In the first of my two pieces on the State of the Sharks event, I wrote about the two questions I did ask the panel, and included a link to the video of me asking the question.
In this edition, I will outline the five questions I did not ask. All subjects were at least touched upon later in the event, and some were directly asked and answered...
Q: For the third season in a row, the Sharks power play was one of the league's best during the regular season and failed in the playoffs. Can we expect any changes that will turn this around?
One of the things I really liked about this event was the transparency. That really helped me to feel better about a team's future when its recent past has been such a disappointment. When this topic was broached, I expected "we'll look at the tape, get feedback from the entire staff and players..."
That was part of the answer, but coach Todd McLellan and General Manager Doug Wilson also were willing to get to the core problems. McLellan talked about the team needing to have the toughness to get that extra six inches closer to the goalie. Wilson admitted that they would have to look at whether personnel changes might be necessary to get people to fill those roles.
But he said it was important not to make decisions until emotions had subsided. That was a common theme throughout the evening.
Q: On a related matter, the one thing the Sharks seem to lack is a power forward to clog the goalie's view and get to rebounds. With the Sharks trying to pattern the team after the Detroit Red Wings, are there any plans to get a Tomas Holmstrom replica onto the roster?
The Sharks best player at punching in rebound goals is "Little Joe." Pavelski is 5'11" and 195 lbs.; only two players on the current roster are smaller--Dan Boyle and Torrey Mitchell are both 5'11" and 190 lbs.
But while Joe Thornton is physically the best fit for that role, he plays more along the boards and behind the net because of his passing and puck-handling skills. Only Patrick Marleau (220 lbs.), Ryane Clowe and Milan Michalek (225 lbs.) are power forward size.
Michalek and Marleau are finesse players, and both are tied to the team for the near future. Patty's no-trade clause kicked in last July, and Michalek signed a big contract last summer.
So who do you move to get someone that can handle the job? Or do you look for someone smaller to step up, since Holmstrom is the model for this at just 202 lbs?
It is clear that the Sharks will be looking at this. McLellan talked about looking at professionals outside of the organization to help analyze the team, and there was a considerable discussion about the kinds of tests used successfully by the likes of Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks and Super Bowl champion Bill Walsh.
Q: No one on the Sharks has performed consistently in the playoffs. Is it time to look at adding a player who has recently proven himself in May?
Similar to the question above, this is obviously under examination. Wilson talked about needing talent with a "blue-collar heartbeat" and the lack of a compete factor, suggesting that players may have actually been enabling one another.
In fact, he used harsher language, referring to the analysis process as "an autopsy" on a number of occasions and even directly asking, "Is this the final time we have to get kicked in the @$$?"
But he also said that he believed in tinkering, not rebuilding--we will not see a large change on the roster. This makes sense. Do you overhaul a team that is so talented and scrap the skilled players that bring you success in the regular season? Can you really afford to start over?
Wilson also mentioned he could not get specific since any mention of players can be construed as tampering prior to July 1.
Q: The team was hit hard with injuries in the spring--are there any conditioning changes in the works that could change that?
This was barely touched on at all--perhaps I am in the minority who see the problem as excessive. Mostly we heard the typical, "all teams have to deal with injuries in the playoffs" line.
Of course, that statement is also true, and not injuries are not an excuse. In fact, Mitchell was the only player to miss playoff time, having his spot taken for one game a piece by Jody Shelley and Claude Lemieux.
Q: Was the lack of secondary scoring in part attributable to the rotation of young players filling in rather than allowing certain players to establish themselves?
In this case, there was a tremendous amount of accountability from the team. McLellan admitted he should have played more young players in April (specifically referencing Brad Staubitz) over veterans that were either not 100 percent or were rusty.
Mac also mentioned the team being overcautious late in the season. That could be applied to holding out veteran players, but he used it to describe the new focus with so many young players shifting to defence. In their final 25 games, they scored just 55 goals (2.20 GSA) in regulation (still winning 13 of them), despite a whopping 16 of those games being against non-playoff teams.
Mike Ricci also theorized that not enough players had to fight for roster and line spots, diminishing their grit. But he also said that ultimately, the players have to make it happen, and have to be ready to battle for seven games when a series starts.
The reality is the problems with the Sharks run deep, and there are no easy answers. It is clear that the team knows there will be difficult choices to be made, and they are prepared to make them. Later this week, I will attempt to determine what I would do if I had to make those tough choices, continuing my series, "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?"
Note: One other thing that was brought up in which the answer was remarkably candid was with regard to discipline and officiating. Wilson said "with as much respect as I can" that the NHL has done "okay" evaluating refs--a pretty clear indictment of the process.
Moreover, he pointed out that seven referees are retiring this off-season, and that will create a void in experienced officials. He also admitted that supplemental discipline in the league was inconsistent and has to get better. I could not agree more.