A Fan of the Game

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Sharks name Joe Thornton captain. A look at the pros and cons.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan named Joe Thornton captain today — a minor surprise for Sharks fans. A lot of fans, including myself, expected Dan Boyle to be named the 11th captain in Sharks history. Turns out Boyle will be a permanent alternate captain, with Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe alternating the second ‘A’ for home and road games.

 

What the Sharks need from Thornton every night — A beatdown of Getzlaf

 

Probably the immediate reaction from most hockey fans is that we’ve seen Thornton be a captain before — in Boston — and how it failed miserably.

Thornton, 31,  says he’s much more mature now being a father and having more experience as a person and hockey player. While you can’t deny that, he still is very much the same type of person he’s always been. A laid-back, glass half-full type of guy. With that said, let’s take a look at a few of the pros and cons of his captaincy.

Pros

  • He’s positive. Jumbo Joe will never panic; that word is not in his vocabulary. After every game, he’ll give some version of the phrase, “We’ll be fine,” either after a win or a loss. What’s intriguing about this is Boyle is the opposite. Boyle wears his heart on his sleeve, giving the Sharks a nice dynamic in leadership.
  • He’s the face of the franchise. This doesn’t pertain much to play on the ice, I know, but it could be a good marketing tool for the Sharks in reaching out to potential NHL fans. Hockey fan or not, a lot of people know the name “Joe Thornton.” Now they can ID him more easily with the team in San Jose and as a captain.
  • Regular season prowess. In order to win the Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs. While the Sharks have claimed the top spot the last two years, Thornton’s point totals have fell to the upper 80’s. Having the captaincy could make him step his game up in the 82-game audition for the playoffs.
  • It’s a contract year. This could change in the first month of the season, with rumors of an extension going on for some time now. But if GM Doug Wilson chooses to let the season play out, it could be even better play from Thornton, who will be looking to cash in. I think the captaincy also puts to rest the trade speculation, but you never know with Wilson. But in all honesty, I see an extension for Thornton by December.

Cons

  • He’s positive. Yep, this is exactly the same thing as the “pro” above. Having a captain who is always looking at the bright side of things isn’t always good. Thornton mentioned he likes to keep things light and fun off the ice and serious on it. Sometimes you need someone to step up in the locker room, off the ice, and tell the players what needs to change. When it comes to speeches, I’ve always thought of Joe up in front of the players cracking jokes while trying to convey a serious point.
  • Inconsistent passion. Contrary to how Joe says he is extremely passionate about the game, he fails to bring it all every night. You can find him coasting around the ice on some nights, not really caring, and committing atrocious turnovers from lazy passes. That is not captain material.
  • Postseason pressure. Joe answered most critics this past postseason playing his heart out. It was amazing to watch, but can he keep it up? Rumor has it McLellan tried to get Thornton to play a rougher style (Only what fans have been screaming for forever) and it worked. Hopefully, Thornton still knows how to flip the switch a notch higher come April, May and June, and this will turn into a “pro.”
  • Distractions. The weakest “con” of them all, Thornton did just have a baby and a lot of attention must be given to “Mini Joe.” One of Thornton’s quotes was something like, “I already look after one guy, now I have to look over 22.” It was a quip, but if you’d like to overanalyze, it kind of sounded like looking over 22 players is a burden,

Bottom line: The jury’s still out on Thornton being captain, but no doubt the majority of NHL fans are laughing at the Sharks right now. I’m very weary of the move and would have preferred Boyle be captain with Joe Pavelski getting an ‘A.’ But I’m not a coach or see the inner-workings of the locker room, so for now it’s just about supporting the decision and cheering for the Sharks.

–Ray

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October 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fishing for Fins: Sharks add Niemi

Sharks fans everywhere scoffed at acquiring Antti Niemi throughout the summer and they all were forced to eat crow Sept. 2 when the Sharks officially announced the signing of the Finnish goalie.

San Jose now boasts a goaltending tandem of also Fin, Antero Niittymaki and Niemi as opposed to last year’s twosome of Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss.

But you won’t see any partying in the streets. Reaction everywhere on Sharks forums is negative and pessimistic. Of course, being a Sharks fan, the only thing you know is bad luck and seeing the glass half empty.

Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Sharks

Playoff Proven

The addition of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie is an upgrade over Niittymaki first and foremost. You can argue technique and positioning all day, but Niemi has shown he can make the big saves when called upon.

Niittymaki has only played in two NHL playoff games and looked awful (.828 save percentage, five goals against in 73 minutes). That isn’t a big enough sample size to judge him on playoff play, but it puts him in the same boat as Thomas Greiss.

