Tuesday, April 28, 2009

All the King's Horses and All the King's Men

Humpty Dumpty has indeed had a great fall.

The San Jose Sharks, after finishing the 2008-09 season with the NHL's best record, crashed out of the playoffs in the first round at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks won the series four games to two, and it wasn't that close.

The series was dominated by Anaheim. The Sharks were shut out in two of their four losses, and struggled to create good scoring chances throughout. They got off to a slow start, losing the first game 2-0, going 0 for 12 on the power play in their first two games at home, comprehensively failing to match Anaheim's intensity at any time, and generally turning in flat performances, depressingly familiar to San Jose fans (see here and here, for just a sample).

Most frustrating is that every move that the organization has made since the defeat by Dallas last year--the firing of Ron Wilson, the hiring of Todd McLellan, the acquisitions of Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, both of whom have their names on the Stanley Cup from previous campaigns--each and every move has been made with the intention of avoiding precisely this. Yet it happened anyway, and worse than before.

I guess I'm a little angry, but mostly I'm sad. One is obliged to be wary of overreaction, but it is hard to imagine that this team will not be completely dismantled in the offseason. The fanbase can't be asked to endure this again, can we? It breaks my heart to say it, but the guys who have been the core of the team through these last few years--Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Evgeni Nabokov--have demonstrated time and again, too many times now, that they cannot elevate their game to the required level in the playoffs. Right now, honestly, I'd like to see all three of them go. We need a fresh start.

I've defended Thornton in the past, but I can do so no longer. His reputation as a playoff no-show is completely justified. Those of us who observe hockey and cackled about how badly the Sharks robbed the Boston Bruins in the Thornton trade (and it was most of us) have increasing amounts of mud on our faces. If the Bruins traded Thornton because they concluded that his remarkable talents were of little practical value because they cannot be translated to the postseason, they were dead on. And where are the franchises now? The Sharks are staring at Humpty Dumpty's shattered remains at the base of the wall. The Bruins are fresh off a sweep of the rival Montreal Canadiens and cruising into the second round.

As I described it to friends via email, it's like building a beautiful house and realizing that the foundation is fundamentally flawed and collapse is inevitable. You hate to tear the thing down--look at it, it's so beautiful!--but you have no other choice.

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