It’s been just over of a week since the Sharks were eliminated from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Words so difficult to be reminded of it took me eight days to build the strength to type them.
Over the past week we’ve seen hyperbole far and wide with asinine thoughts ranging from firing Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan to dumping Patrick Marleau and Antti Niemi. Over this same period of time we’ve seen a handful of cooler heads prevail, reminding the world – albeit not the blinded naysayers – of the following:
Doug Wilson-built teams have made the playoffs averaging over 106 points per season while winning 48 playoff games (6 per season) during his stint as General Manager. Who would you rather have? Brian Burke and the mess he’s created in Toronto? Ken Holland (since taking over the GM position solely) has won 7.65 playoff games per season. Even if the Flyers make it to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals this season, Paul Holmgren will have 6.5 playoff wins per season.
Todd McLellan-coached teams have made the playoffs every season averaging 107 points while winning 20 playoff games. Who would you rather have? Ron Wilson, Terry Murray, Randy Carlyle or Bruce Boudreau; all men fired this season for their teams’ lack of performance? Boudreau-led teams have won 17 playoff games in one more season than McLellan has had.
Antti Niemi has the seventh best even-strength save percentage over the last two years, 26 playoff victories in three seasons and his name etched on the Stanley Cup. Who would you rather have? Marc-Andre Fluery and his .834 save percentage and 4.63 GAA this playoff season? Niemi faced more shots per minute in the playoffs than Fluery did playing against the goal-every-other-minute Flyers!
Patrick Marleau‘s playoff exploits have been very well chronicled here. Who would you rather have? Rick Nash and his 0 (yes, that’s zero) playoff victories? Marleau’s slight drop-off in regular season points-per-game to playoffs points-per-game (-8.8%) is on-par or better than most superstar players, including Jarome Iginla (-7%) and Pavel Datsuk (-32%).
Instead of blindly blaming the leaders of this franchise, the issues that kept the Sharks buried in the standings, ultimately leading to their playoff demise, can be narrowed down to a single roster flaw. And the Stanley Cup champs since the lockout can help us find it.
It took the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins 25 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had nine forwards with at least 12 points and five defensemen with at least 9 points.
It took the 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks 22 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had six forwards with at least 14 points and four defensemen with at least 8 points.
It took the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 24 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had eight forwards with at least 9 points, three defensemen with at least 7 points, another defensemen with 4 points in nine games and the combination of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each breaking 30 points.
It took the 2007-2008 Detroit Red Wings 22 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had seven forwards with at least 11 points and four defensemen with at least 7 points.
It took the 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks (were they still Mighty in 2007?) 21 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had eight forwards with at least 8 points, Chris Kunitz had 6 points in 13 games and three defensemen with at least 8 points (all of whom averaged over (29:51 or greater of ice time).
It took the 2005-2006 Carolina
Hedicans Hurricanes 25 games to win the Stanley Cup, over that time they had eight forwards with at least 15 points, Erik Cole only skated in two games and four defensemen with at least 5 points.
Since the lockout, Stanley Cup Winning teams have had (on average) eight forwards with at least .5 points per game and four defensemen with .333 points per game. Taking into account a less than generous 25% decline from their regular season numbers (Pavel Datsyuk over his career has seen a 32% decrease in his playoff numbers), a Stanley Cup winning team should have 8 forwards scoring .625 points per game and four defensement scoring .4 points per game during the regular season.
The current edition of the San Jose Sharks had five forwards cross .625 points per game and two defensemen with at least .4 points per game.
So what do all these numbers mean in terms of finding the fatal flaw that ended the Sharks season prematurely? It looks a lot like a lack of depth. Penalty Kill struggles? Didn’t have enough solid third and fourth liners capable of taking those grueling minutes away from Pavelski, Marleau, Thornton and Couture. Top two lines being shutdown by opposing teams top lines and stud defensemen? Need to find someone in the bottom-6 who can score a clutch goal here and there. Top-6 forward goes down with an injury for an extended period of time? Need to be able to call someone up who can slot into the lineup without taking other guys out of their roles.
Doug Wilson, on many occasions, has noted that the Sharks roster is a work-in-progress until the trade deadline. Constantly tinkering in order to get it running just right. But after attempting to wheel-and-deal his way into third and fourth lines in the second half of this past season, I wonder if he focuses more energy in the off-season (and possibly early next season) on finding the missing pieces.
Wilson has already locked up 14 of his most important players for next season (Thornton, Marleau, Havlat, Pavelski, Clowe, Couture, Handzus, Boyle, Burns, Vlasic, Murray, Demers and Greiss). He has control over five RFA’s, four of which are likely to return (Wingels, Galiardi, Ferriero, Desjardins and Braun). Assuming Ferriero isn’t an everyday player next season, that’s 10 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies under contract or controlled as restricted free agents; a position most General Managers will envy in about six weeks. It also means he only needs to draft, sign, trade for or call-up no more than nine players. Most of which will be depth players.
And who knows, if Wilson can find the right puzzles pieces, maybe next year we won’t be asking what went wrong. Maybe we’ll be cheering that rugged depth winger who just netted the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Of course, the Sharks need to go out and sign him first.