Teams have to lose before they can win. If that theory is sound, remember how gut-wrenching last May was for the San Jose Sharks and know why they will soon be crowned the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions.
The Big Why: After cutting ties with Evgeni Nabokov this past summer, the Sharks went out and shored up their goaltending by signing the only logical replacement.
Antti Niemi, who helped oust the Sharks from the Western Conference Finals before helping the Chicago Blackhawks win their first title in 49 years, fell into GM Doug Wilson's lap after Chicago opted not to pay Niemi the $2.75 million he was awarded in arbitration.
The Finnish goaltender has been sensational for the Sharks, posting his first 30-win season in the NHL while helping the franchise claim the Pacific Division crown for a fourth-straight year.
Niemi won't have to worry about finding another new home next summer after signing a four-year deal worth $15.2 million last month.
The Big Uh-Oh: Really, the only question facing the Sharks may be if they're able to not think about what's happened to them in the past. Despite all of their regular-season success during the past decade, the Sharks have yet to appear in a Stanley Cup Final. The talent is certainly there to erase that fact.
Final Argument: Last May, the Sharks helped improve a history that featured several early postseason exits when they eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games to reach the Western Conference Final. While they came up short against the Blackhawks in that Final, there's no reason why the Sharks can't use that experience as a positive heading into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The pieces are in place. Their coach, Todd McLellan, has won more than 150 games in just three seasons. Come June, he and his players will celebrate the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.
We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.
— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp