10:21 PM PST, February 3, 2013
The briefest consideration of the San Jose Sharks' talent makes it tempting to pick them to win the Pacific Division and Western Conference titles every season. But every spring they seem to run into a roadblock, whether on the ice or in their own heads, and they fall short of maximizing that talent.
Even General Manager Doug Wilson cautioned against reading too much into his team's 7-0-1 start to this abbreviated season, but there are reasons to believe the Sharks have not only the skill they've always had but a backbone that will support them when things aren't going as well.
The Sharks, who will face the Ducks in Anaheim on Monday, were the last NHL team with an unblemished record. They lost that distinction on Saturday in a 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville, but with points in every game and so many parts of their game meshing so well, they're leading the division and vying with the Chicago Blackhawks (7-0-2) for the West lead.
“I'd have to credit the coaching staff for really being ready to go and, most importantly the players,” Wilson said in a phone interview. “Not just the players who played in Europe or wherever but in particular the guys who hadn't played. Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart — they really worked their tails off to be ready when we started. I think that reveals a lot about them and their character.”
Marleau leads the NHL with nine goals, and he and Joe Thornton (three goals, 14 points) rank among the top scorers. As Wilson noted, Marleau is the second-leading playoff goal scorer among active players with 52 in 129 postseason games, behind only Jaromir Jagr's 78 goals in 180 playoff games.
“That's a very surprising stat to a lot of people,” Wilson said. “He knows he didn't have a very good playoff last year and he's come back highly motivated.”
Wilson made only a few changes to his roster after the Sharks' first-round playoff loss to St. Louis, acquiring rugged defenseman Stuart from Detroit and signing abrasive center Adam Burish as a free agent. Wilson's most significant moves might prove to be hiring Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson as an associate coach and former NHL defenseman Jim Johnson as an assistant to work with Coach Todd McLellan, adding credibility and experience.
The impact is obvious in the Sharks' penalty killing, which ranked 29th in the NHL last season at 76.9% and ranks sixth this season at 85.7%. But the benefits go well beyond better defensive play.
“When I first hired Todd, I tried to hire Larry to be an assistant because I've known Larry for almost 40 years. He played with my brother and I played with him in the Canada Cup,” Wilson said of his brother, Murray, a former Montreal Canadien.
“I think he's one of the few great players that is a great coach. Six Cups as a player, three Cups as a coach, he made himself a great player. ... I think you need somebody on your staff that players can look at and say, ‘Been there, done it.' Larry commanded such respect not only as a talented player but as a tough, physical player. Larry says an awful lot in a few words and people certainly aren't going to challenge him.”
Wilson's only regret is that original Sharks owner George Gund III, who died last month, isn't here to enjoy the success of the team he loved so much.
“He was the greatest ambassador for the game. He was the heart and soul of the franchise and we dearly miss him,” Wilson said. “He was a special guy to the game of hockey.”
Coyotes saga continues
Greg Jamison's inability to meet a deadline last Thursday to close his purchase of the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes is another messy moment in a continuing muddle.
Other bidders can now make offers, though that seems unlikely given the difficulty the NHL has had in finding solvent buyers. Jamison said he intends to continue his efforts to buy the team, but the lease terms at Jobing.com Arena are sure to be far less favorable than what was on the table until last week. Under the agreement that expired, he would have been paid an average of $15 million a year for 20 years to manage the building.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league remains hopeful “the Coyotes sale process will be resolved successfully and we will continue to work with the city of Glendale to move the process forward.”
If no one wants to keep the team in Arizona, Seattle seems ever more attractive, doesn't it?
The Buffalo Sabres have lost five of their last seven games, but left wing Thomas Vanek regained the NHL scoring lead on Sunday with a goal and two assists in a loss to Florida, his fourth multi-point game this season. Overall, he has eight goals and 19 points and has earned a point in each of the eight games he has played.
Kings forward Jarret Stoll was lucky not to get a penalty or suspension for his dangerous hit on the Ducks' Cam Fowler on Saturday. Stoll grabbed Fowler's jersey with one hand and used his other to “guide” Fowler into the boards, where the young defenseman hit his head. Fowler didn't return to the game and his status remains unclear. The NHL did not hold a hearing on the hit.
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