Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you’re only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
The NHL lockout is, of course, having a massive effect on all of us. We want hockey. We want it on time and for 82 games from October to April, and then a bunch more in the playoffs.
But we’re also largely resigned to our fates. This is a season already at least partly lost, if not officially then at least in the minds and the hearts and the pits of the stomachs for millions of hockey fans in the U.S., Canada and abroad.
But if you want to talk about a fanbase that has more of a right to be pissed about this than anyone, it’s the people in the greater San Jose area.
For a number of years, the San Jose Sharks were arguably the very best team in the NHL. They’ve made the playoffs every year since 2003-04 and in that time failed to eclipse 100 just twice (in 2005-06, when they had 99, and last year, when they had 96). They won their division four times since the lockout, and finished second the other three. Since the last lockout, they’ve always had either a top-10-in-the-league team offense nor defense, and far more often than not, they had both. But for the cruelty of the playoffs (or, if you’re an idiot, the team’s lack of “clutchness”), they would be widely heralded as a gift given to hockey fans annually for the last decade-plus.
But it seems as though all that is going to go away very soon.
Last season was the worst for the Sharks (excluding the outlier 73-point season in 2002-03) since the turn of the century; and, given the age of many of the team’s top players, it seems a far more likely indicator of things to come rather than yet another hiccup in an otherwise flawlessly-executed run of extraordinarily successful NHL regular seasons.
This team was decidedly average last season and was seventh in the West for a reason. Unlike its previous playoff flameouts, San Jose’s performance against the Blues in the first round was the perfect example of what not to do if you’re looking to avoid getting run out of the postseason in five games. To make matter worse, Todd McLellan didn’t know what to do with what Ken Hitchcock’s team was presenting to him, and his players looked very much out of sorts.
At this point, apart from 22-year-old Logan Couture, the team’s best players aren’t exactly like the Oilers when it comes to youth. Joe Thornton is 33. So is Patrick Marleau. Even Joe Pavelski, whom we often consider to be a young player, is 27, and Ryane Clowe is going to be 30 in nine days. If Thornton and Marleau are rapidly approaching retirement, Pavelski and Clowe are firmly in their middle age as hockey players.
To make matters worse, Dan Boyle, who has been central to the Sharks’ power play success these last few years, is now 36 years old, and the tires have to be getting worn down a little bit. He failed to record 50 points in a full season last year for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and odds are he’s not about to bounce back production-wise.
Therefore, with the stars greying, it’s only natural that the team would turn to younger players, like the aforementioned Couture, to start a new era of dominance. Except that the Sharks don’t have much in the way of impressive young players. Hockey’s Future, an authority on these things, considers San Jose’s prospect depth to be the absolute worst in the league. With rankings like that, sure, it’s subjective guesswork, and open to interpretation, but when you’re 30th out of 30, well, it at least doesn’t speak well for your chances.
This lockout, however long it lasts, may be robbing the Sharks of their last, best chance to actually do something constructive without undertaking a massive team makeover, if they’re going to do anything at all, that is.
Now, to be fair — regardless of the doom and gloom Elliotte Friedman’s latest insight into the way HRR complaints will steer the upcoming CBA negotiations — the lockout might not last for the whole season this time around, and if not, all the better for the fans and, in this case, the Sharks themselves. After February began, the Sharks won just 15 of 34, perhaps the result of age catching up with them over the course of a long season.
But I’ll tell you for sure what won’t help the Sharks: Sitting on the sidelines while the season doesn’t happen. Even if you’re skating every day, it’s probably not the best substitute for NHL preparedness. Joe Thornton, it should be said, is going back to Davos with old runnin’ buddy Rick Nash, but as for those other older guys? Not so much.
Boyle says he absolutely won’t play overseas, while Marleau considers it “unlikely” for him. Couture, to his credit, is also playing in Switzerland.
It would, frankly, be a shame if the Sharks’ nearly iron-fisted grip on the top spots in the Western Conference comes to a more abrupt end that it was already scheduled for, just because of this work stoppage.
But then again, this is a team that its owners claim lost $15 million last season, so as far as the NHL’s concerned, seeing them dial things back might not be the worst thing in the world.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn’t a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on not being aware that “The Master” opens wide today: “What’s Joaquin Phoenix up to these days?”
If you’ve got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He’ll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you’ll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you’re so inclined.
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Brett Favre sees public evidence against Saints as ‘just hearsay’
• The Juice: Orioles win again in extras, Gio Gonzalez becomes majors’ first 20-game winner
• Florida’s Jordan Reed takes vicious hits, but holds on to the ball
• Yahoo! TV Q&A: Emmys host Jimmy Kimmel gets ready for primetime