Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saltzman Says...Sharks proving themselves in the clutch

The San Jose Sharks have spent 20 years trying to put together a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup. 

1. Goaltenders: They have had talented goaltenders over the years, from Arturs Irbe, Evgeni Nabokov and now Antti Neimi.  Irbe was the first great goaltender in Sharks history and he certainly help establish the young franchise as a force to be reckoned with.  With the arrival on Nabokov, the team saw a new level of success.  Instead of challenging for the 8th seed and trying to upset top teams like Calgary and Detroit, Nabokov helped establish the Sharks as a perennial winner.  Through 2010, Nabokov helped lead the Sharks to six straight playoff appearances.  After losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks decided to part ways with Nabokov and ended up signing the man who beat him on the way to a Stanley Cup himself.  Antti Niemi, or Nemo, as he is called by teammates has helped lead the Sharks to a 3-0 series lead over Detroit for the second straight year.  With one more victory, the Sharks will make back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals.  It is a round of the playoffs the team never got to until their 19th season.  Now in year 20, will last year's Stanley Cup winning goalie be the secret ingriedient?

2. Playoff Experience:  From Doug Wilson, now General Manager, who played his final years in San Jose, to Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, Teemu Selanne, Rob Blake and Jeremy Roenick, the Sharks have always tried to bring in veterans who knew what playoff hockey is all about.  Despite never winning a championship, two very important things happened along the way.  These veterans heightened the expectation level of the franchise that getting to the playoffs is the bare minimum each season.  The second thing it established is that San Jose is a great place to play.  San Jose is a place that great hockey players want to play, and that has kept the high level of play here year after year.  It is the reason that both Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley as well as Dan Boyle and Niemi chose to come to San Jose, and why they are leading this franchise to games they have never played before.

3. Tremendous Scouting:  Doug Wilson and his staff have done a marvelous job over the years in bringing in talent and that is most evident in the drafting of several key components that makes the Sharks a favorite each year to challenge for the cup.  From Patrick Marleau in 1997 to Logan Couture in 2007, the Sharks have always done well on draft night.  Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, and Douglas Murray are just some of the key contributors to the 2011 team that were drafted by the Sharks.  Even the trade for Dany Heatley came about because the Sharks could afford to give up former draft picks Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek.

Will 20 years be the year?  Let's watch and find out.

Will Marleau, Thornton, Heatley and Boyle help the Sharks win the Stanley Cup?

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