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San Jose Sharks

A professional hockey team in the Western Conference of the NHL.

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Second Round Knockout

  • Apr 11, 2013
Rating:
+4
The first wave of NHL expansions ran from 1967 to 1974. Then there was the merger with the WHA in 1979. Yeah, that was an awful lot of upheaval for a league which survived with all of six teams starting in 1942, AFTER the initial new league smell wore off. So the NHL stepped into the 80's with at least some odd resemblance of stability and sanity, but there was still an odd little problem: Hockey was played in the north! The NHL of the 80's had its teams mostly clustered around Canada and the northeastern and north-midwestern United States. Also, the Los Angeles Kings, but those guys were oddballs anyway. It was all in dominantly hockey territory, and what's the point of trying to sell hockey to the audience that already knows how awesome it is? It was selling ice to Eskimos.

The NFL and MLB were the big leagues in the United States, and the NBA was getting very popular with its superstar lineup of the 80's that featured Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. The sports pie was bigger than ever, and the NHL was sort of standing in the corner screaming ME TOO! ME TOO! But how do you find an audience in a country which is starting to shift into places that don't know how to spell "ice?" You oversee the trading of Wayne Gretzky, hockey's greatest superstar and the only hockey player on Earth people south of Chicago can name, to Los Angeles. Then you watch as people who have never seen hockey before start buying Kings tickets to see all the fuss about how this Wayne character plays a hockey. That's what you do! The ploy worked, and so many people started buying hockey tickets now that the NHL decided it was probably the best time to take its chances on the Sun Belt, and its famous obsession with college football.

The NHL's first move in its second wave of expansions was one that really makes you admire its apparent belief in the idea of trying again if it doesn't work the first time. The Oakland Seals were put into the San Francisco Bay Area back during the original 1967 expansion. They made a run until 1976 before heading east to become the Cleveland Barons. That audience proved to be even less receptive, and so the Seals/Barons, in a last ditch effort to save what they could of their meager existence, merged with the Minnesota North Stars. By the late 80's, the NHL had wanted to bring hockey back to the Bay Area for some time. Speaking of the Minnesota North Stars, the league was actually toying with the idea of sending them to San Francisco. Or at least the owners of the North Stars, Gordon and George Gund III, were toying with it. The NHL actually said no to the move. Meanwhile, Howard Baldwin, who owned the Hartford Whalers, was pushing for a new team to go to San Jose, where a new arena was actually being built for some reason. You would think a city which never had a major league professional sports team before would know better, but hey, San Jose IS considered part of the Bay Area. The Brothers Gund sold their share of the North Stars to Baldwin's group in exchange for an expansion team which would start up in 1991.

5000 names were submitted by mail for the new team. The first place winner was Blades, but the owners were concerned about that name's connection with weapons. So they went with the runner-up: Sharks! The name was inspired by the large numbers of sharks living in the ocean, and one particular area of water near the Bay Area called the Red Triangle, where seven different varieties of sharks lived. Matt Levine, the team's first marketing head, said "Sharks are relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright, and fearless. We plan to build an organization that has all those qualities."

The Sharks hit the ice for the first time with a notable roster name in Doug Wilson, a Norris Trophy winner known for his stint with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was the team's first Captain and All-Star. After him, the roster makeup of the Sharks looked like that of any other expansion team: Rookies, journeymen, and minor leaguers - you know, leftovers. Be that as it may, their expansion troubles were particularly nasty. In their second season, the Sharks were inexcusably wretched, even by expansion standards. Their record was 11-71-2, for a grand total of 24 points. That season was the Sharks' second, and the 1993 season saw two more expansion teams join with the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning. What's worth noting is that the Senators went 10-70-4, also for 24 points. As for the Sharks, their season was highlighted by goalie Arturs Irbe recording the team's first-ever shutout, a 6-0 victory over the Kings. Rob Gaudreau recorded the first hat trick in team history against the Whalers, then recorded the second hat trick in Sharks history nine days later against the Quebec Nordiques.

The Sharks replace their original coach, George Kingston, with Kevin Constantine for their third season. It paid off immediately, and after recording 63 points in their first two years put together, the Sharks went 33-35-16 for 82 points and a playoff spot! Of course, this is the NHL, where making the playoffs is easier than finding buffalo wings in Buffalo, so a playoff position didn't mean very much. No, where the Sharks made their TRUE statement was in the first round, where they played against the first-seeded Detroit Red Wings, who were Stanley Cup favorites. In a seven-game series, the Sharks shocked the Red Wings on Detroit's home ice. Jamie Baker scored a third period game-winner by catching Detroit's goalie, Chris Osgood, out of position. In the second round, the Sharks matched up against the Toronto Maple Leafs and, at one point, led the series 3-2 before the Leafs came back and won. The Sharks returned to the playoffs the next year, and made it to the second round then too.

