30 DAYS OF FINGER CROSSING AND SCOREBOARD WATCHING
So this is what it’s going to be like for the next month!
There was a point in the first period during Wednesday night’s Sharks vs. Oilers game when depending on the outcome, and the other games underway in the NHL, the Sharks might have finished the night in 10th place in the Western Conference or in 3rd. That’s how crazy-tight things are with exactly thirty days to go in the season. As it turned out the Sharks picked up a precious point and finished the night alone in 8th place, but tied in actual points with both Los Angeles and Colorado.
Looking up, the Sharks are just one point away from 7th placed Phoenix and three points back of division-leading Dallas. The Sharks have 17 games left. Of those 17 games, 13 are against teams that are either trying to catch them or against teams the Sharks are trying to catch.
I’m guessing your average fan would rather the team be locked into a playoff spot by now and just jockeying for position. But that’s not the way things are unfolding this year. Everything’s up in the air. There are no guarantees. Each and every one of the last 17 games is huge.
It’s the playoffs BEFORE
the playoffs. Nerve wracking? Yes. But it’s a great time to be a hockey fan.
HANDICAPPING THE FIELD
Right now Anaheim is six points out of a playoff spot with 15 games to play, including two against the Sharks. But I’m guessing the Ducks won’t make the Top 8 in the West. Not only do they have to make up a lot of ground, but they’d have to pass Calgary, Colorado, Los Angeles and the Sharks to get in. So that leaves those other teams along with the Sharks, Phoenix and Dallas.
Beginning Thursday night the Sharks play the Stars three more times, twice in Dallas. The Sharks need to win two of those three and hope for no three-point games. Game Two of the road trip is Saturday night in Phoenix, one of three remaining games against the Coyotes. Same drill. Win two out of three.
And then there are three more to go against the Kings including the final two games of the season. It could come right down to the last game April 7th at HP Pavilion. The Sharks don’t have to run the table but they do need to win 11 of their last 17 games. That would give them 95 points and that should be good enough to secure a 7th or 8th seed and a first round matchup with Vancouver, Detroit or St. Louis.
A better scenario in my mind would be for the Sharks to win the division and play Phoenix or Dallas in the first round.
WWJAD? (WHAT WOULD JACK ADAMS DO?)
The Jack Adams Award is presented each year to the outstanding coach in the NHL. It is voted upon by the members of the NHL Broadcasters Association. This year’s results should be very interesting. Some have already anointed St. Louis Blues boss Ken Hitchcock as the winner.
Vancouver Sun hockey writer Ian MacIntyre recently penned, “If Hitchcock doesn’t win the Adams vote then the broadcasters are dumber than we think.” My first inclination is to remind Mr. MacIntyre that considering the ongoing decline of the newspaper industry, it might not be that long before he’s a “Dumb Broadcaster” too. But I digress.
There’s no question Hitchcock has done an outstanding job since replacing Davis Payne early in the season. The Blues are extremely disciplined in the way they play Hitchcock’s system. They put on a clinic against the Sharks last Saturday. I’m also impressed with how Hitchcock has altered his approach toward dealing with players. He’s learned from past missteps and that’s the sign of a good coach.
But how about what Dave Tippet continues to do with the Phoenix Coyotes, or how Barry Trotz has the Nashville Predators possibly playing their best hockey ever? In the Eastern Conference John Tortarella has the New York Rangers looking like a legitimate contender while in Ottawa, rookie coach Paul MacLean has helped transform the Senators into a “must see” team.
And then there’s Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault and Detroit’s Mike Babcock. These coaches tend to get overlooked because the perception is that they have an abundance of talent that should be good no matter who coaches them. We’ll it just doesn’t work that way.
Coaching in the NHL is very difficult work and Vigneault and Babcock are two of the best in the business. This “dumb broadcaster” hasn’t made up his mind yet on who gets his vote.
YOU CAN PLAY
Congratulations to Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke and his son Patrick for their efforts to end homophobia in sports.
Several NHLers, including San Jose's own Tommy Wingels
, are helping the Burke family to promote “You Can Play”, a campaign to open the doors for gay athletes to participate in sports.
The younger Burke is a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers who hopes to “make locker rooms safe for all athletes, rather than places of fear, slurs and bullying.” Burke’s younger brother, Brendan, acknowledged he was gay while serving as a manager of the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team where Wingels was a player.
Brian Burke marched in Toronto’s gay pride parade with Brendan, and again after Brendan died in a car accident in 2010. You’ll see the “You Can Play” public service messages during NHL broadcasts and they also have a website that recently went live.
SOMETIMES IT'S GOOD TO BE 'AWFUL'
OK, so Drew Remenda and I have won a few awards over the years (MULTIPLE EMMY’S!). But now we’ve finally hit the big time.We are 'Awful Announcers'!
My Facebook friend Dan summed it up best:
"Great bit... and classy as always! Comcast SportsNet, the Channel for Excellence!"
THE BOTTOM LINE
I know there are a lot of Sharks fans out there who are nervous about this final month of the season. I hear it at the home games and see it on social media.
There’s an uncomfortable feeling. Nothing is secured. The playoffs are up for grabs. And I also see that some fans are ready to throw in the towel. They’ve already decided that the Sharks aren’t going to pull out of their recent slump, they aren’t going to make it, and they aren’t going to go all the way. Of course everybody gets to have an opinion, but as Jamie Baker -- who scored the biggest goal in Sharks history! -- told me yesterday, there’s only one way for the Sharks players to think.
They have to believe they are going to have a good final month. They have to believe they are going to make the playoffs and after that they have to believe they are going to win the Stanley Cup. It’s the only way it can be approached. Positivity in the Sharks dressing room is crucial. Doubts cannot be allowed to creep in.
I know it sounds cliché, and it’s not like I’ve ever played one second of important hockey in my life, but I think I understand how players approach things. You have to be positive about the next game. And when you’re pulling yourself out of slump like the Sharks are right now you have to focus on the moment. “Let’s play OUR game in Dallas.” “Let’s start well.” “I need a good first shift, win a faceoff, get a shot on goal, hit somebody.”
It’s my belief that if the Sharks carry their passion and their talent into every detail of what they do from this point going forward, there is no limit as to what they can accomplish. Isn’t that the way you have to think?