(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, January 15, 2013)
Can Sharks fans expect anything different from the mostly same Sharks as last season? This is a question many have asked now, but to my mind it misses an important point. This season is not last season, it would not be last season even if it were not an insanely compressed season. This is now, that was then. Even old habits do not manifest themselves in exactly the same way as they did yesterday. The team is going into the unknown, without much time to prepare. If I don’t know where I’m going or what will happen there, I will always grab the old horse, the one I’ve known for years.
That old horse is right out in the field, I still throw a saddle on him whenever I have to ride without notice. He is a fractious beast, headstrong and not terribly well-mannered, but I know him. I know a lot, he knows a lot, together I trust us to cope with whatever the unknown throws at us. I cannot imagine why anyone would chose differently.
I have seen some say that young teams will have the edge in this short race, but I don’t buy it. Go with what you know when heading into unknown territory. Todd McLellan, without making the equine comparison, said the same thing:
…in this case familiarity is really important. If we had a 21 or 22 day schedule with seven exhibition games, I think you’d see our lines a little different… Right now we’re going with familiar people. Pav, Jumbo, and Paddy for example, they’ve played together a lot, they’ve been in power play situations together, they understand and read off each other well. So we’re looking for a head start, we’re looking for a jump start. We just feel that’s the best way to go right now.
Journalists are not supposed to be invested in the team they write about. They are supposed to be unbiased reporters of facts. I am so glad I’m not a journalist. I don’t know exactly how to define what I’m doing here, but it’s important to me to be as honest as I can about the fact that I am biased. In this case I feel like the universe is really messing with me because I not only want this team to succeed but I also agree with this plan, would agree with it if I knew nothing else about them. Two days into camp and I’m already all in.
The Sharks do have to chose at least a couple of less proven players. They will be short a couple of defensemen to start, as it seems that Burns and Demers both will be late starting the season. Justin Braun, as far as I can tell, cut off his cast and hit the ice full speed the next day. So the odds are very good he will be ready for Game 1.
Matt Irwin appears to be a front runner among the young defensemen. I’m not sure how close that race is, but there are four Worcester defensemen to fill those one or two spots. Nick Petrecki seems all recovered from his hand injury, but from the way the lines were assembled during practice, Matt Tennyson looks like next in line after Irwin.
There is still at least one spot on the fourth line that also has to be filled. McLellan divided the young players at camp into two categories:
I guess there’s two forms of “younger” players. There’s the Worcester guys that are here who maybe don’t have as much NHL experience as some of our younger veteran players. The Worcester group itself has provided a great energy level. They’re fit, they’re ready to play, they’re executing, they’re sharp, their stamina’s good. So they bring an energy to our team right now, something that I think that we need.
Our younger players are players that have played maybe one year in the league, or partial segments of years. They’re coming back and we’re going to expect a lot more from them. They have to find their legs, they have to find their game, get a sense of the timing and get battle ready because depth is going to be important. You can’t survive playing two, two and a half lines, you have to play four lines in this type of schedule. Especially for as quick as we start … they’re going to have to contribute.
I guess that second category includes Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, as well as Justin Braun. I would include Demers and even Vlasic or Couture there but for the “one year” qualifier. All of those have been with the San Jose team for longer than that. Still, I wouldn’t assume they are exempt from the requirement to do more.
I asked John McCarthy about the pros and cons of being at training camp after playing for half a season:
Obviously it’s good because you’ve played games and a lot of guys here have played a lot and that gives us a little bit of game experience coming in, which is a good thing. So I’d say that would be the advantage to that.
I asked specifically about the obvious potential drawback, factors like fatigue and injury. He assured me that is not an issue here:
Yep, no injuries, not banged up so it’s good, excited.
He has been injured this season, but there was no sign of it during practice. He looked 100%, he pushed the pace, he looked every bit the part of someone competing for a spot, not someone even a little worn down from playing a lot of games.
Whenever I think about the fatigue factor, I remember Vlasic, a couple years ago, saying that at his age fatigue is simply not an issue. I know he was exaggerating a little, but there is some truth to it. Fatigue doesn’t show up as readily in young men, but McCarthy looks well. He looks more like the McCarthy of two seasons ago than the one tossed briefly into that muddle that was the 11-12 San Jose Sharks.
James Sheppard, drafted in the first round and having played so many NHL games with the Wild, seems like the obvious choice for the team to keep in San Jose. But McCarthy has played quite a few NHL games with the Sharks, so I wouldn’t assume Sheppard is a lock. I don’t know if they can keep both, but in my completely biased opinion they should.
McCarthy was named Captain of the Worcester Sharks this season. It would seem like a lousy thing to do to take the Captain away, recent SF Bulls trades notwithstanding. But I doubt that will figure into the decision.
I asked McCarthy if being Captain changed his role in Worcester at all. He has played a leadership role there for a while now, so is being Captain much different?
Not really. We have a lot of young guys on there, so I just keep an eye out for them, just kinda lead by example, how to conduct yourself on the ice and off the ice and that’s probably the biggest thing.
To me that sounds like a daunting task, yet still vague. I like very specific job descriptions. My quest to understand what these letters mean continues.
I wondered how the Sharks had decided to deal with the new CBA rules about fitness testing. Since players can’t be asked to skate the same day as testing, the Sharks have decided to forego the usual formalities. Instead, McLellan explained, they’re relying on what they see:
The best evaluator for conditioning is watching them. They’ll expose themselves. If they’re not in good shape, if they’re not in tip-top condition mentally or physically, we’ll see it pretty soon. We won’t see it, we may have seen it yesterday or today, but we’ll see it in days three, four or five. It’ll show up in the games, and then we’ll have to make changes if they’re not ready to go.
The fact that the Sharks actually play in Calgary on Sunday is amazing to me. I’m glad they seem alot more ready for the season to start than I am.
While I wrestled with the question of roles and reality at Sharks Ice, Pat Curcio was turning his team upside down. Practically speaking, he only traded away one player currently on his roster, since Sacha Guimond is in Worcester. But the one player was Justin Bowers, the team captain, so that is a big change.
Curcio stated that he wasn’t sure Guimond would be back to the ECHL, and of course the young defenseman’s fans all hope he will stick in Worcester. Guimond’s talent aside, there will be a few defensemen going back to Worcester as camp ends and Sharks regulars come back. Sena Acolatse is also lurking in the wings recovering from injury. So, as much as Worcester needs defensmen right now, that will not be the case for very long. In the mean time, the Bulls really needed some players, and they got them.
In exchange for Guimond and Bowers, the Bulls received TJ Galiardi’s brother Ryan, defenseman Cody Carlson and Christian Ouellet. That Christian Ouellet is not related to Dean Ouellet is confounding to me. I had never heard the name Ouellet before and now there are two on one team? Not to suggest I have heard every name there is, but still it is surprising.
We’ll get a chance to see how these new additions work out this weekend, when the Bulls play in Stockton Friday and back at the Cow Palace Saturday, again against the Stockton Thunder.