My Two Cents for October 23rd 2013
A Good Start- The San Jose Sharks could not have written a better beginning to their 2013-14 campaign. Through the first nine games they have posted a very impressive 8-0-1 start capturing 17 of 18 possible points in the standings. The Sharks have the look and feel of a team that has bonded and became galvanized from their post season run at the end of last season. When the Sharks skated off the Staples Center Ice back on May 28th, the end of the season certainly had a sting that lasted for the better part of the following month. At the same time there was something that seemed a little different about the team. What we did not see at the end of last year was a crash and burn that the franchise in the past had been famous for. This time we saw something different. We saw a team that really was only beginning to become what it could ultimately be with the right additions, subtractions and just a little more focus. The Sharks already did the majority of their subtracting during last spring’s trade deadline. During the offseason with the July Free Agency market not really offering a huge pool of talent the Sharks opted instead to take care of their own and get key players under strong contract extensions. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Raffi Torres all seen as players who not only are the future of the Sharks, but players who can challenge their teammates to raise their games. With another season of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle in the fold plus the offseason acquisition of Tyler Kennedy from Pittsburgh you have veterans who have experienced the highs and lows of the game. Brent Burns has become an offensive force since being moved to forward from defenseman. Every time Burns is on the ice teams are paying attention, and not because of the beard. Burns is a threat to score each and every single time he touches the puck. The Sharks decided to get a little younger by bringing aboard players such as Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl. At 19 years of age Hertl has lit a fire under this team and it’s fan base that may have never been seen before. The only thing missing is ofcourse Raffi Torres because of a major injury in the preseason. The Sharks are missing him despite their good start. However not to worry because nobody wants to see Torres get on the ice more than #13 himself. He will work hard and tirelessly to rehab back into game shape. When Torres gets back, he will be a nice addition to a very strong and galvanized team.
Band Of Brothers- The collective roster of the San Jose Sharks has come together clearly with a single goal in mind. They know getting there won’t be an easy undertaking and they will have a season full of challengers ahead of them that will test their metal and will as hockey players. However when you see how this team has galvanized into what has become a very strong hockey club who is very laser focused you start to realize this is not just a team. This is group of men that have banded together as brothers to go after the prize which is the reason they all play the game to begin with. They know it will be difficult. They know there are no guarantees. However they also know that if they stick together for the entire ride in the end it will be more than worth their while. All you have to do is look at these players as they enter the rink before the start of the game. As you watch the game you see how well they communicate. The Sharks bench may be one of the most active benches in the NHL. They are all challenging other to support one another. They are looking to improve. They all know they are good, however they all want to be even better than the last game, or even the last shift. This team has no quit in it and will fight to the last man standing. The season ofcourse will have it’s peaks and valleys, they all do. There will be winning streaks, they’re may even been a losing streak in there at some point. Wins will be great. Losses will happen. Overtime losses are nothing more than tie games where you lost the skills competition at the end. The key for the Sharks here is to not get either too high or too low. The good thing about the coaching staff of Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson is that they not only know how to prepare this team for each game, but also how to keep the group even keeled at all times.
Keeping Perspective- None of this is to predict or even imply that the Sharks will virtually run the table and win their first cup this season. No reasonable or sane person can make that prediction. The point here is that this team is probably as well put together as any previous Sharks team that has come before it. They are certainly as well put together as any team in the NHL. There is balance throughout the line up. You can see that the team has undertaken the philosophy of the next man up. They have each others backside on and off of the ice. The Sharks are clearly a very strong home team. On the road in their last few games away from the Shark Tank they have passed some very tough test and won in places where in recent years they’ve had their share of difficulties. Again keep in mind the Sharks have only played 10 percent of their schedule and there is a long way to go. One thing that is for certain is that the Sharks are a team that will compete night in and night out. This is really all you can ask of this team. The will this team has to win is shared by each man on the roster. When you have 25 driven as one that can only serve as a harbinger of good things to come. Stay tuned, the Sharks are only getting started here.
Western Conference Is Loaded- Though the first three weeks of the 2013-14 NHL season the Western Conference is looking to be the more top heavy half of the league thus far. In addition to the Sharks hot start, the Colorado Avalanche are an amazing story. The Avs are 8-1-0 which includes an very impressive 5-0-0 mark on the road. The Avs are not only tough to beat, but tougher to score on as shut out wins in Boston and Pittsburgh have proven. Anaheim has come out of the gates fast and hard which really isn’t a surprise at all. We all knew the Ducks were going to be as tough as ever. Anaheim as of this writing is 7-2-0. What to take note of here is that they are also 5-0-0 at home and have dominated all teams who have come into the Honda Center this year. The defending champion Blackhawks are 6-1-2, the Phoenix Coyotes are 5-2-2; St Louis is 5-1-1; and even though the Los Angeles Kings are 6-4-0 however don’t let that fool you. The Kings will be right up near the top once they get going.
Even teams that were not expected to challenge this season such as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have done a lot more than just show up. Both of these teams have won big games on the road and are not backing down to anyone. The Nashville Predators have been tough. The Minnesota Wild have been tough. Vancouver can be very good or bad depending on what day a team catches them. Even the under .500 teams such as the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Oilers have for the most part been in every game they have played. This is not to say the Eastern Conference is slacking as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston and Toronto have all come out of the gate playing some strong hockey themselves. What this does mean is that the Western Conference over the course of the season will have plenty of candidates any of whom could go far in the post season. It also means it will be a dogfight all season to capture one of the top eight seeds required to make the post season. The 2013-14 season as it unfolds particularly in the Western Conference will be a very interesting watch.
