Just when you thought they got over the "choke" label, the question comes back to them. How did a team who looked so good in one round, dominate to the two-time defending Western Conference Champions; look so flat and uninspired when four games away from the Stanley Cup finals. Thus is the enigma of the San Jose Sharks. They had the entire spectrum of emotion this year, but now it ends without the prize and swept by a possible destined team. But, what's going to happen now??
The big question lies about Patrick Marleau and what's going to happen with him. While the turmoil of his captaincy in the summer loomed into this season; he stepped up in the season with a career-high in goals and 2nd best points year in his tenure. In the playoffs, Marleau had eight goals, an eight-game point streak, and 13 points-- but is it enough to get him a new deal?? Probably, if he wants to keep his same wage. While he's consistent, Marleau never had too much explosive scoring prowess, which could help or hinder his leverage. Plus, the Sharks would have to worry about what to do with Joe Thornton who was nothing short of horrific in the playoffs with a minus-11 and only really showed up for the second round, where he got nine of his 12 points in the playoffs. That's right-- only three points in the other 10 games. With one year left on his deal, you have to wonder if the Sharks will press Thornton to move his No-Trade Clause to get money freed up. Luckily-- the likes of Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryan Clowe make the future bright for the Sharks with or without the likes of Marleau, Thornton, or Dany Heatley-- who only had 2 goals this playoffs, but doesn't get the heat thanks to the history of Marleau and Thornton.
Defensively, the Sharks are set for the long-haul. With Dan Boyle, Marc-Eduard Vlasic and Jason Demers in the fold for next year and beyond (for the first two, at least), the Sharks will be on the look out to fill out the voids. Rob Blake will probably not be back, but his leadership will have hopefully rubbed off on the young guys and all of that. Who knows what the Sharks could get, but with a lot of key forwards needing new contracts, you may see them build from within or get a couple of fringe defensemen who won't command much of a contract hit on them. With the core group, don't expect much of a shake-up from the Sharks on this front.
What more can be said about Evgeni Nabokov that hasn't been said before. While his number weren't the best, they weren't horrible either. The playoffs saw every side of Nabokov, who couldn't do everything for the Sharks, especially without the support other goalies get. Nabokov could have been gassed after workhorsing it again this year with Thomas Greiss not getting much time behind him and with the Olympics-- but he didn't show it too much. Nabokov is going to be a free agent and it may be wise for the Sharks to re-sign him, especially since the pickings are slim for the free agent market in terms of goalies. For how much and how long-- we'll know in July or earlier.
While the doubt surfaced in the first round, they got erased in the second, but now came back in the Western Final, as the Sharks now move into hearing about the what they could have done better, who could have picked it up, and the other questions they've endured during the last few seasons already. I'm sure they'll take it in stride since they are used to it.....or not.