Ratto: Prescription for what ails Sharks

May 25, 2011, 9:46 pm
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We know what youre thinking. We always know what youre thinking, because you always think the same thing.

Fire the general manager. No, fire the coach. No, trade the following players who have offended me.

See? I told you.

But in plowing through the Sharks remains after another playoff expiration, the true frustration reveals itself in the following truths:

1. The Vancouver Canucks were a better team.
2. This was, give or take a game, as good as the Sharks could do. Again.
3. All the players you hate cant be moved.

Now theres something to make hope spring eternal for you.

Vancouver had all the known Sedins, which was a sufficient problem in and of itself. But if truth be told (and frankly, why start now?), it was the extra parts the Canucks had that truly explained the reason why the series lasted only five games.

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What the Sharks didnt have, and what ultimately got them on the wrong side of the Canucks, was defenseman Alexander Edler, and left wing Chris Higgins, and defenseman Christopher Tanev, and center Maxim Lapierre, and winger Raffi Torres. A smooth puck-handling defenseman who could spring an attack ... a grungy corner man who never lost a battle when he really needed to win one, an extra defenseman who was more asset than detriment, an agitating centerman, and an ultra-agitating, well, agitator.

The Sharks could come close to recreating Henrik Sedin as long as Joe Thornton was healthy. When Patrick Marleau was scoring, which he was in the conference final, he was Alexandre Burrows. When Dan Boyle was the Dan Boyle of old, he was Kevin Bieksa -- except, of course, for the skillful adaptation to the presentation of good fortune in the second overtime Tuesday.

But Ryane Clowe didnt win the battles Higgins did, and Jason Demers didnt play so he could learn a few tricks from watch Edler, and Scott Nichol and Joe Pavelski werent close to being as usefully annoying as Lapierre, and Kent Huskins didnt fit in for Demers as well as Tanev did for Aaron Rome, and no Sharks did what Torres did, though Ben Eager certainly tried the best he could.

In short, San Jose was short. In getting less than full measure from Clowe (injured), Joe Pavelski (save that great dive and flick to Devin Setoguchi in Game 5), Setoguchi (save taking that flick and scoring the tying goal in Game 5), Dany Heatley (who had looked sharp against Los Angeles but faded with every passing game after that), Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood (who went as Pavelski went), they didnt have the cards to play a full hand against a team that did, and did.

Some may suggest that a healthy Thornton might have changed all that, but the Sharks lost Games 1 and 2 with him at full pace, and thats not to say he didnt play a full captains games. He was as good as he has ever been, and won over most of his long-running Canadian skeptics.

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In addition, Marleau, who had been largely inert through most of the first two series, earned his pay packet against Vancouver as he had a year ago against Chicago in the Sharks last conference final finale. Clowe and Pavelski will probably given passes, and Logan Couture, whose own series was less than exemplary, was asked to perform one of two unfair tasks for a rookie -- deal with the Sedins or deal with the Ryan Kesler line.

As for what comes next, that will be handled during Thursdays post mortem. Doug Wilson, whose job is safe, will speak of the season (probably in glowing terms), Todd McLellan (who job is just about as safe as Wilsons) will be a bit more measured, and the players themselves will lament another lost opportunity while praising each other for going as far as they did.

All the safe routes. Vancouver was better. San Jose wasnt going any further. But substantive changes will be hard to come by. Heatley has three years and 19 million left on his deal, and would be hard to deal even if he would accept a trade, which he doesnt have to. He'll need to gear up for an arduous summer if he plans to be more of a factor next spring than he was in this one. Setoguchi could be moved, but the return might not be sufficient. Wellwood and Ian White are also restricted free agents, and the Sharks dont have the cap room to absorb them all, even if they wanted to.

The Sharks need some change in their room, but the central core of seven players (Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Heatley, Couture, Pavelski and Clowe) seem inviolable. Tinkering at the edges is the most that can be expected here, while they wait and watch Vancouver do with the springboard the Sharks gave them what Chicago did a year ago.

San Jose? Just the 27th to fall, again. They are right to feel vaguely unsatisfied.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.