Maxim Lapierre, Just 5 Games...Really? A Shanafail!- Maxim Lapierre needs to be banned from the NHL at least up until the time Dan Boyle is able to play again however long that may be. On October 15th when the Sharks were in St Louis Blues, Lapierre just over five minutes into the game hammered Dan Boyle in a way that if done on the open streets would amount to possible felonious assault. While Boyle was looking to play a loose puck on the Sharks defensive end of the ice, Lapierre came up from behind to Boyle at full speed. While Boyle was playing the puck, Lapierre clearly was not playing the puck and obviously had other ideas. As Boyle was starting to lose his balance as hit skate had hit the kickplate below the boards, Lapierre hit Boyle up high his backside and slammed him into the boards. Lapierre hit Boyle as hard as he humanly could and with an obvious intent to injure Boyle if not end his career. Boyle’s face hit both the plexiglass and the boards, with his jaw smashing into the dasher (which runs along the boards separating the plexiglass from the boards). Boyle was knocked unconscious as the result of the play while Lapierre skated away as if nothing happened.
Many of the Sharks took obvious exception to this. Andrew Desjardens immediately dropped his glove and chased down Lapierre before the officials intervened and separated the two. Lapierre did get a game misconduct and and the Sharks got a five minute major power play where they would score twice. Boyle got a trip to the emergency room with many praying that his neck wasn’t broken. Boyle has since returned to San Jose and is being continuously evaluated. It is not known how long Boyle will be out though it seems apparently it will be for awhile. This is a blow to the Sharks as one of their team leaders will now be out indefinitely with whatever injuries he may have sustained. While Boyle probably won’t be able to play for awhile Lapierre gets to resume playing after a five-game suspension. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s Director of Players Safety met with Lapierre three days after this incident and concluded the right action was to slap Lapierre on the wrist and put him on a five day unpaid leave of absence. I do not know what Lapierre told Shanahan or how well he lobbied, maybe at least acting remorseful. Whatever went on, one thing is clear. With all due respect Mr Shanahan, you clearly missed the boat on this one.
Trivial “Shanaban”- When watching the video explanation on NHL.com*, to listen to it is very hard because it seems to shift some of the blame onto Boyle himself because if his blade getting stuck in the kickplate. My response to that was “So?!”. I don’t care if Boyle’s skate hit the kickplate or not. What I care about is that he was lucky his neck wasn’t broken. If Lapierre had hit Boyle just right (or wrongly), it would have been Jack Tatum=Darryl Stingley the sequel. While Boyle laid on the ice the things I thought about were will he walk again. I wasn’t thinking of Boyle skating, just being able to walk period. This is the point where you start thinking about Dan Boyle the human being, not the hockey player.
After the game had ended and the Sharks put a six-spot on the Blues (I’m only sorry they didn’t put 10 on them), Sharks players who had spoken to the media had said in the pregame warm ups Lapierre was warning them he was going to take one of them out on his second shift. If this is true (and I believe it is since many Sharks confirmed hearing the same things) then Shanahan should have recognized that Lapierre had nothing but bad intentions here. Apparently this wasn’t taken into consideration at all. I know some readers here will say “What about Raffi Torres?” Okay. In Torres’ case, when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes and knocked out Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks during the playoffs two years ago I was one of the ones who called for a suspension too. Torres got 25 games and deserved it based on his history. Torres did not appeal or challenge the suspension, he did his time quietly. If Hossa had been anymore seriously injured that he was then, Torres probably would not be with the Sharks today. Torres was suspended in the post season last year as the Sharks were playing the Kings in the second round of last season’s playoffs when he collided with Jarod Stoll. He was banned for the remainder of the post season. This was certainly noting more than two players running into one another, however Shanahan has a zero tolerance policy with Torres which is somewhat obvious.
As for Lapierre, this is not the first time he’s injured a player on the Sharks. Three years ago he took out Scott Nichol who as the result missed the better part of that season. If Lapierre has hit Boyle just as a simple check, and Boyle had gotten up right afterward it would not have even been a big deal. However when you basically tell the other team in pregame warmups that you are going to take someone out and follow through on it your intentions are painfully obvious. What Lapierre did was just flat out unprofessional and crossed the line by a mile. I not only blame Lapierre, I also blame the Blues coach Ken Hitchcock who I’m sure was looking the other way as well. I blame the St Louis Blues hockey club for whom I have little respect for at this point. Lapierre represents the Blues franchise and it seems obvious they condone it.
Brendan Shanahan,with all due respect you not only got this one wrong, you weren’t even close. Thanks for nothing! There is a reason players are calling you out.
Only Sorry Because He Was Caught- The San Jose Mercury News reported Lapierre was sorry for what he did afterward. If Lapierre is truly sorry, he should at least offer to sit out as long as Boyle is it. If not, maybe he can donate his salary for the season to Boyle’s daughter's college fund and the St Louis Blues franchise can match the donation. If they are truly sorry they will do that. If they don’t do that then that speaks volumes about the Blues organization.
Maxim Lapierre doesn’t deserve to be in the NHL period. Maxim, you do not represent what the game of hockey is all about. However since Brendan Shanahan has decided to let you off easy, there are 17,000 plus Sharks fans and a very angry hockey team that can’t wait for you to come to San Jose on November 29th. Keep your head on a swivel.
...just my two cents...
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NHL.com video regarding Lapierre suspension: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=687444
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