In 1996 and 1997, the Sharks dropped back into last place, and how are last place teams rewarded? With high draft picks! The 1997 draft pick of the year was Patrick Marleau. Marleau, who is still with the Sharks, is currently the team's all-time scoring leader. And in 1997, the Sharks started to really build. They got goalie Mike Vernon from Detroit, a former star of the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in Vincent Damphousse, and a new coach with Darryl Sutter. I should note right now, again, how fucking easy it is to get into the playoffs in the NHL: By 2000, the Sharks had made the playoffs several times, although they had never been, you know, a WINNING team. Well, in the 2000 season, that finally changed. The Sharks went 35-30-10 for 87 points - not great, but winning. In the playoffs, they shocked the Presidents' Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in the first round before bowing out in the second against the Dallas Stars.

The 2002 season was the defining breakout for the Sharks. With help from Adam Graves, Owen Nolan, and Teemu Selanne, the Sharks went 44-27-8, posted 99 points, and won their division. They also fell in the second round of the playoffs. Again. If you're starting to sense a certain pattern here, stay tuned, because it's about to get worse. In 2004, the Sharks went with the youth injection method of team-building. Christian Ehrhoff, Tom Preissing, Alexander Korolyuk, and Nils Ekman provided San Jose with that required extra shot of youthful attitude and zing! Halfway through the year, they also got Curtis Brown. The Sharks won their division again with a record of 43-21-12 and 104 points. They had the second seed in the Western Conference, beat the Blues in the first round, and finally disrupted their old second round loss pattern by beating the Colorado Avalanche. In the Western Conference Finals, they fell to the Calgary Flames who, by the way, had their old coach Darryl Sutter behind their bench now.

The 2006 season started slow, and at one point, the Sharks suffered through an uncharacteristic 10-game losing streak. Solution? Trade Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart, and Marco Sturm to the Boston Bruins for their marquee star, Joe Thornton! They got back into the race, went to the playoffs, beat the Nashville Predators in the first round, and in the second round, YES! They lost! Again! This time to the Edmonton Oilers! Starting the 2007 with a cast that included Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, the Sharks were the youngest team in average age and the biggest in average weight. They made significant trades for Craig Rivet and Bill Guerin. They went 51-26-5 and went to the playoffs! THEY LOST IN THE SECOND ROUND! In 2008, they traded for Brian Campbell and Claude Lemieux, signed Rob Blake, won the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points, made the playoffs, and managed to avoid losing in the second round! Although this time, that was only because they didn't even get that far. The Anaheim Ducks took care of them in the first.

You know what? It will actually just be easier to list the years the Sharks didn't lost in the second round. The 2009 acquisition of Dany Heatley didn't help them very much. In 2010, they had a few older players who announced their retirements, including Lemieux and Jeremy Roenick, but they still managed to earn the top seed in the Western Conference in the 2010 playoffs and the second best record in the NHL to the Washington Capitals. They even managed to win the second round of the playoffs that year, but that hardly began to turn their playoff luck around. As a matter of fact, they ended up getting set back. Their Western Conference Finals opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, might not have been the Vegas faves, but they were clearly doing the Team of Destiny thing that year. San Jose was out in four.

The Sharks have not yet retired any numbers, but Patrick Marleau is currently pretty much a lock for that honor. Joe Thornton and Owen Nolan should also be given a lot of consideration. For an overall roster, look at some of the name I mentioned: Vincent Damphousse. Rob Blake. Mike Vernon. Jeremy Roenick. Teemu Selanne. They also once had goalie Ed Belfour. That's not the makeup of a bad team. Lately, San Jose seems to be flooded with the great talent of the current NHL: Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Jonathan Cheechoo.

San Jose's rivalries aren't the ones we usually see on NBC Sports Rivalry Night. Of course, there's also the whole east coast bias thing, because lots of those rivalry games tend to feature the Eastern Conference teams more often than not. Or, at least, northern midwest rivalries. Yeah, anyway, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are the big ones, and that's largely because Los Angeles and San Francisco are forever at each others' necks.

The Sharks don't have a lot of big-time history moments that NHL fans will remember forever. What they do have is a particularly rotten identity. They're a great team more often than not these days, but it doesn't look like their choker label is going to be going anywhere anytime soon. One thing fans can be proud of, though, is that the Sharks have managed to make a name for themselves as the most popular team in a large California market. The Los Angeles Kings are the southern California team with the bigger market, the Stanley Cup, and the storied history, and the Anaheim Ducks have the Stanley Cup and, well, the unforgotten Disney name. But the Sharks have the popularity - due possibly in part to a very cool, fierce-looking sweater logo - and one of the largest national followings and most rabid local followings in the NHL.

The Sharks have a well-known pre-game tradition: At the beginning of every Sharks home game, the lights go out, and a 17-foot shark head is lowered from the rafters of their arena (which is popularly known as the Shark Tank). As the mouth is lowered, the eyes flash red, and fog pours out. The goalie then leads the team through the mouth and onto the ice to the tune of an entrance song. (Currently "Seek and Destroy" by Metallica.) Whenever the team is on the power play, the theme from Jaws plays and the fans do "The Chomp," moving their arms up and down to imitate a chomping shark jaw.

If you're looking for a newer team which you can grow with, the San Jose Sharks may be the team for you. They have a knowledgeable fanbase, a great all-time roster, and a lot of success. The bad part is that the success rarely extends far beyond the regular season, so get used to playoff disappointment. And imagine what the party will look like in the Shark Tank if the Sharks ever manage to bring home the Stanley Cup.

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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #19
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