It would be understandable if the San Jose Sharks spent their summer stewing over perhaps the most disappointing of all their recent early playoff exits.
They’ll try to put that behind them and start a new quest for the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history Thursday night when they open the 2009-10 season on the road against the Colorado Avalanche, who will retire Joe Sakic’s No. 19 before taking the ice.
The Sharks got off to an impressive 25-3-2 start last season and finished with franchise records and NHL bests of 53 victories and 117 points to win their first Presidents’ Trophy.
That outstanding regular season didn’t translate to success in the postseason, however. San Jose lost to Anaheim in six games during the opening round of the playoffs, becoming just the third team since the current format was adopted for the 1993-94 season to fail to make the second round after posting the most points in the regular season.
It was the fourth consecutive playoff flop for the Sharks, who haven’t made it out of the second round since 2003-04 despite totaling the second-most points in the NHL over that stretch. Three of those series losses have come against lower-seeded opponents.
“I’ve only been here a year and I’m already sick of it,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “I don’t want to talk about playoffs. We’re 82 games away from the playoffs. There’s no sense talking about it now.”
The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and get bounced in the first playoff round was the Red Wings, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan was an assistant on that team. McLellan has used the lessons he learned in Detroit with his new club.
“We’re not the first team that’s ever done it,” said center Joe Thornton, who had 25 goals and a team-leading 86 points last season. “Todd has gone through it firsthand. He’s helping us regroup and refocus and get us ready for this year. It’s good Todd’s been through this before.”
The Sharks attempted to bolster their chances at advancing in the playoffs by acquiring Dany Heatley from Ottawa in exchange for right wing Jonathan Cheechoo, left wing Milan Michalek and a draft pick.
Heatley, who had 39 goals and 33 assists last season, will headline an explosive offense alongside Thornton and right wing Devin Setoguchi, who had 31 goals and 34 assists in 2008-09, his first full season in the NHL.
“That adds extra punch to our offense,” Thornton said of Heatley. “He’s such a dynamic scorer and he creates a lot of room for guys like me and Setoguchi. He’s going to take a lot of pressure off. I think it’s going to open up the game a little more.”
The Sharks will get a chance to show off that potent line against the Avalanche, who scored an NHL-low 190 goals last season to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. Colorado’s 69 points were the team’s lowest total since relocating from Quebec in 1995.
Before the game, the Avalanche will honor Sakic – the last link to their days as the Nordiques.
A first-round pick in 1987, Sakic spent his entire 20-year career with the franchise, leaving as the scoring leader with 1,641 points, also good for eighth all-time. He tallied 625 goals, and was only the 11th player in NHL history to eclipse 1,000 assists.
In their first season in Denver, Sakic helped lead the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy with playoff highs of 18 goals and 34 points. His finest season came in 2001, when he scored a career-high 54 goals to win the Hart Trophy as Colorado lifted its second Cup.
“So many great memories,” Sakic said, fighting back tears during his retirement announcement in July.
Following the ceremony, Colorado will try to figure out a way to beat San Jose. The Sharks swept four games from the Avs last season, improving to 11-3-1 in the last 15 meetings including a 5-1-1 mark at the Pepsi Center.
“We get a good test right off the hop,” coach Joe Sacco told the Avalanche’s official Web site. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us. I know the guys are looking forward to the challenge. We feel prepared, we feel ready to go, and we’ll get a good gauge to see where we’re at.”
Sacco enters his first season behind the bench after Colorado fired Tony Granato in June following one season at the helm.
Milan Hejduk led Colorado with 27 goals in 2008-09, marking the second consecutive season and fifth time in his career that he has led the team. He also shared the team scoring lead with 59 points and was selected to his third All-Star game.
Hejduk, entering his 11th season with the franchise, had one goal and two assists against the Sharks last season.
Hejduk will be joined Thursday by Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, two 18-year-old prospects making their much-anticipated NHL debuts.
“It’s a day I’ve been waiting for a long time,” said Duchene, the third overall pick in June’s draft. “I’m just thinking about going out there, doing what I’ve been doing and helping the team the best I can.”