Sharks Should Be Earning Your Support
We’re down to the Final Four of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That means there’s a pretty dang good chance that the team you root for has either been long-eliminated or honing their golf game since the start of the playoffs.
So now that we’re down to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the east as well as the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues in the west, who should you be rooting for to get to the top of the mountain? The answer is pretty simple: it’s Sharks or bust, baby.
Why the Sharks?
Where to start? How about with their history. The Sharks don’t have a terribly long one, founded out of the ashes of the Minnesota North Stars in 1991. They spent their first few years as most expansion teams do: completely horrid. But the Sharks didn’t take that long to get on their feet. By the beginning of the 2000s, they were not only competitive, but gaining a reputation as being one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Year after year, they amassed a quality regular season record and entered the playoffs with expectations. But their reputation became horribly failing to live up to those expectations. Beginning in 2000-01, the Sharks won or placed second in the Pacific Division 10 times in 11 seasons. The results of so much playoff success? They made the Western Conference Finals once, losing to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
Like their counterparts in St. Louis, the Sharks have a long history of success in the regular season and disappointment when it matters. That kind of failure makes it a little easier to root for a team, knowing they’ve felt the sting of disappointment more often than not like most of us have.
Not only that, but those failures led to embarrassment and change. Management privately decided they wanted to shift from older pillars like Joe Thornton, who had won an Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer, and Patrick Marleau, who has been with the franchise since he was drafted in 1997. Instead, they wanted to shift the focus towards younger stars like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Management publicly blamed the old regime, stripping Thornton of the captaincy and claiming they were moving in a new leadership direction in lieu of trading those stars away, something they realized they just couldn’t do.
Since then, the Sharks have gotten younger, but have been a fun club to watch with the old and the new working together to propel them to success. Thornton again led the team in scoring this season, registering 82 points, with Pavelski not far behind at 78. Not only that, but they seem freed of the burden of expectation. In years past, you could almost see the stress of what they were supposed to do sitting on the shoulders of each player. Now, no one really expects this much out of the Sharks, so a run to the Western Conference Finals has felt even more fun because it wasn’t expected by anyone.
In addition to the baggage of years past, there are smaller things to root for. Thornton’s classy demeanor and stellar production in the face of a crappy situation that probably wasn’t nearly as much his fault as we were led to believe. Martin Jones emerging as a pretty good, young starting goaltender this season. Brent Burns slow transformation into becoming Chewbacca.
When rooting for a team in the Final Four, the Blues share a lot of similarities with the Sharks, so it would be understandable to root for them. But the Penguins or Lightning? Puh-leeze. Both have Stanley Cups in the last decade or so and the Bolts are coming off a Finals appearance in 2015, albeit a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
So when you flip on the Conference Finals, steer your supportive juju to the teal and black of the Sharks. They’ve more than earned it.