Previous all-star Nabokov was an OK playoff performer (.907 save %, 2.56 GAA), but couldn’t steal enough games by himself to bring his team to the promise land. Some fans have even dared to bring up how good he is in the regular season. Are you kidding me? Every Sharks fan should know by now how much the regular season means.

But didn’t Niemi have a great defense?

The biggest argument against Niemi and his Stanley Cup ring is that he had a spectacular defense in front of him. That’s very true, and playing for the Sharks will be a completely different experience.

However, we don’t truly know how that defense affected Niemi’s psyche. Maybe knowing he had a defense in front of him, he didn’t play up to his potential and relied on the defense to clear out his gigantic rebounds. Now backstopping an average defense in San Jose could spark him to step up his game to higher level.

Pure speculation but it’s something to think about.

Lame Argument

Niittymaki supporters like to mention that “when he’s on, he’s unstoppable.” This is an argument I love to hate. When any goalie is “on” they can be unstoppable. And if you have to use that argument at all in the first place, it means the goalie is inconsistent.

I wonder if Niitty is "on" in this picture.

The puzzle is still incomplete

One odd reaction to the Niemi addition is that people seem to think this is the roster the Sharks will enter the season with — three NHL starting goalies on one team with another star prospect (Alex Stalock) in the minors.

There is no way this team stays the way it is now. I think some trade will happen before the season starts — probably involving Greiss — to acquire a defenseman.

Ryane Clowe is a name that’s been thrown around numerous times for a package deal to bring in a top-4 defenseman. Something does have to be done about the defense, it doesn’t matter if Patrick Roy were the Sharks goalie, the defense has to improve.

San Jose lacks a shutdown pair, and unfortunately, Huskins-Wallin just won’t cut it (haha).

I’m not a fan of the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray pair, just because I’m not a Murray fan. I think he’s a pylon who’s only good for one big hit a game. He was terrible in the playoffs, always being a step behind the play and leaving a man open.

There’s been rumors of the Sharks trading Greiss + other assets to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn, and other whisperings of a potential offer sheet for Rangers restricted free agent Marc Staal.

"Jesus" Greiss' days may be numbered in San Jose

Either would be an upgrade over Murray, but those may be forever pipe dreams.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson must know the defense needs an upgrade, so I wouldn’t fret about the Sharks defense as it is now. It will change — hopefully sooner than later.

-Ray

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: The Boys Of Summer (Offseason Review)

Nathan Skytta takes some time from his busy summer schedule to take a look at the NHL offseason and its many twists and turns. Note: Article written Aug. 14.

Just over two months ago, fans of the NHL witnessed the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1960-61 season.  Now, with the countdown just over fifty days away from the drop of the puck in Helsinki, Finland, the Blackhawks have dismantled their championship team, the most prized free agent is still unsigned and those are just the beginning of the highlights that have made this summer so interesting for the fans of the NHL.

The Kovalchuk Puzzle

If anyone predicted this for Kovalchuk, please tell me my future.

The highlight of the offseason was the signing, or so we thought, of Ilya Kovalchuk by the New Jersey Devils. The agreement was for 17 years and over 100 million dollars, but as soon as it was signed, the NHL rejected it. The arbitrator assigned to the dispute upheld the NHL’s ruling that the contract went against salary cap regulations and therefore was illegal. We are now in the middle of August, and the most heralded free agent on the market this offseason, remains just that.

Nixing Niemi

Getting back to the Hawks, Antti Niemi, who was in net when the Hawks won the cup, won an arbitration hearing and was awarded a 2.75-million dollar salary. Because they are so close to the cap, the Hawks had no choice but to let Niemi, 26, become a free agent. The Hawks had a plan in place just in case they were forced to let Niemi go. The Hawks turned around and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco. Turco, a three time all-star, had been let go by the Dallas Stars earlier this summer and was looking for a new home. Niemi remains unsigned and there’s no word on where he may end up.

Anybody want a Stanley Cup winning goalie?

Clipping more Hawks wings

Along with Niemi, the Hawks parted way with players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd. When the Hawks raise the banner on opening night against rival Detroit, they will have a roster that has many people wondering if they will be able to repeat.

More Interesting Moves

Some other highlights of the offseason include former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signing to play in the KHL (Russia), Mike Modano, a Michigan native, heading home to play for the Detroit Red Wings after signing a one-year deal, the Philadelphia Flyers either acquiring or signing every free agent defenseman on the market—not really but at one time they had 10 defenseman on their roster—and Steve Yzerman taking over the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in hopes of bringing another championship team back to the Sunshine State.

A New Season Emerges

In the last 65 days since Patrick Kane snuck the championship-clinching shot between the legs of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, teams have been revamped, players have changed addresses, and some big names remain on the market. Along with the aforementioned Kovalchuk, players like Paul Kariya, Miroslav Satan, and Lee Stempniak remain unsigned.

