Whether or not the San Jose Sharks ever find their way to a Stanley Cup, the changes have begun there. Round 1 never panned out in Northern California, and now we’ll see if the Sharks can have success after a retool (More on San Jose later).
The next team at risk of San Jose-type failure is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have more points than any other NHL club over the past three seasons, and were on top of the National Hockey League’s overall standings heading into play Saturday.
They did win a Cup in 2007, but that was eight years ago. Talk to people around hockey, and the Ducks don’t scare Western playoff foes as much as the other team in the Greater Los Angeles area — even though the Kings barely had a playoff spot nailed down heading into the weekend.
Word is, head coach Bruce Boudreau is well aware that he needs to get at least to a Conference Final, or he’ll be replaced. That’s what happens when you lose back-to-back Game 7s at home the past two springs, to Detroit and L.A., as Anaheim has done.
To that end, the major addition to the mix this season has been Ryan Kesler, who knows why Anaheim went after him.
“It’s what I play for,” he said of the playoffs. “You get up for those games (against L.A.). They’re our rivals, they’re right down the street from us, and they’re the champions. It’s a team sport for a reason, but I know the reason they got me. I know what my job is night in night out. I know how important my job is come playoff time.”
The Ducks’ 6-3 loss in Calgary Wednesday — where Anaheim coughed up an early 2-0 lead on five unanswered Flames goals — turned into a Come To Jesus moment for Anaheim. They flew to St. Paul, Minnesota, and went straight to the rink for a film session and team meeting “that was pretty telling,” Boudreau told Ducks reporters.
“You wish you had them figured out,” Boudreau said of his players. “By now you’d think you’d have the consistency. It’s not about structure, systems and that. They all know how we play. To me, it’s being self-prepared and being ready to go… It’s something that I wish I could figure out.”
There is a finite timeline on that, for Boudreau. If he can’t figure it out this spring, it will undoubtedly be someone else’s turn in Anaheim.
JOE THORNTON WASN’T WRONG
It isn’t every day that a star player directs his own general manger to “shut his mouth,” the way Joe Thornton did in San Jose this week. But it says here, Jumbo Joe is right.
It’s one thing to strip a proud, veteran player of the captaincy, the way GM Doug Wilson did to Thornton last summer. That’s part of the business. It’s quite another, however, to keep the story alive nearly a year later, rehashing the process in an address to season ticket holders.
Wilson made it worse, in my opinion, when he said, “In fact, this year I believe we’re better led than we were last year without having a ‘C’ on. And that’s not an indictment on Joe Thornton by any means.” Really Doug? “Better led?” C’mon.
“All I’ve got to say is I’ve been here every day working hard. I haven’t taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth,” Thornton told David Pollak of the Mercury News.
Thornton has a no-movement clause in his deal, which goes for two more seasons after this one. If it’s one or the other, Wilson might be the one packing his bags this summer — especially if the Sharks miss the playoffs.
THE RETURN OF BIG DOUG MURRAY
Speaking of ex-Sharks, remember former San Jose defenceman Doug Murray? Well, he watched last July 1, then Labour Day, then the start of the 2014-15 season come and go, and the UFA defenceman didn’t have a bite from a single NHL general manager. The big Swede ended up in Germany — from the San Jose Sharks to the Cologne Sharks — after the past two seasons in Montreal showed he just couldn’t keep up anymore.
“It’s been a really big backtrack in my career. It’s something I want to adjust,” said Murray, who signed a Professional Try Out with Calgary this week.
He travelled with the Flames to Denver for Saturday’s game against the Avalanche, but wasn’t expected to play. And Murray can not play for Calgary in the playoffs, as he signed post-trade deadline.
“This is an opportunity for me to prove my worth in this league again,” said Murray, who will have to show people that he can move well enough to be an NHL defender. “I’ve dropped about 6-7 kilos, about 15 pounds. Part of it is my fault, being a little stubborn, when the league got faster. Wanting to do it my way. It’s really easy to get a little bit comfortable, and what happened to me, you’re out of the league. Now, I think all 30 GMs are wrong, but…”
How much is he being paid? “Ah, zero dollars.” Does he get a per diem? “I don’t know, but I’m not here for the money right now. That’s the least of my worries.” Murray is one of hockey’s really nice guys. At age 35 however, he’s a long shot for a one-way NHL contract next season.
LADISLAV SMID WON’T RETURN THIS SEASON
Calgary wouldn’t even be looking at Murray if Ladislav Smid were healthy. But he’s gone for the season after his second neck surgery, a real blow to a hard-working, shot-blocking team like the Flames. Smid fits right in with Calgary.
Smid’s first neck surgery came three years ago as an Oiler, and GM Brad Treliving said Friday that Smid has re-aggravated the area around the original injury. It’s been a wasted season hockey-wise for the 29-year-old, who had a concussion, then missed time because of the premature birth of twins. He’s only played 31 games.
“Not good,” Treliving said when asked about Smid’s condition. “He won’t be back with us this year. He’s recuperating well. But Laddy won’t be playing for the rest of the season.”