June 14, 2011
RATTO ARCHIVESHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO
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The question often comes up . . . well, actually, the question almost never comes up, but work with us here . . . What do the Sharks have to do to get to the next level?Ignoring the fact that the next level is a criminally stupid clich valid only if youre on the third floor of a department store looking for the escalator, the Sharks next-level problem is now more profoundly difficult than it was two weeks ago.Two weeks ago, they werent deep enough or quick enough to deal with the Vancouver Canucks. Now, theyre not deep enough or physical enough to deal with the Boston Bruins, either.
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This is the maddening beauty of the Stanley Cup playoffs, one of its most profound yet most subtle gifts -- everything you knew to be true on May 15 is wrong on May 31, and wrong again on June 16, which is the final day of the season, barring an eight-overtime final that takes you past midnight.Which brings us back to the Sharks, who have packed in a hard fortnight of golf, hunting, child-dandling and healing all those injuries they accumulated by negotiating their way through Los Angeles and Detroit.They are unchanged, and will be for some time to come. The calendar prevents it, because the NHL draft has not yet been held, and most general managers are still meeting with their scouts to deal with that. Plus, free agency does not actually bloom until July, and thats if the owners dont start making the usual lockout threats.Not only that, San Joses player contract structure realistically prevents massive changes, no matter how disappointed you might be about specific players. The Sharks are pretty much what you thought they were two months ago, and they are going to stay that way. Even the most dramatic draft choice score doesnt change a team right away.I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, Mario Lemieux isnt walking through that door as the 27th pick, and if he was, hed be 46, and if youre going after a 46-year-old, you may as well just sign Chris Chelios and be done with it.For the second consecutive year, the Sharks lost in the playoffs to a demonstrably superior team, and if they played the Canucks in another 10 series, they would lose eight of them, maybe even nine. But it can also be said that they would have the same problem with this Boston team. They would have great difficulty scoring on Tim Thomas, and they would be relentlessly pounded physically after having been relentlessly pounded physically for the last month.So the first question to be asked of Doug Wilson, and you may rest assured by Doug Wilson, is not What the hell do I do with Dany Heatley? but Who are we and what do we need to be?Well, faster, bigger and deeper. Thats simple. But with minimal cap space, as always, as contracts that restrict the blockbuster trades you so fervently fantasize about, those three things will not be mastered. One, maybe, but not the other two.But if there is something else to be said, it is this: Neither the Canucks nor Bruins were very efficient in their trip through the postseason. Vancouver and Boston both played 18 games for the right to play seven more. The record is 26, by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to Edmonton. This was hard work for both survivors, and if you think otherwise, ask Nathan Horton and Mason Raymond.San Jose has to be more efficient, but that isnt the only way for it to survive next years playoff tower. Its structural in that Todd McLellan cant keep telling us about passengers and coasting and players who need to give more. That has to become the immutable law that no player dare violate, and that means that Joe Thornton -- who will be the first Shark to have his number retired based on last year alone -- will have to become even more strident in word and deed than even last year.The one thing to be said about the Bruins, win or lose Wednesday, is that they had no passengers. The one thing to be said about the Canucks is that they handled the most schizophrenic postseason ever, and I mean ever. The lessons to be learned from this postseason are not easily applied, and the Sharks still need time to sort them out.But this rises above all others -- their margin of error is roughly zero. They are still not the best team in the National Hockey League, they dont have the most talent, and they still have holes that are exploited by teams that see them over and over. They are good, and not good enough at the same time.For the first time in years, they have to know it in their souls and bones, and act accordingly. Every day. Starting in July. Theyre still off until June ends.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.