St. Louis Blues -- the team you must force yourself to hate

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St. Louis Blues -- the team you must force yourself to hate

This is the segment of the show known as, Know The Guys You Have To Force Yourselves To Dislike, and it only happens at this time for hockey fans.

This installment is The Saint Louis Blues, a team that really isnt hateable at all, so youll have to put in extra work for maximum fan enjoymentdelusion.

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Sharks fans once hated the Blues . . . well, Chris Pronger. They also laughed at Roman Turek, but thats really about all the institutional memory they have. The Blues were once the Portland Trail Blazers of the NHL always in the playoffs, never for very long.

They went 25 years in a row making the playoffs, but only made the conference finals twice, and havent been in the Cup final since Bobby Orr jumped 12 feet in the air with the winning goal in 1970.

But this is their second visit in the past seven years, and as of December they looked just as dead as usual. But Davis Payne was fired in November and replaced by Ken Hitchcock, and the light went on. All that young talent finally absorbed what it was told, and went from 6-7 and done, to 43-15-1-10, from 12th to second.

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And how have they done all this? Hitchcockism!

Detail work in the middle of the ice. Scoring first and never letting the other team breathe. Goaltending and stubborn defending from the 18 in front. And no deviations.

Oh, Hitchcock has learned how to let the fellows have their fun in the room, but on the ice, they are Hitchcock through and through. Theyre a team that is hard to watch, but easy to like.

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Except of course for you. You dont have that luxury. So, Know Your saint Louis Blues.

T.J. OSHIE: First-line right wing, most likely to stir your ire because he doesnt mind making a nuisance of himself. Also a very good player so you can find him irritating even when he doesnt mean to be.

DAVID PERRON: Smoked by Joe Thornton last year from the blind side, missed the rest of the 2010-11 season and the first part of this one. Boo him for coming back from a hellish concussion, and youre kind of creepy.

ANDY MCDONALD: Was on the Anaheim team that took out San Jose three years ago. Very fast, and creates havoc in the offensive zone with that speed.

DAVID BACKES: The leading scorer, with 24 goals. Not a lot, true he finished tied for 60th with 40.9 percent of Steven Stamkos output but Stamkos isnt playing any more this year, Backes has more responsibilities than just floating about waiting for someone to put one on his tape, and he works just fine in the Hitchcock system.

JAMIE LANGENBRUNNER: Recently celebrated his contributions to the Spanish-American War effort. Still a smart player and a useful checker alongside . . .

SCOTT NICHOL: Former Shark, with a likable style not unlike that of Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Still, with McDonald, a very good faceoff man, and hell get a few warm cheers from the nostalgics among the crowd.

KEVIN SHATTENKIRK: Teamed with the equally imposing BARRETT JACKMAN on defense, well put it this way. His name is onomatopoetic for his playing style. For that matter, Jackmans is an exact description of his. And they block shots all day long.

B.J. CROMBEEN: Most likely to punch someone. Youd want to know that.

ALEX STEENPATRIK BERGLUNDVLADIMIR SOBOTKACHRIS STEWARTALEX PIETRANGELOROMAN POLAKKENT HUSKINSKRIS RUSSELLJADEN SCHWARTZ: Youll have to develop your own memories there. They all have gifts, they all have value. Huskins is the former Shark, Stewart is not the former Giant.

JAROSLAV HALAK AND BRIAN ELLIOTT: Theyre the same guy, trust me, and theyve both mocked the Sharks this year. Halak was the guy who couldnt be Carey Price in Montreal even after taking the Canadiens to the conference final two years ago, and Elliott got shoved out of a reorganization in Ottawa. Halak played more, but Elliott led the league in save percentage, and both shut out the Sharks.

HITCHCOCK: One of the smartest coaches in the NHL, and a lot less uptight than most of your Eastern Conference types he would buy John Tortorella a beer and have him laughing inside of 10 minutes. He knows his system inside and out, plays it unabashedly, and sells it better now than he ever did even in Dallas, where the Stars won their only Cup and got to the finals the following year. He even got Columbus to its only playoff berth in its history. Trust us, hell ask if you have two tens for a five, and youll give it to him.

As for who you should hate . . . well, its hard with this team. Choose your own favorite. But for openers, go with Pronger anyway, even though you all secretly know you would have killed to have had him yourselves. No matter where he is, he seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

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AP

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

After five seasons with the Sharks, Larry Robinson is leaving the organization.

Robinson, 65, spent the last three seasons as the club's director of player development. He served as an associate coach from 2012-14.

TSN in Montreal and the Montreal Gazette originally reported the news.

The Sharks confirmed that Robinson's contract would be expiring, and general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California that the divorce was amicable, and "because of geography." Robinson lives in Florida.

According to the Montreal Gazette

Robinson’s contract with the Sharks expires on July 1, but agent Donnie Cape said Thursday that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has given him permission to speak with other teams. Robinson lives in Bradenton, Fla., and the long travel distance to San Jose is one of big the reasons he’s looking for a new team to work for.

Robinson seemed to ponder retirement in 2014, but signed a three-year extension to remain in the Sharks' front office. He worked mostly from his home in Florida the past two seasons, making occasional trips to San Jose, including during training camp.

In the summer of 2015, Robinson underwent surgery for skin cancer.

Recognized as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Robinson won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, and holds the NHL record for playing 20 straight seasons in the playoffs. A 10-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Robinson was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 1995-99, and the New Jersey Devils from 1999-2002 and again in 2005-06. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000. Robinson has nine Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach.

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The Sharks did not renew the contract of pro scout Jason Rowe, who had been with the organization for the past nine seasons. Rowe focused on eastern NHL and AHL teams.