In the next few weeks, teams will begin reporting to camp and start writing the script on what they hope is a championship season of hockey. With two outdoor games scheduled this season, a new roster for the Blackhawks, and many teams making changes to their rosters, anything can happen. So fans, get the jerseys out, the hockey packages ordered on your cable network, and get your vocal cords ready for what’s going to be another fantastic season of NHL hockey.

-Nathan

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reviewing the Sharks Offseason Thus Far

It’s been a while since the last hockey game of the 2009-10 season, and the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (bleh) are being dismantled.

Sharks public enemy No. 1 Dustin Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta, and a slew of other bottom-half forwards left Chicago.

San Jose has gotten in on the fun by signing Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (RFA) to an offer sheet.  Four years, $3.5 million per year.

Not bad, Doug Wilson. Not bad.

Hjalmarsson would be an excellent pickup for the Sharks, whose defense is the weak link of the team. Behind the incredibly bizarre resigning of Niclas Wallin for $2.5 million per year, and Jay Leach being resigned, Sharks fans have been left wondering if DW is really leaving the defense for dead.

There is hope that Douglas Murray or Devin Setoguchi could be traded for Toronto d-man Tomas Kaberle. If DW could somehow maneuver around the cap to sign Hjalmarsson and Kaberle, the defense would be a definite upgrade.

Boyle-Hjalmarsson

Kaberle-Vlasic

Huskins-Wallin

Whether they trade for Kaberle or not, another top-4 defenseman must be added. Former goalie Evgeni Nabokov was not resigned and will now play in the KHL in Russia. DW decided to sign Antero Niitymaki, which again left Sharks fans puzzled.

I’ve always seen Niity as a viable goaltender and hard to beat. Of course, now that he’s on the team, I’m worried about him — especially considering there were other options such as Chris Mason and Marty Turco who have better resumes.

That leaves the offense. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski were signed for what looks like hometown discounts. The top four players seem to be set in stone. Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi have long been trade bait to fans including this one. If one were traded for a defenseman, that would leave a fairly significant hole to be filled by a youngster.

I’d rather sign another winger as the Sharks have way too many centers to go around. Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, and now-rumored Mike Modano would be fighting for two center spots on the bottom lines.

Owen Nolan or Arron Asham are options at wing but salary would be the biggest question there.

Either way, I expect one or two trades to clear some space and a few more free agents to be signed.

Hopefully, this new roster will be enough to win the Cup.

–Ray

July 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And It’s Over…

Chicago is the better team and proved it in the series.

Now look for the Sharks to start building a team to beat Chicago (Sharks spent the last four years building a team to beat Detroit).

Just a few last gripes to get in now, though.

–The Chicago fanbase is second behind Pittsburgh as the most UNdeserving. So many bandwagon fans, and I hope they get swept in the Finals.

–Niemi is not that great. He is your run-of-the-mill Cam Ward. Success in his rookie year before fading into mediocrity. Sorry. I just don’t see anything special in him. He had a lot of luck this series.

–Byfuglien is getting hyped beyond belief, and he is awful. By next year, he will be as overrated as Tomas Holmstrom.

–Who the heck is this Dave Bolland? He earns the mosquito award for being the biggest pest.

–Hopefully NBC can find some new commentators to do playoff games. There’s no excuse to have a Blackhawks analyst in the booth. That’s clear bias. Not to mention all you ever hear about is Chicago. They’re the Pittsburgh of the West.

The rest of Chicago is good, although I think Toews is incredibly arrogant. There’s no way they can keep all those players after this season.

As for the Sharks, it’s time to find a new goaltender. Nabokov does not have what it takes to get it done. The Sharks need to start stockpiling draft picks because that’s how it seems championships are won these days. Suck for ten years and get first overall picks.

Maybe this will somehow help the Sharks. They did finally realize how to get out of the second round. Coming back against Colorado and destroying Detroit will always be remembered for me.

Thanks, Sharks!

–Ray

May 23, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So Glad to be Wrong!

Never in my wildest dreams (OK, maybe my wildest) would I have expected to beat Detroit in five games. I was completely wrong about this team.

No question it was incredibly difficult, but when it came time to dig deep, the Sharks did it.

I’m absolutely ecstatic. Unbelievable!

Wings and Takoyaki for dinner!

Evgeni Nabokov celebrates the series win. (From ESPN.com)

–Ray

May 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ITSC, Round 2, Sharks vs. Red Wings

It’s unfortunate that this matchup had to happen, but I wouldn’t expect anything less.

There’s a 0% chance of the Sharks winning this series.

Detroit in five or six.

–Ray

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment