. We liked it! Yay, Joe Thornton!

Patrick Marleau continued to do what he did so well last year: fly around the ice, making Dany Heatley look like an overpaid, one-trick pony, which he wasn't! ...a one-trick pony, I mean.

Dany Heatley played a lot of penalty kill minutes and continued to score goals without the one-timer everyone had been told (and is still told) all about by television broadcasters all across the continent. In his two years in San Jose, I was impressed with his willingness to play defense because his dissatisfaction with Ottawa was said to have stemmed from "not being used the way he wanted." I was also impressed with the way he scored goals for the Sharks. Many, if not most, of his goals were from just beyond the crease and it's not what we were told would happen. Sadly, he appeared to be playing injured for much of the season.

Vlasic showed his feisty side.  I liked it.

Dan Boyle played way too many minutes.  Our inability to replace Rob Blake on the blueline was a big reason Boyle was relied upon so heavily and appeared to be overworked.  Our acquisition of Ian White at the trade deadline helped that, and it's a good thing because Dan Boyle injured his knee late in the season.

Jason Demers was a liability early in the season, but showed steady improvement and when the first round of the playoffs came he was all over the Kings' forwards and was playing like a boss... right up until he sprained his ankle and couldn't play.

Logan Couture established himself early on centering the second line with Ryane Clowe on his wing and for a whole stretch of the early-to-mid season was the Sharks best forward.  He became the first Sharks rookie to score thirty goals, earning himself the Calder Trophy, which ended up being awarded to Jeff Skinner because he's got a fanclub on the east coast and is several years younger (which makes him a better rookie, right?).

Joe Pavelski, now severed from Ryane Clowe, found himself centering an interesting third line, the so-called "Hellacopter Line."  The Sharks' coaching staff, after having acquired Kyle Wellwood off of NHL re-entry waivers, put their three smallest, right-shooting centers all on the same line.  It doesn't follow any conventional wisdom regarding line combinations, but, as it turned out, they could cycle the hell out of the puck and create more scoring chances than a Sharks' third line has seen in memory.

The postseason was a success, in my mind.  Two terrific series to start and one sad series to close.  But the incredible list of injuries to the Sharks' top players excused that to some level and left me confident for next season.  Now, after some ballsy trades by Doug Wilson, I am once again ready, eager, and hopeful for this coming season.

...but since that's not for another two months, I'm going to spend that time recalling, in text, some of the more dramatic and enjoyable moments of the season!

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